ON Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th July The Race to the Stones took place, its a 100KM walk from Lewknor to Avebury Stones, the walk takes you along the ancient pathway known as the Ridgeway, a path which is possibly Britains oldest road used for trade for thousands of years by our ancestors
I took part in this raising funds for SSAFA the oldest tri-force charity in Britain. Soldiers, Sailors, Airforce Families Association, they help serving personnel, veterans and reservists and all their families. https://www.ssafa.org.uk
I trained for this for months along with a friend, we often walked up to 15 miles a day and we explored many many public walkways and bridle ways, often getting lost.....bitten and stung, we discovered lots of wonderful places we didn't know were there, saw stampeding deer, squirrelly squirrels, butterflies, bees, magnificent spiders webs, I had to avoid walking on tons of baby frogs on a mission to somewhere (they all went in the same direction), climbed over logs and trees, stiles (even when actually there was a gate but we hadn't seen it!) The training was a voyage of discovery in my local area and probably a bit scary for the local wildlife.....and I am the richer for it. Walking as I have said in my previous blog in April is extremely therapeutic.
I really desperately wanted to complete this, part of the reason was as a personal challenge, I had attempted this last year with my brother, Gary, in memory of our other brother Tommy, unfortunately Gary injured himself on the first day and we never got to complete it. You never leave a man behind, we had been doing this on our own and not as part of this organisation.
I had never done anything like this before, I was full of trepidation, every time I thought about it my stomach clenched, there were going to be around 2700 people taking part, it looked very well organised and we were going to stay overnight, camping with the organisers, so everything should go well. RTTS (Race to the Stones) did a write up on a few of us which meant we got to see some wonderful inspiring stories, their facebook page was great too, they sent us updates and training schedules and even let us know the menus! So why the trepidation? I was so desperate to complete this, so determined, but I was afraid I wasn't good enough, wasn't fit enough, too fat, I just didn't want to let anyone down, not my sponsors, not SSAFA, not my family and friends and not myself.
The morning of the event arrived
they were taking our bags to the half way point and a representative from SSAFA was there to meet us too, everyone was on a high, there was music, last minute loos, t - shirts and stretches, we got to meet a vet who had been helped by SSAFA and was doing his bit to give a little back, there were giggling girls and limbering up fitties, last minute adjustments and calls for the 'phases' to line up.
(photo is myself and Clare)
My stomach didn't stop churning, I mentally went over everything in my rucksack, the one I was taking with me, blister plasters, water bottle, first aid, waterproof (!) foil blanket (!) insect repellant, hat, sunglasses......then our phase was called, somehow we were at the front, the RTTS person was on a box looking a little like the guys from 118 ads , encouraging us to stretch along to music and funny quips, then suddenly we were off, some of our phase were running, a lot were walking, the heat was high and it was before 9am. Lots of people had sticks, most had only little rucksacks, some were almost in costume, a lot were doing it for charity.
Some passed us, chatting away, jogging, there were lots of "excuse mes", but no one was rude or pushy, the atmosphere was extremely positive and encouraging and I have to say throughout the whole event that remained the case. That first part of the walk to the first pitstop was fast, and it was uphill, I realised that actually I should have done more uphill walking....I was slow on the hills but fast on the flat.
I met guys who were supposed to be on another race which had gotten cancelled but luckily RTTS had offered non-stop places on this and they joined. Non-stop people were completing the whole 100KM without the overnight stop, some people about 1000 were stopping overnight and some the people were doing either day (50KM).
I met a group of ladies who were raising money for a charity which I believe is called Neurofibromatosis, two of the ladies had daughters with the condition, they had never done a walk like this before. I hope they made it.
I met some Canadian ladies who were over here taking part as it was one of their groups birthday wish!! I normally want wine and cake.
Behind me just for a short while there was a couple of women who were in the RN I never really had a chance to talk to them but I did 'meet' one of them on a Navy facebook page after :-) they were doing it non-stop and we congratulated each other profusely - I was totally impressed with how they managed it.
