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Cotswold Way Relay 2023

This year’s Cotswold Way Relay was jolly supported by two Tewkesbury teams – the event rules had changed this year, and this caught us out as previously, the teams with a minimum of 3 ladies were classed as ‘Mixed’ teams and that’s what we had put together. Alas a late switch to comply with the new ruling had Tewkesbury with a team of 6xM+4xFM and a team of 8xM+2xFM as an ‘Open’ team. Not that it made a huge difference as the objectives centred around 1) getting 20 runners ready on the day. 2) getting those 20 over the finish line safely – and if safely within the cut-off time, then we are winning.

This year’s two teams were put together to even each other out ability-wise but with the CWR quite often having environmental challenges, it can be tricky to predict how things unfold. Tewkesbury have been taking part in the iconic challenge since 2008 and although there were none of the original cast on show in 2023, there were two of the 2009 cast in action again. Previous years have seen the club start the event in a competitive mode however, things have mellowed, and ‘we’ seem to prefer a pleasurable ethos with every intention of enjoying every step, snapping a selfie and generally celebrating the beautiful Cotswolds.

Tewkesbury had a fine squad of 24 runners engaged weeks before but as always there were some late changes – Emma Ash wasn’t quite ready after her London Marathon; she had a niggle which may have come good in time but more importantly, she had not been able to train and the one thing you should have done ahead of taking on the Cotswold Way, is train. Jane Sauer was brought into replace Emma. Jane made her CWR debut on Stage No3 in 2017 with Fran Osbourne and she would be back chopping-at-the-bit on Clevee Common again. Gary Duxbury was replaced on Stage No6 and club runners were queuing to run No6 – mainly because the Saturday Morning Mob had recced it twice, so they had a taste for it. As it happened, Clive Sentence volunteered within seconds of the place becoming available. This meant 20 fully fit and functional runners were lined-up and a couple of flexible reserves were on-call... something that hasn’t happened before!

Stage No1: The early rise to travel to Chipping Campden isn’t everyone’s mug of coffee. However, the reward for starting the trail at 7am is some stunning and peaceful North Cotswold scenery. Chipping Campden in the summer without tourists is quite an amazing sight! Adam Twine and Tonia Whitebeam were kicking the day off for TRC. 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, it is claimed an incredible 13 counties can be seen? But there was no sight-seeing for the 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. Adam finished the stage in a good time – much expected as he is becoming one of the club’s stronger runners. Tonia returning to the route that she ran in 2022 and give or take a minute, finished in the same time showing great consistency over the 12-mile ramble.

Stage No2: Surprisingly, the previous stage isn’t regarded as hard! So, taking on the first of the three categorised ‘hard’ stages, were Nick Matthews and Noel Green. Once ascending the familiar Stanway hill then down past the remains of Hailes Abbey, a trek along Winchcombe High Street before passing Sudeley Castle, 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; this or these climbs, reduce most to walking. Post run, Noel was feeling “pretty broken” although had a feeling of enjoyment (it later transpired that Noel had spent the previous days working on his hydration but missed the non-alcoholic fluids out!). Nick could sense the finish point on top of Clevee Hill but took a wrong turn and had to add an extra 400 yards to his outing... the last thing he wanted to do!

Stage No3: The popular shorter stage from Cleeve hill tracing the escarpment above Cheltenham’s Prestbury Park featured, Jane and club captain Roy Northcott. For Roy it was a special stage as he had been planned to run it a previous year, but he couldn’t - No3 is the stage Roy needs to complete to have completed all 10 stages and join an exclusive Cotswold Way Club. So far only Nigel Tillott and Paul Mason have ran all 10 stages (Angie Sadler has ran all 10 stages in one run but that is a different story). With limited training under his belt, Roy completed the stage in mild comfort and easily within the cut-off time to claim his 10th stage prize. With the first weather twist above this stage – it rained! Jane retraced her 2017 steps and was finished in good time to see her club captain arrive at Seven Springs.

Stage No4: From Seven Springs, this is the longest stage on paper, No4 measures 20.4 km, just shy of 13 miles. No4 is also the second of the three ‘harder’ stages. As in previous years, the long and tough stages tend to be tackled by our stronger athletes – enter Andrew Gillett and Tony Foy. Now mid-morning and the mercury starting to rise, having a longer route to tackle means having a longer memory test from recce runs. With the 10 or so climbs from Seven Springs to Cranham, there are some stunning views from the Devil’s Chimney and Birdlip. Both guys finished in good shape and within shouting distance of each other.

