My youngest brother likes his toast cooked to a level my mother colourfully describes as warmed up bread. I like mine toasted but not burnt. 4 probably on the toaster. My other brother takes his tea strong. Very strong. Builders tea. So strong you can stand a spoon up in it. The opposite of the colloquial gnat’s piss about which my father would lament. I like mine somewhere in the middle. Not too strong not too weak. Breakfast therefore highlights just how middle of the road average I am. And I am ok with that in my studies, career, hobbies and breakfast. I am not in competition with anyone. But sometimes I turn on the face looking back at me in the mirror and realise I am my worst enemy for the one thing that keeps me calm and happy. I don’t push myself to try to succeed because it increases the chance of failure. And other times when I do push myself good things happen. Targets are not only met but smashed. This is not one of those times. And so to…
The Race to the… series of events by Threshold Sports has been an ever present in my marathoning running life. Having signed up to Race to the Stones just after Berlin, my first marathon, strong armed my fellow UKRUNCHAT alumnus Jenni, as the next BIG challenge, I realized that I had never run a trail race, let alone a trail marathon or ultra beforehand. And so, to diminish any fears of running 100K along the Ridgeway, through the night, in one go, we signed up to Race to the King (day one) along the South Downs Way the month before to see what this trail running business was all about.
Having run King as my first trail marathon in 2016, and Stones as my first ultra in 2016,
I then ran the Race to the Tower along the Cotswolds Way in 2018 as the two day with camping option to complete what was then the Race to the Series and get a hoodie (that would take 3 months to arrive and would be worn to death).
They then added Race to the Castle to the mix but with timing, weather, COVID and all other reasons for cancellation, I wouldn’t get to run it.
And so, I left it like that, until races started again after the Coronavirus lockdowns and I ran anything I could to make up for lost time. I ran Race to the King again, this time as a two day weekender in 2021.
And then day one of Race to the Stones a month later.
And once again, I left it like that. The races are very expensive, you see, and so I would dip in but only when there was literally nothing on when I had a free weekend.
Enter my brother, stage left, with the desire to up his running game. After London in 2017, and then again in 2021, he asked whether he could join some of my running adventures. He wanted to prolong his life, to get fitter, and to have targets. He wanted to run 3 or 4 races a year, he wanted to try trail, run roads other than London, and to try ultras, and multiday races with camping elements. Who was I to say no?
We ran our first trail race together a month before his London 2021 effort, covering 47K of the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Arundel and then our second at the XNRG Amersham Ultra with Lew Clarke in March this year. With Loch Ness as his first non-London marathon planned in October the next box on his check list was a multiday event with camping, and so I signed us up for Race to the Tower. Race to the King has changes dramatically, from its Arundel Castle to Winchester Cathedral route to two 50K loops starting and ending at Goodwood Racecourse. Not the race it used to be. And the issue I have with Stones is Avebury really is a tuppenny ha’penny place with nothing there, minimal accommodation and very little in the restaurant or pub department.
Race to the Tower had options. It starts in Stroud, which has a lot of hotels and restaurants for the night before. And it finishes in Broadway, a lovely little village where the locals are always totally unaware there is race going on. This year being no exception, and there would be two races going on with the Ultra Challenge Cotswold Way going on at the same time, on a more looped route, but with some crossover. Some of our ups were their downs and vice versa.
And so to the weekend…
We had very very loose time targets. A trail marathon PB was never really an option as I got that at the London Revolution Trails marathon in Eton. That was flat, it was also a single day single event. A double is a different beast entirely, even more so when completed over two days. So I would have done for a double marathon PB. But I did quite well at Double King in 2021, relishing in the glory or races again after a series of COVID prompted lockdowns. Again, unlikely. So instead, as this was my brother’s first double race weekend with camping, we just decided to enjoy it.
Running a multiday race is all about energy conservation and self-preservation for me. You shouldn’t run your normal road marathon pace if you are running on trail anyway, and if you are running a multi-day, you should probably pare it back 30% for each additional day you are racing. If you are running a 3 day event, then you need to be really saving as much energy as possible. And the self-preservation is about looking after your feet, your guts, making sure you don’t chafe and this was the concern we had the first day.
Starting at 7.30 after Jeremy had collected his number (it never arrived and Threshold, as per usual, ignored 4 emails and a DM), it was obvious from the off that I was wearing the wrong shoes (I was in Altra Torins) and the wrong shorts. I had brought 3 pairs with me, a Nike pair with built in cycle shorts, a pair of Runderwear shorts, and a pair of Runderwear to wear under them, and a pair of thin Nike shorts, that I would wear the Runderwear under. I made the mistake getting dressed in the morning, of putting on the thin Nike shorts without the Runderwear. It was like going commando.
