So many thoughts. So many memories. So many kilometers.
Race To The Stones was upon me.
I had spent the day trying to stay relaxed. We couldn’t get in to see Windsor Castle thanks to a certain Mr Trump so we took the kids to the cinema instead. As soon as the film was finished the panic set in though and I set off on a mission to find SiS berry electrolyte tablets I had purposefully left behind because they don’t work for me when running but now all of a sudden I just HAD to have them. The staff in Decathlon did not help the situation when they didn’t know what an electrolyte was (isn’t this a sports shop?!). Anyway, tablets found – thanks Tesco – and it was a dinner of pasta and pizza before trying to get an early nights sleep.
I woke up and my stomach was in bits. Put it this way, I had no issue with the pre-race ‘poo’. My body definitely knew how far I was about to run! I was in Wave E and usually I am a stickler for the race rules. I’m afraid to say though I had no intention of waiting until 8:30am to get started. I tried to jump in to Wave B but got caught. Another bathroom break and as I came back I saw someone from my wave just stroll right in. So I stuck my nose in the air and acted like I belonged there. Result! This was the only part of the day by the way I showed any confidence – and even that was false.
Start to Pit Stop 1 – 10.3km
I had been pre-warned of the shuffle at the start. From what I can gather they have a mix of walkers/joggers/runners in all waves to try and even it out. This helped with ensuring I didn’t start off too fast. First time ever! A couple of guys from my club have told me a few times I need to start off slower, I know it’s a bit of a nemesis of mine, and I also had ‘the look’ from my physio in my head. Unusually for me I also knew it wasn’t flat. I know right! Shock, horror ha ha. But I was surprised at just how steep the first couple of hills were. Close to hands on legs jobs. I had kinda been hoping they weren’t going to be anything I would notice. Should really lay off those pharmaceuticals…
It didn’t take long for me to notice that everyone around me was running in pairs. I tried not to let it get to me and enjoyed listening to their conversations. It was very strange hearing people chatting so early on in a race – usually all I hear is huffing and puffing. Definitely never heard ‘At pit stop 3 we will get a bit of lunch, I’ve packed the sandwiches’ before. Ultra running is a whole new world!
Pit Stop 1 to Pit Stop 2 – 12.6km
I didn’t stop long at the first pit stop. I grabbed some ready salted crisps and some orange juice and got going. I felt good! Yeah baby I can do this! The infamous ‘Field Of Dreams’ was on this leg and I knew the heat wave we had been experiencing would mean the crop (or whatever is in the field, I don’t know, I’m not a farmer) meant it wouldn’t be looking as grand as it could. Didn’t really matter to me though I have to admit. I was just concentrating on smiling for the camera at the end of it and getting a photo where I didn’t look like half my skin was falling off my body and I wanted to die. I slowed down so there was space for the photographer to get (oh yes, I had thought this out!), there was no one too close behind me so I didn’t have to fake a stop and get some space (I wasn’t lying about my thinking), ok, my turn. Chin up, tummy covered, bib on show, thumbs up, smile and facial expression of ‘loving this’ plastered on face….
‘Oh don’t put your hands there! It looks wrong!’
Where the hell was the guy behind me putting his hands???
Funnily enough I ran faster after that….
Pit Stop 2 to Pit Stop 3 – 10.9km
I don’t know why but I found 1 to 2 hard. My hamstrings and glutes had started hurting so I took extra time at Pit Stop 2 to stretch them out – which helped for all of 5 steps.
Underfoot was tricky. It was trail with tree roots everywhere. So many people were catching their feet. I only had one instance of catching my foot bad enough my body propelled forward in that comical way. Well, it’s only comical if you don’t fall, which thankfully I didn’t. I was getting annoyed though. How am I tripping up so much! For god sake lift your feet! I let out a loud ‘grrrr’ at one point. The guy next to me cautiously asked if I was ok. Probably scared I might try to tear him apart if he poked the bear, poor soul.
Going down a hill and my stomach was now killing me. I was struggling to drink or eat anything as I felt sick but I knew how crucial it was so it was a constant battle. I was just sipping on the water when the woman right in front of me took a very bad tumble, landing on her knees then hitting her face. Blood everywhere and a look of shock on her face. I stopped to help her up with her running buddy and an american runner stopped too. We washed her face down and could see a very bad cut straight up her lip. It needed medical attention. I could tell by her expression she needed a minute alone to cry it out with her friend so I gave her more bacterial wipes and told her I would let the medics know what had happened. A local resident appeared and asked if she wanted a lift to the hospital which she declined.
