Race To The Stones 2023

Ever decided to run a bit further? This happened to me earlier this year, having done a couple of 50-75km races – it felt like time to give something longer a go. I run for enjoyment, I don’t do it for sufferfests or proving what I can do – so it needed to be at least pretty and hopefully have a good atmosphere – enter Race To The Stones.

Race to the Stones goes from Lewknor to the Avebury stone circle following the Ridgeway, crossing the North Wessex Downs and the Chilterns – you can either walk or run, and do it in one go (100km) or two days (50km a day) – it’s aimed at people of all abilities. I’d aimed to train for it – but after doing the Fleet Half Marathon and getting a calf injury and having a couple of other issues before starting the journey back to better fitness at the Scafell Skyrace, I had a limited period to get up and ready for this one.

The race isn’t cheap to enter – and once you’ve entered, there’s plenty of ‘addons’ that creep up as well. I’d entered the 100km – and had the first connundrum of where to stay, given that I live a fair distance away. The options seemed relatively simple – pick an end and stay near there. The race has options for shuttle buses and parking at either end (yes – addon costs) – and this gives reasonable flexibility. There’s very limited options for taxis at the end, and I wasn’t sure how long I was going to take, so decided that parking at the finish line and getting the shuttle back to the start made sense, rather than being cold and tired and having to wait a potentially long time for a shuttle back to the start.

I stayed in Devizes – there was a range of places to stay and it was a 10-15 minute drive from there to the car park – the Castle Hotel was a good option (comfy bed, good access) with a cheap public car park over the road, plenty of restaurants and takeaways nearby and a good breakfast. I got there fairly late and still found options for food – and I pre-paid the following day’s parking suspecting that I’d be tired by the time that I’d need it after the race.

I’d packed my race gear the night before – and was fretting about how much food to take. I had two 500ml water bottles pre-filled and a spare in my race vest for the longer stages of the race – the race is designed to have a lot of support and help people complete, but if moving slowly, a couple of the aid stations were going to take a couple of hours to get between and I didn’t feel like running out. There was going to be a range of crisps, sweets, provisions for making sandwiches and more solid food available at the halfway point, so I planned to have a balance of that and gels. I’ve been practicing running with more ‘real food’ over the past year, and it worked out well here – although every race is different.

For this one I had a combination of gels (Torq, normal SiS, a couple of SiS Beta as a pickup), flapjacks, spare Active Root sachets, electrolyte tabs, salt tabs, pork pies, and more. I was carrying spare shorts, shirt, socks, and a waterproof jacket (decided I didn’t need to carry waterproof trousers), gloves, sunblock, running lube, a med kit and safety blanket – just a slightly reduced safety kit to what I’d normally have on trails due to the amount of aid stations.

On the morning of the race it was an early start to give time to get the shuttle bus back to the start (around a 5.30am start – and I’m not great at mornings!). I found a chap outside the hotel having issues with his taxi not arriving, so offered him a lift and got moving. It was fresh but the local countryside was beautiful in the dawn light, and we made good time. I managed to avoid too much faffing with gear but ended up getting a slightly delayed shuttle bus after helping another competitor who managed to lose his phone whilst getting out of his car…… (TL:DA – he’d left it on the roof of his car).

There’s a tradition that my friends would tell you about – if I run over marathon distance, it’s inevitably going to rain – a lot. Race To The Stones decided to continue this, and as the shuttle bus made the (disconcertingly long) journey from the end back to the start, the beautiful dawn turned into a torrential downpour ready to welcome us to the start base camp.

I was in the last wave to start – I’d been conservative on my finishing time estimate, and that seemed to mean starting at the back of the field, which didn’t make sense to me – it meant fewer people in the way of the faster runners, but on this type of course you’re so spread out (even at aid stations) that it makes little difference – and I’d rather have started in an earlier wave. Having picked up a tracker (yes – you got it – another cost) so that friends could track me, my wave set off – with socks and shoes immediately getting soaked due to ground water and wet grass. I wasn’t too sure on the pace to aim for – I was aiming for slow, but there’s a limit to how slowly I can run efficiently, so after greeting a couple of other people in Bad Boy Running gear, I got moving (with legs feeling heavier than I’d have liked).

The route itself was largely on the Ridgeway, with paths and trails through fields, woods, hills and otherwise – with aid stations give or take every 10km (some further) – and the occasional road sections. The rolling scenery even in the rain was pretty, albeit a little slippery underfoot on the hills – and as is generally the case on events like this, I fell into the rhythm of looking for interesting scenery, grazing aid stations and keeping moving. At the first and second aid stations the rain was so bad that people were sheltering under tents or anything that they could, but given I couldn’t see the point in standing around and getting cold (I wasn’t bothering with a rain jacket at this point, it was warm already), I grabbed food and got going.

In retrospect, I wish I’d grabbed some of the proper sandwiches that they had at the earlier aid stations – because when I wanted them later, the options were basically flannel bread and jars of jam/peanut butter and similar which whilst nice were not the more savoury option that I needed.

