142. 142 is the number of gates that we pass through during Race to the Tower. This is a number that I won’t forget in a hurry, as each gate was numbered, building to gate number 142 which stood besides Broadway Tower. On 25th June 2022 I took part of the Threshold events “Race to the Tower” for the second time. The first time I ran this double marathon ultra was in 2019, and my highlights are HERE. The Threshold event series is changing, and it appears that this is the last Race to the Tower for now. This is a shame as this is a cracking route along the Cotswolds, and easily the most difficult and challenging race in their calendar. At 52.4 miles it is 10 miles shorter than Race to the Stones 100k, but more difficult in my view. I have ran Race to the Stones a couple of times, but will be able to directly compare in a couple of weeks when I run it for the 3rd time. For now my highlights from Race the the Stones 2021 are HERE.
This year we decided to invest in some camping equipment, and for Race to the Tower we camped together for the very first time. We have been glamping, but I have never put up a tent, and this turned into such a great family experience. We found a lovely camp site which was exactly 35 minutes from both the start and finish, so perfect for the event, with lots of options for the family whilst I was running.
We left straight after school pick up on Friday to try and beat the traffic. It wasn’t too bad, and it was lovely to put the tent up together as a family. The grounds were part of a pub, so after a long day it was a nice place to have a few pints and a homemade burger before bed.
A vital part of preparation for an event is your kit, and when packing for an ultra you need to make sure you have any mandatory kit, and everything you need for the event. It is a fine balance, and you learn what you need. When you first take on an ultra you are probably more likely to carry more than you need, I certainly did. But at an event like Race to the Tower, the pit stops cater for all your needs, so less is more. I had two 500 ml flasks so I could carry 1 litre of water and top up at each of the 7 pit stops. I also only packed some chia charge bars, I only carried the smaller ones and had the big ones for breakfast. There is so much at the pit stops you don’t really need to carry anything with you, but I took a few bars just in case.
AD – I was excited to try out my new Terrex Two Ultra Trail shoes over the distance. I am a big fan of the sock fit, and the boost midsole provides comfort alongside the protective plate which kept my feet safe. The Race to the Tower is a technical and difficult course, but the continental outsole gave such great grip, which I noticed on the steep downhills. They performed well in the dry conditions, I’m yet to see how they deliver in the wet. When I had the opportunity to choose a pair of trainers as part of the #adidasbloggerscommunity I wanted to get a new pair of trails ahead of Race to the Tower, and I think I made a good choice.
Race to the Stones
It was an early start on race morning. We left just after 06:30 for my 07:30 start. Because my family would be meeting me at the end I didn’t need to use the luggage check-in this year, so my wife dropped me off ready to run and went back to camp. As I arrived at around 07:15 they were already calling for my wave to start, and the long queue for the toilet did not look promising. But I was pleasantly surprised that I was only queuing for 5 minutes, and out in plenty of time to get in the start pen and listen to race instructions.
I remember really struggling in 2019 when I took part in Race to the Tower. I know hills are not my friend, and the course is just bloody hard. So this year I decided I would take it more steady to try to stop myself suffering towards the end. When the race started I found myself in the top 10 to 20 runners. I knew this wasn’t going to last, but I wasn’t going too fast so I just stuck with it. You are struck immediately in the first mile by the beauty of the course. You reach such great heights that you can see gorgeous views for miles around.
In an attempt to save energy I walked the hills from the start. My walking up hills could do with some real improvements as this is where most people overtook me. I only have two speeds going up hills, slow and slower. The thing about a course like this is the hills are pretty constant, which doesn’t provide much time in between to get speed. So I tried to increase effort going up some of the shallower hills.
It is a real mix of terrain, from wide open grassy fields, to enclosed woodlands. There was a lot of hard ground with hazards and I rolled my ankle a couple of times, even though I was being really careful. I’ve seen people fly down some steep hills before, but these were too technical for me, and it would only take a little trip to do some serious damage, so I took it steady. The decent put a lot of stress on the quads, and it is a shame that I couldn’t capitalise and make up time on the downs.
There were a few flat sections. Some I didn’t have the energy to pick up the pace, but in others I found I could make up a bit of time. The highlights for me were Pit Stop 6 where my family surprised me with a visit and a cuddle.
The pit stops were all well stocked. My routine was to fill up one bottle with a hi five tab, and the other with water. I had a couple of cups of coke at each station (I carried my own soft cup with me), and my go to food was packets of jelly tots and cheese and onion crisps.
It is strange. I didn’t feel like I struggled as much as I did in 2019, yet I ran slightly slower. I think I ran slower on the whole, trying to keep a steady pace, but that just didn’t help me on the hills. I don’t like hills, but I do events like these to challenge me and take me out of my comfort. I got to the half way basecamp in 5 and half hours. I didn’t treat this any differently to the other pit stops, just taking time to fill up water, get some snacks and carry on.
The weather was pretty bizarre this year. It was very hot, which made it tough out there, but it kept raining intermittently. I had a lot of fun, and ran alongside a lot of the same people, it was nice giving each other that mutual encouragement. It seemed to take forever to get to pit stop 7, and the gap of 9 miles between 6 and 7 was too big. It was the largest gap and I ran out of water too early. But there was the friendly face of Alban at pit stop 7, with just 5 miles to the finish.
Those last 5 miles were pretty flat, but it took me a while to get to decent pace after the most horrendous hill at mile 45 which took me 26 mins to climb. It felt like it would never end, and everyone seemed to be struggling on this one. But then I found myself with a small group leaving pit stop 7. I let my mind wonder and stopped concentrating. I was flying and thought I could make up a good 15 minutes, I followed the guy in front and we were on a great flat, until we got to a gate and he stopped saying “oh shit”. He had missed a turn, and I hadn’t been paying attention so just followed. We went about half mile the wrong way, so about a mile in total added at around mile 48. As we ran back anther couple of guys had been following so turned ahead of us. I’m annoyed by the mistake. Not at the guy ahead, as he is responsible for his own race. I’m annoyed at myself because I had been following the signs the whole way, and the small lapse of concentration, coupled with tiredness, allowed me to be complacent and follow rather than looking for myself. I’m not annoyed that it cost me at least 15 minutes, as I don’t really care about my time (that’s not why I do these challenges), but I don’t like going the wrong way.
After the wrong turn we had another couple of miles of flat, before the last incline which was pretty tough, and not pleasant right before the finish. Someone passed and said, just one gate at a time, I was walking up this last hill with no real drive to do much more. I ticked the gates off all the way to gate 142, the gate outside Broadway Tower.
This was the other highlight of the day. My family waiting for me at the end and my kids running alongside me at the finish.
My finish time was 12:28:34, but that is secondary to finishing with my family, knowing that they had a great day.
I have been putting my body through a lot of challenges this year. After raising over £10,000 for Cancer Research in 2021 I want to continue making a difference. So I am constantly looking for challenges to push myself, and hope to raise vital funds for Cancer Research. So far in 2022 I have raised £1,030. If you can spare anything at all and help me raise £2,000 that would be fantastic.
After a hard journey it was great to go back to camp, with my medal and family. My kids had made friends so were off playing, allowing my wife and I to have a few relaxing drinks.
Until the next one ….