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.
2018 will surely be remembered for the outrageous hot and dry conditions,
Tewkesbury fielded two teams. As always, the teams are graded to ensure we can complete the event as well as compete in the event.
Madame Gazelles were our team in search of a podium place and the Kylie Kangaroos were the team to keep the Gazelles on their hoofs. Due to the ‘Mixed Team’ requirement, the teams needed a minimum of 3 girls in each. Our 2018 bunch of 20 runners offered a fine array of colour. We normally have several virgin runners (back in 2016 we had 10 runners who had never taken part before), this year we just had London Marathon proven Jenny Gardiner tasting her first CWR atmosphere. Both teams were looking fairly strong with just one late replacement in the shape of Clive Sentence; Clive was installed at the start of the infamous Stage No8 where he suffered so much 9 years ago – as if he had forgotten!
Stage No1: The 07:00 hrs start time means a sub 05:00 alarm time and this year we had our Summer BBQ host and V60 off-road star Gary Duxbury and Liz Spires waiting for the 'gun' in Chipping Campden. Liz had a dramatic time in last year's event with the sad illness of her horse so it was great to have her lined-up for the Kylie Kangaroos ahead of 12 beautiful miles from Chipping Campden to Stanway. Once the runners left Chipping Campden, their first sighting of a famous Cotswold landmark was in the shape of Dover’s Hill; it offers a glorious view on a summer’s evening however, the runners were on course to Broadway and the next landmark – the tower. Superb views are offered from the peak and on a clear day, an incredible 13 (or 16) counties can be seen. First to reach the 18th century folly was Gary as he went on to “love” the stage which also passes through two of the quaintest Cotswold villages, Stanton and Stanway. Stanway house, the impressive Jacobean manor house once owned by Tewkesbury Abbey, marked the end of the stage. Gary timed 1:39:58 hr and placed the team in a solid position. Liz then arrived at Stanway House just 11 minutes later in pretty good shape.
Stage No2: Affectively known as the third toughest stage, No2 is famed for three demanding long climbs including to the Belas Knap tomb.
Alex Vincent led the Tewkesbury charge and it’s known from recent racing performances that he is in top shape – a new 10k PB on an undulating course is the perfect place to be ahead of a Cotswold Way stage. The route is often run by Tewkesbury runners due to the close proximity to Tewkesbury and Alec especially, had no doubt what was in store; his great form and course knowledge combined to see him record an impressive 1:39:50 hr, quite uncanny that he and Gary timed so close on neighbouring stages.
For Jenny Gardiner, the Cotswold Way experience had got her running mojo back after an excellent recce. Safe in the knowledge that she could navigate the course, she was struggling with a knee niggle during the weeks up to the event (Jenny was also singing her heart out in the Everyman theatre with her ‘Song Birds’ the nights before). Jenny set-off after Alec from Stanway with Kerri Spry for company.
The first climb was relentless up Stanway hill and for her worrying knee, there was little room for error allowed as the runners skipped over dozens of hard divots covering the lower fields. Once ascending Stanway, down past the remains of Hailes Abbey, a trek along Winchcombe high street before brushing by Sudeley Castle and the final resting place of former Queen Katherine Parr, the brave runners were soon into one of the most demanding longer climbs of the day to Belas Knap.
Once through a maze of gates at Postlip Manor, the girls trotted up to Cleeve Common Golf club finish in fine fettle!
Nb. It does appear that the girls just missed the cut-off time by 3 minutes - which is understandable due to the hot weather however, they did capture some fine selfies en route.
Stage No3: Favoured by many, the Cleeve Hill to Seven Springs has some epic views across Cheltenham Racecourse and beyond the Severn valley. In-form Natalie Jenks and Russell Steele headed due south towards Dowdeswell Reservoir; Natalie ran a confident race having had a taste of Stage No3 back in 2016. If fact, Natalie ran so well that she kept Russell in clear sight throughout. After running over the escarpment above Cheltenham’s Prestbury Park, Russ lead down to the A40 road crossing before the lung-busting climb up from the redundant reservoir. With Nat abreast of the course profile, she knew the hard work was now done and there was just the matter of catching Russ over the flat and descending sections towards Seven Springs – Russell knew the course too and they both engaged top gears and finished like middle-distance runners. An exciting finish indeed with Russell winning by seconds but it’s Natalie who ultimately takes the glory with a new female course record of 1:09 hr.
Stage No4: Arguably the toughest stage of the Way with ten testing climbs, the longest stage on paper, No4 measures 20.4 km, just shy of 13 miles. Ed Hardy ran the stage back in 2016 and narrowly missed breaking the club’s course record with 1:33 hr, so with Ed currently in good form the Madame Gazelles were looking tasty. Paul Mason featured in the Kylie Kangaroos and for Paul, this stage is the penultimate stage as he aims to run all 10. Taking in Cooper’s Hill and the Air Balloon on Birdlip, the pair had a tough task with the mercury rising. Ed finished first for the Madame Gazelles in 1:34 hr giving the team their highest place so far with 14th. Later in the day Ed spoke to the press office and his opening words were “never again” so it appears he’ll be determined to prove himself wrong next year.
With Paul arriving at Cranham Corner half an hour later, he found it no easier – not just the heat but he had also been carrying a foot niggle which made a tough stage tougher. With Stage 4 completed, Paul just needs to conquer one more stage to be the first Tewkesbury runner to have the pleasure of running all of the ten stages.
