Thursday, 18 July 2013

Race to the Stones....well kind of!

So there was me thinking the training was in the bag. I had spent a long time as you all know running in all weathers. Well I say "all weathers" what I actually mean is typical English slightly overcast weather.
What I hadn't banked on was for the temperature to suddenly spike into the early 30`s!! BALLS!

Don`t get me wrong, I LOVE the sun, just not so keen on the idea of running 62 miles in 30 degree heat having never done it before! oh well, on with the show!

My beautiful, wonderful, adorable, (too far??) Fiancee drove me the 2 hours to the start line in time for an 8:15am kick off (see why I said all the lovey dovey stuff now?) we got there around 7:30am so I made my way to sign in then made a beeline for the loo before the last minute rush.

Spotted Luke Ashton AKA "UltraLuke" just before the start which was really nice as I had been chatting to him for a while on Twitter and also following his blog.

Meeting Ultra Luke (left) for the first time
Well worth a check! (click here for a link to his blog) Bit of a chat and a few photos later, we were lining up for the pre-race briefing then we were off!
Within about 30 seconds he was gone and I later found out he came 13th! Well done dude! :)

My plan was to run in my sandals without socks for as long as I could before adding them as per my North Downs Way 50 where I added them after 31 miles.

6 miles in and I was sitting on the ground adding lube and socks to my already warm feet!!! This was not part of the plan! Now pretty worried that my feet just were not up for the task this time I tried to put it out of my mind and just keep moving.
The sun was relentless. So much so that after around 7 miles I was reduced to a walk and that's pretty much how it stayed for many many miles to come.

Chatting away with people along the way just reaffirms my love for the Ultra distance. The type of people, the stories, the whole kit and caboodle! The way we can push each other along through, heat, pain and exhaustion is something to treasure. Nowhere else have I ever found this level of community.
Its these people that made the day what it was.

Aid stations can seem further away in this heat, like some beautiful carrot on a stick constantly just out of reach. On and on and on for what felt like forever until finally I could see a flag......then a sign!!
Aid station 2 "Is that it?! WHAT THE HELL?!!?" It was going to be a loooong day.

It had taken far longer than expected to reach even the 2nd aid station and I was starting to doubt myself.
Back at the start line I knew it was going to be hot but thought I would just take it easy and based on my first ultra I should have this thing done in around 15-16 hours. Piece of cake! I was wrong....very wrong.

My "piece of cake" became, "just keep moving!" which became, "just get to the next aid station"!
My goals become shorter in the heat. I am no longer thinking of the whole thing, its too much to think about!

Time moved on and on and on and on, the sun didn't.
I was very aware that I had to keep on top of my food and water or this could quickly become a very bad day, however the sun again had other ideas.

Aid stations came and went, each one I cherished the small reprieve from the heat. I tried to eat and drink and not get too comfy in the shade.

Aid station 5 was a tough one for me. 48k in and it had already taken just over 9 hours! Mentally it was a big strain to think that I had to do another 52k, worse still was realising that it could take another 10 hours in this heat!
I had to focus on what I could control right now, think small. "How am I feeling?" Bit achy I guess but that's to be expected. "Hungry, thirsty?" Not really and I don't really want a drink. WARNING!!! WARNING!!! WARNING!!!
My mental dashboard blinking away frantically trying to override my foggy mind.

For those yet to have the pleasure, let me give you a little heads up...
Simply put, going off of your food and water is a bad sign and not just for the obvious reason that you have nothing to fuel you anymore. Its also a sign of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Basically if you don't do something about it as soon as you can its going to be all downhill from here on in!
Now the tough part about this feeling is how subtle it can be. It creeps up on you in stages.

So how do you know what to look for?
Here are a few signs that I have found myself, some minor, some major...

Upon reaching an aid station you find nothing looks tasty. Not such a big deal, not everyone likes aid station food.....Warning 1.
You reach into your bag for your favourite snack, unwrap it, take a bite..."I don't want this anymore"....Warning 2
You have been carrying that banana for 3 miles looking at it in the same way most school kids look at Brussel sprouts.....Warning 3
You realise you have stopped sweating. This may feel great but its not a good sign...Warning 4
Not sure when you last took a mouthful of water? Keep your mind on the game!.....Warning 5
Realising the previous point you take a mouthful of water and don't want to swallow it!....Major warning!!!

You could probably get away with most of these for a while but you can only pass it off as "it will sort itself out" for so long before you find yourself in a pretty bad way, maybe not even realising why!