This gave me a fright. It was exactly what I was scared of. 50km each day was a very long way and I would inevitably be alone at some point. As great as it is that strangers will help you it’s not the same as having the comfort of someone you know. I tried desperately not to let this get to me, negative thoughts could end this run for me quicker than any injury. They manifest and grow until they suffocate you. Focus on the finish! It’s not the end of the world if you fall, it’s just a graze. Keep your head up! Ok. Positive pants on.
Shortly after I saw Joe and the kids. Fantastic! Sweaty cuddles all round and a comment from another saying how nice that was. Then Joe told me there was ‘a bit of a hill’ coming up. Positive pants came off.
Only joking! I just shrugged. ‘It is what it is’ I told myself.
Pit Stop 3 to Pit Stop 4 – 10km
I was finding the Pit Stops quite lonely by now. I tried to make eye contact with a few people but the heat was that exhausting that everyone was already looking shattered. I picked up some ready salted crisps and sat down to look at what the next section was when I remembered I had a cooling towel with me so looked in my bag for it. That’s when I came across my little saviour. I’ve always had a little ‘thing’ I become attached to that I use for comfort. When I was pregnant with my youngest it was a stone I had found whilst hill walking. Then it was a measuring tape I would wrap round and round my fingers. And now. It was my wonder woman keyring. Comes everywhere with me. I was no longer alone! (Sort of). Yes ladies and gentlemen. I am 36 and I still have a comfort blanket. Bite me.
I saw the lady in the medic tent who had fallen and went over to see if she was ok. She was still in shock and she said she had ended up taking the lift here and was about to go to the hospital as needed stitches. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say? So sorry it’s ended your run for you? I told her I had seen many people falling and it had been a really tough day before heading off.
The heat was blazing now and in my joy in finding wonder woman I had forgotten about my cooling towel. Thankfully Joe texted to say they were at the next Pit Stop so that kept me going. He also said he had my beloved red bull with him but for once I didn’t want it. Oh my god the heat must be getting to me! I better keep drinking the water.
I found myself running at roughly the same pace as someone with their music playing. At first I quite liked this and was nodding my head along. I hadn’t put my music on yet as wanted to try to talk to people so the bonus of hearing someone else’s would save my battery. I was running along, humming away to the songs when I saw something I had to look twice at. A man running in sandals.
Ok I need a medic – I am now hallucinating.
Nope. He is actually running in sandals. How?? Why?? He looked comfortable enough though. I’ve seen many Vegan runners in specialised socks but not anyone in sandals. Different.
I also saw paddle boarders with the most well behaved dogs on the boards too, chilling away. I was jealous! I wanted to be on the board. Actually no. I wanted to be in the water. The cool water having a relaxed swim in this heat. Hold on. It’s water Ella. Water is out to get you, especially when running. I moved along quickly, just in case.
Naturally there was another climb on what was becoming a very tricky track to run on to get to Pit Stop 4. I could see Joe and the kids there though so it made it easier. My eldest came in for a hug and I quickly warned him I was both stinking and sweaty. He gave me a tap on the back ha ha.
Pit Stop 4 to Basecamp – 6.9km
Joe made me drink electrolytes at Pit Stop 4 and it took all my strength not to throw them back up. I didn’t get much down me. The orange juice had ran out as well and I didn’t think I would take well to the coke that every one raved about so didn’t chance it – not with my stomach the way it was. We discussed what the plan was. I had already mentioned I may try to go straight through, it just depended how I was feeling. Truth be told I wasn’t sure if I could cope being at base camp by myself. It’s the strangest thing to be surrounded by over a thousand people but feel so alone. I think he knew more than me that unless my legs were broken I was going straight through. I wasn’t convinced. The conditions were seriously tough and a lot of people were dropping out. Experienced people with no injury that had crept back in. Oh yeah. That pain in my arse was back and the hamstrings were crying. Best get a move on.
I quite enjoyed this section. Probably because I was thinking that was it over and I was going to stop. It was also going to be the furthest I had ever ran. My previous ultra had been just shy of 30 miles. This was going to be 31. Happy days.
It was a bit strange crossing the line at base camp. It’s all very chilled and calm. There’s no cheering and whooping and high fives. You just…stop. I wandered over to the food tent and sat down. Too hot so I got back up and sat in the shade. I texted Joe to say I had made it and that my phone was going to run out of battery. He said he was coming to base camp. There’s no tracker at Race To The Stones so I needed my phone. I managed to book in for a massage without a long wait and he was there as I walked out the tent. I got myself some pasta and a slice of cake (which I knew I couldn’t eat but Lucie and Joe would) and pondered the decision of what to do. The massage had worked wonders and I was able to eat the pasta no bother.
