I took on the Cotswold 100 miler the other week, 21st September. It’s a new race on the Ultra Calendar organised by Kurt Dunsterhoff from Cotswold Running. I’d heard good things about Kurts races from a buddy of mine, Mark (JW ULTRA) Lynock.
I was really looking forward to it after the debacle of my last race (See previous blog), although I very nearly didn’t make the start as my daughter was taken into hospital two days before the race with an infection around the lining of her heart & something called Cardiac Tamponade. At only 21yrs old this absolutely terrified me & I only got 4hrs sleep in the 48hrs before the race. Not exactly the best race prep but it doesn’t matter how old they are, you’re still their dad.
Starting outside the Village Hall in Chipping Camden, it took on the whole of the Cotswolds Way & finished just outside the Abbey in Bath.
However, this being the first race, it wasn’t without its teething problems. The official bus bringing runners from the finish to the start line broke down & delayed the start of the race by 30mins. Kurt took it nicely in his stride & didn’t fluster at all. (Well not outwardly anyway)
At 12:25 we all assembled outside & listened to the last minute directions about the right turn ahead & at 12:30 we were off. Taking it nice & steady to start off with I had a sub24hr finish in mind but within 5mins I had my first little hiccup. I realised that my Ambit wasn’t tracking any distance. Running with a gps doesn’t make you any faster or slower but it just gives me a reassurance about my distance when I need it. Quickly stopping & resetting my watch took about 5mins & by then 99% of the field had ran past me. Once it was working again, off I trotted & slowly made my way back up the pack.
Through to CP1 approximately 12miles on & I already knew it wasn’t going to be my day as I had already gone through all 2lts of my water & had to walk in the last couple of miles so I didn’t get too thirsty. This was to set the scene for the rest of my race. The lack of sleep over the previous couple of days had just caught up with me & I knew this was just going to be a “Grind it out” type of race.
Head down & carrying on, we were all told about a Hornets nest further up the trail by a road crossing near to an Indian Restaurant. On I ran & soon came to the crossing but couldn’t see any hornets nest so ran on through. Soon came across it though but managed to get away with only the one sting on my arm. I’d just passed a runner a little further down the hill so I waited for him & shouted down to avoid the tree the nest was in.
Moving on towards the next CP & I had ran out of water yet again, cue another 2 mile walk…. Into the CP, quenched my thirst & filled up my bladder & off I went again. This was turning more into a route march than a run now & I was just using the opportunity to brush up on my map reading skills. Which brings me onto another point, the amount of runners I saw getting lost or just blindly following others was staggering. Honestly folks, if you’re going to run these races, then learn to read a map. I’m not the Worlds best but give me a map & a compass & I hope I can get myself from point A to point B without getting lost.
On now to the night section & through the Birdlip CP where I met up with a good mate of mine Matt who had been waiting quite a while for me. I had to explain that this was just a bloody route march for me now & although I’d finish, it wasn’t going to be pretty. Again, I had run out of water & was just ridiculously thirsty all the time. I necked about 1lt of fluid at the CP & refilled my Camelbak, I was adding plenty of electrolytes to my bladder as I was certainly going through a lot more fluid than I would normally so I had to make sure my salt levels stayed ok.
I passed the night fairly uneventfully even when the fog came down & so had to rely heavily on my map. This is where all the chaps just following others were going wrong & getting lost. **USE YOUR MAPS**
Into Little Sodbury in the morning & I was starting to have a few concerns about my time. I’ve never been timed out of a race before & have never missed a CP cut-off but heading into the next CP I was getting seriously worried. I did get a lift from a group of other runners who were doing a cross country 10mile race & they certainly cheered me on whenever they saw me. Reaching the CP, I asked the crew to phone Kurt & ask him if I could get an extension on the cut-off for the next CP, I knew I could finish the race but felt that I would be about 10mins past the cut off at the 87mile mark. However Dave “Mitch” Mitchell (The unofficial Cotswold Way record holder) just pulled me aside & said that the cut-offs were running 30mins late because of the late start to the race! Bugger, I forgot about the late start, but I was a lot happier having an “additional” 30minutes to play with.
