Race Report by Cathy Keay – warning, reading this might take as long as it took me to run it !!!
Most of you know that I do a lot of events, and I’m always talking Massey members into doing various events, but somehow I talked myself into this double marathon and I’m not sure why !! Rachel Brock may have done a little bit of arm twisting but mainly it was my own fault !!
Race to the Tower (aka RTTT), is one of series of 3 races hosted by Threshold Trail Events, the others being Race to the King and Race to the Stones. All 3 are ultra-distances that can be run in one go or over two days. The RTTT weekend fitted in with my other race commitments and work trips, so I signed up, but there was no-way I was going to do it all in one go, I wanted to rest in between.
I didn’t do any specific training for this 53 mile trail run, I’d run the Copenhagen marathon 3 weeks before, which couldn’t have been any different in terrain and elevation, but I guessed that I already had 26 miles in my legs. I also did a trail half the week before, which again was relatively flat but helped remind me just how energy sapping trail running was and also gave me a chance to test my choice of footwear.
The first decision was the race logistics, after discussing the many permutations of how to get there, we decided to drive to the finish and get the shuttle bus to the start about 1hr 20 away. The next decision is what to pack, you dropped your bag at the start, your bag was then transferred to the base camp for your overnight stay and then it was transferred again to the finish.
Anyway, after a very early start Rachel and me drove in torrential rain to Broadway Tower, parked up and then got on the 6.15am shuttle bus. It rained non-stop on the journey; the coach was very quiet as runners snoozed, ate breakfast or studied the route map. Arriving at the Bird in Hand Farm at Stroud it was full of people trying to stay warm & dry, we got into our running kit, squeezed our damp clothes in our bags, and handed them in. By now the early waves had set off, our wave was 8.05am and as we crossed the start line the rain stopped, hooray.
Each wave had a mixture of runners and walkers, and the first few miles were spent over-taking a lot of walkers and trying not to trip over their walking poles, the starter had warned us that there were 149 gates/siles on the whole route and these did cause little traffic jams in the early miles. The views were fantastic already and it was difficult not to get carried away and run too fast.
Another feature of these races are the pit stops, for food, toilets and medical help, and we knew the first one was 5.7 miles away, quite a short distance and although there were some hills on the way this was probably the easiest part of the route. After running through the village of Painswick the checkpoint appeared, I took off my jacket as it had dried up and stuffed it in my backpack, there was loads of food, bananas, chocolate, sweets, gels, squash and water. I grabbed a Freddo and a fudge, this checkpoint was the busiest, probably as all the waves had merged together, and I didn’t hang around very long and got running again. It was going to be 8.2 miles to the next checkpoint.
Once back out on the route we ran across Painswick Golf Club and not long after the first big hill started, now these weren’t hills they were more like mountains and you couldn’t run them, the ground was a mixture of mud because of all the rain, and sharp Cotswold stones which had become really slippy. There were large sections through the woods and trying not to slip or trip on tree roots was tricky and you felt your feet were getting a tough workout.
The route signs were great, you just followed the arrows, although all the trails and paths merged into one and I wasn’t quite sure where I was, I was just counting down the miles to the next checkpoint and following the walker/runner in front. We ran past Cooper’s Hill where they hold the famous annual cheese rolling event, I was so glad we didn’t have to go up or down it.
Checkpoint 2 arrived, there was even more food at this one, and chairs to sit down on. There were sandwiches and crisps and even more chocolate !! I filled up my water bottles, grabbed a sandwich, emptied my shoes of boulders (really small stones !!) and then Rachel appeared. Rachel and I had decided not to run together but it was lovely to meet her and compare how we were feeling and eat our sandwiches. At this point I also spotted Philip Townsend from Masseys who I recognised from parkrun, so I introduced myself and asked how he was doing, he was doing the event all the way through (NUTTER) !!
