Happily Ever After

Life in The Rural Retreat with a beautiful wife, three cats, garden wildlife, a camera, a computer – and increasing amounts about running

Earlier posts can be found on Adventures of a Lone Bass Player, where this blog began life. Recent entries can be found here.


Race To The Stones 2024

by Russell Turner - 13:33 on 14 July 2024

Well, that didn’t go to plan. The only consolation is that I reached 50k, although even that seemed unlikely at one point. I can’t identify a major problem; I think it’s more an accumulation of small ones, although poor nutrition might be at the top of the list.

Poor sleep won’t have helped (I’ve reached that age) but Matchgirl and I were both filled with optimism when we boarded the coach for the 90min trip from the finish line to the start. Prospects were good: a mild temperature, no wind, no rain expected. The motormouth woman one seat down and across finally shut up after half an hour, although by then I’d something else on my mind.

About 10mins into the trip I’d begun to feel queasy. Was it the overheated interior? Or was it the Co-op sandwich I’d bought yesterday and eaten for breakfast when we got up at 5am? Whatever, I’d recovered by the time we arrived and was ready to go, which we did at 8.30 after being allowed to start 20mins before our official time.

The first kilometre was a fast ramble, while the mob of runners sorted itself out. After that, and having said goodbye to Matchgirl, who wanted to go at her own pace, I set off at a modest run/walk, although still faster than necessary, hitting 5k in 41mins. The going was dry but I’d forgotten how rutted and narrow some of the track is. Low-hanging branches were an added hazard for vertically blessed runners.

Things changed around 7k when we hit the most serious climb of the first 50k: 78 metres, in one kilometre, through rutted, twisting woodland. Hard work, but the prospect of the first pit stop, at 8.7k, kept everyone going. I reached it in around 1:20 and impressed myself by only hanging around for 6-7mins – long enough to top up the water bottles and eat some fruit and flapjack. Maybe I should have stayed longer.

I texted my progress to Matchgirl and left, to resume the climbing – almost 100m over the next 2k. There was a bit of a break after 11k, when we descended to cross the A4130 (shepherded across the busy road by hi viz stewards), then the climbing resumed, although thankfully not as steeply.

The effort changed after 14k when downhill brought its own problems: narrow pathways and tree roots meant no temptation to blast down the slope, although it was a pleasant change after the uphill trekking. Things improved further after 19k when we followed the Thames for a while – the herald of 10k of mostly flat run/walking.

The second pit stop was at 21.3k, where I learned that Matchgirl had passed pit stop one (my phone wasn’t handy for on-the-move communication). This time my break was around 28mins – I needed it, despite recent flatness. Even with favourable weather, and only a quarter of the way through, I was beginning to struggle. Fruit, crisps, sandwiches and other goodies helped, though not enough to compensate for the mere few mouthfuls of energy bar I’d consumed since the last stop. Eating on the move is tough.

I resumed the flat, hitting 25k at 4:28, which would have put me just inside my 15-18hr finish time guesstimate if I’d not already resigned myself to a 20+hr finish. The flat also allowed some interaction with other runners – always welcome – but by 28k, almost dead on five hours in, I was alone again, with no-one in sight, and clearly concentrating too much on moving (or possibly the Cabin Pressure episode I was using to mask the effort) because I missed a turning.

Thankfully, it was only a couple of minutes before I realised my error and turned back, to reach a junction festooned with red arrows pointing in the correct direction. There was even a sign a little way down the wrong road which proclaimed “Not This Way”. I’d missed them all. I could blame my immobile spine, which doesn’t allow much head movement to left and right (the reason I didn’t see much of the attractive countryside, and why in the past I’ve not noticed Buckingham Palace at the end of the London Marathon) but the most likely reason is that I was staring two yards in front of my feet.

Back on the route, and once again among runners (mostly walking), we crossed the Thames on the bridge between Goring and Streatley – a proper road, so we were of much amusement to tourists gawping from the bridge at boats, and afternoon drinkers outside a couple of roadside pubs. The bad news was that climbing, albeit not hugely steep (although it felt like it) resumed on the other side. The good news was that pit stop three was not far away at 35.5k.

I was tired and slightly groggy but must have appeared much worse because a couple of medics asked if I was OK and insisted I sit in one of the seats outside their tent. I acquiesced and allowed one of them to fetch me some snacks. Part of their fear that I was about to collapse (apart from me being knackered) was caused by the after-effects of The Great Sofa Disaster: the hurty back had reawakened and my body was compensating with a pronounced list to starboard which led to what looked like a stagger on uneven ground. I’d been aware of this, and knew it had occasionally pulled me to the side of the track, but didn’t realise how much I was leaning until I stood in front of the bathroom mirror in the B&B later that night. Scary.

Things got more scary when I checked the phone for the latest Matchgirl update, expecting to find her only minutes behind me and poised to overtake at any moment. Instead, I discovered that she was already at Base Camp (pit stop four), having been given a lift there after being “medically retired” from the race at pit stop two following two falls occasioned my tree roots. The first caused a badly bruised knee; the second led to a bang on the head, a cut brow and a boxer’s black eye. Mostly female runners came to her aid, she reported; mostly male ones jumped over her fallen body to continue their race. So much for the wonderful running community.

She walked the 3k to pit stop two where the medics cleaned her up but refused to allow her to continue alone in case she had late-developing concussion. It’s a thing. After weeks of successful and uneventful training, and uncharacteristic optimism that she’d complete the 100k, her race was done. Gutting.

Back at pit stop three, I was sorely tempted to pull out. Maybe the constant stream of visitors to the medics’ tent needing salves for blisters, bad knees and other aches and pains was affecting me, or the guy in the chair beside me, waiting for a lift, who said he’d messed up his race plan and had suffered almost from the start. However, after an impressively swift 40min break I set out to walk (I knew no running would happen) the final 14.4k to Base Camp and complete 50k. Even before pit stop three I knew I’d be going no further.

After 3k of descent, the final stretch is mostly a gentle uphill, although still with the same rutted surface. I took it at a steady walk, hooking up here and there with others of a similar pace before one of us fell back or forged ahead. Knowing the end was in sight (rather than 50k further beyond that) made a huge psychological difference.

I crossed the line at 6pm, applauded by Matchgirl, and received my consolation 50k medal and more congratulations from members of Threshold (the organisers), which left me feeling a bit of a fraud. After all, I’d done 50k twice before and failed in my 100k target. At that point, I could have gone on but very much doubt I’d have reached the end. “Know what you’re running for,” the sages tell us. “That will get you to the finish line.” I’ve yet to discover why I’m a runner.

There was time for me to eat veggie chilli and rice before the shuttle bus took us back to Avebury where 100k runners continued to cross the finish line. The first man had taken 7:59:30 – under eight hours! The first woman took 9:25:06 – 5mins faster than I covered 50k. She also won last year and won the 100k Race to the King four weeks ago. Some people are amazing.

Today, Matchgirl’s black eye is even more impressive (she’s asked for no publicity) and I’m eating and drinking everything I can, which suggests I should have done more of both yesterday. My lean to the right has straightened a little, which is promising. It’s four weeks until the Oxford Half Marathon training block begins. I plan to do very little before then.

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