As the day wore on the Sun got hotter, my phone died, the hills longer and steeper, the distances between pitstops seemed never ending the more tired I became, my negative thinking leaked in. Stopping for the third time on a hill, where I was walking up on my toes it was so steep, climbing over tree roots the size and thickness of branches, I became demoralised, I started to question myself.. drip, drip , drip
'what the actual **** had I been thinking, imagining for a minute I could possibly take part in this mammoth task, this is an endurance race, this is an Ultra Marathon for Gods sake, I was in my 50s, I was not fit, I hadn't done enough training uphill, I was a wee fat wumin, people must be laughing their heads off"
My negativity continued to drip, I had wind! I blamed the organisers for not testing people (me!) before granting (me) permission to take part, I resented the tall people for their long legs, people with poles (clearly cheating!) People who chatted happily and passed me laughing with each other like it was EASY!!! (bah!) Finally out of the woods into a really long up and down field of wheat and the Sun just kept on shining. I think its called the Field of Dreams - jeesh, though in hindsight I was probably dreaming of the finish line.
This wasn't even half way, I had miles to go, my rucksack became heavier, probably the foil blanket, at every pitstop the organisers were very cheerful and encouraging, damn them! I stopped and changed my socks at one pit stop, one of the guys loved the fact we were walking for SSAFA, that kinda cheered me up, I resolved to keep stretching by squatting - which helped, getting down was easy, getting up, not so much, unfortunately where I'd sat down to change my socks and make sure my feet were ok (they were fine) getting up was a more than a bit of a bugger, rolling over onto my knees was the only way to go, but then off we went. Replenished with triangular peanut butter sandwiches and fresh water pepped with electrolytes.
We were on the way to the second to last pitstop going through a lovely little town and then a lane past some little houses where one extremely compassionately kind person had put a hose out, up high with a sprinkler on the end, so you could stand under it, just for us - what a darling man, we loved it, it was so refreshing just those few sprinkles of water. Ok I was a bit wet when I left.
Clares knee had at this time started to play up quite badly, so we thought when we stopped she may be able to get it strapped, she also suspected she had a few blisters. The pitstop came up and it was almost in the shade, yahoo, unfortunately the queue for the medics was quite long, but eventually Clare got seen, by a very nice man, they couldn't strap her knee as it was already swollen but they did pop her blisters (eww). It was at this point a few people were making 'I can't go on" noises, the next part was a very steep hill (no surprise) which would definitely put a strain on any injuries to be fair. Clare and I assessed the situation and she felt she wanted to give it ago, so a little later than anticipated we slowly headed uphill to the final pitstop. And it was very very steep - twice! Sometimes it was just as hard going down.
Amongst the puffing (from me) I could overhear conversations which kept me from thinking too much, a couple of guys were discussing the merits of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram and which platform would be good for publishing and which age group was likely to use it, one group was looking at the scenery and taking pictures (I was looking at my feet), a couple of ladies were encouraging each other ( I felt a bit better when I saw them as they had been in our phase), one couple stopped and people didn't pass them by, stopping to make sure they were ok, it was really good to see, by this time everyone was knackered, we were all in the same boat, different levels of abilities and everyone was checking and encouraging each other. It was kinda nice.
We made the last pit stop and a lovely RTTS man was handing out segments of cool fresh oranges .......I love that man a really lot. He greeted me by name too, I couldn't work that out until Clare pointed out it was on my shirt in big letters! I'm blaming the heat.
We only had 3 miles to go from that point and guess what......the half way point was on top of a hill.
Almost at the top, a lady was standing shouting encouragement, she wasn't a participant but she had taken part last year, we, Clare and I, must have looked awful tired, "keep going" she said "its only a few hundred yards more and you're there" we kept going, I didn't want to disappoint her, and also I really needed the loo.
We made it, literally 12 hours after we started.
The tent section.
Clare and I went straight to the mess tent, what a wonder to behold, loads and loads of hot food, a lot of pasta, salad, massive cakes, tea, coffee, juice, hot chocolate, long trestle tables, some people with flip flops had obviously been there a while before us, some were seriously hobbling. We got our food and sat at the nearest table, we were weren't talking much, just the occasional grunts, we were so tired. As we were tucking in a lady sat opposite us and we did get chatting, turns out she had done 8 of these Ultra Marathons in 8 weeks. I'm pretty sure I caught some flies for a few minutes. She was very nice and also encouraging, in fact no one was the big "I am" I think possibly because they started like you too. Some people had walked due to mental health conditions, coping mechanisms, some did it for the challenge, some for loneliness. Some for charity. It was a very interesting time.
We found our tents, got our bags and went for a shower, the step up to the showers (which were fabulous by the way) took a bit of negotiating but actually coming down was worse, it hurt and I had to do it very gingerly sideways. It was in the shower I discovered the welts on my back where my bra and rucksack had rubbed me. Major ouchie.
