Home » Race to the Stones Review – my Second 100km Race in 6 Weeks

Race to the Stones Review – my Second 100km Race in 6 Weeks

Race to the Stones 2021 was to be my second 100km race in 6 weeks.  I’d actually booked it for 2020, but due to Covid the event was cancelled and my place deferred.  I’d put so much planning and effort into the London 2 Brighton Ultra, that I hadn’t really prepared mentally for the event, and had found it difficult to recover and train in between, so this was a bit of a step into the unknown. Here’s my Race to the Stones Review...

Race to the Stones Route

Race to the Stones (RTTS) runs along a section of the Ridgeway, an ancient trackway on a chalk ridge from the Berkshire Downs to Wiltshire.  Because of it’s elevation & commanding views, for 5,000 years the Ridgeway afforded traders a measure of safety.  Today, the race follows this same route over 100km, from Lewknor, finishing at the ancient and iconic stone circle in Avebury.

Race to the Stones Review - Route 2021
Race to the Stones Hills

I had never visited the Ridgeway, and to be honest, until I Googled it when writing this Race to the Stones Review, had no idea of the significance or history of the route.  The route is beautiful… breathtaking in places.  It is  hilly, but rolling, with sections through woods and open downland, making it fairly ‘runnable’.  The surface is varied with 90%+ off-road on bridleways, single tracks, chalk-rutted farm paths and green lanes, with mud and potholes thrown in for good measure.

With almost 2000 competitors it’s one of the biggest ultras in the UK, which did mean some hold ups in the narrow, single file sections of the paths, but nothing to worry about unless you’re close to the front of the race.

Where does race to the Stones start?

The race starts in a huge field in Lewknor, just off the M40. 

Accommodation was limited close to the start, so I ended up booking a hotel in High Wycombe for Friday night, a 20 minute drive along the M40.

In spite of the lovely hotel, the comfy bed and my early night, I had a bad night’s sleep the night before a race.  But banking on the fact that I had built up some sleep credit, I was up at 5am and arrived at the start at 6.15am, ready for my allotted 6.50am start wave.

It was warm with a light drizzle, but otherwise perfect running conditions.

To adhere to the Covid protocols, Threshold started in waves, with 15 seconds or so between each competitor.  At just after 6.50am I was off… my second 100km race in 6 weeks, and this one would prove a completely different experience.

Race to the Stones start in Lewknor

Start slowly, and hope I don’t get slower…

Six weeks earlier, I found the latter part of the London 2 Brighton Ultra particularly tough; my splits for the first half of the race were much faster and I faded and struggled in the second half  of the race.  Admittedly there was more road, and the heat definitely played its part, but after chatting to an experienced ultra friend who had looked at my Strava, he suggested I start at a 12 minute mile pace and aim to keep this consistent for the whole race. So my aim was to follow one of my 7 tips for running an ultra, and to start off slowly, and to keep to this pace throughout.

My only concern with this strategy was that I knew the route was hillier and therefore would include more walking, plus I would spend some time at aid stations, so 12 minutes would quickly become 13.  On this basis, I decided to aim for 11.30 on flat, but focus less on time and try to feel ‘easy’, ensuring I walked the hills, even if that meant doing so early on.

The first part of the race crosses a number of fields, as you climb up onto the Ridgeway.  I was running on my own, keeping to a very steady (slow) pace, happy to be overtaken by a lot of runners, who I suspected were doing the 2-day race or may run out of gas later on.  

Race to the Stones across the fields near the start

Even with the staggered starts there were a lot of bodies in front and behind me, and when the trail narrowed to single file tracks it was impossible to overtake, so I just slowed down, soaked it all up, and enjoyed the scenery. 

When 1 becomes 3… Meeting Ronnie & Izzy

I’ve said before I have met some wonderful and interesting people on ultras, and just after the first aid station 10km into the race I was lucky enough to run into Ronnie and Izzy.  We chatted for an hour or so, but I felt their pace was a little quicker than mine, so let them run ahead.

Ronnie & Izzy - Race to the Stones

I’ve no idea what they were doing at Pitstop 2, but I must have overtaken them, and 5 minutes after I left they were back with me, and we continued chatting and ended up running the rest of the race together.

I tend to run the events on my own, so there’s an unwritten rule as far as I’m concerned that if I  meet someone and they’re faster, want to run off, or vice versa, it’s no hard feelings and I wish them well.  On this occasion it was strange, because we all got along well, and after the initial “don’t wait for me if I’m holding you up” chat, we morphed into a team.  

Personally, it was lovely to run with them.  We shared a lot of stories, laughs, as well as a few highs and lows along the way, and running with people always makes the time pass quicker!

Past the badger holes, down to Grim’s Ditch and Across the Thames

So as a newly established three… we ran on across the famous corn field, through the narrow badger hole trail and down to the Thames.

The Field of Corn - Race to the Stones

As I said before, I really hadn’t done much research on the Race to the Stones route… so I was pretty embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know it was the Thames.  To be fair I wasn’t alone (Ronnie & Izzy!).

The Thames towpath - Race to the Stones

The route followed the Thames for 10km of flat narrow trail to the beautiful village of Goring on Thames, and cut West towards the halfway Basecamp.

Pasta at Basecamp…

Like many ultras, Race to the Stones offers competitors the chance to split the route into two days, or to tackle the first or second days only.  Basecamp, therefore, was a pretty impressive set up with hundreds of two man tents, a huge food tent, and drinks tent, presumably for those celebrating having completed Day 1!

