COTSWOLD CHALLENGE JUNE
The Cotswold Challenge involves running the length
of the Cotswold Way over four days which is about 106 miles (with a few
diversions) or thereabouts from Chipping Campden to Bath. They describe
it as a challenge as it isn't intended to be a race - of course a lot
of people keep a note of their time and the organisers log arrival times
at each checkpoint and the finish each day.I did it with Richard and Hugh
- Richard and I stayed on a narrowboat in Bath the night before which
by coincidence was directly opposite the start of the Kennet and Avon
canal ultramarathon I ran a few years ago. Hugh was staying with relatives
near Chipping Campden.
The Cotswold Way is very beautiful and extremely hilly. It is a mixture
of forest trails, grassy sections over rolling hills, tracks, the odd
village and short minor road section.
Quite a lot of fast walkers were doing the challenge as well - they mostly
set off an hour earlier each day.
The organisers set up a campsite at the location of each day's finish.
You could hire two person tents which Richard and I took advantage of
- the event company Pillow put these up for us each day. Hugh being hardcore
brought his own tent. You could have a single large drop bag which they
took from place to place containing your clothes, bits and pieces, sleeping
bag and inflatable mattress - well worth having.
The mileage varied from day to day. - about 17 for day 1, 30 on day 2,
26 on day 3 and 32+ on day 4. The route is waymarked and I carried a map
book in my running rucksack, some people had the GPS route on their phones.
Even so it was easy to miss a sign and go off course - it probably happened
to everyone and certainly quite a few times to me. There were small circular
plaques on the stiles and fences etc. which changed colour from yellow
to blue to green along the way and there were similar signs for other
paths. There were also old fashioned wooden finger posts.
I came into this event with my current medical oddities still present
- mainly iron deficiency anaemia, mild hypothyroidism and very low white
blood cell counts. I've been taking iron supplements for a few months
and the recent blood tests showed that the ferritin levels were coming
back up but the hematocrit/haemoglobin levels, the real performance inhibitors,
were yet to follow - it is a long slow process. The mild hypothyroidism
is not at a level to cause medical concern. So I'm not running well or
fast but I'd done a reasonable block of training. Originally we thought
we'd all run together but I quickly made the decision to let Richard and
Hugh go on ahead. I was treating this as a training run for the Robin
Hood 100 in September so although the courses aren't remotely similar
- that one is a continuous 100 miler but over flat terrain - I wanted
to try and average the sort of pace I would be hoping for then.
We all met up on the first day - it was a later start to allow the buses
they laid on to travel to Chipping Campden.
There was a good atmosphere and camaraderie and we
set off a few at a time to avoid swamping the sleepy high street with
a tide of people - there were about 120 of us doing the event.
The three of us did run together for a good portion
of this one and I was ahead of the other two when I missed my first turning
- a last minute shout got me back on route but it is surprisingly demotivating
to lose the route for a bit even when it doesn't matter - that's the nature
of ultra running and the mental ups and downs. I got my nutrition wrong
- I was treating it like a low carb 17 mile training run which I have
done so many times without food and drink. However the slower pace and
the very hilly terrain made this inappropriate - I found myself getting
really low on energy over the last few miles and it was a big lesson -
you have to learn to manage resources properly particularly when you are
going to do it again the next day. I finished a couple of minutes behind
Richard and Hugh, There were ice baths and massages (you paid for these
- £5 for 10 minutes) which I had every day and were really worth
it. The evening meal was good with a meat or vegetarian option. There
was also entertainment - some decent singer/guitarists, I avoided the
beer and went to bed early.
The next day was my disaster day really! The weather forecast was bad
and together with day 3 it was the hilliest section. I had brought two
pairs of running shoes - I wore road shoes on the first day which were
comfy and had a bit of padding but had smooth soles - I slipped a lot
on muddy sections so for day 2 I switched to my trail shoes - these have
grip but are very minimalist with thin soles - they were great on the
mud but disastrous on the stony/rocky sections, I got seriously sore feet
after the first five miles and had to switch to a much slower pace to
preserve them, I told Rich and Hugh to go on ahead. I think the best option
would be trail shoes with more padding. I got lost four times I think
- one time I looped round and ended up heading back towards slower runners
coming up behind! There was another race heading in the opposite direction
and we were passing each other a lot around here. This confused a lot
of people further on as they were coming up the Gloucestershire Way at
a place where there was no sign, so lots of us merrily headed down a huge
hill only to have to toil back up it to find the Cotswold Way again.
I can't remember how much it rained during the running but it rained all
evening and night which made it difficult to keep everything dry. I passed
on the ice bath. However the next day it had cleared up and was going
to be fine. I was back in my road shoes and finally felt like I was learning
how to approach the event - eat and drink something at all the checkpoints.
It got very hot when the sun came out but I stuck to my granny pace and
began to enjoy myself. Of course we were always passing other runners
or walkers and there was lots of chat and encouragement between everyone
as you would expect. It was super hilly again but the route is really
very beautiful with lots of great views. We went up Coopers Hill where
they do the cheese rolling. The massages were really helpful as my calves
tend to cramp a lot after I stop. It was a fine evening so everything
could get dry and we had a bigger tent.
Day 4 - it was going to be the longest mileage but much gentler terrain
on the whole and the final section has a lot of downhill into Bath. I
let Richard and Hugh steam ahead again and enjoyed this one a lot. I carried
a few energy bars in my rucksack but mostly ate what was on offer at the
checkpoints - pretzels, salted peanuts, Snickers and Lion bars, dried
apricots, flapjacks and bananas (not all at once!). By the end of day
4 I never wanted to see another piece of chocolate or anything sugary.
At one of the water stops the medic lanced a small blister for me, it's
really worth doing preventative treatment like this rather than soldiering
on - the medics told me feet problems are the main reason people drop
out of ultras. I got into a nice groove and the miles passed on by, I
had a really nice day in the sunshine. Soon enough (well ages actually)
I was approaching the outskirts of Bath. The organisers suggested we just
headed straight for the city centre once we hit the suburbs as the Cotswold
Way starts weaving around and at one point when sticking to it I found
myself heading up a hill apparently back out of Bath again. The best approach
would have been to use Google Maps or something which wise Hugh told me
he did, I relied on asking the locals and began a comedy zig-zag across
Bath as they all told me a different route - 'it's just down there'. Finally
I approached Bath Abbey from probably the wrong direction and in a final
act of stupidity reached the front, checked with a taxi driver if it was
the right place, walked round three sides looking for the finish and finally
phoned Richard - it was round the back and I crossed the low key finish
line to some generous applause and bemused stares from passing shoppers
I'm really glad I did this event - I learned so much from it and it gradually
turned from a grim slog into a lot of fun. It took me a bit less than
26 hours out on the trail, Rich and Hugh must have been a couple of hours
faster I should think. We staggered off to an AirBnB we had booked for
the night and drank the celebratory bottle of Prosecco the owners had
thoughtfully put out for us before heading out for a Thai meal.