Leaving the CP with a smile on my face, I was still moving but albeit at a very slow pace now. Tiredness was really hitting me & I was using the old adage of “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other” Reaching Tormarton I couldn’t locate the CP & even knocked on the door of the Village Hall & asked if they knew where it was. Realising I may of missed it I phoned Kurt to tell him that I was still going but moving on towards the next one. He told me that it wasn’t in the village but further on in a layby. Ah, that was my mistake for not listening to the race briefing properly. Another lesson learned. No matter how many races you do, you’re always learning. Picking myself up I asked Kurt to phone them & say I would be there as soon as possible. Running as quickly as I could I made it to the CP with about 5mins to spare before the cut-off. I was seriously struggling & craving a massive caffeine hit to keep me awake. I don’t like to take hot drinks when I’m racing so refused the offer of a cup of coffee but very gladly took up the offer from Mitch to run in the last 15miles or so with me. He told me to run on & that he would catch me up after he got changed. This had two positives, it gave me a lift plus it also gave me a little challenge. I would run as far as I could before he caught me up. Head down & running as fast as I could, it was about 20minutes before Mitch caught up with me so I had covered nearly 2miles & was feeling a lot happier.
Adopting a run/walk Strategy Mitch beasted me in the rest of the way, shouting when we had to run & shouting when we had to walk, I think he was really enjoying himself. He was certainly enjoying it more than I was at that time. Shouting, talking, cajoling & joking about my situation, Mitch was using every trick in the book to keep me moving. I’ve been in his position a few times so I had a wry smile on my face although I think he thought it was a grimace, it probably was if truth be told.
We hit the 2nd to last CP at Cold Ashton & the marshals fair cracked up when they saw who I had running me in. Laughing & giving me a look of sympathy at the same time, they filled up my water & wished me good luck for the remainder of the race. I think they knew what an ear bashing I was in for. Moving on as fast as we could, we were now using a 3min run 1min walk & slowly but surely we were getting there. Run/walking our way along we soon reached the outskirts of Bath & I was struck with the strong smell of chlorine! Seriously, this is all I seemed to smell. Bloody hell I thought, they must have the Worlds biggest swimming pool in this town!
Realising we were cutting it fine I told Mitch that I didn’t want to stop at the last CP & just wanted to push through to the finish. He was fine with this but he ran on ahead as he was going to “Sweep” the final few signs off the course. Looking back & shouting encouragement Mitch led me up the final few hills, who knew Bath was so damned hilly!? Puffing away, I was swearing under my breath at just how hilly the last couple of miles were, but when we hit the Royal Crescent, Mitch assured me that it was all flat from here & that we could walk in if needs be. But I was really feeling the time pressure now & I told Mitch that we had to run it. “Right then” he said, “Let’s go” & off he sprinted, I followed as fast as I could, spurred on by the fact if it wasn’t for the chlorine I could’ve smelt the finish.
Pounding down the streets, Mitch led the way shouting at pedestrians to clear the route, “This man’s just run the Cotswolds Way”. I was grinning like a gibbon & just trying to keep up with him. Through the last few turns & then we ran into the Square with Mitch just ahead. Turning around with a massive smile on his face he fired off his last volley, “He’s here, HE’S HERE!” And with that the entire square started cheering me in, folk eating outside in the restaurants all stood up, clapping & cheering. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end as I ran in waving at everybody & soaking up every single moment. Seconds later I crossed the line, dead last & 8 minutes before cut-off in a time of 29hrs 52minutes.
Shaking Kurts hand, I sat down as he gave me a fantastic wooden medal & told him what a great race he’s got & how sorry I was not to be able to do it justice this time round. I’ll be back next year, hopefully fully rested & raring to go. It’s a phenomenal trail & under Kurts guidance, this race will become a must do for the Ultra community. Put it on your Calendar, it is THAT GOOD!