Could I do another 50k? It’s a long bloody way! But it is getting cooler. Kind of. And Joe and the kids are going to have to go soon. But you could also just lie in the tent for hours on end and rest. The next 50k won’t be so hard after a rest.
Stuff it I’m going.
And off I went.
Base camp to Pit Stop 6 – 7.9km
‘We want to see you running as soon as you leave here and up there’ my eldest said to me as I left. Cheeky sod.
Underfoot was not great but 5 to 6 was probably the best I felt all day. Once you leave base camp you can’t go back. Decisions made. So you have to own it. And I did. For a few kilometres anyway. I got chatting to a woman called Sarah when we were walking up a hill but lost her when I started running again. Things were looking good.
Pit Stop 6 to Pit Stop 7 – 8km
Aware I had spent so much time at base camp debating what to do I knew I couldn’t waste too much time at the pit stops. My water was getting really warm so I poured it out and re-filled then sat down. For too long. Clearly forgetting I had to get a move on!
I saw Sarah again as I left and said hello as I ran past. Shortly after it was another hill and she caught up. This time I decided not to run ahead. It was getting late and we had been told to get in to pairs and groups and not be out there alone. I knew slowing at this stage would hurt me later but weighing it up I decided having company was the better option. She was glad of it too.
Not too much further up the road I saw a little boy running across the track. I knew instantly who it was. Definitely not a hallucination! ‘I think that’s my kids up ahead’ I said to Sarah. Yup. It was them. Signs in hands and more cuddles. Loved it. I didn’t think I would see them again as they needed to get checked in to the hotel. It had been a long day for them.
Pit Stop 7 to Pit Stop 8 – 12.6km
‘Spritz and melon, Pit Stop 7’ – quote of the entire race!
My favourite Pit Stop. Lots of melon, a quick rest, a chat with a few people (Sarah could talk to anyone) and we got back out there in good spirits.
However. My back was now hurting from not enough running. And the temperature was dropping. And we were losing light. Also, 7 to 8 NEVER ENDED!!
My god I hated that stretch. This was when the ‘seriously where is the pit stop, what km are we on now?’ started. The pain was immense and it was now dark. Dark brought with it the cold.
Cold?!? COLD???!!! Are you kidding me!! It was over 30 degrees during the day! I’ve done nothing but hear about people dropping out from heat stroke and now it’s cold?? How is that even possible?!?
No I did not have appropriate cold weather clothing with me. I had a top and that was it. I had even tried to tell Joe I didn’t need it but he had insisted. Thank god!
So it was no surprise that when we got to Pit Stop 8 (full of hate) that we saw several people shivering in foil blankets and 2 on the ground in makeshift sleeping bags trying to heat up. I briefly spoke to a guy who was dry retching. He hadn’t been able to keep anything down all day and he was now done. ‘I think it’s finally about time I re-consider some of my life choices’ he said in the most sincerest of tones. I felt incredibly sorry for him.
5 people called it a day in the 10 minutes we were at that pit stop. And we heard about 2 more jus minutes after we left. To get 80km in and have no more left in you, I just don’t know how you deal with that.
Pit Stop Hate to Pit Stop 9 – 8.8km
There is a ridiculously steep and difficult shirt section after Pit Stop 8. Doing it in the dark makes it almost impossible not to break an ankle. How we managed not to trip is a wonder. It took out quite a few at that section.
We passed a young lad who was with an older woman. She could have been his mum but I got the feeling she was more his running buddy from a club. His head was down, shoulders slumped and he never looked up from the floor.
‘This is your hard part. This is you hitting that wall. You can do this though. We just keep on going. It doesn’t last.’ In the dead of the night you can hear what everyone says. Her tone was soothing, she wasn’t forcing him, she was encouraging. You knew that she knew what she was talking about.
Onwards we went. Following the glow sticks. For once in my life I hadn’t gotten lost. This was beyond amazing. I always have that moment of ‘have I gone wrong’ but not once in this race did I have that. Hallucinations yes, route detours no. Exhaustion was making me see all kinds of weird things. I was convinced I had my sun glasses on even though it was early hours of the morning. Then I was imaging an old school Mickey Mouse playing about in front of me (shadows from my imaginary sunglasses). Took a while to realise it was the way the head torch was sitting on my hat. And yes, I may or may not have taken Wonder Woman out my pocket and do a conversation with Mickey.
