My Journey through Race to the Stones 2023
In this blog post, I share my journey overcoming obstacles, the moment I thought ‘Should I quit?’ and why I kept going.
Race to the Stones is a 100km race that goes from Lewknor (in Oxfordshire) to Avebury (in Wiltshire). It follows the 5,000 year old Ridgeway footpath, ending at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury stone circle.
My journey started from London Paddington to Swindon. But you could argue that it started when I booked the race in December 2021 😜. I had a lovely catch up with Alice before I boarded my train. This was a race that we planned to do together in 2022 but it just wasn't meant to be. All is not lost as it allowed us to have our own experience with two completely differently journeys. ✨️
I booked into Campanile Hotel in Swindon which is about 30 mins from RTTS finish line where I needed to catch the shuttle bus in the morning of the race. I rested for a bit then decided I needed to get up and go and find my dinner and breakfast.
I needed to get to the finish line to get the shuttle so had to book a taxi to pick and drop me off by 5:30am. When I got to the shuttle there were lots of people there already. Chatty morning people. Journey took 1.5 hours. I ate my breakfast on the bus as it was way to early to eat at the hotel.
The start line area was buzzing with excitement amongst other emotions I'm sure. People running 100km straight through and those running it over 2 days started in the same area. The compere was amazing, just making every one laugh. Did some warm ups before we started the run. Made sure I was towards the back of my wave to avoid being stomped.
Off we go:
Great start as the sky was beautiful, warm and dry. Took the pace really easy using the intervals of 20/1 (20 minutes running and 1 minute walking) that I had set on my watch. This was a guide and would walk up the hills and run when possible but it was nice to have something to work on. I decided early on that I was only going to think of one pit stop at a time and not the whole race.
Pit stop 1: 8.7km
Pit stop 2: 21.3km
Pit stop 3: 35.5km
Pit stop 4: 49.8km (Basecamp/Half way point)
Pit stop 5: 59.7km
Pit stop 6: 72.8km
Pit stop 7: 88.3km
The first pit stop came very early on and all I needed at this point was the toilet so used it and left. The pit stops as you can see above were not evenly spaced out. The heavens opened up shortly before I reached this pitstop and the heavy showers continued for a few hours with thunderstorms and lightening and darker skies. I started to think, OMG is this how it is going to be for the rest of the race? After I realised that the rain was not going to be stopping, I decided to put on my Montane waterproof jacket which kept me 100% dry and warm. I was also absolutely grateful for my Merrell LongSky trail shoes as the ground started to get slippery and muddy. My mind started to think about all those people (in the facebook RTTS chatgroup) who said they would be wearing road shoes as the trail has been very dry over the last few weeks. I did my first change of socks at pit stop 3 as I could feel they were wet and I would really benefit from the change. I sat in the medics tent and changed into a dry pair of long compression socks. I couldn’t be bothered to pack the wet sock with my dry things so I threw them away! It felt so good to have dry feet again.
Half way point:
Each pit stop was stocked with a variety of food and drink choices and medics. All the volunteers were amazing and couldn’t have done more. At basecamp, I finally got to sit down. The plan was to stay here for 30 minutes to eat, drink, refuel and rest for a bit. I had jacket potatoes with cheese and beans. It was lovely and warm! Much needed and managed to just stretch my feet out and catch up on some phone messages from friends. Finished my food and used the toilet before I set off again. Heard ‘TRINA’, I turned around and it was Ade and Marcia from Black Girls Do Run UK. Ran over and gave them both a hug and chatted for a few minutes. So lovely to see familiar faces. They were both really surprised as they did not know I was running the 100km. Words of encouragement came flowing through which really boosted my spirits as I prepped to carry on again. I started running to join the path to carry on and I heard a few screams of ‘TRINA, TRINA!’. I turned around and it was more Black Girls Do Run UK ‘Tasha, Sacha, Linda and a few others.. sorry I can’t remember. OMG this meant so much and what I needed. I was so happy, as happy as they were to see me. There were 14 BGDRUK ladies running the 50km on the Sunday and they had just arrived at basecamp. What perfect timing… things happen for a reason! They were so proud of me and I felt the best I felt all day. As I set off, Tasha spotted one of her friends Kerry who was also running the 100km. We all chatted and then Kerry and I wet off together. It was my first time talking to Kerry though I did meet her when she completed Country to Capital 70km with Alice back in January 2023.
