Race To The Stones 100k 2021

I’ve had a few days now to let the events of last weekend sink so thought I’d write some it down while it’s all still fresh. I’m going to make this a two parter though with this part being a write up of the day with a second part with some specifics on what I did for the running nerds.

On Saturday I ran 100k from Lewknor to Avebury. It took me fourteen hours, twenty five minutes and twenty seconds and was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!

Bryony and I travelled down to a hotel in High Wycombe on Friday night so as to make the early start needed the next day a little more bearable. This was because it’s a point to point race and with it being such a long race the logistics of getting to and from the event are something you have to factor in too. The event did provide shuttle bus options where you drive to the finish, then get a bus back to the start. But as that’s a 60+ mile journey it makes for a really really early start. Especially if you are in an early wave like I was (6.50am!)

So after an uneventful drive down I completed the traditional flat lay to make sure I’d got everything I thought I was going to need and tried to get as much sleep as I could

Obligatory pre-race kit pic

My alarm went off at 5am and before knew it I was up had eaten some breakfast, got dressed and was standing on the outskirts of a farm getting my temperature checked at 6.30 in the morning before I knew it.

As well as temperature checking, the big covid change to the start of this event was individual starts. Instead of people huddling together and all leaving at the same time as is traditional at most races we had to queue and were released in five second intervals. So other than topping up my water bottle I just joined the back of the queue and inched towards the start.

I was really eager to get started and thankfully the queuing system worked well and moved along pretty quickly. While I was waiting I waved hello to Sarah Place (of youtube fame) and Steve who I know via work who had ended up in the same wave as me.

Looks tired before he’s even started..

Then we were off! I was very careful not to go racing off too quickly. It’s a terrible habit I have at events where the excitement gets the better of me. Sometimes that’s caused me to come unstuck. It’s something you can get away with a bit on shorter races but I was very aware that this was going to be hard enough without me causing my own issues. I wasn’t that successful though and the first few miles flew by as the route and the scenery were amazing. Rain started to come down but thankfully it was pretty warm and not heavy enough for it to be a problem.

First mile

Steve then caught me up and we had a bit of chat including a bit more detail about my recent hospital trip before he pushed on. I was quite happy to watch him disappear as he has far more long distance experience than me! I was still trying to keep my pace conservative at that point and not doing a great job of it. Even though you figure out your pace during training this was still going to be all new for me. The furthest I’d ran up until this point was 40 miles. I had another 22 to do on top of that so didn’t want to try and do any damage later in the day so sticking to my pace instead of not noticing it while chatting to someone else was the best thing to do.

Then pitstop 1 was upon me! There were 7 pit stops in total. Each pitstop had drinks and a variety of foods and were well manned by friendly staff and volunteers to assist with any problems. I’d planned to keep time spent at stops to a minimum as it’s really easy to hang around and add a bunch of time to your day without realising so I topped up my water, grabbed some food, decided I could wait until the next stop for the toilet and was on my way (I’ll be coming back to this part!)

Food glorious food

I got a bit overexcited at this point. There were some sections in woods that were really fantastic to run through and because of the nature of the track had sections where people bottlenecked a little. When sections opened that allowed faster runners through I went past but then didn’t really slow down. I was having fun and felt pretty good and was my fastest section of the race. Thankfully checkpoint two arrived to make me stop and reassess as that pace wouldn’t have worked long term.

It was at this check point I realised I did need the toilet so spent a bit longer here than I’d have liked but was soon on the way again towards check point 3

The other thing that gave me a bit of a reality check was a fall at mile 15. I was going along in a bit of queue with a group of other people on a section that was quite narrow. Paying more attention on them than the ground in front of me and I missed a stone sticking up in in the middle of the track. I hit it and went down into a patch of mud. Fortunately nothing hurt other than my pride and I was back on my feet and going again pretty quickly.

One of things I’d decided beforehand was not to think about the overall distance on the day. 62 miles is just a huge number so I’d broken it down into two numbers. Number of pitstops and distance to next pitstop. This meant in my head at this point it was either “just 5 more stops to go” or “only 9 miles till the pitstop”. This worked really well for me.

It was around 20ish miles in when I saw Bryony for the first time. She’d managed to find me on the road just before pit stop 3 so I used the opportunity to sit in the boot of the car and clear the debris out of my shoes and change into one of the spare t-shirts I’d left with her. It was really good to see her and thankfully wouldn’t be the last!

I rolled into pitstop 3 really desperate for the toilet again. Without going into too much detail it was much worse than the previous stop. My stomach didn’t feel right all the way from the previous pitstop but I was hoping that the slightly longer toilet trip would sort it out and that would be the end of it (it wasn’t…)

Now I was onto what ended up being the hardest part of the race for me. It was basically an uphill climb from here to pitstop 4. While the hills weren’t all massively steep, there were really really long and just kept going up and up. Combined with the return of the increasingly uncomfortable stomach cramps I suffered a lot in this section of the race. I was expecting a part of the race to be really hard. I just thought it would be much later on. I hadn’t even got to half way yet and my body was screaming at me to stop. In my head at this point I’d decided I was done with long distance running and I was seriously considering getting to 50k and stopping.

