Tuesday 22 July 2014

Race Report : Race to the Stones 100km

I don't blog; this may be evident in the way my post jumps around quite a bit. However I still wanted to record my thoughts so they don't get muddled or dwindle with time, as I often find. That way Chris can't correct me and tell me that was a different race/year etc. So, this was to be my first ultra. Race to the Stones 100k over two days on 19th & 20th July from Chinnor to Avebury along the Ridgeway. The organisers provided a very handy training guide, by Rory Coleman, which I followed pretty much to the letter but not obstinately when I had a niggle here or a heavy work week there, I was happy enough to be flexible with my program and not get stressed. Rather than the full 20 weeks I used the last 12 weeks, which fitted in perfectly off the back of my marathon training program with a week off after Boston to rest.

Leading up to the race I can't say I was excited. I don't tend to do excited. Perhaps if I was a fast front pack runner I might. Some of that adrenaline would be handy. I get very excited for Chris and our friends who run but that's because they're all so capable and its shows in their great results. My task was to finish. No great expectations.

The day of the race came and I was tired after a few days of storms and no decent nights sleep since Wednesday. Chris kindly took mine and Niandi's bags to the car and I was all too grateful and willing for the support (I'm not a morning person). Niandi had travelled down to Gloucester on the Friday afternoon and stayed with us for the evening with a lovely dinner and dessert all provided by Chris' fair hand and mostly from our allotment or orchard. Niandi indulged in a couple of glasses of red, which I just can't manage anymore, I'm such a lightweight! Then I set about getting my race and overnight bags packed. Ah, yes. Chris taking our bags to the car. What this basically means is that I forgot my phone and Leadville hat next to it as we left at 5.30am on Saturday. This wasn't the great start to the day I had envisaged and did not put me in a good mood, especially as I remembered within the first five minutes and Chris wouldn't go back to get it, being such a stickler for time and worried we'd be late for registration and start. Me being me didn't care and just wanted to catch up on Facebook, Words with Friends, but mainly check the weather forecast and have a camera to take photos with along the way ready to upload on the day (plan B became to use my music phone and upload them later). Chris being Chris and despite the "It's not my fault you're not organised!" pithy response went back home after the start of the race and picked it up for me to have later that day. He also made me a gluten free cashew butter sarnie to take and supplies to do this again on Sunday a.m. too. Niandi didn't seem too fussed by our bickering in the front of the car and in next to no time we were at the start, I was rushing to the loo and relieved, pardon the pun, to do so prior to registration as the queue grew tenfold. Registration was smooth and speedy, we dropped off Niandi's overnight camping bag (Chris and I were staying at the Crown & Horns in Compton) and caught up with Andrew Jordan, bumped into Louise Ayling and I met one of Chris' CCC recce buddies, John Volanthen.

The start time came and went and we set off at 08.10 and quickly ground to a halt crossing the railway line as the trail narrowed. I'm sure it had an impact on my time but I far preferred this to going out too fast and psychologically damaging my confidence by repeating to myself "I started too fast, I knew I shouldn't have started too fast." as I knew I would have had the excuse to do so otherwise.

I was delighted the aid stations had portaloo's as well as made to order gluten free sarnies and snacks. Certainly not as wide a selection as the Centurion events I've been used to volunteering at but I brought all the food and supplies I'd trained with and was expecting to rely upon. I'm amazed that anyone would want to experiment with new stuff on the day and put their race at risk with something that disagreed with them. But then, eating and picking the right foods to keep down and digest has not been without its challenges for me, even on shorter distances, so perhaps this is a very personal thing and for others it's not a big deal.

The volunteers and spectators were nothing short of awesome (thank you boys at mile 19 for the fizzy cola bottles, you rock). The miles came and went. Sometimes I ran with Niandi, sometimes by myself and I had the pleasure of running a long stint at the end with Andrew till we parted ways at the "halfway split", actually around 27.5/28 miles as he carried on with the nonstop 100k and I headed to base camp. 

Boy, I have so much respect for all the people who ran the 100k nonstop. Wow! Now I think I finally know what it takes, and I don't have it in me...yet. I heard about the hail later that evening, Chris mentioned someone said it was 'refreshing'!?! I think that may have been John Volanthen, so now I know he's not all there either. I saw the markers with palely illuminated glowsticks attached the following morning as I ran in the cool breeze and I just thought what must it have been like running that "very runable Ridgeway trail", on easy terrain with a head torch? Tough. After all those miles to just keep churning them out. You are all hardcore heroes to me. And yet, that is how runners making their first strides into long distance must surely think of when they see me in that crowd. It couldn't be further from the truth. I feel like a faker. OK, not a faker but it was just a fluke. I did it but once and it really wasn't easy. I'm sure with time I'll have an epiphany moment as I finally did when running and training for my three marathon attempts when I will say to myself "This is getting easier, I'm actually comfortable with this run and I am an ultra runner". I'm certainly nowhere near that yet though.