Kerry and I had a lovely run and chat together and power walked lots! The terrain was very rocky, uneven, muddy and slippery that we both became very anxious about falling. We ran alongside river, over and through it, through fields of broad beans and corn, along rutted trails, along roads and through a village as we made our way through the countryside. The views were amazing but I did feel like I spent a lot of time looking downwards for fear of falling or rolling my ankles. I made a conscious effort to enjoy the views as much as possible. Usually on my runs I stop frequently to take photos but I didn’t this time. As I started to get tired, I was becoming more and more frustrated with the terrain especially the chalky rocky path which meant that I was frequently skipping to the left then middle and then right then middle and left again, which went on for what seemed like forever. We chatted everything under the sun from food, to family, children, work and then the parkrun game when you say only ‘3’ parkruns to go etc! I mean who doesn’t play that game on a long run???
I went ahead of Kerry but said to her that I would wait for her at the next checkpoint – 72.8km. As I reached there I decided that I would change into my last pair of socks (3rd) so that I would be comfortable going forward. I noticed that some blistered were going to start to form on the balls of my feet and the medic kindly put some kineo tape across the balls of my feet as a form of padding and keeping it dry. My feet felt good and not as painful as it was beginning to feel. It was at this point too that Kerry decided that her feet were too sore to carry on and checkout sadly. I was extremely sad to leave her as I know she really wanted to carry on. So from 72.8km onwards I was going to be on my own but I was just ready to carry on and get this run done. It was starting to get dark at this point so headlights on and back onto the road, one pit stop at a time.
There were supporters EVERYWHERE. Not mine but they cheered me on. Throughout the whole event, I have to say that this was the best bit just having people in random areas cheering you on, most from their parked cars and standing on the side of the roads, some with jelly babies, others with their dogs. They gave a well done to everyone that passed them. Bear in mind that I had been out there for hours, so were the supporters, even in the dark. One gentleman said, for as long as you guys are running, I am going to be cheering. How lovely!!!
Struggle to finish:
From 88.3km to 100km: It was so great to get to this pitstop as I knew once I leave here it was ‘only’ 11.7km. There were two familiar faces who made my day. Samy and Alban! The best thing when you are feeling like this is seeing someone you know who embraces you and just wants to help you. I was given a seat in a lovely tent and offered tea and food which was amazing. Decided early on that at every pitstop it would be a 10 minutes maximum stop and then keep moving. So at this stop, it was just that. The end was in sight ‘sort of’ but I didn’t know how much harder it was going to get. Running in the dark when the terrain was so awful, sore feet and I was just beginning to feel super tired having been out on the trails now for 18 hours plus. I started to think about my mum. The pain my mum went through whilst in hospital was nothing compared to what I was feeling. I miss my mum more and more every day. The KM markers were great but started to feel further and further apart. I would like to say that the markers were great and very easy to see so was grateful for that. I was alone but never felt lonely. I did keep turning around to see if I could see any other headlight and sometimes I did but for a long time I didn’t. As I reached 95km, floods of tears came running through. I stopped for a moment with my hands on my knees. I was emotionally and physically drained at this point and although it was 5km to go, I knew it was still some way to go. The sky was getting brighter. 100km was so close as I ticked off 95… 96..97km markers. At this point there were familiar faces running towards me and as they passed me I said ‘have you finished?’, they replied no. You need to run up there to a cone and turn around!! I was like thanks.. but thinking WTF?... So I carried on and followed the instructions and red directional arrows to go round the cone and go back the way I had come and the finish would be in 2km. I started to think about ‘the stones’. I have to admit if it was ‘the stones’ that we drove past on the shuttle bus from finish line to the start.. it was underwhelming. But I tried to stay positive, as my goal was to get to the finish line and at this point was not bothered about taking photos with ‘the stones’. The finish line had crews and family members there waiting for other people and it was lovely to get the cheers and clapping. But then it was the medal and get your bag and it was over just like that.
