On Saturday 8th June 2019 I took part in the Threshold Event, Race To The Tower. I usually run within my comfort, I enjoy running, but every now and then I decide to do something to challenge myself and really take myself out of my comfort zone. Race To The Tower certainly does that; an ultra, on trail, with lots of hills all things that I usually tend to avoid. I’m not the best at anything, but I will always put myself out there, as it’s only when you try something different that you really know what you are capable of.
This was the 5th ultra I have taken part in which brings me to 56 qualifying events for the 100 marathon club. Although this is a double marathon it only counts for 1 as its ran as a single event. The last ultra I ran was 2 years ago at Race To The Stones, you can check out my blog HERE.
I had thought that RTTS was tough. I usually start crashing around 50 miles, so I thought I would be in a good place at RTTT, which is actually my shortest ultra as I’ve only ever ran 100k. I only found out the week of the event how hilly the course was. I know I should have prepared better, I assumed it was similar to the Stones, but just shorter, so I guessed I’d finish a couple of hours quicker. At 7,500 ft elevation it is double the elevation of stones, and have I mentioned that I’m not a fan of hills?
My accommodation plans fell through a few weeks before the event. Mel kindly offered to look after me and I’m so grateful for both Mel and Andy who are wonderful. It was lovely spending the evening with them and they certainly made me very welcome.
Race To The Tower 2019 – Event day
We had an early start on race morning. I was a little concerned with the weather, it was raining, but more importantly it had been torrential for days leading up to the event. I knew this would mean that an already difficult course would become harder with wet and muddy conditions.
I met up with Alex who I was running with for the event, and decided to start with a jacket on because of the rain. I never usually wear a jacket and I was immediately hot when running. The weather was actually perfect for running, the damage was already done to the course, so it wasn’t long before I took off my jacket.
I had it in my head 10 hours would be achievable. Alex didn’t want to run this fast as he is doing the entire threshold series this year so still has RTTK and RTTS to go within the next 5 weeks. We decided to just take it steady, see how we felt, and my main goal was to try and make my train which departed at 20:48, meaning I had 13 hours to finish, get sorted and get to the station.
The course was a mixture of road, woodlands, grass, mud, stones, it had everything, but mostly it was like this. The hills were brutal, there were a few long steady inclines, but there were big hills which were long and steep. The elevation profile of this event really puts it in perspective how difficult it is.
Regardless I tried to have fun the whole way round, even when in a lot of pain.
The start was really smooth. After a brief we were off, and we were able to get into a reasonable run early on. We kept it nice and steady with decent pace on the flat and down hill sections, and walking the hills. Mostly the ground was not too bad, but there were some sections which were really muddy and slippery. Within the first hour I lost my foot in a puddle, a wet foot and uneven service is a recipe for blisters.
The check points were all well staffed and there was a lot of selection of crisps, sweets, bars, water and coke. The first was great and there were sandwiches. It was a little early for a sandwich but I thought this was a good option. The next few were good with similar choice, although the sandwich selection was not as good. Leading to Base Camp I was thinking about the food. At RTTS I couldn’t really eat, but I was so hungry and didn’t eat much leading to this.
Basecamp was a little disappointing to be honest. As we came through to the finish we have a turn point with a small table. The selection was more limited and there was no hot food. There was one roll which I didn’t want. I asked about the hot food and was told it is in the main tent for campers. Frankly it’s the people running all day that really need something here and it is a shame that it’s more tailored for campers. I have seen pictures from slower runners who got pasta so maybe this changed later in the day. Again, a shame. I did ask the finish line for a beer and they gave me one, so I had a nice mid race beer and a banana.
Despite this the event is so well organised from start to finish. All the staff were great and friendly. The markers were clear and well placed, and there was just a good atmosphere throughout the while day.
I got to half way in 5:15 feeling great. I went the wrong way a couple of times. The markers were laid out well, but you need to concentrate. A couple of times I was talking with Alex and we just ran straight passed a turn. Fortunately people were behind us on both occasions and shouted to us. The markers are frequent so if we were on our own we would have turned back if we didn’t see a sign every few minutes.
