Journey to Ultra: Race to the Stones 2017 - Part 1
Sometime after completing the London Marathon, I had a moment of *temporary* insanity.
I figured, I didn't want to miss out on the chance to run with my running friends from Instagram - Jemma @thisgirlcanrunfar, Martha @martharuns and Charlie @leancleancooke (now @whatcharlierannext).
I had already missed Jemma at the London Marathon due to her crushing (pun intended) metatarsal stress fracture. And somehow, I had completely missed Martha and Charlie completely - different starting pens, different timings and of course, my mind in the zone to prove myself!
So I quite casually signed up to run 100km in the middle of July. Over two days. No big deal. I had about 2 months to train right? I did this in the week after the marathon. The post-marathon blues is a real thing!
Thank heavens, my coach is a trouper (shout out to Victoria Phillipi of Run4PRs) and she took it in her stride that I planned to run TWO ultramarathons of 100km distance about..... oh, FIVE weeks apart!
See, I had already signed up to run the Norththumberland Coastal 100km in Late August. I just figured I would use Race to the Stones in July as my introductory and tester 100km.
Surely, it would be easier than running the whole thing at once, right?
A brief mention of my training:
Firstly, I bought a book. Actually, I bought two but I didn't like the first and returned it for an exchange for the Running Strong by Dr Jordan Metzl. I used the latter for improving my functional (read, running specific) strength-training. The first book did use bought said I would need like 20 weeks to prepare - I had like EIGHT, at best - so that was out!
The book I devoured - that's the only word for it - was The Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop.
It was everything I needed to get my head in gear. It laid out the basics of training but also comforted me that specific runs geared at the altitude profile of the race would come closer to the race. All I had to focus initially on was building an endurance base! And I could do THAT! (See marathons before).
My coach also expertly blended these elements and added back to back long runs that progressed over the training period to allow me to get used to running high mileage back to back without my legs feeling stiff or dead. This was crucial to the race - and I didn't even realise it whilst doing it.
Now to the race!
Preparations to travel (Ps: I suck at this)!
As is pretty usual for me, I procrastinated most of my travel plans until 2 weeks before the race - okay closer to week beforehand.
And I was shocked to learn that:
I chose to book an Oxford Tube coach ride from London to Lewknor instead. I bought a return ticket but by Friday night, decided I wanted to be home sooner. It follows that I booked a train ticket back from Swindon (so glad I did!).
I wanted to get the Race Organiser's shuttle bus but a combination of my poor internet connections (oh, the indignities of basement living) and my laptop freezing (really Macbook? I thought you were above that!) meant that I was unable to process a payment for this before the deadline (which I didn't know existed) passed! I decided to take cash with me on the day (as well as my card) and just hope I could find a space.
Somehow, between working and home-life, I never managed to print out my ticket for the Oxford tube!
I had packed and re-packed like I was going on holiday. The best kind of holiday - a running one! I took WAY more running gear than needed - bar the shoes. I took 2 pairs (opting to wear Day 1's shoes to travel).
Thankfully, I got to the tube stop at Marble Arch in plenty of time - in spite of the WORST UBER driver! I changed our drop off point en route. I later found out I was only charged 79 pence as a result of this! SCORE!
I had to pay for another single journey on boarding the bus - thank you, Bank card - and quickly settled down upstairs. It slowly dawned on me that EVERYONE on this bus was headed to the same RACE! It didn't help that the guy opposite me was steadily eating a cooked meal from tupperware whilst I belatedly remembered my pre-race snacks - at home in the fridge! Oh well. Never mind, I caught up on a bit more sleep.
As we got off the bus at Lewknor and made a line along the road, as the thought "where's this shuttle bus?" formed in my mind, one drove up to take the place of the recently-departed Coach.
We were all too sleepy or nervous to cheer. I was relieved when we were ushered onto the bus without any questions asked. Truly, complimentary!
RACE: DAY 1
After getting to the Farm, I quickly picked up my race number and attached a green tag to my bag with a matching green paper bracelet for myself. After dropping off my bag to the correct truck (halfway truck, not finish truck!), I wondered over to fill up my water bottles.
I was using Tailwind nutrition sachets (in my water bladder) on my virgin Ultra, having been recommended them the week before. Don't worry, I used them for a few runs before the race and had no gut issues. None during the race either - yay!