Stage No5: Having just four climbs of note, this is another pleasant tour over parts of the Cotswold escarpment. Historically, this is known as the downhill stage as there is considerably moredescendingbefore a lovely canal path finish in Stroud. Starting the 11 miles from Cranham, the route takes in Painswick village centre, Haresfield Beacon and the canal path finish to Ebley Mill. Bill Schindler, who used to live in the area, and our very much ‘man of the moment’ James Gribble – both CWR debutants, were at the starting point. Less than 2 hours later they were in Stroud having completed the stage – feeling “partly broken”.

Stage No6: Starting from (in) the Stroud valley, the runners on No6 have 3 significant climbs to tackle; the first to Selsley Common which sits almost on top of their starting point. With the afternoon heat covering the western edge of the Cotswolds, the tasks were becoming harder. Mike Younger had done some excellent preparation for this stage with some relaxing route training. Clive Sentence, our replacement runner, somehow stays fit with little training and the two were soon sweating up to Selsley and eventually arriving at Dursley in respectable finish times.

Stage No7: The shortest stage along to Wotton-under-Edge starts with a ‘hand-brake start’, the climb up to Stinchcombe hill is relentless. Once the hill is conquered, it’s a fast dash along the escarpment with breath-taking views across the Severn Valley towards the Forest of Dean, a few technical twists and turns and then a final climb before a swift descent down to Wotton. It only ever gets warmer on this stage and our two runners were up against it – Tim Besien and Stuart Holyoak. Tim had a fine run over the 7+ mile route, while Stuart, who had been running less and swimming more, made no secret of the challenge he had. Nonetheless, Stu enjoyed the experience and found himself running stronger than expected.

Stage No8: Often regarded as the toughest stage and with the warmer weather, by far the hardest stage – it is a stage that will destroy runners of any ability. It starts with a lovely one km jog alongside a stream before ascending hands on knees style up onto the Cotswold hills. New member Darrell Pope and Cathy Dudfield started the 12 mile challenge and with a recent practice run completed, they knew what the day had in store. Both survived and found good strength to maintain a good pace right until the scary downhill finish.

Stage No9: Setting off from Old Sodbury, as the crow flies, Bath isn’t that far away but the Cotswold Way is never about the shortest route – it’s a purposely designed path along the Cotswold escarpment put in place in the 1950’s by keen ramblers. Designed in a way to incorporate the splendid views and points of interest. Tewkesbury’s two finest ladies, Lucinda Jones and Carly Merriman were primed and ready for the 15km route. Runners tend to sense how their run will go by 3 mile mark as the route crosses the M4. The heat was stifling and it compromised Lucy’s enjoyment – she still run quickly, as did Carly who has already put her name down for next year.

Stage No10: The final leg – as the routes go, this one has a little of everything from grand parks, air fields, civil war sites and possibly the greatest views. Alec and Elaine Vincent were our No10 runners; Elaine had ran the stage previously in 2019 and Alec was new to racing the route although had certainly trained over it. The route starts by taking the runners down before the comfort zone is forgotten with some daunting drags across fields. In the later stages, in Bath, the course somehow manages to find some climbs that are given a H&S warning in the town’s guidebook! Alec ended the run just ahead of Elaine who clocked a similar time from 4 years ago.

Thanks to all involved – not just for running but also sorting your own transport out and arranging practice runs. To all who spectated and supported both on the day and before. Big thank you to the club for paying the entries – it's not cheap at all and it’s wonderful to have the funding.

The official results will be added later as there are a few corrections to be made. Watch this space.

1 Tonia Whitebeam 02:22:22 2 Noel Green 02:06:59 3 Roy Northcott 01:33:22 4 Anthony Foy 01:52:22 5 James Gribble 01:45:46 6 Mike Younger 01:55:14 7 Stuart Holyoak 01:21:25 8 Cathy Dudfield 02:10:36 9 Carly Merriman 01:23:14 10 Elaine Vincent 01:41:04

1 Adam Twine 01:37:11 2 Nick Matthews 01:59:32 3 Jane Sauer 01:25:42 4 Andrew Gillett 01:48:50 5 Bill Schindler 01:36:45 6 Clive Sentence 01:25:54 7 Tim Besien 01:16:23 8 Darrell Pope 01:49:26 9 Lucy Jones 01:24:35 10 Alec Vincent 01:15:58


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