Day 1, Saturday was hot and humid. We had an hour or two of intermittent rain and it was a welcome respite from the heat and blazing sun. It was a tad muddy and slippery underfoot with claggy mud and I was grateful for making the 'grip but less cushioned' choice of trail shoes over trainers. Saying I'm clumsy is an understatement. I can fall over just fine without roots, holes or volcanic rocks (as Niandi witnessed with me in Lanzarote a few years ago). There were plenty of runners in trainers though, that managed just fine. I only ever run in Salomon Speedcross 3 (S3's) or the McDonalds of trainers on road, Asics. It's the devil I know. However, after a pain across the top of my foot/ankle during my second long run in injinji's and new S3's, which got progressively worse and messed up my 26.2 distance (becoming a hobble to complete 24 miles) I started to worry I might not even make it to the start, or that it'd come back to curse my race. As such an older, reliable pair of S3's and balega socks were the order of the day for footwear. Only a few blisters to show for it having ditched the injinji's that seem tighter on my ankles. Result.

I took a 30min pitstop about mile 20 on Sunday (so around mile 50 overall) to sort out those blisters with Compeed and also took two paracetamol, which I've never done before (aside from the rare occasions I've had a headache).  Well worth it, and glad I'd waited until then, but boy were the legs sore after sitting most of that time at the pitstop. Not something I'll make the mistake of doing again. It felt like I had new feet afterwards, though. Woohoo, I was flying at times. It's just a shame they were attached to my screaming legs. The downhills were killing my quads, again thanks to my own stupidity due to charging down the hill at 7:30 pace at the end of Saturday, when The Stone Roses Resurrection came on and I thought "what an awesome song to finish on, I wonder if I can make it to the end with this song playing?" And I did, shame my watch died at 7hrs 05 and I finished at 7hrs 20. I would have loved to see that upward spike on my movescount. 'Twas not meant to be.

I can't deny that Sunday wasn't hard. I asked Chris as we left the company of Niandi and the camp on Saturday afternoon "Tell me why I entered the two day 100k rather than the one day 50k" only half in jest. It was much of the same: great support and friendly faces all round. The major difference was the much cooler start to the day and the 6.45 kick off (people were just turning up and starting at their leisure as we were all chipped). That was a bit daft, the chips. Only the start and finish had timing mats. Great for a one day shorter event but not for multi-days when, in my humble opinion you might be more inclined to change you footwear if you got them all muddy on day 1 (Chris disagrees with me on this point). In my view, you really needed a longer tag that could go round the ankle, and I said as much when we went to camp at 6.15 to get my new chip (plus an extra one in case I wanted to change my trainers back to trail shoes partway through on Sunday); oh the faff. I didn't.

I bumped into Niandi around mile 12 on Sunday and we ran most of the way to the finish together having a good old chat, with me telling my favourite blonde joke of all time - I think it went down well. I still am in awe of the fact Niandi has run over 150 ultras (approximately; she's never counted). Plus all the marathons. At peak running Niandi ran around 30 ultras a year. And then there's me - not even having done one. Regret is something we discussed - luckily I have none and I'm grateful that I didn't find running when I was younger, it would have been wasted on me and I wouldn't have appreciated it nearly as much as I do. Plus, I'm sure I would have done myself a mischief many times over to have made running now not an option - I can't run fast enough to do myself too much harm now! The support and encouragement from Niandi and great banter made the miles easier. The route from The Burj at Foxhill to just past Barbury Castle were familiar miles to me, I had the pleasure of running this part of the Ridgeway on a SocialUltra that Andrew Jordan organised back in March. Only miles 22-24 massively flew by as I found myself running alone in a daydream through the sheltered tracks (thanks to Jelly Tots and fudge with table salt) and the announced beep on my watch surprised me into a conscious stream of thought that they'd come round far sooner than expected - another first for me. 

The last few Ks were tough and it was psychologically gruelling for me running past the finish point down to the stones and then back up again. The hand slaps from runners coming back up though was a boost and made me smile, as did the pics with Niandi at the stones.  I'd still much prefer a detour a bit earlier to make up the distance... the watch clocked 32.73 miles at the finish, but at least the battery held out on Sunday. Despite the soreness Sunday was made all the easier without the heat plus all the wonderful runners, volunteers and spectators cheering us on, it really lifted my spirits. It was also a massive boost bumping into Chris four times offering us snacks, water as well as words of encouragement plus acting as our official photographer. Shouting "Run faster, Fatty" from the bushes doesn't count though.

I finished in 7.20 Saturday and 7.17 Sunday (does that count as a negative split, especially considering it was a 48k/52k distance split?). My time was 14.37 overall and I came 63rd, out of a field of 376 plus 13th of 213 ladies. I'll settle for that as my first foray into ultra running and my first back to back one at that. Niandi did brilliantly, as I knew she would, 39th overall and 7th lady. Despite me running away with myself to get to the finish line Niandi had at least an hour on me form Saturday, so well done to her and all of the competitors who entered Race to the Stones. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

If I can manage an ultra then I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that anyone who has a little bit of time to put in the miles is more than capable of doing so - the deciding factor is only whether you want to that will make the difference.

It may have been my first but it's certainly not my last.  Also, and yes I know it wasn't nonstop so this probably doesn't count, Chris pointed out to me yesterday on the drive home that I have run further than he has in any race. It will be incredibly short lived as a record within the Mills household when he runs CCC next month, followed by the Winter 100 in October. Nonetheless, it's a mantle I'm happy to hold high for the briefest of times and gloat smugly about as I know a) it's true, and b) it was worth it.

Some photos taken by Chris during the race are available here