I also filled two soft 350ml bottles to put in the front pockets of my VaporAiress racing vest. One I filled with High5 Energy Source Sports Drinks - Summer fruits flavour and the other with plain water. I was pleased to see that High5 were one of the race sponsors so there was plenty of these up for grabs at the start and along the route!
That done, I bought a bacon and sausage bap. It was huge but I was determined. Even when I had to hide it with my bags to take a starting stage picture (see above) - I kept eating it!
Who should I bump into but Martha @martharuns and @whatcharlierannext from Instagram? They had just finished a hair braiding session - Charlie had sorted Martha out with cute braids! As we squealed and Charlie noted my giant (it was huge) sandwich, we got some looks! I got to meet Martha's soon-to-be-Mr, Daryl of @run_daryl_run.
Andy of @chubs2marathonlife also strolled up, very much the superstar aiming to complete 100km in 1 day. He had already taken on the other two Races of this same series - Race to the Tower and Race to the King. Maybe, the same next year?
SHOCKING NEWS was then delivered. Jemma aka @thisgirlcanrunfar has woken up late and missed her original shuttle bus! Noooooooo!
Thankfully, she called Andy who advised her to call one of the volunteers this year - Claire of @irunfarclaire. She thankfully arranged for Jemma and Gavin (hubby) to get the next bus! Hurrah! Sadly, it meant she started after us but we could see her at the halfway camp - or sooner - the speedster!
I gave up trying to finish that sandwich and threw the rest in the bin as we were gently herded over to the start. Once there, we made videos and took group selfies for instagram. What else?
As the final safety announcements were made, we giggled nervously and soon set off.
It was a SEDATE pace. I will say this for ultras - they have that slow start going for them! We started at 11-minute miles because of the shear numbers of people and the rather narrow tracks. This was WAY slower than recovery pace but I loved it! I called it my warm-up, lol!
We talked as we ran, to partly to ease our nerves and catch up on everyone's recent races and their training. Charlie had been injured but was going strong. They had all run the London Marathon as well. Daryl is a right speedster!
As we passed the first 2-3 miles, we came up to a lady who had come in 6th woman in the 2-day race last year. When asked her secret, she said she'd started slowly and sped up as she went on. That was my plan! Yay!
We came upon the first hill. Martha didn't want to push our luck and decided to walk a bit. I decided to run on and waved the guys off.
Soon, there was a real hill. I'm not kidding! EVERYONE was walking up it! I felt my heart racing faster halfway up than it had running this whole time! Okay, new plan - DEFINITELY walking the hills!
Then there were woods. The descents were what I could finally call technical meaning I tripped and almost fell 4 or 5 times in pretty quick succession. It also started to drizzle but I had my waterproof jacket stuffed deep in my racing vest and was NOT going to stop to retrieve it!
Through the field of dreams we went in single file - no photographer waiting at the end? Darn!
Thankfully, we got to the first pit stop. I used that to pee! I didn't look at the goodies on offer or grab any water. I was off again. We ran across golf-courses and up and down hillsides.
Pit stop 2 was for re-tying my shoelaces. Yes, I am a weirdo like that. It was all I could think of for the preceding 2 km! So I bent to tie my shoes and had a sip of too-sweet squash. I did look at the goodies table but alas, was not in the mood for any of them.
At the next few pit stops, they finally got me stopping to partake of the goodies!
There was the young man (a teenage boy) who offered to refill my water. Then I found the orange slices and took some Randoms (small packs of gooey sweets) for later!
At another pit stop, I was offered watermelon slices- and they were delicious.
Between miles 20 and 31+, I slid down a wet, chalky hill side and eventually settled alongside another female runner who was keeping a good pace. D (abbreviated for anonymity) had run the London Marathon consecutively in the last 3 years and was also an Ultramarathon Virgin!
We did the only thing we could at 26.3 miles - we Whooped and high-fived!
She really kept me going in the last km - we passed the 50km point and realised we STILL couldn't see base camp! She encouraged me and it was with relief that I ran/stumbled over the half-way finish line (yep - there was a finish chute).
And then it was time to eat, shower and become human again. Amazingly, we were the top 9 of the 50km first day folks!
Watch out for part 2! This is already a monster post!
I'm Lola - a hair obsessed doctor who stumbled into running long distances and baking all the cupcakes.
I blog about life, running and of course, hair! I'm an Altra "Team Red" Sponsored Athlete, so I will do the occasional running shoe or gadget review.
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