Monday, 24 July 2017

Race to the Stones - 100k in a day

Setting off on a 5-mile recovery run a few days after completing 100km gave me (plenty of) time to think over the RTTS, the achievement finally sinking in.  In 2016 I completed the race with 5 friends over the two days, with a night's stopover at the base camp, and I decided I would attempt it in 2017 in a single run.  Phil, as mad as me, signed up as well.  But it was nearly a year away so.... where did that year go?

I spent the Friday before the race preparing food, packing and unpacking my hydration vest and getting my hair cut (all important).  Finally, I was ready!  I had one of the best night's sleep of the year and was up the next morning at 5 am.  My breakfast all prepared all I needed to do was make my coffee and head to Avebury where the bus would take me to the start in Lewknor.

Arriving at the start in Lewknor

I was expecting the same bun fight as last year.  Trying to park, massive queues for the coaches and big hold-ups at the start.  I was shocked when I arrived, I parked quickly and stepped straight onto the coach and we were leaving within minutes.  As we neared the start I was again shocked at how well the traffic flowed.  We pulled up and I went to the check-in to collect my race pack.

I immediately bumped into Tracey Atherton and her running partner, from work, who was returning for her second year.  Minutes later met with Phil, who I was running with, and Mark, who had driven Phil to the start- both LC24 teammates.

Phil booking in
Lambs to.....

Last checks and we were being called to the start.  Unlike the mass starts of last year there was multiple wave starts this year and we were in the last wave at 9.30, which seemed to be filled with 100km non-stop competitors.  As we prepared to begin a gentle rain started, hey ho I've got waterproof skin.  And then we were off! 

The first few miles include a few hills and some tree cover from the rain which was slowly starting to soak us through.  We passed the kissing gates without me noticing, last year we had queued for 20 minutes passing through each of them.

At around 7 miles we passed through the "Field of Dreams", this did mean leaving the relative cover of the trees and the view wasn't as stunning with the low cloud but it still made a great change in scenery.

Field of Dreams

We dropped down onto Grim's Ditch, a flat, straight, tree-covered path that takes you to Wallingford and the River Thames, the trees giving us some shield from the drizzle although a little slippery after all the morning's footfall.  As we approached the end of the Ditch the rain subsided and the temperature raised a few degrees.

We reached the Thames at 12 miles and turned South, crossing fields and the riverside path to the outskirts of Goring.  We passed many private moorings, boat houses and back gates with electrical combination locks!  The Twilight Zone?  Well, worlds apart.

Goring/Streatley Bridge

On the iconic bridge connecting Goring and Streatley, we stopped for a picture and then made our way West to the next checkpoint at 21 miles where we eventually caught up with Tracey and her partner.  We quickly ate, drank and filled our pockets with healthy snacks.  I copied Phil by picking up a banana to eat on the hoof.  The next checkpoint was only 10 km away but having run this section recently on the London to Cardiff relay race I knew it was nearly all climb.  We ran where we could and walked the steeper sections.  Eventually, we could hear the A34, the checkpoint (and more level path) 1 km from the underpass, but not before one last steep climb.

Somewhere on the route

The checkpoints were well stocked and the crews massively helpful, reading our names from the race numbers and addressing us personally.  They rang cowbells as we approached and cheered is in.  No matter how low you felt approaching a checkpoint you left on a high.

We were closing on the base camp and the 50k point.  The few miles from the checkpoint to the base camp passed quickly as we received messages from Matt Charlton that he had arrived and had pizza!  Matt met us at the entrance and photobombed our 50k photos, love you really Matt.

Photo-bomb Matt joining us for lunch

We ate, changed clothing, applied calf compressions, sank a cup of hot sweet tea and then, ignoring the aches, said goodbye to Matt and headed back down onto the Ridgeway to start the second half at about 17:15.