I had to force feed myself both food and water knowing that it was the only way that I was going to get through the rest of this, the lesser of two evils and all that!

I spent about half an hour at Aid station 5. Forcing some pasta down, drinking and stretching. I really, really didn't want to be eating hot pasta in 30 degree heat but my desire to finish the race got the job done and got me back on my feet!

Finally leaving the aid station with a tower of a man who I had been running with since around mile 5.
Dennis had greeted me with "hey! Did you just do the North Downs in May?" yep! I said "thought so, I recognised your feet! I finished just in front of you!"
Small world eh?! As it turns out I was number 1 and he was number 2!
We had been chatting away when we bumped into 3 other guys that seemed to be going at the same pace so we all hung about together, chopping and changing depending on who was walking and who was running.

We laughed, moaned and swore our way from station to station pulling each other along.
Joking that we should be running behind Dennis so we could take shade in his shadow. That I should stay over the other side of the trail to keep the flies away from everyone else as they seemed to have a bit of a thing for me! This continued into the night until finally the flies went to bed.

The sun had finally set but the temperature wasn't really dropping. Still we figured a little longer and it will drop enough that we could put in some bigger stints of running to make up some time.

Sometime in the early hours of the morning Dennis went off a little in front while the rest of us had a walk break. "wow he is giving it some, eh?" I said to the others as the light from his head torch darted down the trail and off around the corner. We had a little jog again to see if we could catch him up. We never saw him again! Dennis sent me a Tweet later saying sorry but he suddenly felt really good and just had to go with it!

Nothing to be sorry about, it is a race after all! :D

So now we were 4. We pushed on and on over rocky roads, thick grass, chalk, flint, hills and gates until we could start hearing the birds chirping the new day in.
It`s a very strange but wonderful feeling to know that you have just run through the night.
It started to get light enough to finally take the head torches off. Good thing too as we were approaching a very rutted section that would have been really tricky in the dark!
By now we were all tired and really just wanted to see those stones! Instead we saw a Badger! Pretty cool, never seen a live one before. Unfortunately it didn't hang around long enough to ask us what the hell we were doing and darted off into the grass.

We crested a hill and Courtney said "I think that's them!" we looked down the hill and to the right and could just make the stones out in the distance!!

Lifted by the idea that we were close we pushed on as quick as our tired bodies would let us.

At the bottom of the hill we could see a lady walking up. "That`s my wife!" said a very relieved Andrew.
They had a chat while the rest of us had a little jog down the hill.

The approach to the stones felt like a life time. We could now see them in the field below! It was then that we saw a handwritten sign that read Loop around the stones ........"erm.....guys?! This isn't the finish!!!" the words fell out of my mouth like a brick.
We made our way along the road to a guy who told us to go through the gate, through the 2 stones then head to the bottom of the field and back down the road we just came down!!!

We stopped and had a few photos at the stones (as you do!) then made our way, all be it a little disappointed to the end of the field and out the gate.

We were all under the impression that as it was called Race to the Stones that we would firstly, get to see all the stones and secondly, finish at the stones!!! This rather disappointingly was not to be the case. The finish instead was back up the road, into a field, across the field and the finally we were on the home straight!

The finishing line was in the distance, a nice flat road under our feet, about 400 meters from us and that line we had been dreaming of all this time.
Courtney initiated the jog with a "come on boys!" and off we went. We were going to run the last bit, all be it slowly but we were going to run it!
200 meters to go we all formed a line and ran shoulder to shoulder, big silly grins on our faces as we crossed the line together!

Adrian, Andrew, Courtney and Me at the end of Race to the Stones

Dennis, Adrian, Courtney and Andrew. You made it the day it was for me, and I sincerely thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the journey.

Till next time folks!



  1. Thanks for sharing the journey Mark, in my years of running I have been inspired by many people - Dave Bedford, Steve Ovett and Jones, Dave Nankeville who showed me just what I could do and what was possible, a protégé of mine Terry Knightley who went on to win 62 county medals and now I can add you to that list.

  2. Surly not ALL weather? HeHehe! You forgot that your "beautiful, wonderful, adorable,Fiancee" woke up at 5:30am on Saturday and didn't get to sleep again till 9:30am on Sunday! You did amazingly!

  3. Andy - Thank you so much for the kind words, it means more to me to be an inspiration to someone than it ever does to cross a finishing line! Thank you!

  4. Jiminybillyblog - yes ALL weather! ha ha ha! well yeah I didn't had that but now you have, thank you for the correction! ha ha! Thank you for being my running WAG ha ha ha!