100km, 62 miles, 100,000 metres, 130,000 steps, 328,000 feet, from Oxford Street in London to the streets of Oxford. Which ever way you measure it 100km is a bloody long way.
In running there have always been two distances that have utterly terrified me: 100 miles and 100 km. Triple figure distances just seem completely insurmountable and incomprehensible in equal measure. They felt like finish lines I doubted I would ever cross. However, with all that we had been through with Covid and all the adventures we had stolen from us, I decided that there was no time like the present and I signed up for Race to the Stones.
Back in the simpler times of 2019 I had planned to run Race to the Stones 100km but moved down to the 50km due to injury. Even doing half the distance felt too far back then so I had a huge amounts of trepidation for trying to go the full hog. Whenever I would tell non-runners that I planned to run 100km I would be met with a cacophony of replies that usually included; “I wouldn’t even drive that far in a day”, “they do races that long?” or the golden oldie; “are you mad?”. To why I would reply “oh how funny Barry”, “yes Florence they do” and “as always, yes, yes I am”.
50 miles is the longest I had ever run, all the way back in 2018. Lakeland50 was my first ever ultramarathon and I picked it because of the generous cut off, not know that it was generous because it is one of the toughest ultras in the UK. But since that race I had never gone any further distance wise in one continuous race and honestly 100km felt like a distance I may never tick off. But my training in the lead up to Hurtwood 50K and the PB that I achieved during it gave me a glimmer of confidence that I might just have the fitness to pull it off.
But I wouldn’t be attempting the 100km alone, I would have my ultrarunning buddy Charlie aka whatcharlierannext right there with me. Charlie is one of my favourite humans and one of the only people I have ever been nervous meeting off Instagram. She was one of the first people I ever followed on there and was (and still is) a massive inspiration for me to move into ultra running. When I joined the Brooks team and went to our first meet up I was star struck and it took me a good half hour before I had the guts to go and talk to her. Fast forward three years and she is my go to running buddy when it comes to long distances. So when it came to taking on the 100km there isn’t anyone I could have imagined doing it with but her.
Race to the Stones starts on a farm just outside of Lewknor in Oxfordshire and you follow the stunning Ridgeway footpath which takes you across Berkshire and into Wiltshire before the ancient Stones beckon you to the finish line 100km later. I’ve done the first 50km and a few parts of the second half during walks so felt very much like it was my home ultramarathon. Combine that with it being a Threshold event, a company that prides itself in being the most welcoming and encouraging race organisers out there and that I have been proud to been an ambassador for I felt like I wouldn’t struggle with pick me ups both of the morale and checkpoint treats wise.
However, roll on the week of the race and my phone buzzed with a message from Charlie; “I don’t think I can do it”. The text echoed through my head as I read it over and over.
Charlie had been struggling with injuries in the lead up to the race and the night before the race we were still trying to work out if I would be running this alone or not. We came to the conclusion that we would get to the halfway point at 50km and asses what to do next. The anxiety of this unknown played havoc with me in the lead up causing sleepless nights which in turn gave me further anxiety as I worried the lack of sleep could cause me to have an accident near the end of the race I would potentially be running alone until the early hours of the morning. I wonderful vicious circle that only dissipated when I arrived at the start line.
My partner was running the 100km distance over two days so I wasn’t alone in my frantic planning and as we said goodbye (her start was an hour after mine) we knew we wouldn’t see each other until we had clocked up 200km as a couple. I mean #couplegoals am I right?!
As we arrived at the start the rain began to fall with the cold, wet grass soaking through my shoes. I feared it was a sign of things to come and that I’d be running through rain for the next 100km, turns out I wasn’t completely wrong as rain showers littered the miles to come. In a weird, hokicoki like dance we would stop sling the packs off, sling the waterproof on and then head off again over and over.
I found Charlie in the starting pen and after the awkward covid safe air hug we headed off with very little time to get our head around what we were about to undertake. But we were finally off, with the rain easing slightly and the line of runners scampering ahead I am not ashamed to say I felt a huge swell of happiness come over me drowning out the trepidation that once held the controls of my brain. We finally about to do something I had dreamed of doing for so long and something that Charlie and I had talk about doing for so long. Covid had robbed us of so many adventures but finally we were off and with no clue what was to come we crossed the start line and began…