2020 has seen change to a lot of things within our daily lives. One of those changes has been that many races are now virtual. One of the races that usually takes place close to me in Somerset is Race To The Stones, this is potentially the first ultramarathon that I ever heard of. With everything a little bit different this year, I thought it might be my one and only chance to be a part of this event. Now if you want to read about someone doing this challenge perfect, this is not it! Instead you’ll be reading about a regular runner trying their best to fit in 100km in a week.
Let’s start with what the challenge is. Usually the Race To The Stones is a 100km race along the Ridgeway, finishing at the Avebury Stone Circle. There’s a few different options for a how you can tackle the distance, but it’s very open about it’s approach that you can run or walk it. This year, the challenge is to tackle to distance for the week between the 6th and 12th of July. They’ve also made three different distances for people to choose from, 21km, 42km, and 100km. I’m going to be trying to run the 100km distance. The challenge was free to enter, you just maid extra if you wanted a medal or a t-shirt. I opted to get both and that was £25.
I wanted to start that challenge off nice a strong, so the week before I barely did any running. This was in an attempt to rest my legs and make sure I wasn’t going in straight after a hard week of training. I also went out a got new running shoes. This might sound a little bit crazy, new trainers a few days before a big challenge. I thought that too, but honestly I don’t think I’d have been able to do anything longer than 10km in my (also recently new) On shoes. So I went out in search of some nice cushioned shoes that would help with the shin pain I was starting to experience. Roll on the week.
DAY ONE: 18km
The first day I went out and felt really strong. I decided to turn off any kind of lapping on my watch so I ran without any data to look at. Honestly this was a game changer. The only thing I saw on my watch was the map, not even how far I had gone, and I loved it. I knew for this challenge I wanted my pace to be slow, I was aiming for between 6 min/km and 7 min/km which is quite a big range but make sense when I had chosen not to avoid the hills. During this run I ran over to Ashton Court before going across the Clifton Suspension Bridge into town and make to home. This is a route I’ve only ever done once before, and the last time I did it as soon as I hit town it was so crowded. On this day though, it felt so great to be out. I was singing along to musicals the whole way and just really enjoying it. I noticed that about half way my feet started to hurt a little, just on the balls of my feet, but I was still able to push on and make progress.
DAY TWO: 5km
The second day, I did 5km. Not much when you have 100km to cover. But I knew I was working in the afternoon teaching dance, and that usually kills my shins as I’m demonstrating and joining in with everything I want to kids to do, whilst we’re still not in a studio. So I chose to just do a little bit, because something is always better than nothing. I headed out with my partner, as he hadn’t been out running for a while, to do an easy paced 5km. What I didn’t realise was happening though was that we had baited each other to go faster than I was planning, finishing with a pace of 5:36 min/km. I was actually amazed that my body was able to do that the day after running 18km, and gave me a little hope for the rest of the week.
DAY THREE: 15km
With Tuesday’s distance being minimal today was the day to make a little bit of that up. I knew if I averaged 15km a day I’d make it, less than that and I wouldn’t. So the plan was to do 20km today, and follow it up with 25km the day after. BUT, not everything goes to plan. I took a slightly different route to Ashton Court as I wanted to run the Parkrun route and then run back. However even the entrance to Ashton Court is hilly, and I could just feel a little niggle in my shins. So I aborted the plan and decided just to jog back home skipping out 5km. I could make them up by either walking or doing a little jog later on. Surprisingly I never felt another shin complaint after turning around. Instead what I did feel was the pain in my feet from having spent too much time on them. It’s was almost like the pads on the bottom of my feet were just wearing away and there was nothing I could do. With a mile to go (I knew this only because I knew how far away from the house I was) I was really struggling, however I held on and focused to my soundtrack, which began playing ‘Bruce’ from Matilda. I’m sure that doesn’t mean a lot to many, but in that moment it was the song I needed to push me on, having the chorus chanting at Bruce willing him to eat the cake made me feel like I could get back home. That last km ended up being my fastest km by a long shot.
DAY THREE: 5km
In the evening I decided to top up the distance I had completed, initially I was planning to walk to a take away or similar to get some dinner. However, as I thought more about I just felt like I should try and get it over with as quickly as possible, so laced up the trainers to do another run. I set about running over to the park and running as many loops as it took to get to 5km, 2 and a half as it turns out. It was actually a really nice run, and this is coming from a pretty dead set morning runner. The park was pretty empty and the weather was holding off after an initial splatter of rain. It was also great to know I wasn’t running that far and was able to keep the foot pain I’d experienced earlier in the day to the back of my mind. I was even super surprised (yet again) at the pace I was able to do during the run 5km in 28 minutes, despite having already done 15km that morning.
