Run Deep’s Julie Bassett took on Race to the Stones 100K in July 2018. Here she shares her thoughts on the event and the experience.
Race to the Stones has been on my radar for a while. Part of the Threshold Trail Series, it’s marketed as an accessible ultramarathon for all. Not that it ever claims tackling 100K is going to be easy.
As a point-to-point race, sorting out getting there and back is a primary concern. We opted to stay in a hotel near the finish, drive to the finish area and hop on the 5:30am shuttle to the start. The early morning wakeup call was a bit unpleasant, but breakfast and a nap on the coach helped with my energy levels.
We got to the start in plenty of time to watch Wave A go off. Waves then set off in 15-minute intervals. While we waited, we took plenty of selfies, used the loos (which were clean and didn’t have long queues) and got ready.
We set off after a short warmup and started our way on The Ridgeway, which would lead us just over 100K to the finish line. There were some bottlenecks in the early stages, with lots of single tracks, but it’s a long journey ahead.
It’s impossible not to mention the weather. The heat was close to unbearable even at 8:30am. On route, when chatting to others who have done all the Threshold events, many people agreed that conditions were toughest this year at RTTS. Usually RTTS is the easiest (relatively!) of the three, with an undulating route, but not many proper climbs (Race to the Tower gets the accolade of toughest course). But with the sun high in the sky, RTTS 2018 certainly took its victims.
The first half-marathon was very pleasant. There were a lot of woodland tracks, with the trees shading runners. At Aid Station 1, we were all in good spirits. The aid stations are well stocked with food and drink. For me, the bit between Aid Stations 2-3 was tough going. A lot of it left the trails and hit the road. There was little shade and it just felt overwhelmingly hot. This was one of two points when I didn’t think I was going to finish.
We kept going through golden fields, the odd road and trail paths to the halfway point. Here, you can just go to a quick aid station and carry on, or you can stop properly and eat. The people doing the event over two days were making the most of the food and drink on offer, as we looked on enviously knowing we had another 50K to go that day. We hit the hot buffet, had plenty to drink, refuelled packs and headed off after about an hour.
The sun started to descend in the second half, but it never really cooled. Parts of the route I adored – the amazing views and the wonderful trails. Parts of it I hated with a passion. The rocky, gravelly farm paths for example, that threatened turned ankles with every step; and running on the verge of a large road, hoping not to fall into the path of a car. Admittedly I wasn’t in the best of moods at this point, as tiredness was starting to set in and the darkness and concentration needed was draining.
The hardest part
My second wobble was at 80K. I stopped and I got cold – for the first time all day and very rapidly. The combination of shaking with cold and just the intense tiredness made me feel like curling up in a ball and going to sleep. It took everything to get going again.
We walked a lot at this point, by the light of our headtorches. We hit the famous Avebury Stones at 98.5K ish and had the iconic photo taken. Then, the cruellest part of the race: running back the way you came to complete the route and to the finish line! It was weird finishing a race in the dead of the night, with hardly any one around. There was plenty of support from the organisers. The medal was gratefully received, as was an egg sandwich!
I was firmly in the ‘Never again!’ camp. However, time has passed and I can reflect on it more. It challenged me more than anything I have ever done. My legs felt strong, my breathing felt good, my fitness held out. I cope very badly with the sun and it really impacted on my day. I loved the event itself, the many supportive volunteers, the aid stations, the majority of the route and the overall experience. Make it 10 degrees cooler, I’d be there in a heartbeat!
I can’t find fault with the organisers at all. I couldn’t have wanted more help, support or food. I didn’t need to use the medics at all, but they looked busy, professional and supportive, helping people get on their way again.
As a first 100K, it’s definitely up there as one of the most doable and accessible events. The options to run straight through or over two days, or even one day only, gives options to suit your own personal goals. I won’t be back at RTTS 2019 (though I am certainly not ruling it out to come back to one year), but I am seriously considering adding Race to the King to my schedule for this year…