race to the stones ultra marathon trail running

Race To The Stones is a trail ultra marathon that takes place on the stunning, historic trails between Oxford and Swindon every July. 

I can’t explain the meaning of this race to me; I find I am drawn to the lure of the combination of stunning scenery and brutal distance and terrain and the challenge of going as fast as I can for as long as I can.

I did this race for the first time in 2016, shortly after the realisation that doctors could do nothing more to help my mum with her cancer which had spread from her bowel to her liver. This cancer had been diagnosed after emergency surgery in 2012 around the time of the Queen’s Jubilee. So we had endured 4 long years of chemotherapy and surgery and never any remission, but my mum battled on and was so strong.

I used running to deal with my pain and could easily do back to back long runs, so I signed up for this ultra marathon even though I had not run more than marathon distance.

In 2016, at just past the 90km (55-mile) mark, I was feeling great and was first lady. Sadly, by 60 miles, I realised I was hopelessly lost and had a DNF by the side of a busy main road.

2017 saw me complete the 50km route which I did with confidence and crossed the line second overall and first female having run a few other ultras in between Race to the Stones 2016 and 2017. I was determined my failure in 2016 was not my final chapter.

Roll on 2018 and the challenge was finding a way to train whilst also being a single mum with no support, so babysitters and taking the kids with me to training was the only option. I was not intending to do the race as I thought I couldn’t get anyone to look after the children, but my friend said she would look after them for me... Amazing!

ultra running trail race marahton

For the 2018 race, it was a hot day and the heat was relentless. Thankfully, I love the heat! I was running well and I thought I was hydrating well as I had my hydration vest and I was sipping on water and taking electrolyte tablets regularly. However, after leading the whole race and being 2nd/3rd overall for most of the run, at 80km I started to feel unbalanced. Something wasn’t right.

Running suddenly felt much more of an effort, my chest started to hurt, and I felt a bit light headed, so being sensible I slowed my pace. I then got a stitch and had to slow for that and so getting from 80km to 90km was a real struggle and seemed to be mostly uphill.

After 90km, I tried to push on (this time the signs were a lot better and I went the right way!) I was determined to finish but my mental strength was starting to fade and I had a few grumbles to myself, but I thought, "Come on you’re nearly there." Time was slipping off what I had hoped to run and I felt very uncomfortable; each step felt like an eternity to the finish.

But, I did it! After finishing some electrolytes that were given to me by the medics, I felt a lot better and drove back home to collect my children and put them to bed.

I felt a sense of achievement that I had finally done the whole 100km. The only thing is, I went out to win it and did not achieve that so I’ll have to try again!

About the author: Sophie Carter is a personal trainer, ultra runner, and Sundried ambassador. 

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