We walked for around 5 minutes to allow our food to settle and warm our muscles again.  The next 20 or so miles along the Ridgeway is high and exposed but the weather held, high clouds, light winds and highs of 17 degrees.  The trail at this point is baked solid by the sun, with plenty of stones, making the going hard underfoot hard at times.  Grass strips make the going easier underfoot but never last for long.

Still feeling strong.

We picked up the pace again, occasionally chatting with other runners, sharing our thoughts or just running in silence, enjoying the sights and sounds. Phil had broken the race down to 10k segments in his mind, saying the idea of running 100 km would just scare him.

The next checkpoint was at 58 km and the path "undulating" but we kept up a steady pace.  By now my shorts had dried out and the temperature had risen a little more making the early evening very comfortable.  As we arrived at the checkpoint Phil started to head to the camping chairs supplied but I warned him against it, watching someone trying to stand again after a short period of sitting he understood fully the reason.  Again, we moved out as soon as possible.

The trail continued much the same through checkpoint 7 at 66 km and until the village of Foxhill at 72 km where the route leads you up and over the M4 followed by one of the steepest climbs of the race.  As usual, a photographer was waiting at the top!
Always a photographer when you're walking

The evening was starting to draw in and we reached checkpoint 8 at 21:50 as the light was finally starting to fade.  We both knew there was some work to do before the last checkpoint at 88km so we sipped a cup of hot sweet tea, ate and prepared our head torches.  Then out into the dark, dark woods...

Checkpoint 8

From leaving the checkpoint we could hear music in the distance, we headed south and then we turned west and descended rapidly down a rutted lane towards the A346 and Ogbourne St George.  We discovered the source of the music at the bottom of the hill, and glanced in to see BBQ and beer!

We went under the A346, turned north then through the village, climbing on the far side until the Ridgeway cut west again.  The next checkpoint was not far away, in the car park of Barbury Castle, but the route was less defined and cows patrolled the field with their glowing eyes and hateful stares.
Phil had from early on led on the running sections and I caught him on the walks, using forced marching techniques to keep a fast pace, but as the night took hold and miles ticked away I was leading Phil on both sections.  He had been worried earlier about getting back to London after the race and I knew this could be playing on his mind as well, carrying worries on long runs is not a great idea - I say this as an authority.

We climbed the last hill and arrived on the road to the Barbury Castle car park and the last checkpoint at 88kms, there I met a runner I had sat next to on the coach in the morning and who had set out at 8 am.  He had struggled from the base camp at 50 km and, like many others were just walking to the finish.  Another quick top up and we set off.

I had run the last 6 miles of the route the previous weekend and with details still fresh in my mind we pushed on, avoiding the hazards.  The path is more even and defined up until the last few miles where it became deeply rutted, damage to ankles is easy enough in the day along this stage so running with head torches at 1 am in the morning must be done with real caution.

Suddenly the turn off the Ridgeway appeared, I turned to Phil and he was nowhere to be seen!  I worked my way back and spotted his head torch bobbing along, the only other person running.  We turned down towards Avebury and the stones, still running where we could, but the track (and the road) seemed to be never-ending.  Eventually, we reached the stones and were choreographed into position by a significant rock for a handful of pictures of two zombies.

Near a stone
Once we escaped the photographers I promised Phil a surprise if he ran the remaining 1 km back up the track and around to the finish.  He did, we stayed side by side, still overtaking other competitors right up to the finish.  The surprise was Mark waiting at the finish to drive Phil home.

Phil spotting Mark at the finish.

Our official time was 15:50:33, 375/653 - I was happy with that.  I had burnt around 10,000 calories and climbed some 4,445 feet.  We both ached a little but I felt good, maybe I need something a little further......

and relax

Would I do it again?  Yes, but it's not cheap

For Lucy - keep strong, we love you.

Phil, you are a star and a pleasure to run with!  Matt and Mark, thank you for the support.  Thank you also to all those who encouraged and made the journey easier.


  1. Its an honour to run with and support you two

  2. Richard Hudson25 July 2017 at 18:47

    Mick. Great write up and photos.

  3. Again I am in awe of you, (but i missed my hug this year)......