DAY FOUR: 22km (Walked)
The middle day, and what was set to be the longest distance. With the challenge nearly half way through I decided it was time to research how far I’ve actually ever run before in a week. Looking back over the last year (which has been my biggest running year so far), my highest running volume in a week was 47km. Now I’d just covered 42km between Monday and Wednesday, so I had a little think. The challenge is to run or walk the distance, and anything I covered above my previous highest would be amazing. So I set about walking, just some distance in but in a less vigorous fashion. 4 hours and 20 minutes it took to get in those 22km on Thursday morning, all whilst nursing a blister. My hope was that somewhere along the way my blister would pop, but that was unlikely as at this stage it was one of those blisters that hasn’t quite become a blister yet. The walk took me over 50km, so I’m now into the final stretch.
DAY 5: 7km
Motivation for day 5 was very very hard to come by. I got up at 6:30 completely intending go running at 7 like usual but I was still sat on the sofa at 8:30. But there wouldn’t be a little paragraph here if I didn’t make it for a run in the end. After dealing a little bit with the blister I was nursing on my big toe (the only real injury I had at this point), I jumped on the treadmill and decided to aim for at least 5km. Listening to ‘Come From Away’, I pushed on to 7km. It wasn’t the best pace ever known for a 7km, but I was very pleased I got it done.
DAY 5: 5km
After a struggle of a morning to motivate myself to get moving, come the afternoon I was pretty happy to get outside. I went out straight after I finished teaching dance over Zoom and completed my usual 5km circuit. This was actually the first time during the challenge that I’d done a route I regularly do. Again doing the shorter distance really showed me that my pace wasn’t really suffering through the extra distance volume and the blister on my right leg. I managed to complete this 5km even quicker than day two’s 5km. It definitely goes to show that I can do a lot more than I think I can! I even got a PB on a Strava segment that I’ve done 42 times! Completing the day with 23km felt great as I knew I was slightly ahead of schedule (based on 15km a day).
DAY 6: 21.2km
Doing a half marathon near the end of the challenge was perhaps not the best move! This was hands down the hardest run I did throughout the week. I made a couple of mistakes with this run. The first was that it was warmer than I thought it would be, the 11 degrees the forecast gave me definitely felt untrue with the 75% humidity. As such I went through my water a little quicker than planned, making me feel very nervous about getting home in a healthy way. The second was that the route I chose was a little uninspiring. It was a simple out and back route along the towpath in Bristol, which is a really nice place to run giving your views of Bristol without the massive sound of traffic. However, when faced with 5km of not much more stimulation than just the changing cliff level it felt very hard to motivate myself to get much further. On top of this the path was pretty muddy, at points you needed to make a choice between a puddle and slippy mud, meaning I was constantly stop starting and unable to get into a good pace. Needless to say, my pace plummeted for this run I covered the distance in 2 hours and 40 minutes. A whole 40 minutes behind my time in March at the Bath Half. The only thing that got me through the run was really the knowledge that this week wasn’t about pace, it was about teaching me I can do the distance, as I had been feeling my confidence in running fading. For anyone observant this also left 2km that I needed to complete in order to finish the challenge.
DAY 6: 2.5km
After finishing up my morning run I had very little left to do, but I had found I had developed two new blisters (still on my right foot) which didn’t make the prospect of going for another run very exciting. A few house chores done, I decided it was now or never I just needed to get out there and complete it. I took my partner out to run with me, mainly as he hadn’t been out in a while and because it wasn’t too long. I also just wanted to complete the challenge strong and by running and thought having a little bit of company would make it a little easier. 15 minutes later and I was down!
DAY 7: 0km
When I say 0km, I definitely mean it. I spent the day just sat on the sofa, drinking water and eating milk chocolate. The two new blisters that had given me so much trouble the day before had disappeared overnight, so very typical. No on to the next challenge!
WHAT DID I LEARN?
1. I can do a lot more than I think during the week
2. Rest is just as important as training
3. Cushioned shoes definitely help with longer distances
4. I need a few more pairs of running socks
5. During the next training block, I should add more hill work
6. I can make homemade jelly that are a lot better on the stomach than gels
7. (My green hat doesn’t suit my head too well!)
I am so proud that I was able to complete the challenge, and even more amazed that I’ve done it without injury. I think part of the reason I didn’t give myself a major injury was mainly that I took nearly all of the runs really really easy. I didn’t push myself on hills, I didn’t focus on pushing the pace, I just listened to my legs and lungs in order to work out how hard I could go on that day. Did anyone else do the Race To The Stones challenge? I’d love to know how others got on with their chosen distance!