Cotswold Way Relay
24th June 2017
The Cotswold Way Relay is a team event, along (unsurprisingly) the length of the Cotswold Way. This stretches from Chipping Camden to Bath, twisting and turning its way through Gloucestershire, with a generous portion of lumps and bumps on the way. For the relay event it is split into ten stages, varying in distance between 12 and 20k, and in elevation between 240 and 520 metres of ascent.
Teams are set off from each stage start at staggered times (no, it’s not a direct relay, in which a baton is passed on!) – 7am from Chipping Camden and 5.20pm for the final leg into Bath – and the accumulated time from all ten legs provides the team result. There is contingency for runners; a designated time for non-finishers is in place, as is a cut-off time (to allow the timing team to jump from one leg to another) to add to the tally.
It’s essentially a point-to-point trail race that provides more than just the running challenge. There is the logistics behind getting team members to and from each leg and runners should be familiar with the route: there is no marshalling en-route, and no specific markers. You are reliant on your own knowledge (and the Cotswold Way signs). With this in mind, all club entrants are encouraged to recce their specific legs ahead of the race.
Almost Athletes recently entered ten teams and managed all 100 finishers: a remarkable achievement, thanks largely to the organisational skills of Dave Chittock. Dave has compiled teams (including the allocation of our club speedsters to the male and female Vets teams), organised entries, assigned leg captains (to take care of recces and on-the-day logistics) and, most importantly, conjured up some great team names.
Logistics, however, have made it necessary for the organisers of the event to limit clubs to five teams; leg start / finish venues being limited for parking. In line with several races that become subscribed very quickly, it’s wise to put your name into the hat early if you wish to take part, and hope that you are allocated your leg preference.
Leg preference may simply be determined according to convenience but, for many who have taken part before, there is the incentive of accumulating all ten legs and being crowned King of the Cotswolds. Before I recap my specific leg this year, I’ll list them all: Chipping Camden – Stanway House – Cleeve Hill – Seven Springs – Cranham Corner – Ebley Mill – Dursley – Wooton-under-Edge – Old Sodbury – Cold Ashton – Bath.
Having previously ran from Stanway, Cranham, Ebley and Wooton, I was allocated the leg from Seven Springs. This is the longest of legs and, with a quite generous amount of ascent (including a climb up the side of Cooper’s Hill, the venue for cheese rolling), rated as one of the harder of the legs… not that any may be considered easy!
My schedule and a small injury meant that I was unable to recce the route with the others on my leg and, when I recce’d alone, I was walking (and, somehow, I still came close to missing the biggest and most visually obvious climb on the route). Logistics on the day were very kindly provided by Duncan’s wife; not only did she drive us to the start but also picked us up at the finish, at Cranham Corner.
We arrived at Seven Springs in good time for the 10.30am start and adopted a Charlie’s Angels style pose (though, with Karen as the only female Almost there, it was more Angel’s Charlies) for the pre-race picture. Numbers allocated and pinned, plus encouraging words from Graham, we took on the race briefing before being counted down to the off.
It was another hot day so, as far as I was concerned, the sooner we negotiated Leckhampton and Crickley Hill and reached the shade of the woods at Birdlip the better. Having said that I did set off conservatively, knowing that the serious business, climb-wise, would come in the latter part of the leg.
We ascended on to the top of Leckhampton Hill and skirted our way around it in the direction of Ullenwood. James was there to give us a cheer on our way. As we climbed the road to descend to Ullenwood I caught up with Karen. Thinking that she would run at roughly my pace I settled in beside her. In this manner we made our way towards Crickley Hill.
Passing through the wooded section prior to the visitor’s centre we found more vocal support in the form of Rich. Water was available at the visitor’s centre and I took on a quick splash, knowing that it would be a while before we found any sustained shade. We crossed the highest point there and had to remind one or two runners that we needed to go all the way to the corner and double back (I’m sure some must have cut this portion out!).
Heading out of the country park we caught a lucky break crossing the main road by the Air Balloon and made our way up towards Barrow Wake. As we passed through we converged with one or two other runners who had clearly used another route – had we, or they, taken the wrong path?
Leaving that behind, we followed the edge of a field and made our way into woodland – this would be our shade for a good few miles! We descended across Birdlip Road and made a left turn at the bottom for what would be a long jog through Witcombe Woods, including a longish climb.
Well past the halfway point, plus said climb overcome, and I was feeling in reasonable shape. Karen was looking good as well (largely due to a very elegant running style that I can only dream of!). We pushed on, knowing that the biggest challenge was looming… Coopers Hill.
In good time we reached the bottom of that hill and had no need to communicate to each other that this one would be taken at a walk. Maybe it was psychological but I was rather suddenly feeling a lot less ‘good.’ Walking this with fresh legs is a challenge in itself, let alone heaving increasingly tired legs up that particular incline.
We made it to the top and, as we set off at a run again, I felt that the walk had actually left me feeling a bit refreshed. Unfortunately that feeling did not last very long and even before we reached the final climb I was getting tired. At a walk, again, I scaled this. At the top we came across a rather confused-looking runner and pointed him in the correct direction.
We descended to Cranham Corner and crossed the Stroud Road. All that was left was a half-mile dash behind the Royal William. It was on a slight gradient but quite enough for me. I persevered on and, with both Karen and relief, made my way to the finish. It was done! I was done…
We managed to compete the route in just under two hours; not fantastic but pleasing enough for me. Mike had completed it a good ten-to-fifteen minutes ahead of us and both Duncan and Doug came in less than ten minutes behind – all of us within what I thought was a not-so-generous cut-off time of 2 hours 12 minutes.
Another leg completed, putting me halfway towards the full house. More significantly, another great and scenic run.