I waddled back to my tent and the view was pretty amazing it was just about still light maybe in fact you'd call it twilight but if I'm totally honest I was so dog tired I couldn't appreciate it . Crawling into my tent (very nice roomy and clean) I sorted my stuff, sprayed insect repellant and shimmied down into my sleeping bag, which.. just.... didn't seem right, yes, you've guessed, probably before I did, I'd brought a childs one. ARGHHH. Was there no end to my misery. There was no way it was going to fit around my, shall we be kind and say 'generous' hips, I was dispirited, so low mentally, I had nothing left, I could feel my eyes welling up, I felt so stupid and rubbish. Then I could hear Clare calling me, did I have any anti histamines, bless her, I did, so she opened my tent and I shoved out my hand with the pills.
"Lizzy, Lizzy come and look at the stars" she said in wonder, as if we were in a knock off Disney film, "you need to see this, they are amazing".
"No/go away" I said (actually it was alternative words that meant "no/go away"), "they will still be there tomorrow" . What??? I was grumpy, the food hadn't hit my stomach yet, everything ached like it had been punched, I had terrible wind and my sleeping bag didn't fit, it was justified!
I snuggled down into my half sleeping bag, giving a gentle and fairly quiet, bottom burp (I could hear Clare sniggering in the next tent) and as I drifted off to sleep I thought how lucky I was I had my sunburn to keep me warm.
I woke up, it was lovely and light, to the murmur of voices, people wanted to get a head start on the day, it was rumoured to be even hotter than the day before and the landscape was more exposed, however they had also hinted strongly it was all downhill this second day. Hmmmm
I took a moment to assess myself, stretched body parts, felt ok, moved my feet and ankles, all ok, how did my head feel? Yep ok too, how did I feel emotionally and mentally? Amazingly I felt .......pretty good.
I double checked to make sure I was A) actually awake, B) I wasn't making a mistake.
Everything was correct. Ok, this is good, do I think I can do this? Yes, I felt strangely and bizarrely positive about today. I quickly put some clothes on, got my wash stuff and went to refresh myself. Came back, again assessing myself (well its a long walk if I get it wrong) walking fine, had energy and sorted my bags, I had to lessen the load in my rucksack, removing the foil blanket clearly made things lighter, so that had to go, packed my overnight bag, folded up my sleeping bag and woke Clare, it was about 0600hrs. I asked how she was and she was a bit stiff but her poor knee was almost twice the size it should have been, we both knew straight away she couldn't make it. I said I wanted to try, Clare gapped at me, I had been so negative the previous night I was almost a different person this morning. I couldn't blame her. We went for breakfast, she had a fry up I settled for cereal, took some enormous satsumas and a big muffin for the journey, we said our goodbyes (Clare was going to the finish line) and off I went. Clearly deranged, but with childlike enthusiasm. It was 0645hrs.
Start on Sunday.
Hallelujah! Finally it was down hill and I was chugging along quite fast, I was passing people like the plane was on fire, poor analogy, but I must have been doing 4 miles an hour and thats pretty fast. I was now focusing on the finish line, I could do this, I knew it. I felt powerful, strong and positive, I was an Ultra Marathon participant! That and my phone was charged and if I wanted I could listen to music, everything was going to be ok. I gave a big thank you to the 'powers that be', as I passed another couple.
It was pretty hot though.
And a man passed me in a purple net tutu.
man in the purple tutu.
You could see for miles and unlike the previous day it wasn't too dangerous to look up.
I was chatting to a couple a few miles on, talking about how well organised it was and so on and suddenly we were at the pitstop, both of us nearly stopped in surprise! That had gone amazingly quick. I'm telling you I was on a roll!
A few very quick replenishments later , they had chocolate and one RTTS guy offered me some, I told him not I couldn't eat any and then he asked me "till when" I said "till tomorrow" he thought it was funny, and I was off again, I did wonder as I was on my own if I'd get lost at any point but people were so well spaced out I just followed them.
I was getting messages from some of the girls I had joined the WRNS with almost 34 years ago, encouraging me, and telling ditties that was really nice, posting photos I'd thought were forgotten and quite frankly should have been!! they told me eat, drink and honestly I did drink but eating was really hard to do, my mouth was constantly dry (probably all the puffing) Family and friends on facebook were catching up with me too, now my phone was charged when I stopped I could check in and let people know where I was, and truth be told, feel that I wasn't on my own. It can get lonely in dem dare hills.
