Cotswold Way Relay race report

Wow, what an exciting Cotswold Way Relay this year! Each year we think it can’t get any better but it always does, and in the most unsuspecting ways.

2016 will surely be remembered for the healthy influx of virgins and the not so healthy thunder storms.

Tewkesbury fielded two teams. As always the teams are graded to ensure we can complete the event as well as compete in the event. Feedback was taken in account from previous years and not everyone wants to run like a Hare, some want time to ease and enjoy it – and why not!

Army Ants (AA) were our team in search of a podium place and Perpetual Motion Squad (PMS) were formed to keep the AAs on their toes. For those who have picked-up on our famous trendy team names over the years then you shouldn’t be disappointed when looking deeper into this year’s. Due to the ‘Mixed Team’ requirement, the teams needed a minimum of three girls. Our 2016 bunch of 20 runners offered a fine array of colour indeed. We fielded 10 runners who had never taken part before.

Stage No1: The 07:00 hrs start time means a 05:00 alarm time and this year we had CWR specialist Nigel Tillott and ‘new girl’ Rachel Brownett. Rachel was called into the team as a late replacement for Suzanne Tharme after she rugby-tackled a bollard. A real disappointment for Suzanne as she was tuned on the stage. Rachel, on the other hand, had no tuning and benefited greatly from a brief recce run on the Wednesday before with Nigel. Thanks must go to Nigel here as he juggles his work, family and training expertly. Having run this stage in 2015, he had a clear view of the task in hand and despite celebrating a birthday he would rather forget the day before, he ran a comfortably controlled stage – that was until he found himself in a sprint-finish which he unusually won and ensured he improved on his previous time with 1:34 hr. Rachel was not only running her first CW stage but also her longest distance! The 12 miles from Chipping Campden to Stanway was set to test her beyond normal limits; setting off fairly strongly she settled into a maintainable pace until Stanway House came into view. Like Nigel, she felt comfortable to record 1:56 hr and surprisingly admitted that she could have run further!

Stage No2: Graded as the third toughest stage, No2 is notorious for two demanding long climbs including the Belas Knap tomb. Russell Steele led the Tewkesbury charge and admitted beforehand he had suffered from a niggle and lost his fitness somewhat. Nevertheless, “with gritted teeth” he ran the 19km stage as quick as he could to reach Cleeve Common Golf club in 1:47 hr. Paired runner Cathy Dudfield was better prepared; to her credit, Cathy has been working hard with off-road hill runs this year and even ran the stage twice in preparation. She knew exactly what was in front of her and soon got her teeth into the first climb up Stanway bank. Not made any easier by hundreds of divots covering the lower fields, Cathy’s hill strength prevailed. Teaming-up with her personal chaperone Mark Paker, she laid down a solid performance and several minutes inside the 2:12 cut-off time, in fact, she could have paid Sudeley Castle a visit and still had time to spare with 2:06 hr.

Stage No3: Favoured by many, the Cleeve Hill to Seven Springs has some epic views across Cheltenham Racecourse and beyond the Severn valley. One of the club’s top girls led Kevin Emmerson due South towards Dowdeswell Reservoir; Natalie Jenks ran a confident race – until nearing the finish when “confusion” stopped her in her tracks! Once back on track, she timed really well with 1:14 hr but as a true competitor she pondered if she could have done better. Both Kevin and Natalie recced the course diligently so they knew where they were going. Alas, even though the stage is relatively on Tewkesbury’s doorstep, they got lost three times getting there! Kevin’s run was a success however; on the Thursday before, he was worrying with an ankle strain and only just passed a late fitness test. He had his heart set on taking part in the event for several years so this year’s green light was so important and left a good impression with 1:31 hr.

Stage No4: Arguably the toughest stage of the Way with a dozen testing climbs, No4 is also the longest. Tactically, the conditioned runners run the longest stages so fittingly Ed Hardy started from Seven Springs. Ed had a great run over the 20km course and narrowly missed breaking the club’s course record with 1:33 hr. In contrast, Clare Edwards needed to move from her late afternoon stage to the 10:30hrs start towards Cranham to accommodate a Silver Wedding anniversary. The chirpy Yorkshire lass is famed for her fearlessness and not to her knowledge she was slipped into the deep end. Unable to fit in the training she would have liked, Clare took on her biggest running challenge to date – and she did it! Also famed for starting the CWR selfie craze, she snapped away while absorbing the undulations. Ironically, it was her camera which caused her biggest concern as she had unknowingly dropped it along the course. A cloudburst didn’t help matters so when she found that some thoughtful ramblers had gathered her camera her faith in the Cotswold Way was restored. Clare’s time was a few minutes outside the cut-off though she’s ensured everyone that she’ll be returning in 2017 as her ‘bucket list’ is to run every stage – just seven more to tick.

Stage No5 had two of the clubs most unassuming runners. Although on this occasion they were raising to each other. With Mungo Park traditionally mowing lawns, Alec Vincent and Gary Duxbury played out the Battle of Bushley. Alec has been getting better and better every month and Gary, to his credit and patience, has regained form smoothly after a foot injury set-back. Starting from the Royal William in Cranham, No5 is a quick course and after a short ascent the course takes on some glorious descents as it directs from Painswick towards the Stroud Valley and finding the canal before Ebley Mill. Alec was masterful and completed the 11.7 mile stage in 1:31 hr. Gary followed six minutes later in a healthy 1:38 hr beating his 100 minute target. At the time of writing we haven’t ‘touch base’ in detail with Gary though we do know he eased-up on the descents with respect to the foot niggle. Alec was looking pleased for the rest of the day though.