Although, to avoid any concern from my dear readers, I did not get any blisters from the shoes, or chafe from the shorts, or lack of undershorts. Whilst my brother ended up with a few hot spots on one foot, as he was wearing trail shoes. He would get this checked at half way, and it would be monitored through day two with K-Tape wrapped over it to protect him from blisters forming.
The route on day one was great, although I am not sure I prefer it to day two. Day one had a lot of woodland, lots of cooling canopy above, a few fields and rather than sharp up and downs, it was more gentle ups and downs as we crossed what felt like a ridge. Not that it was easy, the toughest parts were a very sharp decent on wet rock where people were taking pigeon steps on the way down, as I controlled myself with the hiking poles, and then the long slow climb up to half way.
I distinctly remembered this climb from 2018, it was one of three that would stick in my memory, along with the horse field where Clare face planted and I recovered her glasses from the mud.
When I ran this solo in 2018, the climb to half way was a narrow path with barbed wire topped fences either side. This time they had moved the route to take a path through the woods to the left of the 2018 path. It was less steep but it felt like it went on forever. And I, for one, was thankful of the change and the canopy, as the sun was out and baking us all the way to the top and the finish line of the first marathon of the two.
People were coming in 5 hours after us. That is a fact. People were coming in 5 hours after we did, and were still going on to complete the distance in one go. We, on the other hand took it very very easy.
We started with a quick survey of what was on offer. Other than tea, the free stuff was utter dog shit (again). Except this time it was vegan dog shit, not even proper dog shit. And so we relied on the concessions, the beer tent put up by banner sponsor Heineken, a smoothie van, a crepe van, and a wood oven pizza place. We enjoyed the wares from all of them before attempting to, but failing, to get any sleep. I got absolutely none. This was a combination of gale force winds, bugs, a half sleeping bag didn’t do the trick, and a fire blanket that did. In the end, zero sleep, but I took inspiration from Rachel, Lewis, Baz and JK who had all run canal ultras through the night. This would be easier, even though I’d been up all night, at least I was laying or sitting down, and not running.
Day two, and we were in good nick. My brother was concerned about a couple of hot spots on one foot. Me? Day one I had made a few kit choices that were wrong. I wore Altra Torins that didn’t like the trails. I wore Nike shorts, the kind that don’t have a lining and I forgot to wear my Runderwear underneath. I did survive that day without chafe or blisters, a minor miracle in itself, but day two I was going to do better, or so I thought.
Starting at 5.30, well getting up and fed at 5.30, attempting to use the portaloos before they got too rancid, it was cold, windy, wet. I remember it being foggy last time in 2018, and the photo of me scowling at the MC is quite something.
And I wore a pay of meggings, somewhere between leggings and jogging pants, the kind footballers were. I wore a t-shirt with a vest underneath and carried a waterproof on my pack for when it would (and did) inevitably rained.
Our strategy of taking it easy for day one had worked. We were both fresh, other than my lack of sleep. No injuries, a better set of kit options, including my comfiest HOKA shoes, and we were off.
Day one was more undulating, up and up and down and up and down and up along the top of ridges, through a lot of woodland. Day two had 4 large hills and that was it, other than 100 gates and stiles of varying types to clamber through and over. We went through a village or two, walked with a girl with a knee injury, and at the CPs we stopped. I sat down and had tea, and filled my bottles, and my brother spent time in the medical tents having K-tape applied to his hot spots.
There were plenty of drop outs. The biggest hill involved a sit down half way, music was played by both of us, and in the end we did it, coming over the line together, ticking several boxes for the pair of us, relatively unscathed and 7 minutes ahead of 2018, where I ran day one fully.
I guess the summary for RTTT is the same as all the other Threshold events I have run. The even itself is great, the marshals superb, the route impeccable, the scale of the CPs perfect, but it is the company itself that lets it all down. The communication is terrible and, for want of a term, non-existent. They really do take the money and run, unplug the phones and the email and SM accounts are not monitored. They don’t care about the runners after they take your money. Comms 0 for me on the Scores on the Doors. And then there is 2023. No Tower, no Castle (again!), and the new poor King and the Stones going to ballot entry only. That is not on.
The vegan food options did ruin it a bit. The wide selection of sandwiches at the CPs were replaced with overly elaborate and spicy vegan wraps. When you want a tuna or a cheese and pickle sandwich and they have yellow lentil curried falafel wraps or the like it just doesn’t cut it and you end up snacking on 25p Freddos and Tunnocks Caramel bars.
There are other options out there for multiday races including Rat Race’s The Wall and a whole host of Action Challenge events. We shall be doing those instead next year.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE RTTT? I would, but you need to know the Devil with whom you are dealing.
WOULD I RUN RTTT AGAIN? No