On Sunday 17th July, I joined my Ridgeway Nordic Walking group to tackle the second half of the 100km Ultra Walk/ Run called Race to the Stones.
My comrades had completed the first 50km the day before, and i joined them on the Saturday night to welcome them to the half-way basecamp, share a drink and hear the stories of how the past 10 or so hours had gone!
The atmosphere at basecamp was very much like a relaxed festival. There were student physios offering massages for the weary, a ‘chill out’ tent with bean bags and foam rollers, a great big marquee with delicious food and drink for all participants (the curry smelled particularly lovely, and I couldn’t resist a brick-sized piece of cake). The event was extremely well organised – tent allocation went smoothly and the hot showers were not to be missed.
Sitting with my Ridgeway Nordic Walking bunch, the main tales were stories of the heat, the hills, barely-attached toenails (the blight of any distance walker or runner) and blisters. But aside from the aches and pains and fatigue and the looming inevitability of doing it all again the next day, all felt extremely proud and a great sense of achievement at what they had just conquered. I was looking to the next morning, with a little trepidation.
After a moderately comfortable night’s sleep on a bumpy hillside, the campers started to stir about 0430. The sun was already rising and the temperature was pleasant. We all shovelled down the cooked breakfast on offer, along with a seconds of porridge (got to make the most of it, eh?). I started off just after 6am and I was looking forward to the day ahead.
There was no sense of competition with fellow walkers or runners, everyone was there with a real sense of team spirit for all of us embarking on the same challenge. There was a sense of unspoken, mutual understanding for the personal challenge. The number of people I spoke to were so friendly, everyone saying ‘well done’ and giving words of encouragement to one another, asking how eachother was doing and where eachother was from.
The heat really picked up around later morning, and i was over half way in. I had set myself the challenge of sticking the the same pace throughout, and I measured my walk in stages ‘if I can get to the next check point in X time, then I am on track’. this broke down the walk for me in to more manageable chunks, and gave me something to focus on other than the lack of breeze or my wish for a cold paddling-pool!
I would say the last 15km (approx 2.5 hrs) were the most challening for me. I was very hot, and whilst I wasn’t in any pain, bits and bobs started to ache a little, not used to walking at such a pace for such a distance! I was eager to finish, but at the same time, enjoying being part of something with almost 2000 other people and not wanting the feeling to end.
The title ‘Race to the Stones’ was as such because the walk led us along the UKs oldest path, to the great stones at Avebury, Wilts. The stones are a neolithic monument and a World Heritage Site. Not only was it pretty cool to see them, this feeling was coupled with knowing there was only 2km to the finish at that point. So, a quick photo, then pick up the pace to the finish!
Welcomed at the finish with a medal and round of applause from complete strangers, it was an oddly moving moment. Whilst my Nordic Walking buddies had walked double the distance and their achievement was undoubtedly greater, I knew this was a great personal feat, and I felt a real sense of pride and success at having completed the walk. (My time was 8hrs 45 mins, pace of 6kph)
Cue plenty of water and food, stretches and foam rolling and shade. I was very aware that I wanted to bring my body temperature down, cool off my skin, replenish lost fluids (check out my blog on best drinks for this), and give my hard-worked muscles a bit of love. Undoubtedly, in the few days since, I have woken up a little stiff and sore, but I have taken it easy on my body – no strenuous lower-body activity, keeping out of the sun where possible, and keeping well hydrated,
I don’t know what my fellow walkers would say, but I would honestly do it all again! It was a great event to be part of with some fab people.
ps: Check out Ridgeway Nordic Walking to see what other stuff we do (not all 50km walks, promise!)