The Cotswold Way Relay
The full results are in… Tewkesbury’s Madame Gazelles had a grand time of 16 hrs, 27 minutes, 58 seconds. The Kylie Kangaroos were just behind in 17:12:20 – both fabulous times, despite receiving time penalties for missing runners. 100 teams took part and in the ‘Mixed Team’ category of 50 teams, Tewkesbury came 15th and 25th respectively.
As always, it was a well-received event. With COVID-19 affecting so many running races recently, the Cotswold Way Relay was the stand-out event that would be safe. The concept of the relay running is solo and with very minimal contact with anyone. And with the organizers tweaking the potential contact areas and removing the traditional finish in Bath centre, the stage was set for a great day.
The club used WhatsApp to communicate, and the race day excitement was tremendous. Nothing could be done about the rain starting the night before and nothing could dampen the team spirit.
Stage No1: An early alarm call to travel to Chipping Campden isn’t everyone’s morning cup of tea, though in June the countryside awakes early. The first stage runners broke into a 7am rolling start heading along the peaceful high street which led to the first climb of the day into the North Cotswold scenery.
For the Tewkesbury teams, Noel Green and Jon Mansfield left the yellow-stoned Chipping Campden and ran towards their first famous Cotswold landmark in the shape of Dover’s Hill – made famous by the Olympick Games which had taken place there since 1612 (probably not the last 2 years though!). Jon, having run little over the hour mark this year, had planned to maintain a water station in Winchcombe and skip the task of running this year, but with the wave of withdrawals, the rallying cry for runners was too tempting. By the time he got to Broadway Tower, the 18th century folly, he was feeling the effects and it was a case of hanging on to the fragmented runners in the distance.
The runners were denied the great views from the tower as the cloud not only closed out the sun. Noel had previously completed the Cotswold Way walk – a ‘bucket list’ event for anyone who fancies the English countryside – but running is a different game and to his credit, he arrived at the village of Stanway in flying form. Stanway House, the impressive Jacobean manor house, once owned by Tewkesbury Abbey marked the end of the stage. Noel even won his category which set the theme for Tewkesbury.
Just before 9am, the rain started to gently fall.
Stage No2: Taking on the first of the regarded ‘harder’ stages, were CWR specialist Alec Vincent and new-comer Cristian Orea.
Cristian was one of the first to apply for the team this year and it was exciting to see how he would get on over the mixed terrain. Firstly ascending the lung-busting Stanway hill then down past the remains of Hailes Abbey, a trek along Winchcombe high street before turning towards Sudeley Castle. The castle is the resting place of a former Queen, Catherine Parr and although it is hidden by leafy trees, the glorious remains mark the turning point into one of the most demanding longer climbs of the day to Belas Knap. Alec had ran the stage a few years ago, and before his annoying foot niggles that cost him over 2 years of running enjoyment, and it was pleasing to hear that he had ran faster this time than ever before! Cristian worked hard to stay upright with the now slippery conditions but slipped twice. With his calves at full exertion, he was hit by cramp and forced to briefly stop and lose his advantage over Alec. Nonetheless, he found good pace on the deceivingly tough incline run to the finish at Cleeve Common golf course.
Stage No3: The popular shorter stage from Cleeve hill tracing the escarpment above Cheltenham’s Prestbury Park. Paul Mason grabbed the chance the run this stage and by doing so, he claimed the coveted King/Queen of the Cotswolds title – this is another ‘bucket list’ achievement for those who like their terrain testing.
Paul ran better than he had expected and even won his category. The club’s other runner to set-off in the rain was secretary Suzanne Theme; running the rocky terrain past the old Cotswold quarry and the lung-busting climb up from Dowdeswell reservoir. With current form, it was always going to be close as to who would reach Seven Springs first? Suzanne managed to cut 5 minutes off her 2019 stage time, but Paul reached the end first to claim his crown. The category titles were now being collected as quick as the runners were finishing.
Stage No4: 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. And it was here where things first became tough for the club as the two entered runners withdrew at short notice. Thankfully, the help and flexibility from Andy Jarrett and Adam Twine saved the stage.
Adam had already recced Stage 8 but after another late withdrawal, Stage 8 was abandoned, and he was moved to join Andy (who was also being moved from stage to stage!). With great credit, they both took on a stage with no previous knowledge of what was ahead of them. Stage 4 is relentless with ~10 climbs from Seven Springs to Cranham and consequentially descents meaning shuddering discomfort through the torso. Andy had probably enjoyed the stunning views from the Devil’s Chimney, Birdlip and Crickley hill before but not on this occasion with poor weather and a route to navigate - he and Adam pushed on together to keep their times sub 2 hours and live to tell the tale.
Stage No5: Having just three or four climbs of note, 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.
Gary Duxbury and Liz Spires were very much looking forward to it. On paper, this stage offers more descending than climbing but don’t be fooled! In the year when ‘team runners’ were dropping like flies, it was fresh air to have Gary delaying his holiday to support the club. Both Liz and Gary had run the stage previously – Gary in 2016, Liz in 2018. For some, the last half mile along the canal path to Ebley Mill is the most glorious and it was a good experience for Liz as she completed the distance some 5 minutes quicker than previously and easily under the 2-hour mark – and this is off the back of little distance training. Gary finished 5 minutes the other way and with his famous smile although it soon faded as a daunting 4-hour trip was next to challenge him physically and mentally.