Stage No5: Shona Crombie-Hicks was selected to run this 11.7 mile stage. Having ‘just’ three or four testing climbs, this is another pleasant tour over parts of the Cotswold escarpment. Running down through Painswick high street, taking in the panoramic views from Haresfield Beacon and tracing through ancient woodland dating back to 1297. Shona was sensational, not only winning the stage for the women in a new Tewkesbury ladies record time of 1:24 hr, she also sorted-out several decent male runners. Shona’s 8th place overall lifted the team to a strong position.
2018 is the first year the club has field two girls together on Stage 5 and Elaine Vincent complimented Shona beautifully with a fine effort. As Elaine covered the last half mile along the picturesque canal path to Ebley Mill, Shona was waiting with her celebration of Prosecco. Elaine timed a comfortable 2:06 hrs.
Stage No6: The 14km stage towards Dursley; starting from the Stroud valley, the runners on No6 have 3 significant climbs to tackle; the first to Selsley Common is in full view from the starting point and is a daunting sight! With the gun sounding at 13:00 hrs the sunshine left the pavement in Stroud ready to fry eggs, thankfully this stage takes the runners through some glorious miles of wooded shade. Hardy Nigel Tillott was ready to run was Michael Jackson. MJ had been running well of late but Nigel was carrying hamstring pains. The two were set to race each other like our pair on Stage 3 and once away Nigel’s adrenaline won over his hammy woes and managed to finish a couple of minutes ahead of MJ in 1:19 hr.
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!
Suzanne Tharme was the Madame Gazelle for this 2pm stage and she had the benefit of having ran it several times before. Although there were rumours circulating that she had an injury the week previous, the experienced and capable Suzie hit an early heartrate of 204 (according to Garmin) and didn’t really look back. Like most runners in this year’s event, the heat was detrimental and Suzie especially, didn’t feel the love for the 30 degrees she encountered around Nibley monument. She did however, flourish as she neared Wotton-under-Edge. Roy Northcott had already arrived in Wotton some 90 seconds earlier and amazed onlookers by leaving his traditional club tee-shirt at home and opting to run in a vest - this was one of the shocks of the day!
Stage No8: Viewed by many as the toughest and with the sun shining down at 3pm, it is the toughest. A stage capable of burning even the strongest runners. Tewkesbury’s sacrifice was James Head and Clive Sentence. Clive is no slouch, with a 16:33 minute 5km on his CV and living at the foot of Bredon Hill, he’s a great prospect for the Kylie Kangaroos; finishing in Old Sodbury, Clive finished 76th in 2:08 hr. At the time of writing Clive has still not surfaced – so if you’re reading this Clive ping a message to let me know there’s no hard feelings…
James was located on the Monday evening and he was quite literally still shattered. He did great though, even though he admits to not being strong on hills, his 1:40 hr finish for just under 20km compliments some fine results being recorded for the Madame Gazelles.
Stage No9 started at 4:20pm from Old Sodbury to Cold Ashton. It means crossing the M4 motorway as Bath nears. For the 15km stage, which is widely accepted as one of the “easier” runs, Mark Gardiner was paired with CWR veteran Carol Cowley. With Mark losing a little bit of condition due to hamstring tightness this year, it was a pleasant surprise to learn he performed well and brought the Madames in at 15th place.
Both he and Carol recced the stage weeks earlier but neither predicted the warmth. Carol was relieved to see a second water station on the course as even she found it tough. Regardless, Carol is already looking forward to next year.
Stage No10: The glory stage takes the runners to the event finish in Bath. Jon Mansfield and Michael Younger knew the stage very well after years of recce runs and in Mike’s case, also raced it 3 times (2011, 2012 & 2016). Jon had nursed himself back from injury in time for the relay but quite bizarrely, he did get roughed-up on a bouncy castle a couple hours earlier by a mob of 2-5 year old toddlers. Nonetheless, Jon and Mike were ready at the 5:20pm start for a stage that incorporates Bath airport, Bath racecourse and Bath golf course before the breath-taking views of Bath come into sight.
Jon had some minor mishaps and collected another bruise and a gash to the head but worse was to come as he neared the finish and managed to catch a few runners ahead – as they turned into Bath Abbey, all hell let loose as it turned into a sprint finish that left the Madame Gazelle anchor-man wondering what just happened?
The sun was relentless in Bath and even the unprecedented number of spectators were baking in the shade and sweltering in the sun. With Mike still on the course, a large contingent of Tewkesbury fans had gathered – some were stationed further up the road while a group had bagged finishing shoot viewpoints.
In 2016 Mike just missed the cut-off time with a hampering asthma issue and now this year he had the heat to content with so when Mike was spotted heading down Union Street amongst some strong looking runners, with himself looking strong and wearing a smile, the crowds cheered.
A healthy 1:46 hr for the 16km rollercoaster of a stage was easily inside the cut-off.
With the results in, Tewkesbury’s two mixed teams faired impressively; The Madame Gazelles timed 14:13:20 (hr:min:secs) to finish 6th from 47 mixed teams. To put that in perspective, we beat Bristol & West AC, Cheltenham Harriers, Wye Valley Runners, Westbury, Thornbury and Stroud. We normally give Gloucester AC a fight but they found 40 minutes on us this year and finished an impressive 2nd.
The Kylie Kangaroos finished 35th in 17:55:14, just 15 seconds behind 34th. However, this is the ‘second’ team’s best result for 3 years so in summary, kudos to our two teams and congratulations to everyone who tackled a stage.
In addition to the runners taking part, we must thank supporters, friends and family who help cheer us along – especially Sam & Dave who also offered to run stages and man water stations in our hour of need.
Same again next year?