Race to the Stones 100Km Trail Ultra #racetothestones #lunasandals

After UMCB in Mexico I was looking for a Summer Ultra, but something a bit closer and easier on the pocket when I saw Race to the Stones. It was pitched as:

“The Race to the Stones is a fully supported 100km trail ultramarathon following in the footsteps of Romans, Vikings, farmers and traders along the iconic Ridgeway. You will pass Iron Age forts, ancient burial chambers, cross the mighty Thames and the mystical down-lands of Salisbury plain on your way to the finish line at the 3,000-year-old stone circle at Avebury”

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Here’s even more info for any history buffs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

100km along a the Ridgeway ending in Avebury Stone circle sounded good, I just needed to sort out the logistics and start planning .

A day of so before, I even cleaned my Luna Leadville pacers which fit like a glove having done around 1,000 miles. They are a bit thin and I’ll probably replace them with the new Oso trail sandal when it is out, but it should be ok (or so I thought.)

I’ll be wearing Injinji toe socks with them which will give me a bit of padding, but mainly so any stones that fly up don’t open cuts on my feet so will give me a bit of skin protection.

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I drove down to Avebury on Friday night, had a dinner (Salmon) in the pub in the centre of the village and retired early as I needed to be up at 4:00am to get the coach from the finish (where I was camping, or sleeping in the car) to the start at Chinnor almost 2 hours away. At least this way when I finish I can crawl to the car.

Breakfast was 2 bananas as I got on the coach at 5:00am which with 3 hours before the start was just about right.

On arrival at the start it was get registered, attach timing tag to my ankle (a short piece of Luna leather lace usually does the trick) and fill up my camelbak & bottle.

Then a cup of tea, and join the queue to the usual little blue houses!

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I knew it was going to be a hot day probably 30C / 86F so my plan was to keep drinking from my hand bottle and refill it every Pit stop / Aid Station (roughly every 10-12k). I had 1.5 litres in my Camelbak should I need it (and I certainly did later on).

For nutrition I was using the following:

  • Clif Shot Bloks (caffeine version) – pretty much from the start, and at the latter stages when I needed the caffeine
  • Justin’s Nut Butters (Peanut & Honey) – They were great, just had to have them at aid stations due to the amount of water required to wash them down.
  • Quesadillas with refried beans & cheese – These I got the taste for in Mexico and were great, not too filling but with high carbs, fat & salt really picked me up
  • Banana Malt Loaf – small pieces to snack on and not as sticky as the normal stuff
  • S-Caps (Salt tablets) I was taking 2 tablets at every Aid Station

(I did have cups of tea and water refills at the excellent Pit Stops / Aid Stations, and a couple of flapjacks but that was all. I wanted to be pretty self sufficient on food I had trained with to avoid any errr …..shall we say “digestive distress” and I had none at all, hurrah)

Then we were off, as usual I started at the back as we were a mixture of people doing 100km non-stop and people doing it in 2 days camping overnight who were a bit more sprightly (though many of them paid the price later as only 60% of them finished).

The scenery was gorgeous and difficult to capture on a phone camera but I did try.

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One became very grateful for any shade as obviously on the “Ridgeway” there was not a lot of trees for shade.

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I did notice after a few hours that the “fluid” was looking a bit “strong” so I increased my water intake a little and upped the salt tablets to 2 an hour after starting to get “sausage fingers”. It was about 10 hours before my next loo stop by which time everything was back to the right colour and my sausage fingers were back to normal. (I seemed to have to stop every 20 minutes for the last few miles of the race as I was clearly emptying my fingers!).

I was also soaking my wrist and neck Buffs in water and pouring water over my head to keep my Visor Buff wet which was refreshingly cooling (and something I learnt in Mexico to keep cool).

Did a couple of Heart Rate checks during a few hiking stages (Normally my Resting HR is 55bpm & Max HR is 194bpm) and it was around 96bpm so not too bad.

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Run to the Stones 2013

 

Run to the Stones 2013

This was around halfway at 50k in 7hrs 40 min something like 16:30 Saturday afternoon.

I had hayfever tablets in my pack in case this field of rapeseed set me off but luckily it didn’t.

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Crossing the Thames at Goring & Streatley and seeing the ice cream vendors was very tempting (as were the pubs)

The Bad

I got to 75k around 23:20 and I was suffering.

My Luna Leadville Pacer huaraches were just not man enough for the gnarly rocky flint trails I was going along. I’m pretty light in them but the sharp stones just kept bruising my feet leading to a blister just forward of the ball of each foot. I stopped and changed my socks (which seemed to have collected a cup of trail dust each), cleaned my feet with the irreplaceable baby wipes (should be renamed “Trail wipes”), applied blister plasters and put on my clean socks, wonderful.

My other source of pain was chafing which I treated as best I could with my Bodyglide stick (oooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww).

I was now slowed to a half jog and “cowboy” type walk.