At this point, as is often the case on these runs, it became a pattern – field, wood, slight hill up, slight hill down, aid stations for a topup on food (plenty of crips, some protein snacks and so on) – and it finally started to dry out and warm up. Apart from entertainment crossing over a river and seeing very nice looking riverside club which would have been for a club (and who would likely have been horrified by soaking, sweaty runners), generally it was a case of keeping on moving. By 40km in or so we were defintely more into ‘Ridgeway’ territory, my eating didn’t feel like it’d kept up properly, and I was starting to flag a bit. I’d enjoyed seeing some of hte same supporters for other people along the route repeatedly with occasional banter – but I needed to cool down and eat better.

As 50km neared, I’ll admit to having been having serious thoughts about whether I wanted to carry on – but also knew that a proper pit stop woud help – luckiy on the horizon a tented village came into view, and the sounds of the overly enthusiastic commentators from the start came across the hill. As I reached it staggering a little (heat, feet starting to hurt, needing to eat more), I decided that I’d not push through, but stop for some food instead – and caught up with a couple of the Bad Boy Running crowd (including Jon who’d been Jeffing and beeping nearby for the past 20km).

I probably stopped for longer than I should – but toilets, some pasta (not entirely good….), a lot of liquid (tea, coke, electrolytes), a change of socks and from a t-shirt to a running vest .(and some foot care – I’d felt the starting of blisters at the front of my feet after hours in very wet shoes and socks) , and a Callipo and I felt significantly better, if not amazing. After 30 minutes, time to get moving again, running with a second Callipo.

It’s worth nothing that this is where peope doing the two day version of the race were stopping overnight – and I’d really not have wanted to do that unless I had no other option. I was in the last wave, and I got there mid-afternoon, albeit having overtaken quite a lot of people. The tents looked ok (pre-pitched for people), but I wouldn’t have wanted to have waited there all afternoon and night – there was a good range of food trucks, and food availavle as part of the race although it wasn’t spectacular – acceptable fuel though

At this stage, it was more of the same – pretty countryside, but it all got a bit ‘the same’ – as I ran away from the middle aid station, I had better energy but still very heavy legs. I’d been running at a pace that would have brought me in at around 13-14 hours for the 100km, but also was feeling the effects of the growing heat and my feet not being brilliant.

The gaps between the aid stations varied – some were fine and ‘one to two 500ml’ bottle territory, but I was starting to feel the impact of the further apart ones (this is why I had a third empty bottle in my bag just in case). In general the ground was hard and running well, the terrain was runnable – I was occasionally feeling a bit detatched from reality so picking up the eating and drinking where I could, which then got a bit weird as I came around a corner into an aid station that had been…..overtaken by piglets.

That was weird. It was all the more entertaining watching people trying to do bag admin whilst the piglets were trying to get in them…. (the piglets had escaped from anearby field from what I could tell). I probably by this time was spending a little too long at aid stations, but was working on keeping the eating going (I ate a lot of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and drank a lot of flat coke,,,,). I was working through my ‘recovery’ methods 0f some of the SiS Beta dual carb gels, crisps, flapjacks, occasional pork pies – mixing things up along with more normal fuel for me (standard SiS or Torque gels). It was still warm……until the late afternoon rolled in, as did the rain.

By this point the earlier blisters on the front of both feet were becoming issues – I was limping and altering my gait in an effort to keep moving at a sensible pace, with efforts on lube and sudocrem to try and offset the problems – to limited success. This became all the worse at about 70km when the rain started to get worse – and worse – with increasing amounts of standing water soaking my shoes and socks. I was running in a set of Mizuno Daichi Wave 7s that I’d got earlier in the year and initially they’d been great (particularly on harder packed ground, with good bounce) – but they were starting to wear out a bit, and throughout the race they got baggier and were slipping around on the forefoot.

I got the the second last aid station as it was getting cold, trudging through puddles but keeping going – and aboloutely soaking. I switched into my last change of dry clothes, tried to deal with some incoming chafing, grabbed a cup of instant coffee and topped up the usual food and drink. I seem to remember repacking my bag a number of times – the brain wasn’t working brilliantly, and I put my waterproof jacket on for the first time as I was cold and wet. Which as it turns out was a little pointless as after the short period of road running into the dusk the rain receded, a rainbow appeared, and the sun started to set, along with any ability to use my feet properly…. I was carrying poles and had been using them for speed and eficciency earlier on, I was now using them to reduce pressure on my feet.

One of the odder sections of the racel plus what felt like a warning for running on the rainbow road. I might have been tired.

As usual in these races, you end up around groups of people for long periods – the occasional converations around experiences, the day, how things were (some people want to talk about the state they’re in, some, anything but). I’d been going through some slow phases (running out of energy), then picking up – but my frustration was on my feet where it felt like the amount of movement between the outer layers of skin was increasing, and in general my pace was signficantly dropping – the pain was getting to a point where it was making me feel slighty nauseous. This wasn’t going to significantly improve though through dwelling on it and realistically, bailing wasn’t an option without a very expensive taxi, so onwards was the answer – seemingly endless increasingly dark paths through woods, small villages and the like – until I finally reached the final checkpoint at around 1-2am, a small oasis in the dark with the occasional head torches going to and fro, along with cheerful marshall cheering me in.