Stage No6: 14km towards Dursley and for the first time in our nine year CWR history we lined a girl up at the start, in fact, two girls! Fran Osborne was paired with another CW virgin Elaine Vincent. Elaine, our third runner out of Bushley, certainly prepared well for the stage with some quality recce running. Her successful time of 1:35 hr was one of the more surprising results of the day. No doubt she benefited from Alec’s coaching. Fran’s carrying a rabbit’s foot as her luck has been dreadful recently; training for the London Marathon through the spring, she thought best to withdraw just days before due to a combination of almost chronic niggles. Her focus was immediately[JM1] switched to Tewkesbury’s Cotswold Way challenge and carefully styled her training to suit. With the stage blessed with fine weather, she ran excellently and like Natalie and Ed earlier finished in the top 10 with an impressive time around the 1:22 hr mark.

Stage No7 is the shortest in distance at just over 7 miles but it does boast a mean uphill start, raising up 100 meters over the first 700 meters and offers some breath-taking views from the top, if you have any breath left! Experienced Paul Mason ran the course in 1:06 hr and by his own admission, not as quick as he wanted and it wasn’t until the later miles that he found his best form. Carly Merriman visited the stage on the Wednesday before and was au fait with what lay ahead. Only recently feeling the love for off-road running, Carly put the first climb behind her and progressed to the stage where she was passing runners who were fading as she was flourishing. The finish into to Wotton-under-Edge entices top speed and both the Tewkesbury runners thundered into the checkpoint.

Stage No8: Viewed by many as the toughest and with a 3pm start has a tendency to cook the runners like grilled sausages. Not this year though – as Paul and Carly came to a halt the Gods of Thunder struck down over South Gloucestershire in anger and changed the game. Jon Mansfield’s “Road shoes are best” advice became a wet joke and Roy Northcott and Jon found themselves with miles of quagmire to contend with, even the lovely pasture paths were water-logged, even the unclassified lanes were flooded. It was a mess and poor Jon who returned from six weeks out with cracked ribs was pathetic. Roy was slightly better equipped with new off-road shoes, but even he was shaking his head at the finish. Jon recorded his slowest time in eight attempts, somewhat expected and at one point his pace reduced to the extent that a Horse Fly landed on his thigh and happily feasted on the depleted muscle! Timing 1:36 hr and Roy timed 2:06 hr just a couple of minutes off his 2012 time which was blessed with fine conditions.

Stage No9 was under some heavy purple clouds and Jane Sauer and Michael Jackson were about to experience something like nothing before. Michael believed it was the Brexit apocalypse as the skies emptied with cracks of thunder and arcs of lighting which could have been five miles wide! The 4:20pm gun signalled the start of the 15km stage which is widely accepted as one of the easier runs but with the conditions now taking control, the severity changed. Jane’s day was not looking too good from the start as she awoke with a virus but she was so keen on running in the team, wild horses would not have prevented her from starting; Jane loved every minute of it and although she didn’t have her best run, her time of 1:20 hr is impressive. Michael couldn’t hold onto Jane’s pace and had to face the elements alone. However, he’s a guy you could kidnap and leave on the North Pole and he’ll still find his way back to Tewkesbury for the next Sunday Roast. Having recced the course together in the run-up, Michael finished comfortably in Cold Ashton timing 1:26 hr.

Stage No10: The glory stage takes the runners to the event finish in Bath. As the storm continued, Bath had become a bath with both the A4 and A46 flooded. Chris Goscomb recced the course on the previous weekend and got soaked. During the race he got soaked again as it rained for the whole 1:09 hr he took to reach Bath Abbey – he smashed the club’s stage record and stopped at the Abbey in 9th place. He had one mishap on his back though as it transpires most of the stage No10 runners had trouble staying on their feet. Michael Younger kept on his feet – having raced the stage before and recced it several times he knew the way well. On the day Mike did have a slight asthma issue and combined with the precarious terrain did just miss the 1:48 hr cut-off. Regardless, a notable achievement to finish. Note the following day, Mike felt far worse than he did after the Edinburgh Marathon – we believe the slippery surfaces stretched his muscles in every possible position.

In addition to the runners taking part, we must thank our water-table team on Stage No2 in Winchcombe. Alec and Elaine Vincent went to the trouble of raising early to be in Winchcombe ready for the runners at their five mile point. The water stations are a key part in assuring the event goes ahead each year and Team Bath who organise the CWR have informally thanked us for the support. Yes, the same Alec & Elaine who also ran stages and also spent time in the rain supporting the later runners. Great stuff. Thanks too for the supporters who took the pictures here – Stuart Dudfield to mention but a few.

Weather aside, it was another hugely successful event for Tewkesbury and with only room for minor improvements from the team organizer, the charismatic and unknowingly handsome Jon Mansfield.

Thanks to all involved in the build-up and on the day – it goes beyond just the runners but families and friends who helped out with support and logistics.

The same time, same place next year please – start your recces now!

[JM1]

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