And it was done. After the entire team set off together at 8:45am on Saturday 15 July, 20 hours and 40 minutes later, Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones was completed.
The whole team didn't make it. But after three months of training, worrying and planning – fitness, grit, determination and steel got four of us over the line. How did the race go? And what did we learn? Catch up with the team to find out.
Sophie Charara – Features editor
I'm standing on the grass to the side of the narrow Ridgeway path, alone, shoving a Fudge bar into my mouth. I turn to my right and it's just trail and fields as far as I can see. I turn to my left and it's an identical scene of trail and fields. Which way is forward? Which way is back? How did I get here? Whose idea was this anyway?
My 50.7km walk - and that point seven really killed me - took me 14 hours and 8 minutes. I finished in last place for day one of Race to the Stones which is pretty hilarious so a shout out to everyone who walked or ran past me in the first half of the day. Sorry if I was in your way guys. I also did it in a dress (and leggings and t-shirt) because I'm obnoxious like that.
But my only goal was to get to the 50km line by the 11pm deadline. That was what was required of me, especially as I have been fundraising and had received messages of the 'don't worry if you can't do it all' variety.
I had all the pit stop cut off times in my head - 12 noon, 3.15, 6.15, 9 and 11. I met each of those mini deadlines and treated each one as a victory. I only ever thought about the section I was doing and how I'd get to rest at the next stop. I also dawdled at the pit stops, had a good sit down, drank squash, changed socks, checked my Just Giving page, sent messages to the rest of the gang and my mum, sister and grandparents.
I never thought I wouldn't finish, I just wanted to fast forward to the part where I did. It was pretty cool thinking that the boys had been through the same sections hours before. The arch of my left foot was aching (from my 20k practice walk) before I even began which panicked me. From about 23km my left knee was twinging, both my thighs, both my calves ached and my left hip hurt too. Oh and my shoulder muscles. I didn't get any blisters though which was a miracle.
And for some stretches I felt high - high off Lucozade, off the exercise and fresh air, off the rain, off the rivers and giant willow trees and corn for miles, off strangers telling me to 'keep going', off turning the volume up real loud for a Daft Punk song, realising I was close to finishing.
At the end, Conor ran (limped) out of the darkness just as I was crossing the finish line with an entourage of event staff and a fellow straggler. I ate a fajita when I had got over the shock of not walking anymore and then after a pep talk with Paul - who was out in the dark at 75km with James and (amazingly) Mike - I went home and had a bath. Never again, though. I'm serious.
Paul Lamkin – Co-founder
There's one thing that's not in the training guides for Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones, which I know now is the most important factor on the day. Grit. I saw so many examples of unbelievable grit out on the Ridgeway. Sights of grit that, in my tired and emotional state, sometimes brought a tear to my eye.
For me, I had to show a bit of grit as my Achilles really started hurting at the half-way stage (and only got worse). But my pushing on and refusing to quit was nothing compared to what some people achieved. I have so many heroes from the day but especially these guys…
- Mike for running 15km to catch us after Conor dropped out. He was a sweaty mess when he caught us at 62km and so, so frantic. He needed a good hug, he needed calming down. He ran to us as if his life depended on it.
- James for basically ignoring me from 50km – 100km about the pain I was in, and powering on with our target walking pace. It seemed cruel at the time but it was exactly the right approach. Negative thoughts were kept to a minimum and he saved me about 4 hours out on that trail.
- Sophie for smashing her 50km challenge. We all know what a big ask that was. I called her during my darkest moments at around 75km (just after she'd crossed her finish line). I needed to channel some of her grit and it was a huge boost to hear someone speak with pure elation in their voice.
- Blister Man – this guy was hobbling like an extra from the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. His feet destroyed by blisters from at least 40km (where we first saw him), he refused to stop at the rest points because he just needed to keep moving forward to get the job done. You wouldn't walk down to the shops if you were in as much pain as he was. Ridiculous.
- Crying lady – This poor woman, who I'd say was in her 50s, was sobbing at 79km after realising that she probably still had 4-5 hours left on that trail. She was broken, absolutely broken. But she carried on. As with Blister Man I have no way of knowing that she finished the 100km. But, in both cases, I'd bet my life that they did.
Mike Sawh – Editor
In last week's diary I said that I visualised crossing the Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones finish line with Paul, James and Conor in the early hours of the morning, while Sophie put her very tired feet up somewhere after completing her 50km walk. We were doing this as a team and I wanted to finish as a team. It didn't work out exactly like that, but it was close enough.
Before we moved over to the start line, my strategy was always to stick with one of the team Wareable crew and with Paul and James making their way up front, I buddied up with Conor. We did training runs together and with not a lot of long distance running under his belt, I was happy to run when he felt comfortable to run and walk when he wanted to walk. We stuck to a strategy of a walking a couple of miles, running a mile and taking it easy on those parts of the course. It wasn't too long though before he was struggling and I knew it was bad. I tried my best to keep his spirits up and take his mind off the pain, but heart in heart, I knew he wasn't going to make it. When we managed to get to the 50km basecamp it was decision time. Conor did not want to quit, I didn't want him to quit, but I also didn't want him to make that injury even worse.