The next pitstop was also quickly upon me, there was no stopping this Wonder Woman, I was still passing people, almost throwing them behind me, everyone saying hello and well done and keep going. Ten miles down and I felt great. Its not really the kind of pace where you can stop and admire the scenery every time you feel like it, I did admire the scenery but I didn't want to take the time to photograph everything, I was a woman on a mission. I had drive, I had ambition, Satsumas and the muffin, I'd forgotten the muffin. Things were really looking up.
Yes they were, up another hill, what the hell was that doing there, I thought this was all down hill this day. Still negativity I didn't do today, today I was positive, positive, positive........tum tee tum tee tum.........hmmmm, I had to stop on the hill.
See told you I wasn't happy about the hill, the photographer was low down so you just can't see the incline. Incline huh, treacherous, vertical, north face of the Iger (obviously in the summertime)
I was blindly following the ladies in front of me when I looked up and suddenly thought to myself, what if they don't know where they are going? Doubts crowded me. What if they are blindly leading me down the wrong path, how very dare they. I coughed politely, and asked them if they were sure they knew where they were going, oh yes they were, look theres a sign and sure enough, they were redeemed, I forgave them, silently, as I passed them and followed the sign.
Up yet another hill, however it was nowhere as bad as yesterday, yesterday it was all uphill, today at least there were downhills, positive, positive, positive. The distance between the pitstops seemed to have increased and the sun was totally relentless, as we walked on the grasses turned to chalk and the sun loved us from the ground up, I have a very interesting tan.
I listened to someone explaining about the chalk, during the war they had to black all the chalk paths and ways out so that they couldn't be followed by the Luftwaffe, then of course after the war they had to get volunteers to kick it all white again. Theres miles of chalk, bless them. I really felt it for them but wondered too why they hadn't taken the opportunity to make a bit flatter and less rutty.
I made it to the third pitstop and during today they had RTTS guys standing at the entrance to each with sprays to spritz you with water as you came in and left - so so lovely. Thank you guys. They also had buckets of water to soak your hat in, I did that as I arrived and left, at one point I looked like the Australian guys with corks hanging from their hats only it was dripping water! Oh but it was wonderful.
They had flat coke and it actually worked as pick you up, tea and coffee (couldn't imagine drinking that) and huge huge blue tubs of water, sandwiches and medics. By the third pitstop I knew I had a hotspot on my left foot so I had to wait in line, unfortunately people were dropping like flies, any shade at all was chock full of people the sun was so hot. The RTTS guys realised they had to do something so created a shelter which worked but put me very behind whilst I waited. But like I said people were dropping like flies so I couldn't complain. One guy fainted and they had to lay him out, some were getting taken to the finish point. They had around 400 people drop out that second day mainly due to the unusual heat. Everyone was looked after though. I ate my muffin here, got my foot taped (no blister) but I did have a little tiny one on the big toe on my other foot, they "kindly" popped that for me (ewww) then squeezed it (arghhh) then plastered it (aw fanks) then I was off.
I was very tired, the heat was sapping my energy and my positivity was now at one level, I was just positive. I kept focusing on the finish line, how I'd see my husband, how much I wanted a pint of shandy, wait did I say that? Yes, I could almost taste it, another KM down, I kept thinking thats another one done, I couldn't think about how many I still had to do, I just kept counting the ones I'd done. ticking them off the list.
Sometimes strange folk would jog passed me, I didn't worry, by this stage I knew I'd pass them further on when they stopped, and sure enough for a few miles this really did happen, but I wasn't in the least bit smug about it.
I got passed by giant men with sticks where I'd be taking three steps to their one stride and they'd have the gall to say to me keep going, well done. I always smiled ......through gritted teeth. Up through the last long long field again it meandered up and down and was totally exposed we were coming towards the last pitstop, I allowed myself to glow a little, well ok it was the sunburn, but I felt good, if I could make this, I knew I'd make the finish line and I could have my pint of shandy and see my husband too. Not necessarily in that order.
The last pitstop was at Barbary Castle, I knew that because I asked the RTTS guy where I was, my sense of direction is shocking, he told me there was a plaque on the side of the loos which would tell me all about it, I told him "Aye I'll no bother, I'll google it when I get home", he laughed, I was serious though, absolutely no unnecessary walking was allowed.
They had some fabulous watermelon there I think I ate a whole one, so delicious.