I then set off we’d now covered 14.3 miles and it was only 4.3 to the next checkpoint. ONLY !!!!! (ha ha ha) we were soon going up the steepest hill ever, Crickley Hill (268 metres), luckily there was a metal fence on one side and I literally had to use it heave myself up and it seemed to go on and on. The usual benefit of going uphill was that there would be a nice downhill on the other side, unfortunately the downhills were so steep that I couldn’t run down them, the mixture of mud and stones meant that I wasn’t going to risk twisting my ankle in the middle of nowhere and your knees really started to ache. I ran where I could and before long checkpoint 3 appeared, this was in a grassy area and as the day had warmed up people were sitting around, eating watermelon and drinking flat coke. On this part of the route I’d met up with a lady from Leamington, who’d recognised my Massey’s vest and we’d chatted and found out we’d got mutual friends, (it’s a small world !!) After a few more Freddo’s and stashing away some Skittles I was just about to set off when Rachel arrived, I stayed and chatted, we both moaned and compared notes about the earlier hills !!
The next checkpoint was going to be base camp which was 7.5 miles away, I was feeling tired now and the relentless hills were taking their toll on my feet. We ran through another golf course and crossed a couple of A-roads, and climbed again to an ancient fort site, and the devils chimney a famous strange rock formation. The views were fantastic the day that had started so miserable was now lovely, I decided to sit on a bench and check my feet out, as I could feel a blister forming. I got out my first aid kit and put some tape on to try to prevent anything getting worse. It was at this point that Philip and Rachel ran past, both shouted out to see if I was ok. I set off again and was faced with the most dangerous part of the course, it was downhill but so steep I could have sledged down it on a tea-tray !!!! I did feel like an old lady inching my way down, holding on to trees, trying not to slip on the stones, I did question my sanity at the this point and was very close to tears. After what seemed like 30 mins to go 300m, I was back on the flat and was looking forward to going back uphill. I was still managing to run some parts and I caught up with Philip and we chatted for a bit before I carried on running. I hadn’t got a clue what time of day it was, but with about 2 miles to go I could see Rachel in front of me, I caught up with her, she was now struggling so I gave her some of my secret fuel (skittles !!) and we walked up an extremely steep hill and stumbled the final 2 miles to Colgate Farm base camp together, running over the line and claiming our 0% beer !!
Base camp was great; we checked-in, got our tent numbers, collected our bags and went for a shower. For the middle of nowhere, the facilities were really good, nice hot water and scrubbing off the mud felt great, they also had a pamper area with hairdryers and phone charging points. I then went and checked out the catering marquee, there was hot drinks and food, which was all part of our camping package. After 2 cups of coffee, I felt a bit more human and we decided to try the fajitas, followed by chocolate cake. There were free massages for all runners, so we booked our slot and then we then went into the Heineken tent, which had a bar, free 0% beer, chairs, beans bags, television and was really chilled. Then it was massage time, which were given by UCB students. Afterwards we decided to have more food (well why not, it was free !!) this time we had pasta, more coffee and hot chocolate. Some runners/walkers were still crossing the finishing line and those wearing blue numbers were carrying on through the night, rather them than me, as it this point there was some heavy rain and it would be dark soon. Then it was bed time, I was worried that I’d get cold in the night, but once inside my tent I soon got cosy in my sleeping bag. The start time in the morning was between 6-7am, with breakfast from 5am, so another early alarm set.
I woke up to the sound of zips, and people getting ready for the next day, it looked like great weather. We went for breakfast and people were already at the start line waiting for the 6am gun!!! After a sausage batch, Danish pastry and coffee we packed up our stuff and dumped our bags to be transported to the finish.
Before you knew it we were off again at 6.30am, just 5.7 miles to pit stop 5, there was quite a bit of road running to start with and then you were joined by sheep on the way up to Cleeve Hill which was the highest point at 317 metres, although it was more of a gradual climb but you were greeted with fantastic early morning views, you then ran down to a golf course and not long after that the pit stop appeared. Rach was just behind me and we chatted, had a loo break, and stocked up on skittles (just in case !!)
