The Cotswold Way Relay 2022
Wow, that was another exciting event! We very, very nearly had two full teams of 10 out for the day’s running but for a last-minute Covid withdrawal – with our emergency reserve contracting the dreaded virus a few days earlier, we were down a runner on Stage No9.
Nevertheless, Tewkesbury fielded two teams: Ecto-1 & Mystery Inc.
Stage No1: The 7am start time meant a wake-up around 04:30 hrs, and this year we had two new CWR runners - Nick Matthews (yes, this was Nick's first relay) and Tonia Whitebeam. Tonia was called into the team as a replacement for Suzanne Tharme after she knew her body wouldn’t be straight in time for the start. A real disappointment for Suzanne as she was forced to pull-out a few years ago from the same stage after she wrestled with a bollard. The 12 miles from Chipping Campden to Stanway was set to test Tonia her beyond normal limits – Nick too, as once the course trotted along the high street, it went up onto the hills to take-in lovely morning encounters with the Broadway Tower, Snowshill, Buckland then towards Stanton and Stanway. The finish through rolling fields is wonderful but it took its toll on Nick and left him somewhat battered. Tonia appeared “unscathed” but the way she was walking afterwards looked scathed. Meanwhile the clouds were looking menacing.
Stage No2: Graded as the third toughest stage, No2 is notorious for two demanding long climbs including to the Belas Knap tomb. Russell Steele knew all about the course having run the stage six years previously. Russell was not in his 2015 form but regardless he ran the 19km stage as quick as he could to reach Cleeve Common Golf club. With Tim Besien being taken away the week before also with the virus, it was the turn of Nathan Steele to pass Sudeley Castle enroute to a wet and foggy Cleeve Hill. Nathan wouldn’t have had much opportunity to recce the course, so it was good to hear news that he enjoyed running down the hills, at least.
Stage No3: Favoured by many, the Cleeve Hill to Seven Springs has some epic views across Cheltenham Racecourse and beyond the Severn valley. Sheena Mosley and Sam Robinson set-off due South towards Dowdeswell Reservoir; both girls are new to the relay and although both in good form, knew it would be a challenging terrain, especially being damp. They finished at Seven Springs in great shape despite the rain falling on them over the last mile.
Stage No4; arguably the toughest stage of the Way with a dozen testing climbs, No4 is also the longest. Tactically, the club’s conditioned runners run the longest stages so fittingly Chris Nicolls started from Seven Springs. Jane Sauer was in the Mystery Inc. team and Jane’s as fearless as they come and that gave us two strong athletes for the 20km course. Chris hit a problem 4 miles into the run – well a gate hit him and found himself contemplating a dislocated finger – a gate had been slammed shut and some good Samaritans helped him make a wayside repair - to his hand! With the wet grass from the falling rain, conditions were far from ideal. However, dislocated finger or not, Chris & Jane were always going to procedure selfies and there was several popping on the group's WhatsApp group – all part of the fun.
Stage No5 had two of the clubs best F1 runners, Carly Merriman and Lucy Jones. Both enjoying long spells of consistent good form. Starting near 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 then finding the canal before Ebley Mill. But will the weather continuing to dampen the course, the 11.7 mile stage had much potential for slips and slides. The rain that fell during stage No5 was so heavy, vison became an issue! They finished within seconds of each other in quality times.
Stage No6: 14km towards Dursley and for runners, they could look up and see where they were heading… from the canal bank level up to the top of the Cotswolds via a demanding climb. There are a few stages with climbs right from the start – normally meaning a downhill finish (though the Steele boys would have something to say about that!). Tony Foy and Nick Curd were flying the Tewkesbury colours and it goes without saying, that Nick took the honours for the most impressive array of course pictures. Tony is proving to be one of the club's 2022 form runners by blazing a trail at several local events – his CWR contribution was excellent with both a sterling run and a good logistics.
Stage No7 is the shortest in distance at just over 7 miles but it does boast another 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! Carol Cowley returned to this stage after several years – previously running along it in 2008, 2009, 2010 & 2014. She ran well although was frustrated by the MapRun6 that failed on her. Carol wasn’t the first (or last) runner to be bloodied at the finish after a close-encounter with a prickly bush. With Carol at the start was Clive Sentence – Clive is another CWR veteran and in some years, the CWR is the only place the club will ever see him – needless to say, he likes the off-road jaunts. 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 tends to cook the runners like grilled sausages. Not this year though as wet weather prevailed over South Gloucestershire. Tewkesbury had the enthusiastic Alec and Elaine Vincent primed and ready for the challenge. In fact, Alex was so primed-up, he raced in the county mile championships the evening before - probably detrimental however, when you're in good shape you can make hay while the sun shines. Alas, Alec did find himself a little down on performance (by his expectations) and had a tough afternoon. With months of little rain, followed by a spell of rain, paths become hard and slippy - not the best conditions for race pacing it over bumpy terrain. Elaine had a dissimilar experience, one with enjoyment and was able to transfer her own good form into an excellent finish time.
Stage No9 was a hurdle for the club; with Stuart Holyoak helpless with Covid, Graham Freeman was alone to tackle the moderately tough 15km section from Old Sodbury to Cold Ashton. New to the CWR, he was in at the deep end, however, Graham has completed some mighty courses in the past and it was little surprise that he conquered the course without too much trouble.
Stage No10: The glory stage takes the runners to the event finish in Bath. But after leaving Cold Ashton there are some fearsome inclines and declines to 'master'. The course boasts some awesome scenery and fascinating landmarks - a tasty menu for Lindy Fouracre and Nigel Tillott. Nigel has been carrying a leg niggle for a couple of weeks beforehand and there was little chance of him safely running at his normal race tempo. The course was saturated for their section and poor Nigel had to have his car pushed into the carpark due to the muddy top layer. Running was tricky on the declines, and they were both were challenged mentally and physically as watching steps became more intense than their energy outputs. They finished in lovely sunshine!
There's no question that our 2022 exploits were damaged by covid. Unfortunately, the weather didn't help - no one wants wet shoes and have their feet whizz from under them, but some things can't be helped. Most runners scaled the experience as truly enjoyable. Thank you to TRC for funding the event again - very generous. Finally, well done to all involved - the runners, the helpers, the drivers etc.
The same time, same place next year please – start your recces now!
All TRC results HERE