The Cotswold Way Relay.

This year’s Cotswold Way Relay will never be forgotten – although some would certainly like to forget it!

Tewkesbury Running Club fielded their two teams with the competitive Kylie Kangaroos aiming to clinch a podium place again after falling to 6th in 2018 and their second team with a more pleasurable ethos and every intention of enjoying every step, snapping a selfie and generally celebrating the beautiful Cotswolds.

Tewkesbury had a fine squad of 25 runners geared-up weeks before but as always, injuries happen and the first runner to withdraw, and probably the most significant, was Paul Mason; Paul was due to run Stage No3 thus giving him the sought-after award of ‘King of the Cotwolds’ which is an award presented at the end in Bath for runners having completed all ten stages. Alas for Paul as a knee injury ended his dream. Alec Vincent then broke down half way through his Stage 10 recce as his plantar fasciitis flared-up and reduced his participation the week later to a supportive role. Chris Duckworth withdrew after failing to shake-off a niggle. Even then, five of the final selections on the day could not say they were 100% fit. With that in mind, we had an official reserve who kindly followed the race down to Bath in case there was a last minute withdrawal. As it transpired, all those who confirmed the night before made the start line… and as described below completed their respective stages.

But as the day unfolded, the physical shape of the runners became irrelevant and the bright orange shape in the sky set the stage. It was quite a bizarre weather event as the forecast the week before highlighted just Saturday with 27 degrees with the days either side much cooler and as the day of the race grew nearer, 27 became 31 and by midday there were reports of 35 degrees along the Cotswolds western escarpment. It was crazy heat at its height and then it just disappeared after the event had finished. The organizers were so concerned about the heat that they increased every cut-off time by 10 minutes. They also insisted that you had in your possession at the start 500 ml of fluid and on finishing their stage, check in with the team captains.

Stage No1: The early alarm call to travel to Chipping Campden isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, the reward for starting the trail at 7am is some stunning and peaceful North Cotswold scenery. Once the warm mist had lifted, the runners could perform at the coolest part of the day. Gary Duxbury and Jude Rodrigues stood at the very start/end of the Cotswold Way for the two Tewkesbury teams. Once the runners left Chipping Campden, their first famous Cotswold landmark was passed in the shape of Dover’s Hill – made famous by the Olimpick Games which have taken place there since 1612. The pair both put their fitness to the test as they ran towards Broadway Tower, the 18th century folly. Superb views are offered from the peak and on a clear day, an incredible 13 counties can be seen (really?). But there was no sight-seeing for the determined Tewkesbury pair as they worked their way towards two quaint Cotswold villages, Stanton and Stanway. Stanway house, the impressive Jacobean manor house, once owned by Tewkesbury Abbey marked the end of the stage. True to form, Gary finished before Jude but having ran the same stage in 2018, Gary was down a few minutes on his target and a touch disappointed. Still a strong time for the off-run addict and after reviewing Stage 1 with other teams afterwards, the heat was already starting to play havoc. For Jude, this was to be a tough 12 miles – having trained over Bourton’s Hilly Half Marathon, he later aggravated his groin and needed to test it over the previous Wednesday’s 5 mile handicap. As it happens, his groin held up well over this magnificent stage and Jude was the first to admit the heat was a ‘game-changer’.

Stage No2: Taking on the first of the 3 categorised ‘hard’ stages, were hilly terrain fan Shona Crombie-Hicks and CWR journey man Roy Northcott. Both were in fair shape with Shona still respectful of her hamstring and Roy, well Roy was last seen wading through Bushley flood waters. Once ascending Stanway hill then down past the remains of Hailes Abbey, a trek along Winchcombe High Street before the chance to hydrate passing Sudeley Castle. Resisting the opportunity to pay their respects to the former Queen, Katherine Parr, the brave runners were soon into one of the most demanding longer climbs of the day to Belas Knap. As the stage panned-out, Shona became the new Queen as she graced her way along. She had strong competition in the ladies field but that was over after the first climb and she was soon directing strong male runners ahead of her. Quite surprisingly, the course record was broken by an elite Bristol & West athlete and both he and Shona excelled in hurtful conditions. Shona was so masterful on her new favourite dog walking route, she had the energy to start a conversation with one of the guys she ran up to – he managed to muster-up 3 words and he was broken… he was never seen again!