.. To the Stones 2018

Posted on: 19 Sep 2018

I’m afraid this has turned into a bit of an epic, but I’m working on the assumption this will be my first and only Ultra so want to commit as much as I can to ‘paper’.   I would also like to add an apology for not commenting on blogs recently – I love reading them but I just don’t feel confident enough anymore.  Perhaps things will change after Snowdon?

Race to the Stones July 2018:
Revoltingly early start to a Sunday morning (5:20am), quick dunk in the ‘left overnight Jacuzzi’, threw the clothes on and left hotel to travel the 8 miles or so to the Base Camp to meet up with Max and Bev.  [Our friend Les drove both Alan and myself in his posh new Tesla – he requires little excuse to get behind the wheel of ‘Starman’].

Once I was safely delivered, he and Les headed back to the hotel to get a few hours kip in before gorging their body weight in breakfast and having a jolly day travelling around looking at churches and quaint villages.  (The original plan had been to visit a couple of military museums but one didn’t open on a Sunday and the other not until 2 in the afternoon and as they’d arrived at 11 it was too long a wait for them – so sad !!).

This ‘Ultra Malarkey’ is rather new to me so I didn’t really have any strong ideas as to what to take, or more importantly, what to leave behind!  I had been persuaded to take spare socks and trainers along with a water bladder, some nibbles and a first aid kit.  I also had invested in a power charging thingy which turned out to be bigger and heavier than I had thought but I believe it proved a wise investment.

Bev’s hubby – Tony, was riding shotgun and was an absolute Godsend over the course of the day.  He took my sun lotion, trainers and spare socks which lightened my load considerably.

Once Bev and myself had had a nibble of a banana and a few raisins (breakfast), Max joined us and off we went at 6:20am.  I had been reluctant to have breakfast in the marquee as I hadn’t booked camping but it looked like anyone could have wandered in and enjoyed a slap up feast!

We passed under the start and we were underway, by ‘eck they set a fast walking pace!  It took a short while to feel warmed up enough to match their pace with ease, but it was fine once I’d got going (I’m always a bit stiff to start with).

Glad we had decided to walk it as very quickly my bowels started complaining!  I was soon counting down the KM’s to the first Pit Stop, getting slower as we went. 

At the beginning of the session, a lot of people were opting to run and so we regularly took a side-step to let them pass.  There were also plenty set for a long walk with boots and walking poles.  Even some in fancy dress.  The way was marked by little arrows mostly fixed in the ground, but the occasional one was tied to a tree.  Very helpfully some signs declared “Not this Way”, with a nearby arrow so that was very good.  I did wonder if they were fluorescent for the night travellers?

Eventually, we arrived at the first pit stop, I was almost walking cross legged!  As if by magic, Tony appeared!  I headed off to join the back of the queue and was there for like ages before I got to the front!  Must report the loos were rather good, didn’t smell, my ‘flush’ worked, available loo roll and at the first stop, even had running water and soap!  (Although Max may disagree with me).

Once refreshed, I went to have a look at the goodies on offer and produced my cup for a cup of tea (unfortunately, it was so hot!  It may as well have been molten lava!)  Grabbed some crisps and settled down on the road side.  Took my Garmin off and plugged it into the charger – what I hadn’t realised was that it would promptly end my current ‘session’, so I would need to start a new one once we set off again, nor did I have it plugged in long enough to make much difference to the charge.

I was just getting settled when I was told we needed to be off as we’d already been there half an hour!  (My!  How time flies). 

Threw my tea away, packed my crisps in the sack, dug out the Garmin and started it again then it was a case of struggling into my back-pack (Tony helped untangle me) then chase after the other two whilst doing it all up.

Garmin reported afterwards it had been 4.9 miles to the first stop @18.29 MI (avg pace).

We left there about 8:30am and I can report the sun was beginning to gain some heat even at that early time!

We did make a stop or two for Max to sort out the tape on her feet (I believe it had become loose?).  I also took the opportunity to snap some photos, it was nice just to be able to drink in the vestas.  Most of the time on our journey, my eyes were cast downwards ensuring a secure (mostly) footfall as I’m just not used to trail paths!

As we strolled along we passed a sign that pointed to the White Horse – Now had I been on my own I may well have struck out to look for it and would have been very disappointed, but thankfully we had a local with us and Bev said not to bother – it’s best viewed from the road anyway.  So on we plodded!

Somewhere along here, it suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten to put my ‘Cobber’ on (I had left it on the side of the bath to get cool and (to my knowledge) it was still there back in the hotel).  I attempted to send a text to Alan but it made no difference, it was not meant to be, at least he packed it before they left.

Okay, some of my memories have become a bit ‘blurred’ like the one where I spoke to some chap about a rather magnificent bird gliding through the air, he agreed that it may have been a red kite but he was as knowledgeable as me on the subject.  But I did take a few seconds to appreciate it before hurrying to catch the other two up!  Also, passing Waylands Smithy (had no idea what it was but recalled one of the Buzzers wanting us to send his love to it, which I did).  In my head I was imagining a small hut with a hot forge and a sweaty man called Mr Wayland, hammering at metal….

