Well I survived! Race to the Tower done and dusted!
84.9km with 2,408m of elevation gain (52.75 miles, 7900 feet gained) in 14 hours, 10 minutes and 47 seconds. 7 loo stops, 300g of Tailwind (1200 calories), one face plant, one big wobble and an epic peanut butter and Marmite sandwich!
Want to know more? Read on……
Race to the Tower (RTTT) has been my focus for the last 9 months. I’ve been spending a lot of my weekends getting used to running and hiking the hills in the knowledge that if I didn’t this would be a very, very long race. The Boyf and I have spent time in the Malvern Hills, visited the Forest of Dean, waterfall country in the Brecon Beacons and spent a fair bit of time on the Cotswold Way as well.
The RTTT route primarily follows the Cotswold Way starting near Stroud and finishing at Broadway Tower. To try and make the end of the day easy we had arranged to park at the finish and get the coach to the start. The thinking being that at least that way we could get warm and get back to our weekend base rather than having to hang around and get a coach to the start and then drive on from there. With the Boyf running with me as a training run it meant we were going to be self-sufficient over the course (other than the provided food & drink at the 7 checkpoints).
The plan was to carry all the Tailwind we needed, eat nothing and get to the finish in one piece. It pretty much worked.
We arrived to park at the finish in torrential rain, registered for the bus and then drove down to Stroud. I am glad we were in Wave C as the coach got lost and arrived with about 1 minute to spare for Wave A. This was the wave you had to start in if wanted to place in the race. Even if you run a “winning time” in a later wave it doesn’t count for the win. As we weren’t expecting a top 3 finish this wasn’t a crisis for us. We went for the traditional pre-race loo stop, removed our travel layers and dropped our bag to be taken back to the finish. We then got into the start funnel and were underway shortly before 8am.
By this point the weather had pretty much cleared up, but setting off across a wet, grassy field I was glad for the double-coating of Gurney Goo I had on my feet (and various other body parts). If you haven’t tried it and you have ever suffered a blister or under carriage chafing it is well worth checking out. Whilst it didn’t save my back from getting a bit scuffed up that was entirely my fault. I know that that is an area where I need to reapply mid-race (especially if I am sweating buckets) but I failed to do so.
The race starts at a high point, so you’re soon hit with the amazing views the Cotswold Way treats you to. These views really do keep you going, and it makes every climb worthwhile. Of course with the ups come the downs. The weather had been a bit on the damp side in the build-up to the race, so the slopes were a bit on the slippery side. I really felt bad for anyone that was running in road shoes. Whilst you might get away with that on a dry trail, this really wasn’t the weekend for it. Hurrah for my Skechers Performance Ultra Trail 4s (if only Skechers weren’t seemingly phasing out the trainers I love so much!).
I settled into a steady run:walk routine, hiking hard on the hills, running (sliding) the downs and what little flat there was I tried to run. Checkpoint 1 was a quick in and out at the 9.2km point before we entered the forest, passed by the famous Cheese Rolling location (Cooper’s Hill) and then as we headed towards the second checkpoint at 23km I managed to face plant having caught my foot on nothing (it felt like a wooden stump but I didn’t stop to check), in the middle of a flat, grassy field! Yep, I had survived the sketchy downhills and tripped over my own feet. This took me back to my old snowboarding days where many a toe-edge catch on a single snowflake took me unawares. It took my breath away and shook me up a bit, but once I was sure everything was where it should be we moved onwards and began the climb up to Crickley Hill. This is a STEEP climb, up a teeny, tiny, slippery path, single track with some nice barbed wire fences either side. Care was taken not to grab the wire when the slipping started. Once we made it out in the open I was in familiar territory. Crickley Hill was the first park I visited in Cheltenham and the views are amazing. It always takes my breath away and it was nice to see where we were heading in the distance. Onwards to checkpoint 3, taking a slightly different route to the one I expected, but it was actually much more pleasant. I had expected a looooong drag on an undulating road and what I got was a nice runnable downhill on a path instead. Good times!
Another loo stop and water refill, more Tailwind and we pushed on towards the Devil’s Chimney and then the half way point. This is where it all went wrong for me. We enjoyed the view at the Devil’s Chimney, ran onwards and hit checkpoint 4 in just under 6 and a half hours. I was pretty pleased with this and then I suffered immediate flashbacks to the shoddiness of the halfway checkpoint at Race to the King (put on by the same organisers). At check points 1-3 there are plenty of loos close right where you arrive, and plenty of big, multi-tapped barrels of water. Threshold really let themselves down at the mid-way point. They clearly switch their focus to those who are camping overnight and splitting the race into 2 parts. The loos are way at the back of the field (when you are running a double-marathon you don’t want to add 200m+ into a checkpoint turnaround just to go to the loo). Then they had a crappy fill-up point. One 5 gallon water butt, nearly empty, if I hadn’t had the Boyf with me to lift and tilt it I would have struggled to get refilled. It was a real shame and it put me in a shocking mood.