A while later the young lad who had been struggling sailed past me. And I mean sailed. He now had 2 women with him, both with the same tshirt which made me think running club. He was in high spirits now talking away to them. I wanted what he had had! Amazing!
Pit Stop 9 to Finish – 12.9km
If I’ve ever had a near death experience it was this race. That’s what it felt like. I couldn’t feel my hands at all. My back was in absolute agony. I kept losing Sarah as I had to keep stopping. I had had MORE than enough of the god awful conditions underfoot where the path was chalk – CHALK – and the ditches weren’t wide enough for your god damn feet. It never ended. Ever. Like ever ever. Ever!
I had been getting messages from a few friends and family encouraging me on which I really appreciated and helped me going. The cat memes and the ‘your almost there’ when I still had 15km to go, well, not so much, but still. My hands were so frozen I couldn’t work the phone to reply. It was awful. I needed the messages to keep me going but I hated being rude and not replying.
Pitch black, middle of a field alone and I could hear a noise. Or did I? God knows at this point. Nope, that was definitely a noise. What was that? Actually, does it matter? If it’s something that could kill me then this torture will be over because let’s face it, I have no energy to fight back. There it was again. Is it….?
Oh holy crap I know what that is! It’s me! I can’t see anyone in front me so I turn to make sure no ones behind me. Bloody typical! Been alone for so long and now there’s a group of head torches! What am I going to do??
Decision was very quickly taken out of my hands. I barely made it to the side of the track. I definitely was not sheltered in a bush.
And the problem with head torches? They light you up like a Christmas tree.
‘Are you ok?’
‘Em, yup, I’m fine thank you. Just eh, couldn’t wait any longer. Had to go’.
I refused to look up. I don’t need to know who saw more than one moon that night.
Having proved that now there definitely was not ‘More in me’ (stupid tag line for the race) I trundled on. Joe had planned to try and run up the track to meet me and help me do the last few km but he text to say the marshals weren’t letting him. I’m really gutted about this because I’ve since learned that quite a few people did do that and I really needed it.
I eventually came to the infamous loop. It is at this point I really let rip. Not with ‘stomach issues’ but with temper.
‘You’re doing absolutely fantastic it’s just up to the stones, back down to me, then to the finish’
‘Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!’
It was out before I could catch it. That poor marshal.
‘I’m just going to …..’. I tried to apologise but all that was coming out was ‘What the actual fuck is this fucking nonsense, I’m absolutely fucking dying here. I’m sick of this shit. Absolutely fucking sick of this shit.’
It was barely a whisper due to lack of energy but I really hope he didn’t hear it.
Up the hill – obviously – to the ‘stones’, and another tirade.
‘I don’t give a fucking fuck about your lumps of stone, I’ve been walking and running on your shitty chalk paths and trails for god damn hours. I want to stop!’
My stones picture pretty much sums it up.
Back down the path and back to the marshal. He had to help me up the step to get in to the field. I couldn’t lift my leg high enough by this point. At least this was my opportunity to apologise. ‘Oh don’t worry, I’ve heard worse tonight.’
That field went on and on and on. And it was wet. Never have I been so close to a finish line and still not known if I was going to finish. So many times my legs had wobbled and I had thought if I go down I won’t be physically able to get back up. Even in the last 20 metres I still didn’t know if I was going to cross that line.
There was no sprint finish, no arms raised, no rush of relief. There was just a brief smile and a hobble.
The cold took over instantly and my entire body started shaking uncontrollably. I begged Joe to get me home. I didn’t want to end 100km in the medical tent. I just needed to get warm. Because of this I missed getting the race t-shirt.
So that’s it. I actually did it. And I wrote war and peace part 2 to remember it! Ha ha. It couldn’t have been done without the support of Joe and the kids being there. I may have covered the distance but my god it was a long and hot day for them.
The lows were deep – lonely pit stops, large chunks with no one to talk to, the pain and seeing other people struggling. But there were highs too. The signs Joe and the kids made, the messages from friends and family, the massage at base camp and the eventual finish line.
Would I do it again? I lasted 24hours saying absolutely fucking not. (I’ve discovered that at certain times, I do indeed, swear like a trooper.). I would want to do it with a friend though. Doing it alone was too much. Yes you meet people but running through the cold night, you need a friend.
So it’s rest for a few days whilst I contemplate where my route goes next. And it’s unfortunately a very long wait for a t-shirt. Sunday didn’t quite feel right hobbling about with out the justification blazoned across me.
Wonder when I can get out for a run again though?