I now had to make another decision. Quit at 50km or try and catch up with Paul and James who were a couple of pit stops ahead of me. It was 8pm, night was approaching and I needed to pick up my head torch at one of the meeting points. Race rules dictate that you shouldn't be alone on the course during the night, so I either buddied up with someone else or I tried to meet Paul and James.
After swamping down a big plate of pasta I ran around 18km through the pit stops only to pick up my head torch and a pair of leggings from my emergency bag. I made it. In the distance, I could see James turn his head torch. After some hugs we proceeded to walk the rest of the Stones course, through fields of cows, down narrow paths and small villages.
We were all in high spirits, confident we'd finish, I wasn't in any real pain, still on a high from making up the distance. But as we approached the last 8 or 9 miles, the terrain was changing, the legs were feeling the strain, there was less talking and attention was turning to getting to the end.
The last 4 to 5 miles was one of the toughest things I've ever done. Paracetamol, recovery drinks and energy gels helped mask the strain on my legs and as night began to turn into morning, I ditched the head torch and just needed to finish. We did it. I didn't care what time it was, what I visualised had partly come to fruition. The feeling of crossing that finish line is something that will stay with me forever. The pain in my legs, will probably stay for a week or two. I couldn't have imagined that my Race to the Stones would be so eventful, and the only thing I would change would be that Conor made it to the end with us. The route was beautiful, the pit stop staff and treats were amazing and I'm proud to have got my hands on that medal.
Conor Allison – Reporter
If I had to give an overarching feeling about my Dixon's Carphone Race to the Stones experience, it would have to be disappointment. While my plan was to complete the 100km trek across the Ridgeway with Paul, Mike and James, a foot injury that hit me around 20km into the race meant that I eventually, after 30km of hobbling around, was unable to reach the final goal.
Niggles and pains are all part of long-distance challenges, as we found out through practice runs, and I initially thought the pain I felt across the top of my foot would dissipate if I kept it out of my mind and focused on the thought of crossing the line with the rest of the team.
That worked for a time, but the pain began to ramp up as we entered Pit Stop 3. With the medics in the tent telling me it was likely a muscular issue that wouldn't simply disappear — something I knew but tried to keep in the back of my mind— doubts began to creep in. At that point, another 67km still remained between myself and the finish.
It's hard to talk through every step of emotion from the journey, as so much takes place, but even a cocktail of painkillers, adrenaline and flapjacks couldn't numb the pain completely. I felt good about my chances at the 43km point, dancing on one leg to Fatman Scoop's Put Your Hands Up, but the next 7km was filled with shooting pains up my leg and having to take a rest until it subsided. And while the Garmin Fenix 3 was still going strong at 67% battery, the Apple Watch Series 2 was, like me, on its last legs.
At the halfway point I had a decision to make. After all, with James and Paul increasing their gap ahead, I was setting Mike up to travel alone in the dark if I had to quit in the second half. Dropping out was the right call, in hindsight, and one that was inevitable after 35km of limping.
And while it was a tough couple of hours sitting at camp and dealing with the disappointment of having to throw in the towel, being there at the 50km mark for when Sophie crossed was something I won't forget in a hurry. I was as happy to see her achieve her goal as I would have been to achieve mine.
I never thought I'd say it, but I hope I can return to the Ridgeway next year and finish what I couldn't this time around.
James Stables – Co-founder
When you tell people you're tackling the 100km Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones ultramarathon, the first question they ask is 'why'. And how do you answer that?
Why exactly are you up at 6am and heading to the start line of a ludicrous race? Why are you pushing your body to such pain? There's seemingly no rational reason. My personal answers tended to be boring. I wanted to train for a bigger distance to help my half marathon efforts – and when you've trained for a 100km ultra, getting out for 13.1 miles seems like childplay.
And my race itself was gloriously uneventful. A mile warm-up, followed by about 16 miles of running in the first 50km. We were separated from Mike and Conor early on, thanks to Conor's injury, and powered ahead, completing the first half in around 8 hours. Then things got tough.
Being part of the slower 100km non-stoppers, most people around us were the overnight campers. And arriving at the basecamp and not being able to soak up congratulations, a big meal and a beer was pretty tough. As was walking the lonely path back onto the Ridgeway, as the shadows lengthened, knowing we had to walk 50km all over again.
At that point Paul's Achilles started to give out and darkness fell, Mike was pretty spent from his efforts in catching us up after Conor's retirement. The mind started to play tricks. The achievement of making our 75km mini goal was met by a louder, shouting demon that pointed out the remaining 25km will take 6 more hours. Every positive was a negative. Another half marathon of walking. On aching legs and screaming hips.
Paul was low and our conversation had ebbed. Chat was now only covering the same topics: leg pain, distance, mini goals. I just kept walking, sometimes 100 yards in front. Eating the miles. The attention I paid doing squats in the gym and long hikes on the weekends, as well as running, paid off. While my limbs groaned they stayed strong. No injuries. No doubts. No negative thoughts. Just walking.
But the reason for why we were out on the Ridgeway, with 1,000 other people, became clear. The same reason we watched a man with horrific blisters plod for 10 hours when he could have dropped out. Why Sophie tackled 50km on her own. Because sometimes you have to take on a challenge that pushes you to somewhere you thought was beyond you, and refuse to back down.