I spent almost an hour at this checkpoint – not entirely planned, but my feet were a mess and another of the racers had already had their feet taped up earlier by the medics – so I decided to see what I coud get done. Firstly, a few sandwiches and some soup in a tent with 8 other shuddering runners – apart from the feet I wasn’t too bad mentally and seemed to be far more chipper than the others there, just wanted to get on and get done – but some people had a 1000 mile stare on them, some were very cold, a couple of others were actively planning to abandon there. Having topped up on food and drink, I headed in to see the medics – and found people in a far worse state.

The medics were brilliant – basically cleaning my feet, confirming quite how big the blisters were (extending up between the toes, along with bruising around the feet), padding then taping them up with KT tape. It did however, and understandably, take about 45 minutes – two people before me were abandoning due to a leg injury and major energy/sickness problems, and as I got into the tent another racer got into the checkpoint and pretty much collapsed looking like a ghost – and was brought in until he was responsive.

Finally – time to leave the final checkpoint! Which I managed to do in completely the wrong direction – they could have done with clearer signs….. I was also significantly cold having not moved much for a while so decided to run as best as I coud, give or take my feet,

The final section of the race was the joker in the pack – we were on top of a ridge, but the path was full of small slippery off-camber ruts – torture with my feet as they were, and I was struggling to remain upright. After an hour or so, finally this section ended, with merely a downhill mudslide on bad feet to contend with…..but in the distance I could see bright lights, which I assumed had to be the finish – and they were.

The only problem is that Race To The Stones doesn’t finish at the Stones – it finishes at a barn near the Stones…… If I’d reached the Stones in the daytime, I believe that were was a photographer who’d get your picture near them before you did the final couple of kilometres – in my case, I found a couple of the runners ahead of me coming the other way, then….a marshall sat next to a traffic cone. A slight anti-climax…..but I knew what to expect. I was back to running well on flatter land at this stage, so put in a final push back down the road, through a field and across the line at around 3am.


As promised, there was food and drink available at the finish – those who were getting a coach back to the start could sleep in a barn, and given how tired I was (and how much I cooled down after stopping), I was glad the car was nearby.

I grabbed some pizza and chips from the food van – it wasn’t brilliant (a bit dry – but it was food) and I wish I’d gone for the veggie option, but after a beer and chatting to another chap from BBR and his partner, it was time to jump in the car and head back to my hotel.

I say jump – my feet were destroyed. It had taken me almost 18 hours, 4 longer than expected, and I wish I’d had more spare socks to have offset the issues – but, that was also the furthest I’d ever gone by almost 25km, and with broken training – so I was pleased to complete it.

The aftermath

By the time I got to the hotel I’d warmed up in the car – but was incessantly shivering, struggling to walk or really move. The hotel had a good shower but given the time of night I didn’t want to wake people up – so I got as clean as I could, and collapsed asleep. The next morning I had pretty much two breakfasts (luckily the hotel didn’t seem to mind, given I’d not been there for breakfast the day before!). I met a couple of other racers and chatted with them, hobbled over to the car, then started the drive home.

I’d meant to stop at the race finish and see the Avebury stone circle properly – but I was cooked – slight sunburn, could bearly walk due to the blisters and hot – so had a slow 4-5 hour drive up the country, resting when needed.

Would I do it again?

I reckon that with tweaking my nutrition, different shoes and another spare set of socks, I could have made the 14 hours that I was targetting. Do I want to do the race again as a test? The jury’s out on that one.

It’s a very well run race, with good marshalling and support. I’d like to have had slightly better savoury food options on the second half of the race, but there was enough and I was looked after.

You could argue that for what it cost, that should be the case – it was expensive to enter, and then with addons for trackers, parking and buses it was expensive. I’d expect to pay extra for some of that, but not all of it.

It’s a great race, and if the weather had held up, it would have been easier – although the rain did help cool things down (and I have form on it raining during ultras!). Compared to other trail races that I’ve done it was signficantly supported so if you wanted a first ultra (doing either of the two separate 50km sections, or both of them, or the 100km straight through as I did) – either walking or running – then it’s a good one.

Race details:
Distance: 100km
Elevation gain: 1375m
Terrain: Mixed, mainly trails, mud, occasional roads
Cost: £175ish plus addons (t-shirt, parking, shuttle bus, tracker....)

Shoes - Mizuno Wave Daichi 7
Running vest - Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest
Montane Spine Jacket
A range of tops (running t-shirt, vest, shorts, etc)
Poles - Black Diamond Carbon Z

SiS isotonic gels
SiS Beta dual carb gels
Torq gels (standard, caffeine)
Pork pies, Rat Race pit stop flapjacks
Crisp / peanut butter and jam sandwiches / peanuts

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