I started to slow in the second half. I was feeling ok but the hills just took it out of me. The ups were difficult at times to climb and some went on forever. There was one particular hill that was so steep I genuinely struggled to climb it at all. The downs were just as bad, and at times worse. There were a few downhill sections that were gradual and opened up to even surface. However, there were some that were so steep that it hurt my knees and feet. The pressure on my feet to stop myself building momentum made them start feeling like they were burning. There were so many downhill sections that were hazardous, and this meant time couldn’t be made up from the uphill.
I was slowing more and more the further we got into the race. The second half is littered with big ups and downs. My pace just dropped going up, and the downs weren’t any better. There wasn’t an opportunity to get into a rhythm which I found difficult. I was worried about my train as it was an advanced single. I purchased before realising how tough the course was, and at points I was genuinely worried that I wasn’t going to make it on time.
I ran alongside lots of great runners, and it was lovely to briefly exchange a few words as we ran together. Alex was flying, I held him back a little, but he didn’t mind as his original plan was to go slower as he has two more coming up. We don’t get the chance to see each other often so it was nice to spend the day running together.
Check points 5 and 6 came and went with huge hills in between. The gap between 6 and 7 was filled with 2 very tough climbs which completely zapped my energy and speed. I lost so much time here, with no particular areas to get a proper rhythm going to run. It was up or down and the terrain was awful preventing running.
It was also a long gap between the check points so when I arrived at check point 7 I had ran out of water. I didn’t stop for long at 7 or get much food as the plan was to finish the final 5 miles and eat lots at the end. The final 5 miles saved my race. As we left check point 7 we turned onto road, which was rare. The first 4/5 miles were mostly on road or even ground, and were basically flat. This was the best bit of running throughout the whole race, and so we decided to #pickupthepace. We made the most of the flat, knowing we had to make as much time up ready for the final hill. At times I could have easily slowed down, but I kept telling myself that soon I won’t be able to run, and if I haven’t made enough time up I would miss my train.
The last mile was a hill on grass, not the worst hill by any stretch of the imagination, but tough after 52 miles of running. The tower was hidden behind bushes, so although I knew we should be getting close, it was hard to tell. I dug deep and kept pushing on. It was never really a matter of stopping. At no point did I feel like I needed to stop, but I just had no pace for the hills, it was a grind getting up the last one. I think I need to try and get some hill training in to get used to big hills when tired.
Eventually we got beyond the treeline, and there it was Broadway Tower. We had to run past the Tower (which I assume was for a better finish line photo, but I looked at my watch, and I knew a sub 12 was on the cards.
I caught up to Alex who had slowed to finish with me, and we finished together. Our official time was 11:57:35.
We were greeted with our medal and a Heineken, which was perfect. It was one very tough day of running, but absolutely worth it. I collapsed on a beanbag for a #flatoutlay.
After no hot food at the Basecamp at half way I was really looking forward to food at the end. I remember at RTTS not being hungry or able to eat much, which was a shame as there was so much food. I hobbled to the hot food only to be told that the food was not free, apparently this is a change this year. This is a real shame and the organisers have let themselves down here. Many of the slower runners who stop at aid stations make the most of aid stations, but people like me barely touch them. We look forward to a nice meal at the end, and we were told we had to pay, this really could have been part of the entry fee at no cost to the organisers, and it is a big deal. There wasn’t any of the food that was at aid stations either, so after running two marathons you could only get food if you had your wallet with you. Not what you need especially if you are on your own.
Despite the hot food situation this year, I can’t fault the race. It is a fantastically organised event, and there is a great vibe from start to finish. The staff were great, the runners were awesome. Spectators stopped at various points along the route and offered great support. The locals also mostly embraced us, from those walking the route, to those in town or sat in a pub, they all cheered and clapped us as we passed, offering support.
Would I do it again, yes. I haven’t really been training much lately, so would be interested to see how I could get on with the right training. I’ve done Stones and Tower, so I would like to give King a go. I think I preferred Stones, but it is hard to remember as it was 2 years ago. I just found this event very hard. It tells me I’m not at my best, which I know. It was a challenge, and that’s what I wanted, I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone, and I certainly did that. The threshold series phrase is #moreisinyou I find this very motivating, the only way to know how much is in you is by giving it a go.
What are your plans to take yourself out of your comfort?