The Road to the North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc – 100k Race to the Stones 2014

Gail Edmans
running 300x225 The Road to the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc   100k Race to the Stones 2014

(Getty Images)

The 100k (62 miles) Race to the Stones is pitched as one of ‘the most accessible ultras out there’, catering for the rapidly increasing number of ultra runners for whom it seems that a marathon distance of 26.2 miles isn’t long enough.

An ultra is classified as anything over this distance and at 62 miles, it was firmly in that category. Faster, further, longer is becoming the norm. Nick Tuppen, head of Threshold Sports who organise the event, said he ‘wanted regular people to be able to line up at the start with the best runners in the world’ and although it didn’t quite attract a field of top notch elite ultra runners, the quality of the 1,350 entrants seems to have shifted up a gear in its second installment, whilst still managing to retain the weekend walkers crowd of last year, many of whom opt to run the distance over two days.

The 100k undulates along the ancient chalk trail of the Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest path which usually takes a more civilised four and a half days to walk. It traverses a wonderful mix of English countryside at its best.

We started in Chinnor and finished at the 4,500 year old stone circle in Avebury, by which time I didn’t feel far off that age myself. The weather variations over the weekend went from 34 degree heat, extreme humidity, thunder and lightning, to heavy rain, fog and even hail the size of golf balls. There’s nothing fair weather about ultra running.

The organisation, en route support, medics and aid stations were fantastic and up there with any of the top UK events and you need that confidence to be able to complete the distance. The runners managed to get through 3,000kg of food and 33,000 litres of water and in the week that followed the race, once my appetite returned, I think I managed  a similar amount all by myself.

For me, it was my last organised run of such significant distance before I join the start line of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) at the end of August. For those looking to qualify for next’s year’s UTMB, a Race to the Stones finish is worth two of the eight qualifying points needed to even enter the ballot.

As with any competitive event, people decide to run ultras for a variety of reasons and it feels like Race to the Stones could be for ultras, what the London Marathon is for marathons. There’s a wide mix of ability from the first to the last runner to reach Avebury, all united by start line nerves and the distance. It’s estimated that over £100,000 was raised for charity. I suspect that for a significant number of runners, this was their first ultra; most newbies start with a 50k race and at double that distance it’s quite an achievement.

In 2013 the winning time was 10 hours and 23 minutes and in 2014, the first male crossed the line in a little over nine hours and female in 10 hours and 37 minutes. The course wasn’t shorter but the runners seem to be getting faster, with the overall average finishing time falling from nearly 21 hours last year, to 17 hours and 20 minutes this. Perhaps more of us were trying to make last orders at the pub, uniquely located in the middle of the stones at the finish – it certainly made me get a wriggle on. More women too are getting involved and made up 30 per cent of the field – this looks set to rise, especially as studies show women have a better endurance base than men over longer distances.

So if you’re a seasoned runner or first timer at a long distance event, Race to Stones is certainly gives you a great experience and taste for what it’s all about – the camaraderie, the scenery, the support and definitely the challenge.

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