The second Pit Stop seemed to appear quite quickly.  As if by magic (just like Mr Benn!), Tony appeared!  We also got ‘squirted’ by the water sprayers – wow! Felt Good!  I grabbed a sandwich and I think I attempted another cup of tea (I’d brought my cup I was determined to use it).  But again, it was far too hot to drink.  I wasted time trying to recharge my Garmin but again had to cut it short as we needed to be on our way.  But this time, the RealBuzz Baton was in my charge!  I was a bit preoccupied and worried that it was still safe and insisted Bev check my backpack – it was there.  It certainly does have magic power.  I do recall setting off quite briskly and setting the pace for the first time,

My ‘stats’ for that bit: 4.83 miles @ 18.10 pace (still a fast walking pace).  We set off again about 10:30am (ish) after dunking my hat in the water provided.

Early part of this challenge, I think, had some nice shady bits but towards the middle and latter stages shade was hard to find. 

I had my phone on permanent charge and in a pocket by my ear so every time it ‘pinged’ it sent a little spark to my step.  Even when I knew it was Max sending a message or video.  All the subsequent ‘pings’ helped.

I have left this blog far too long, but the news that we had lost one of our own spurred me onto to completing it. Unfortunately memories are beginning to get murky.  RIP Marika, thank you for all your kind words and wishes over the short time I was acquainted with you.

Back to the Ultra: Relying on Strava and Flickr to help with the timeline – in typical fashion somewhere along this bit my Garmin packed up.  I’m guessing we stopped as I must have plugged it into the charger and promptly forgot about it.

Thereafter, all I can recall is climbing up a long grassy hilly section and having trouble catching my breath.  Really struggling to breathe.  Bev and Max were both concerned.  I staggered into the Pit Stop and simply crumpled into the shade.  Recollections:  Orange Juice in my mug, managing to procure a chair, delicious fruit, Tony magically appearing with my change of trainers and socks as previously agreed.  Okay, this bit I recall very clearly.  The gentleman by my side in the shade was having problems of his own and he let me have some of his ice for my drink, his wife (I’m assuming) then noticed me struggling with my trainers and socks and immediately came to assist me.  What a lovely lady!  She helped me off with my old trainers, then on with both my socks and fresh trainers but left me to do them up “as you know how tight you want them”.  Tony reappeared with a small hand held bladder containing some sort of yellowy liquid – it tasted strange but not unpleasant, he told me to keep drinking it – he also filled up my water bladder before chivvying me up and back to the girls – I’m not sure I thanked the lady but I’d like to think I did!

I certainly felt invigorated after that but there was no let up from the sunshine, it was relentless and soon battered me into submission again.  I have vague recollections of walking along a roadside and a car pulling up (it was Tony).  Passing a really pretty ‘Escape to the Country’ village where we stopped temporarily for Max to take up the Baton (Ogbourne St George).  Whilst paused I glanced at my dead Garmin to discover it had sprung into life and so it was put back onto the wrist and the next leg started.  (Seeing the route on the screen unfortunately does nothing to stir the grey matter to remembering anything of significance).

Somewhere along here I remember feeling extreme pain in the soles of my feet.  It was akin to walking on red hot coals.  I had no idea as to what it was but I guessed maybe blisters?

When we arrived at the final Pit Stop we were missing Tony!  Didn’t take him long to find us thankfully.  I found a mat in the shade of a tree and collapsed again.  Everything was hurting especially my feet!  I did give serious consideration to having a look at them but decided it was best not to know.  If I’d been on my own I think I would have just gone to sleep! 

Tony sorted out my ‘magic water again’ and I was told it was time to be under way.  It took me a long time to get going!  I’d totally stiffened up and each footfall was really OUCH!.  Tony had parked the car at the top of the hill so I enjoyed his company for a little while, he helped to take my mind off everything going on.  Once he’d said his farewells, it was time to retreat into my own little ‘happy place’. 

Another big blank here.  I just recall an eternal stretch along a track, passing a turn off where the finishers were heading, (I did give it a longing look), but we still have a wee way to go.  I did get a lovely surprise along here, Alan and Les appeared from the side of the road and pointed out the finish to me.  They said they’d meet me there and off they went.

Catching up to the girls we all got past the stones (posing for photos) then that long trudge back along the road and up the track.  It really was never ending.  Somehow though, the finish was in sight and we held each other and the baton then ran over the finish. 

I’m afraid I was not feeling my best, certainly had nothing left to enjoy the fact I’d actually finished!

Alan and Les appeared and a medic type volunteer proceeded to dowse me in cold water.  He recommended something to eat and drink.  Alan bought me a beer and some sweet potato chips.

Not long after drinking the pint it just came straight back up.  What a waste!  The medic chap sprang back into action and I was again liberally dowsed but this time I was given an inquisition as well!  I must have passed as he let Alan and Les take me away, but not before Tony had once again, sprung into action and I was given his spare doggie towel out of his car, which was wrapped round me and felt lovely and warm (I was shivering by this stage).

I somehow managed to change out of my wet clothes behind Les’s car and got into some dry ones which helped me to feel more human.  I spent the rest of the journey wrapped up in the doggie towel at the back of the car.

We made it home without any more incidents.  Although it did take a while to get from the car to the front door!

Strava reports the last leg was 9.7 miles at an average pace of 19:34 / mi which included my lie down at the last check-point.  

The pain in my feet?  It was two big blisters – one on each foot.

Would I do it again?  At this moment in time – no thank you, my plan is one last long one this year (Snowdon) and then concentrate on shorter runs next year (already have a half and a 10k booked)!

Just remains for me to say Thank You to both Max and Bev, I would never have even attempted this Ultra had it not been for your encouragement and additional heartfelt Thank you both for looking after me throughout our journey together and a humungous THANK YOU to Tony too.

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