A hill

This was the first point Bryony saved me though. She was waiting at the top of the hill for me and had been texting me to let me know she was up ahead which gave me something to focus towards. She was so excited to see me it gave me a really huge mental lift. I stopped for a quick hug but I was desperate for the loo. Luckily pit stop 4 which was only a mile away. The stomach cramps were unbearable at this point and the little voice at the back of head was telling me I just needed to get to the check point, go to the loo and I could stop, take the 50k medal and still be happy to have completed an ultra. I got over the line, relieved to have made half way before I discovered the toilets were “miles” away! Pit stop 4 is also a camp site for people doing the event over two days. It’s a much larger site than the other pit stops so they do need the extra room. It was just the last thing I needed!

Finish for people doing 50k…not helpful to see when you’re carrying on

I had the worst toilet stop of the day (sorry..) and then had to walk all the way back to where I’d come from to get water and food. I decided to just sit on a chair and take a few minutes, however many I needed to gather my thoughts. This was the point I told myself I was being ridiculous for thinking about stopping and that I hadn’t literally almost gotten myself killed a few weeks ago just to stop at half way. My finishing time didn’t matter, getting to the end did so if it really came to it I could walk 50k if needed. So I got back on my feet and decided I’d make it to the next pit stop, take as long as I needed and do the same again until I got to end. There were only 3 pit stops and then the finish line to tackle.

GPS tracking the walk to the toilet and back!!

So off I went. I settled into a workable pace and was doing ok. Pit stop 5 arrived and it was horrible to get at. We had to go down little side track off the main route which was nearly a kilometre long. Ordinarily that wouldn’t have been a problem but the surface was awful. It was almost unwalkable let alone running and with there being lots of people coming in the opposite direction leaving the pitstop you had to stick to where you were. I had another trip to the toilet and was back out again.

I’d caught a bit of a second wind at this point and wasn’t feeling too bad. I’d managed to pick the pace up a little. I saw Bryony again at 45 miles just before I hit stop 6 so I took the chance to change my shirt and my socks to get rid of what I thought was a stone but was actually my big toe “pruning” like when you’ve had a long bath and it feeling a bit weird after getting pounded for so many miles. I had another longer break at pitstop 6 mostly due to two toilet trips. But the extra time was useful here as was I was able to get back out again and felt ok.

I was now on the way to the final pit stop. This was another section that had a fair few long climbs so was just a matter of grinding them out. Bryony came and found me on a couple of sections and ran with me right up until pitstop 7. I had (another) toilet trip and was able to give Bryony everything in my bag that I wouldn’t need for the trip to the finish line. I was very happy to do this as my shoulders and back were starting to feel the effects of lugging it around all day.

Stop 7

Onto the final stretch. About 7 miles and I’d be done. While this wasn’t quite as gruelling as the section between pit stop 3 and 4 the terrain was really hard going at this point. The track was horribly rutted which made actual running quite hard. My ankles were taking a battering too so I was trying really hard not to step in something that might cause me to twist something. I also picked up a running buddy in David.

We’d bumped into each other several times over the course of the day and figured we were roughly going at the same pace now so stuck together for a bit and chatted for a few miles. As we approached 60 miles on a bit of downhill section a small gap opened up between us. I’d suddenly picked up a bit of energy and David waved me on so off I went. I somehow managed my two fastest miles of the last 20 miles of the run!

I was now into the final mile. The end of the race is a bit weird. It’s called “Race To The Stones” but the actual finish line is a fair way away from the actual Avebury Stones. So they make the route go around the stones so you can see them. But this means you actually run past the turn off for the finish line! That’s another tiny bit of mental torture as you see all those other people heading off to the finish line when you’ve still got another bit to do. It was good to see the stones though!

Then it was up a final short climb and a nice straight section to the finish. I found another spurt of energy and was able to go past some people before somehow getting in an actual sprint finish. I punched the air and screamed as I crossed the line (I think it was YES!).

The feeling of crossing that line was like no other race I’ve been in. I’d been so focussed on my sprint to the finish I also hadn’t noticed the massive crowd of people who had cheered me over the line while waiting for their own loved ones.

I grabbed my medal. Had a quick photo and found Bryony for a massive hug. This was a really emotional moment as I’d put so much into this over the last few months and she’s been with me the whole way.

She’d been absolutely amazing through the whole event. I’d only expected to see her a couple of times but she’d ended up finding me about five or six times. Each time she was so excited to see me. Often jumping up and down like I was at the finish instead of still having 30 miles to go. It was a massive boost each time it happened. She played a massive part in making this happen.

Overall I had an amazing day. The course was brilliant, organisation fantastic and the volunteers and staff were amazing. The various people out and about on the course were amazingly supportive. I was generally fortunate with the weather. It did rain for the first 20 miles or so but it wasn’t so heavy as to be a problem and was warm enough that it didn’t matter. The rest of the day was warm but there was plenty of cloud cover which meant it wasn’t baking.

The only thing that didn’t go to plan was whatever upset my stomach that meant so many toilet stops. I’d got a rough target of 12 hours in my head. I was just about on course for that at the half way point but the increasingly long toilet stops killed that off. I’ll try and figure out what caused it but I’d not had any trouble in training and I didn’t do too much different. In the end though I was just pleased to finish whatever the time was!

Thanks for reading this far. Really appreciated everyone who took time to comment on Facebook and Instagram over the weekend. Was great to see.

In terms of what’s next. Manchester Marathon. After a bit of rest I’ll be picking training up for that. I’ve got a time I’d really like to hit so that’s the target!

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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