We got back on the route as quickly as we could, but both the Boyf and I were annoyed at the extra time we had had to take for what should have been a slick stop like the earlier ones. Threshold….please put a handful of loos right by the turnaround point for those still racing. It makes a huge difference to us!
We were then running on a bit of trail I hadn’t covered before, more hills, more trees and more great views, all was going well until the climb up to Cleeve Common, I was still fuming about the pit-stop situation, then we had to run the gauntlet of local dog walkers flying at high-speed in their cars on the road we were running on, and then I started to overheat. The expected 30 mile wobble hit early and around mile 28 it all went wrong. The tears came, I was frustrated, I didn’t want to play any more and the worst of it was because I new the next bit of the route I was able to ear-mark a nice convenient quitting point! OK, the Boyf would argue that having to get a taxi from Cleeve Common Golf Club to Broadway Tower was not exactly an easy way out but in my head it was workable (and I had taxi money in my emergency pack!). He got me to calm down, we removed my t-shirt to help get me cooled off and he carried my pack for me as we wandered the top of Cleeve Common (there’s no ban on muling in this race so all was good!). When we reached the Trig point he gave me some of his secret fake Red Bull stash and reminded me that if I was going to quit it needed to be at checkpoint 5 (beyond the golf club). The drink worked its magic, the high winds kept me cool and by the time we reached the golf club at about 29 miles the gloom was lifting. This is a part of the course I knew well, a nice downhill along the golf course, my regular photo stop point (every run I do here I take a photo at the same point so I can capture all the seasons), round Postlip Hall and then you hit the farm where the checkpoint is at 30.8 miles.
It was check point 5 that really helped switch my mood. The Boyf had grabbed a couple of Perkier Bars from the food table (just in case they were needed later) and I was nosing in the hope of some peanuts. I had seen some at an earlier stop but as I don’t normally need food when I use Tailwind I hadn’t picked any up. No peanuts were to be seen but there was a lovely girl making peanut butter sandwiches. Now these are not great for me when I run, but then I saw the bucket of Marmite she had! I asked if she was making peanut butter and Marmite sandwiches. “I’m not, but for you Kat I can do just that”. The use of my name (marked on my bib), was such a nice touch at that point in my day that it gave me a huge boost. I didn’t catch her name (ultra-brain) but she was epic. She then checked how much Marmite & peanut butter I wanted as she wanted it to be perfect (heavy on both please!) and I was off again. This was the switching point for me, the combo was absolute bliss and the fact that she really seemed to care about me was just what I needed. Shout out to the farmer for allowing them to use his land for the aid stop. I’ve loved running through there on some of my winter & spring training runs seeing the calves and lambs and it’s always a happy spot for me.
Onwards into the woods again, up the switchbacks and onwards to Belas Knap. Downhill through to Winchcombe and then I was back into the unknown trails. More ups, more downs, the good thing was I was still running and still hiking hard on the hills (much to the disgust of the group I overtook going up a steep one.).
Finally, we caught a glimpse of the Broadway Tower in the distance. Thanks to my pre-check of the route (and the GPX on my Garmin 5X) I also knew that it wasn’t a simple straight route just yet. Oh no, to get the mileage up to a double-marathon we dipped off the Cotswold Way and ran the long way round into Broadway town. This last section was insane….there were so many people cheering us on from the pub gardens and front lawns, it was a huge boost especially as I knew there was still a tough climb to come. We ran a bit and walked a bit until we reached the turn off and started the climb to the Tower. This section gives you gates 145 – 150, multiple fields, a couple of false summits and when you stop for a breather a perfect sunset view.
As I climbed it felt like I was really struggling, but it turns out I must have been moving faster than I thought. When I compared the time I took to climb on race day with the walk up that I did a couple of weeks ago I was less than a minute slower. It’s funny how perceptions change when you’re tired and at the end of a very long run. With a final push and darkness falling I managed a run across the flat hill top to the finish. Job done, 14 hours, 10 minutes, 47 seconds after I started.
My second marathon of the day was just 1 hour 13 minutes 7 seconds longer than the first. I’m pretty pleased with that, especially given my wobble which meant I walked significantly more that I had planned to.
In part 2 I moved up 11 places in the women’s places and 47 places overall!
My final place was 287th out of 676 overall, 70th female (of 249) and 26th (of 96) females over 40!
Not bad at all!
So how does this compare with other races, whilst I was over an hour slower than NDW50 last year, I think that this is a much tougher race. Check out these Veloviewer profiles……
RTTT has a lot less runnable flat (for me anyway!) and the steeps are steeper. Both great races but I definitely feel that despite the longer time on the clock, my RTTT race was run by a fitter, more experienced runner, in much better shape. So pretty much a day of win in my book!
I’m going to do a follow-up post on recovery, but couldn’t sign-off without sharing this nice little touch from the team at the Ivy Brasserie in Cheltenham where we went for breakfast on Sunday.