Then off I went, pacing myself with another lady who was just lovely and loved walking she did it all the time, we chatted and a couple of miles went by, we reached a hill and I told her to go, save her self, whilst I trudged up. Another KM down, the path was awful though, you really had to watch where you walked, so stoney and rutty, I caught up the really nice lady a bit farther on she was rescuing a wee beastie, not wanting it to get trampled on, bless her, I knew I liked her. She passed me a few minutes later. I focused on the finish line, I'd soon see my husband, but gosh I was tired, my WRN friends made sure they knew they were with me and chatting on WhatsApp, (great platform by the way ;-)) My husband had messaged me and said he was there , I trudged on, this was the longest bit, so nearly at the end but still a ways to go.
When I was almost at the 95Km Marker I looked up and saw my husband, and doubted eyes, it could've been the heat, I had to rub my eyes, then take off my sunglasses and properly rub my eyes again. There he was, I felt overwhelmed my eyes obviously had an allergic reaction to something as they started leaking.............
He had come to meet me for the last few KM, and he carried my rucksack, I don't need to look up at the stars in the sky I have a star by my side.
I realised now, looking at him that I was walking "waddle/trudge" gait (it was my new word and I resolved to look it up properly at home, on Google, like Barbary Castle) .
As we got closer to the Stones the direction of the finish line was actually off to the side, you had to walk passed the path that would take you to the finish, head to the stones, walk around and then head back the way you'd come to finish. This was hard. My husband left me and went to the finish line to ready my pint of shandy (I really really hoped) and I headed on to the stones. It meant a lot to me to get there and on the way I passed people who were on their way to the finish line, they were so encouraging, saying, "not long now," "you're so near the end", "you got this". I let it wash over me, I knew I could do this, I got to the stones with a definite waddle.
That was me heading out again - the photographer told me "you're ok you're still smiling", I assured him my lips were smiling, my body wasn't.
I headed back to the turn that would take me to the finish line, saying to those on their way to the stones, "keep going", "you're nearly there", "well done" to be honest though a lot of them were in better condition than me, that probably accounts for their smiles.
I walked through the field, got sprayed down at the beginning and congratulated for walking again on behalf of SSAFA, tiny pick me up, I gave my thanks and headed to the road.
As I got onto the road I could actually see the finish line likely a quarter of a mile or more dead straight in front of me, I started on the road, it seemed so far away, I was so tired, I kept going, my feet stopped a couple of times and I encouraged them, "just keep going'" , "we are nearly there", "just keep going" it was my mantra, I got to the finish and across the road between the posts were really steep covers for the wires, well they felt steep anyhow. I carefully stepped over them, saw my husband and went to him, I was definitely allergic at that point, my eyes were streaming could have been the hay I suppose.
see - really big covers to negotiate.
the start of my allergic reaction to something.....
I made it, I really did, they gave me a medal (its heavy by the way) and everyone hugged me, and yes I cried like a baby for quite a few minutes, on everyones shoulder, my husband had a pint of shandy for me and made me cry more, Clare was there fetching my flip flops bless her and pizza which I never thought I'd eat but I did.
I sat in my chair, they said what a massive achievement, I couldn't think of it like that, I could only think I couldn't believe I'd done it, I was glad it was over. It was an experience, that made me learn a lot, about myself.
That first day was hard because my body, mind and spirit were just not working together, I'd gone into a downward spiral, focusing on only all the things I was not, I was not athletic, I was not young, all the things I felt I hadn't done, enough uphill walking, comparing myself to everyone else. Truth be told people that took part in this were all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities but what the common denominator is I didn't find out till the next day.
The second day, I felt more positive I kept myself positive, I allowed myself to be ok about stuff. I appreciated everything I put my body through, my feet especially and my legs, my shoulders for carrying my ruck sack, I appreciated the guy who measured me for my shoes, way before the RTTS and thanked him profusely in my head. I appreciated all the people who kept me motivated, my Wren friends, (love yous), my family and friends, (love yous), my husband, (love you hun), the RTTS people, (like you a really lot), the other people taking part. Sia for her amazing song "I'm, Alive" It meant so so much.
When things align its astounding what you can achieve, and really you are never on your own. Just a few words here and there makes all the difference, whether its from others or yourself, believing in yourself, getting rid of the doubts, focusing on your goal but appreciating the journey.........well that and a pint of shandy.
A huge thanks to all those who sponsored me, I managed to bust my target.