Off we went again this time we were running together then there was a mega hill which seemed to on for ever and ever. We were able to run quite a bit after the hill, although there was a really tough camber and Rachel went past and disappeared in the distance. I ran where I was able to but I was really struggling, miles 9, 10 & 11 (or miles 35, 36 & 37 depending on how you were counting) were the toughest for me, I felt I had no energy, a banging headache and I could feel my blister starting to rub again. I plodded on, normally my walking pace is quite quick, but I just couldn’t get going, and I certainly couldn’t be bothered to run at all. We went through Sudeley village, I couldn’t be bothered to look for the castle, head down one foot in front of the other. It was 6.6 miles to the pit stop and it couldn’t come quick enough – I’d really had enough. On arriving in the pit stop, I was amazed to see Rachel there, looking relaxed in a chair eating a sandwich, I thought she’d be miles ahead.
I grabbed a sandwich, had a couple of ibuprofen from Rach, drank a lot of water and tried to pick myself up. I had 2 paracetamols off the medics for later (I’d left my supply in my main bag !!) and we chatted to a lady from Kenilworth Runners that had spotted Rachel’s Massey’s vest. After 20 mins I was feeling so much better, I decided to get going again and crack on with it. It was 8.6 miles to the next pit stop, quite a long way. There was a tough incline now after passing Hailes Abbey, but the tablets and sandwich seemed to have worked their magic and I felt like a different person. The terrain now was a lot kinder on the feet, not so many tree roots and although still quite stoney, not being wet they were easier to run on. There was one particular nasty downhill part which reminded me of day 1 and there was also a field full of cows that you had to go through, they were all standing by the gate you needed to go through and slobbering all over the latch (yuck), then a field of horses and then some more cows.
We went through the villages of Stanway and Stanton and there was more road to run on, these villages were so pretty, I was running with a lady from Derbyshire now and we chatted and the miles were ticking by. We were passing by other runners and walkers and not many were passing us then we hit another steep hill (extremely steep) that went on for ages and ages. We stopped talking as we needed all our breath to huff and puff our way up. Once at the top we could see the Broadway Tower in the distance approx. 8 miles away, the lady then carried on running, I carried on walking for a bit. I ran into the final pit stop in the village of Buckland and I decided that I’d have a quick turnaround and get on the road again. I filled my water bottles, ate some watermelon, stashed a few Freddo’s, and grabbed a bag of peanuts, and set off for the final 5.3 miles. I looked to see if I could see Rachel coming into the pit stop but she wasn’t so I ran on. There was quite a bit of road now and the trail parts were quite flat and relatively easy to run on, I think I did most of the days running in these final miles. The gates/stiles were coming thick and fast now and the numbers were getting higher and higher. Fuelled by peanuts I knew I was getting nearer to Broadway, but you had to run the whole length of the high street which was full of Sunday tourists not looking where they were going (very annoying !!!) I finally turned the corner back onto the Cotswold Way and knew there was just one more hill before the finish.
You can’t actually see Broadway Tower, but the climb up is 313 metres and just over 2 miles in length !!! Great just what you need at 50+ miles !!!!!
There were a few supporters on the hill waiting for their family and friends and they cheered you on and said there was only 3 more gates to go !! It really did seem to go on forever, then it appeared !!! the TOWER it was there, I’d nearly finished, through the last gate and it was flat, so I ran, I waved at the photographer and trotted over the line. I was presented with my “Double Marathon” medal, 0% beer and an orange slice.
OMG – I’d done it – never ever ever again !!! I flopped on a bean bag, took off my shoes (not my socks !!) and drank my beer right by the finish line. Everyone crossing the line looked so relieved and happy and glad it was all over !
Rachel finished, she’d had had a tough last few miles, and even she said never ever ever again !!!
We took the final few selfies, went and got some food and drink, we somehow managed to acquire a case of Heineken 0% each and two RTTT coffee mugs, oh and a few more bags of skittles. We collected our T-shirts and went and got some photos by the tower – both walking like we’d just got off a horse (ha ha !!)
I can honestly say this was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, it was like an extended cross-country race, imagine Churchfields or Stratford XC done over and over again, with a few breaks for a Freddo !!! Those who run the whole thing in one go are officially NUTTERS !! (the winner apparently did it in 8:05:06).
The organisation and crew were fantastic, from the first bus, to the lady carrying my bag to me at the end, nothing was too much trouble, the pit stops were great, there was so much food and drink to choose from, the base camp was great, my massage and little tent was fab. 10/10 to Threshold Events.
Would I do it again – “NO”
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