Stage No6: Two exciting CWR virgins were lined-up to tackle the 6th stage. Lindy Fouracre and Tim Besien.
Of all the runners entered, Lindy was the most fragile – an injury from a fall off a ladder left her injured and not being able to run, however with rest and TLC she was determined to not let her team mates down and bravely started the stage with her hamstring ‘taped’. Tim was equally prepared and he had had a taste of the route during a recce run. Starting from the Stroud valley, the runners had 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 rolling start leaving 13:00 hrs, the threatening dark clouds were not looking good, and although the course wasn’t particularly muddy due to the weeks of dry weather, the downpours on the day made the soil greasy and grass slippery. The stage took the runners through some glorious miles of wooded cover before the contrasting final few meters trekking the streets of Dursley. Tim was pleased with how he ran – having not run long distances for a while due to long-term calf muscle niggles, he finished way ahead of the time he had predicted. For Lindy, there was always the challenge of making it to Dursley in good shape, and that she did impressively by ensuring all our runners cut the 2-hour mark thus far.
Stage No7: The shortest stage heading towards Wotton-under-Edge starts with a ‘hand-brake start’ up Stinchcombe Hill. Once the hill is conquered, it’s a fast dash along the escarpment with breathtaking 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. Nigel Tillott had not planned to take part in 2021 due to a marathon a few days earlier and the crazy workload involved in organizing the Gloucester 10km race. However, the temptation for Nigel was the chance to claim King of the Cotswolds, just like Paul by running all 10 official stages in different years. He had already completed the other nine so No7 came as a fairly simple piece in the jigsaw.
Crazy enough, Nigel joined Elaine Vincent and started the task of the first hill. Elaine has been keeping her fitness at a good level this year and by the time she started her run, she was charged-up and ready to take advantage of Nigel; his run didn’t go to plan as he, firstly took a fall after stepping on a slippery stone and then his elastic failed on his shorts during the last 3 miles, which left him holding them up.
He did, however, manage to stay ahead of Elaine who followed a valiant 9 minutes later.
Stage No8: Abandoned.
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 A2B route – it is in fact a purposely designed path along the Cotswold escarpment put in place in the 1950’s by keen ramblers. Designed in a way to incorporate splendid views and points of interest. Ironically, this event doesn’t really allow for much time for sightseeing!
For the Tewkesbury teams, CWR veteran Clive Sentence came back into the fold. First joining the teams back in 2009, Clive has a taste for the event and he surprised many with his recurrent fitness by clocking an impressive time. Nick Curd paired Clive, and for Nick, this was a real test of his ability – for many months now, he has been impressing with his road running and indeed was in the form of his life. Having recced the route before, he knew the task but with many hilly runs, exertion levels need to be managed. Like all stages, No9 had all the traits – sticky gates, jumbo stone stiles, sneaky turns, odd road-crossings and No9 even had a motorway crossing. Nick ran the 9.2 miles with little trouble and spending the day catching WhatsApp updates from other runners, he probably felt more troubled waiting for his start time.
Stage No10: The final leg – a stage with a little of everything from grand parks, air fields, civil war sites and possibly the greatest views. The finish down into Bath and to the Abbey itself was cut from the course due to the COVID control measures. But even without the hectic running through the streets, No10 is a stunning and diverse course.
Carly Merriman and Lucinda Jones were handed the stage. Both had been running at their peaks and the exciting thought of the pair blazing a trail to Bath was enthralling.
Having the advantage of a recce the previous month, the pair had their biscuits and geared-up to impress, and that they did! The stage is categorized as ‘easier' but it’s more ‘less hard’ with sections that can make ears pop and some eye-opening descents. Lucy and Carly made sure that the Tewkesbury teams finished on a high with top performances – and in true team spirit, they crossed the finish together.
Thanks to all involved – not just for making the start/finish but also for sorting your own transport out and arranging practice runs. Thank you to the club for paying the entries.
The event is all set for next June so mark your diaries and think about which stage you would like to get lost on!
Official Individual Stage results; -
1. Jon Mansfield 1:36:39, Noel Green 1:58:31
2. Alec Vincent 1:40:22, Cristian Orea 1:41:15
3. Suzanne Tharme 1:25:39, Paul Mason 1:19:26
4. Adan Twine 1:52:48, Andy Jarrett 1:53:43
5. Gary Duxbury 1:44:11, Elizbeth Spiers 1:58:48
6. Tim Besien 1:31:40, Lindy Fouracre 1:42:47
7. Elaine Vincent 1:18:10, Nigel Tillott 1:09:12
8. Penalty 02:45:00, Penalty 02:45:00
9. Clive Sentence 1:19:24, Nick Curd 1:29:33
10. Lucinda Jones 1:14:05, Carly Merriman 1:14:05