Why I didn’t quit:
This was not an option. I deferred this race from last year due to a knee injury which I started rehab for in May 2022 to date. There was no way I was going to checkout and not complete. This race has been hanging over my head for a whole year and I was ready to get it off my shoulders. Yes I was extremely tired, yes I was starting to get blisters on the balls of my feet (sore but manageable pain) but for me to stop at this point it would have to be under medical advice. It got to a point from 72.8km where I was just power walking as I did not want to fall so it took much longer than I would have Iiked but I said that I would rather walk to get it done than stop. There were lots of other people who had walked it from the start so walking was always an option. My overall feeling of this event is that I’ll never run it again, not because of the distance but it just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Besides the difficulty of the terrain and awful weather, if it had been sunny and been too hot that would also have been unpleasant. However, for me it was hugely costly. £145 for the race entry, I then had to pay to defer, pay for shuttle to the start line, buy train ticket from London to Swindon, Hotel for 2 nights, taxi (4 times), geo tracker, train ticket back to London. I don’t even want to think about how much I spent but it is definitely not something I would do again.
Resilience to overcome pain and fear:
I have always been a very resilient person but sometimes you just don’t know how strong you are until strong is the only thing you can be. At the last pit stop 88.3km moving forward became progressively more challenging. I did look behind me a few times but that was not the way I was going and just had to keep moving forward because if I stopped there was no one there to save me. I started to think of how proud of myself I was going to be once I was over the finish line. We are always going to be faced with challenges in life but if we think about how we are going to feel on the other side, I have no doubt that this will power you through.
In the end, this race is the hardest one to date for many reasons. But it was also the one which I was happy to have completed alone without support as it really made me dig deep within my inner strength and showed my unwavering resilience and commitment to goals that I set myself. It allowed me to uncover the strength within which I didn’t know I had and push myself beyond anything I have ever done. Now this is what I can an experience.
So grateful that my knee has been FABULOUS and caused me no problems at all throughout the race. Happy with my strength work and rehab with Myoset. My right ankle which I rolled on May 14th also held up. However it did swell up after about 24 hours which is expected but not painful. I have been looking after it and as I write this report, it is much better (5 days later).
The hardest part of my recovery so far is sleep. No one told me that it would be so difficult to get a good nights sleep. Every night has been terrible to a point that I was almost in tears at night as I couldn’t sleep. I am trying to rest as much as possible during the day. Doing some yoga every morning, which has helped. I do not plan to run for 2 weeks but will start some gentle exercises from today (14/7).
I had a recovery session at Myoset on Monday which was amazing. One hour of back and legs compression massage was a blessing. Yes I walked there with my medal on feeling proud. Great to get out for a walk and stretch my legs as I had been working all day.
Shoes: Merrell MTL LongSky 2
Socks: 2 pairs of long compression socks and 1 short socks
Shorts: Purchased from Amazon
Base layer: Montane
Rain jacket: Montane Women's Minimus Lite Waterproof jacket
Fuel: I took a variety of tried and tested food with me ( pretzels, soreen loaf, salted peanuts, precision hydrate electrolytes, salt tablets and real salt in a bag, coca cola bottles). I had a cheese sandwich at checkpoint 2 which was great and picked up some other snacks including water melon 🍉.
Top 3 take away learning:
- Do your strength training as it will support your body throughout the challenge. Grateful that I did as I felt good and it also aids recovery
- Gratitude: Be grateful for what your body can do and gratitude will you see through challenging times.
- I can do hard things. Giving up is not an option. When you think like that your conscious mind starts to believe and gives you the power to achieve more than you ever thought possible.
Grateful for the amazing support along this journey from rehab to my first 50km Ultra in March 2023 to completing my first 100km.
Camino Ultra: Thank you for coaching through my first and second ultras. It is still sinking in. The best thing about having you as my coach (besides the fact that you are amazing humans) is allowing me to follow the training plan my way. You are thoughtful and flexible in your approach as coaches. You listened to my needs which changed often due to my rehab and another injury which occurred a few weeks out from race day. Couldn't thank you enough for getting me to the start line feeling ready and eager to take on my biggest race of all time. Thank you for allowing be to be my authentic self throughout our journey.
Alice: My trail sister. The one I was suppose to run this race with. The one who has supported and shared my long run miles with. Let's get back to the trails!
Black Girls Do Run UK: Thank you for your hugs, cheers, support in the build up to this race and the best hugs at basecamp setting me off with the best mindset
Merrell: Thank you for supporting me with all the trail shoes I could ever need . Forever grateful
Myoset: The best physios in town! Friendly and the most amazing tools in their recovery lounge.
If you missed my previous blogs on my rehab journey:
Thank you for taking the time to read my post. Hope it has inspired to go for that challenge you have been putting off. We can all do hard things!
Would love to hear your thought. Please comment below. If you have any questions, I am always happy to answer them.
Take care 🙂