I had initially looked at this event as my final ultra marathon in my preparation for the Arch to Arc run because the dates and distance fitted in really well with my training programme. When I then visited the Threshold Sports website and read their write up about the challenge and the route I was sold:
“Breathtaking scenery, millennia of history, teamwork and determination. The Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones is a celebration of all that makes Britain great. At Threshold we love Britain. It has some of the most incredible scenery in the world and humans have been criss-crossing the hills and valleys of this island for thousands of years before anyone reading this was born. We wanted a challenge that went back to basics. This is a breathtakingly beautiful challenge through 5,000 years of history along The Ridgeway, which is recognised as the oldest path in the UK. Along its length you will find traces of generations stretching back over 5,000 years. It is lined with Bronze Age hill forts, neolithic burial chambers, Roman river crossings and culminates in the largest neolithic stone circle complex in Europe at Avebury. When you travel its length you can understand why people have trodden this path for so long. It is truly beautiful. The route passes up and along the high ground South West from Lewknor in Oxfordshire to the Thames crossing at Goring. From this point the route rises up onto the North Wessex Downs passing golden fields of wheat before the iconic finish where you will walk between the towering standing stones of Avebury. It is also one of the most accessible long distance routes as it is just over an hour outside London and so the challenge you can focus on is the 100km, not a 9-hour drive to the middle of nowhere to get there!”
Upon arriving at the race start on Saturday morning I was not disappointed. The sun was shining, we were in a field in the middle of beautiful Oxfordshire countryside and, after the first week of school summer holiday, I was feeling a bit less tired than I have lately and raring to go. As the largest ultra marathon in Britain this race had more of a ‘big race’ feel about it than some of the other ultras I have done (not that I've done many!). The people were friendly, the registration was really well-organised and the music was pumping! There was a big inflatable starting gantry with a Volvo car parked underneath it – the bonnet of which the race briefing was conducted from! – before the Volvo reversed out of the way, the claxon sounded and we were off.
The other attractive feature of this event was that you could opt for the hardcore version – 100k in one day on the Saturday, or 50k over two days (Saturday and Sunday), camping and transfers either included or not. I had entered for the 100k race but, due to an ongoing niggle in my right hip, been advised to break up the race into two 50k days to avoid injury late on in my preparation. I was therefore keen to go out running strongly as, after all, I would only be running 31 miles that day, whilst others would be running 62! I started well and was feeling really good as the first hour whizzed by. I was pleased to be up near the front and found myself in the company of some very accomplished female ultra runners – Sarah Morwood and Sorrell Walsh, both of who were doing the 100k in one go. Respect to both of these girls as Sarah went on to win, placing 5th overall, in a time of 9:14 and Sorrell was 2nd in a time of 10:20.
Unfortunately, it was a different story for me. I went through pit stop 1 and pit stop 2 feeling good and running strongly but, on a short road section in the town of Goring, my right hip started to play up again and by the time I was approaching the third pit stop I was in real pain with the whole of my hamstring cramping up. No amount of stopping and stretching and running more slowly seemed to relieve the pain and discomfort and I was seriously worried about injuring myself badly this close to my main event. I had completed 20miles, but to push on for another 10miles seemed foolish and I made the disappointing decision to retire from the race. I received some very kind roadside assistance from a man called John (and his lovely lab puppy) who was cheering his team fund raising for Hibbs Lupas Trust. He lent me his mobile phone and this time I did call Ollie for a pick-up! John’s charity is an organisation that supports lupus patients and works hard to raise awareness of the condition – follow the charity on Twitter @HibbsLupasTrust.
I was very sore the following day and didn’t run again until Wednesday, having been given the all-clear by Georgina Taft, my physio. I’ve just got a chronically tight hip and I’m now on a weekly physio and twice weekly massage routine up until the A2A. I’m not going to stress about my last long weekend run that is coming up and I’m going to start my taper a bit early to make sure I get to the start line in one piece. Most of the hard work has been done. Mentally it would have been nice to have got one final long run in the bank, but some things just are not meant to be. And at least it meant that I made it back to my parent’s house in Kinver in time for dad’s end of chemo celebration BBQ!