Basecamp - Race to the Stones
Arriving at Basecamp – The Finish for some, but not for us!

As I suspected, my average pace to Basecamp had slipped and I was averaging 12.21/mile (7.40/km), however, even though my legs were a little sore, I generally felt much better than I had at the same stage of the London 2 Brighton race.

It was lunchtime, I was pretty hungry and having had some success in getting some proper food down in previous ultras, I headed for the food tent for a bowl of pasta.  I was conscious not to eat too much, and not to spend too much time at the aid station, so after 15 minutes, Ronnie, Izzy & I were back on the trail, happy to leave the halfway point behind us.

The second half blur… 

Refreshed from the food, the short rest and that psychological barrier of now counting down the kilometres, I felt in good spirits as we left basecamp.

The second half of the race is a bit of a blur if I’m perfectly honest.  The trail was undoubtedly beautiful, but it was a slog in parts, and I tended to focus on being mentally present, focusing only on the 10-15 kms chunks in between pit stops.  I have found that if I let my mind wander too far ahead to what I still have to do, and what is remaining, it is unhelpful and can be demoralising, so I just try where possible to focus on what I can control at that very moment.  

Having Ronnie and Izzy was a massive boost, as we all experienced inevitable lows in the latter stages of the race, and were able to laugh, smile and generally try to distract one another as much as possible.

Go with what you know… or pay the consequences!

The pit stops or aid stations were staffed by super enthusiastic volunteers, who welcomed us, helped us and cheered us on our way.  

As in the past, after the first few hours, I really struggled with the gels, sweet energy drinks and bars, and if I was being critical, Basecamp aside, the stops were rather lacking in ‘real food’.  I craved savoury, and ate plenty of packets of crisps… presumably for the salt!

I’d broadly stuck to my plan of trying to get something down every hour, topping it up with sports drinks, and had resisted the temptation of flat coke, on offer at all the stops.  At the penultimate pit stop, I gave into temptation and had a glass of not that flat coke, a tangerine and a packet of crisps.  Not exactly ideal nutrition, and 15 minutes later I paid the price… my stomach confirmed it was a bad idea, with cramps that caused me to duck for the bushes.  

Running with cramps is pretty unpleasant, but Ronnie and Izzy nursed me along, and fortunately by the final aid station, I felt better.  

Running for Home, Fuelled by a Marmite Sandwich

The final pit stop was an opportunity to rectify my previous mistakes… I found a loaf of bread and made myself a Marmite sandwich.  It was heaven… proper food… and just what I’d craved.  Feeling energised, I left the final pit stop and headed out for the last leg.

The last 15km there’s a long climb, followed by a flattish section and a lovely descent to Avebury.  Here the trail was mostly chalk, but aside from a steep slippery section, it was thankfully dry. 

I love the last 5km of ultras…with just a parkrun to go, I know I will do this, and for the first time allowed myself to think ahead to the finish, whilst also reflecting on the race.  I only had one other 100km race to compare it to, but it was completely different: rolling hills, more trails, less tarmac, lots of chat and no podcasts. I can’t say I loved every minute of it, but it had been an amazing experience, and I was determined to enjoy the last 5km.

Speedy descents and good chat

On this occasion, we could see the finish line from 95km down in the distance.  We sped up, putting our aching legs out of our  minds, with focus only on the finish line.  

Even the cruel loop back at 98km that takes you around the Stone Circle and then back on yourself, couldn’t dim our spirits.   

Avebury Stone Circle RTTS

As we rounded the final corner, and ran along the home straight our names were announced, and we whooped and cheered. 

It was a wonderful experience, made all the better for sharing it with two wonderful people.  

Race to the Stones - Finish Line

My mate Nick greeted us at the finished, armed with cold beers. After a delicious burger we said our goodbyes.  

What a day… a long day, but a great day!

Timing & Results

In terms of time, I completed the course in 13 hours 44 mins, averaging 13.16 min/mile pace.  A little slower than I had hoped for, but given it was my second 100km race in 6 weeks, I was happy overall.

Mike Webb results

Conclusion

Is Race to the Stones Hard? Every 100km ultra race is challenging, that goes without saying, but some ultras are harder than others. As I’ve said before, I found the London to Brighton Ultra really tough, and I think that had a lot to do with the heat and the terrain. It seems counter intuitive but fewer hills means less opportunity to walk, recover and take on fuel. Add to this more tarmac and a hot day, and London to Brighton was significantly harder on the body.

Race to the Stones on the other hand is hilly, but not savagely hilly, giving you enough to rest and recover. It’s almost entirely trail, and although some of the narrower paths were tough, it’s more than made up for by the amazing views along the Ridgeway. I’d say it’s a great first 100km trail ultra.

Would I do it again? Never say never. I loved the event, but there are so many other wonderful events out there to try.

Did you enjoy my Race to the Stones Review?

If you enjoyed my Race to the Stones Review, have a read of the 10 Things I Learnt on Race to the Stones where I share some thoughts on things that worked well, and not so well as well as some lessons learnt for my next race.

Did you run Race to the Stones? Share your thoughts in the comments below… if you’re interested in booking for Race to the Stones 2022 – visit Threshold Trail Series and register your interest.

1 thought on “Race to the Stones Review – my Second 100km Race in 6 Weeks”

  1. Ronnie

    Hi,
    I have loved reading this and recapping the day, it’s a great read. Izzy and I loved(nearly) every minute of the run, at least 90% of it was type 1 fun. Your sound advice and great chat (esp about crisps) made it an amazing day. Looking forward to next time!

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