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This little guy made me smile in the early hours!

By now my Garmin 910XT had finally given out after 20 hrs 26min (which was pretty impressive as it is only advertised as lasting 20 hrs) and I was feeling really tired. The morning sun had come up and I was now walking slowly over rolling hills, each time hoping for a glimpse of Avebury or some indication that the end was near. I knew it couldn’t be more than 8k but it was taking forever.

Then I had an idea, in the last few Pit stops / Aid Stations the same runner would arrive (with his pacer) and snooze in a chair, I’d leave and later on he would pass me seemingly refreshed after his 10 minute sleep. Maybe it would work for me?

I came upon a fairly flat rock at the side of the trail, took of my rucsac and using it as a pillow laid on the rock backwards with my feet still on the floor. It wasn’t that comfortable which I was hoping would prevent me from falling asleep for too long. It was nice and warm in the sunshine and I must have dropped off, hearing some runners walk past as I drifted off.

As my Garmin was dead and my iPhone was in low on power and in airplane mode I wasn’t aware of the time but I reckon I must have dozed for 10-15 minutes, either way when I awoke I felt a lot better. I threw on my rucsac, popped a caffeine shotblok and headed off, with a bit more spring in my….err delicate stride!

I could see 2 runners ahead who kept disappearing and reappearing as they descended and ascended and each hill. Then they didn’t reappear! I kept walking hoping that meant they were descending off the Ridgeway towards Avebury and the finish, but trying not to  get my hopes up. I reached the point where they had disappeared from sight and there they were, descending the Ridgeway towards the little village of Avebury and the finish. I was nearly there!

Now I knew that the last bit of the route involved going into the middle of Avebury, between two of the stones and then following the shape of a letter “U” back the way we had come and then finishing down a long straight path ending in an Finishing arch and the farm where I had left the car.

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As I approached Avebury I pulled out my iPhone just to see the time, I wasn’t particularly bothered (as I didn’t think there was a cut-off time for getting 2 UTMB points, or at least my questions regarding that hadn’t been answered) but I wanted to know.

I glanced at the time and a cold shiver went down my back, it was 7:45am Sunday morning and the race started at 8:00am Saturday morning, if there did happen to be a cutoff for UTMB points it would be at 24 hours, shit thats 8:00am!

I started running, declined the offer to have my picture taken between the stones and headed back the way I had come and the two left hand turns that would lead me to the finishing straight. I glanced again (I was now holding my phone) 7:50am and I was picking up speed across the field towards the final turn and what I guessed to be 500m to the finish.

The pain in my feet and my chafing was fading as adrenalin was kicking in as I accelerated down that straight, mentally I was back in Bushy Park parkrun, throwing everything into that last 100 metres, except this was several times that distance and I was tired, but that tiredness was leaving me, being replaced by a fierce desire to beat that cut-off. I could think of nothing worse than missing the cut-off which I could have made if only I had speeded up for that last mile.

I was now 100 metres from the finish, it would be close, I could see people and the circa 7 minute mile pace I had been doing, gave way to sprinting which I knew from experience would cover the final distance in 16-17 seconds, whatever state I was in.

I crossed the line at 7:57am, stamped on the chip sensors just to make sure the tag I had tied round my ankle registered me finishing and staggered into the shade where someone hung a medal round my neck whilst I tried to get my heart rate to leave the dizzy heights of 190 bpm or so for something a little more sedate.

 The race had started late so my finishing time was 23:45, but better to be safe than sorry.

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My tired old pair of ‪#‎lunasandals‬ Leadville Pacers that got me through 100km of gnarly rocky trails (5,000ft ascent / descent) in temperatures of 30C / 86F are probably due to be replaced with a pair of Oso’s just as soon as I can afford them!

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All in all a great and well organised event, in fact brilliant for their first time running the event under these conditions.

Roll on next year’s, I’ve registered an interest already!

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The Wall Ultramarathon 69 miles – 23rd June 2012

On Saturday 23rd June 2012 I ran the furthest I have ever run, 69 miles and 4,700ft of altitude, and I did it in my Luna Leadville Pacer Sandals (https://www.lunasandals.com/), and with the weather on that day they turned out to be the best footwear choice I could have made.

The race was called “The Wall” (http://thewallrun.com/) and was a 69 mile Ultra marathon along Hadrians Wall, a 2,000 year old wall which was the most northerly permanent component of the Roman empire.

(The race finished in the middle of Newcastle but alas my garmin battery died after 20 hours)

I set off from Kings Cross station on the day before, nervous and wishing I had some “magic” to help me complete the distance, but alas this is as close as I got (Harry Potter fans will understand).

The start was from Carlisle Castle at 7am on Saturday (there was another start 1 hr later for those runners completing the race in 2 days, but the thought of running 32 miles, camping, and then getting up next day knowing I had another 37 miles to run didn’t appeal!).

I was staying at a hotel close to the castle so after a light dinner (no exotic or spicy food for me that evening…….) I headed up to bed after setting 4 alarms on my iPhone and booking a hotel call for 5:30am (they had laid on an early breakfast for 6am as there were quite a few runners staying).

RRRRRRRRRiiinnngggggg

Ugh, my various alarms went off and I pulled back the curtains to see …….. rain!

I showered (whilst thinking why am I doing this, I’m going to be getting wet for the next 20-24 hrs?) dressed and went down for some toast & tea.

The topic of conversation amongst the runners was….you guessed rain, and what to wear / carry.

On return to my room I surveyed my 3 bags, my running rucsac, my drop bag, roller bag.

I was running in my Luna Leadville Pacer sandals (traditional leather laces), shorts and a short & long sleeved technical top with my OMM waterproof on top. I was in trouble if it did stop raining as I had nowhere to put all this stuff as my bag was already full!

My running rucsac had food (Clif Shot Bloks & Clif bars), 2 litles of Nuun in my Camelbak, mandatory first aid and safety kit, spare warm top and waterproof trousers for when I get cold in the early hours. I had also packed my headtorch, just in case my drop bag (with spare clothes and more food) didn’t make it to the halfway pitstop at Vindolanda. I was also carrying a pair of Mountain King “Trail Blaze” running poles (http://www.mountainking.co.uk/) which were so light I intended to run with them folded in one hand, getting them out for any steep climbs (I did an ultra earlier in the year where I was picking up bits of wood to help me up steep climbs in a forest, so I was not doing that again) and when I slow to a walk for the latter stages of the run.

I grabbed my bags and headed down to the start at Carlisle Castle.

It was pretty miserable at the start with around 200 people (around 200 are running it in 1 day and 600 are running over 2 days) muttering about the rain and unpacking waterproofs.

Fortunately I had bought my Aquapac waterproof iPhone case so I should be able to take pictures, even if the quality is sometimes not that hot (see below).

As usual I got lots of strange looks due to my footwear, but I did see one person in VFFs.

The start was delayed for around 20 minutes but we eventually got under way (after some “stuff our lawyers make us say” type talks by the organisers) by around 7:20am.

The first few miles wind around streets and parks next to the river, which I got my first inkling as to what was in store. Water, lots of water. The river had flooded (and was about to break its banks again), the result of which was all the paths near the river were under 8-9 inches of water.

I had great delight in running through these flooded areas whilst all “shod” runners queued and tried to thread their way around the water trying not to get their clean trainers and socks wet.

It wasn’t long before the looks of puzzlement at my strange footwear turned into looks of envy as I ran through the water, shook my feet dry, and continued running on the paths (accompanied by cries of “stop rubbing it in!” ).

Here are a few videos taken during the run.

My nutrition and fluids seemed to work well (I was drinking about 0.7 litre per hour and eating 6 shot bloks per hour) from all indications (I’ll avoid further details you’ll be glad to hear).

In the latter stages when the paths were alongside the river we were wading knee deep through the flooding (when we told the staff at the next aid station they said that the first runners through earlier in the day had to wade through water waist deep!). I was almost using my poles as a depth gauge as knee deep water was ok but I didn’t want a swim.

I managed to last until 10pm before I had to get out my headtorch at which point I put on my warm top as I was slowing down and starting to get a bit cold.

I reached the 62 mile pit stop at around 3:00am by which time I was consuming anything with caffeine in (Gu’s, shot bloks I mean anything to stay awake). I had a wonderful slab of chocolate flapjack and nearly fell of the chair with sugar rush. In fact I really did fall off the chair(I think I fell asleep for a second before the sugar hit). A quick cup of tea and then I and another runner who was continuing (we left several “youngsters” behind who were dropping out) left together to cover the last 7 miles that seem to take forever. Boy was I glad I had poles now.

It even started raining again as the sun came up so I stopped to put on the waterproof trousers to fight off the cold for a few more miles. It was ironic that the warmest part of my were my feet, and they were bare!

I crossed the finish line in Newcastle at just after 6am, exhausted, hungry but grinning from ear to ear at what I had accomplished, and very impressed with the organisers of the event (http://www.ratrace.com/run/) who had to cope with some appalling conditions on their first Ultramarathon along “The Wall”.

Now this event was entered with one objective in mind, to prove that I can run over 50 miles, and why? Because I want to travel to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico to run the Copper Canyons Ultra Marathon (CCUM) in March 2013 (made famous in Chris McDougall’s book “Born to Run”).

I met the main character in the book “Caballo Blanco” in London last year and he referred to me as the “2013 guy” (he tried to get me to run it in 2012 but I declined as I needed more training). Regrettably Caballo Blanco (Micah True) died whilst running trails several months ago, making it likely that the event in 2013 will turn into a celebration of his life, the native Tarahumara people and place that he loved.

Now to sell the idea to my Wife…………