Welcome to my blog after quite a while! Almost 2 months have passed since my last entry (http://wolnybiegacz.pl/en/kacr-2017-race-report/). In a nutshell, in August I was recovering from Kennet & Avon Canal Race. The 145 miles left their mark on my body and mind and, aside from an occasional trot I properly resumed my running in September. My aim was to do a reasonable mileage and condition myself for the upcoming race Cotswold Way Century. In September I even recced a couple of stretches of the race route in order to familiarise myself with some tricky bits. One week before the race I felt fit, strong enough and ready for the race.
Cotswold Way Century is a 102-mile race in the lovely Cotswolds. It follows a designated National Trail Cotswold Way. The race starts in Chipping Campden, from where, with many steep ascents and descents, it winds along the Cotswold escarpment, finishing in Bath.
There’s a 30-hour limit to finish the race, with some internal cut-offs. It’s quite realistic to finish it under 24 hours. I had targeted 27 hours, which I assumed is a reasonable time for me, considering my state of preparation.
On Saturday, September 23rd I left home in the morning and before 10:30 arrived at the race HQ. I had my kit checked, prepared my drop bags (to be accessed at miles 27, 47 and 80) and my finish line bag.
Just before 12 o’clock I walked to the centre of Chipping Campden, from where the race starts. A few minutes after 12, 106 competitors set off for a long run!
Part 1: Saturday
I started relatively slowly, conscious that this was a 13-mile stretch to the first checkpoint. Moreover, it was quite warm, so I was extra careful not to get dehydrated.
After the first ascent there was a long, flat bit, where the runners were able to spread apart while falling to each one’s respective pace. Once I reached the view point by Broadway Tower, I could then enjoy a long, pleasant downhill to the picturesque town Broadway.
Having run through Broadway, the trail climbed up again. And that’s how it went on throughout the whole race pretty much: up and down, up and down. A lot of beautiful vistas, plenty of greenery so overall beautiful scenery. I reached the first CP in decent shape, drinking a lot along the way and regularly gorging myself on gels and bars.
The second stretch was the longest: 14 miles. However, the reward at the end of it was access to my first drop bag of goodies.
My best memory of this stretch is the crossing of Cleeve Common where I was offered fantastic views of the area. Just before the hill, a fellow runner Thane Hall chatted up to me and for quite some time we continued together. It turned out that Thane runs his own running podcast called Runners on Trail (available on iTunes). He actually recorder some of our ramblings with the intention of publishing them in the 2nd episode of the podcast. It was an enjoyable conversation we had, due to common interests such as orienteering, or, of course, ultramarathons.
Chatting the distance away we eventually reached the 2nd CP. It took me 5 hours and 52 minutes to cover the 27 miles from the start. I sat for a while at the CP, changed my T-shirt to a long sleeved one, refilled my supplies and ate some bits and bobs. I also prepared my head torch, as it was obvious that I’ll reach the next CP after sunset.
I left the CP ahead of Thane, but at the end of a long, gradual descent he caught up with me and we continued together. After a series of ascents and descents we reached Leckhampton Hill where Thane fell back. It got dark enough there, so I installed the head torch on my forehead and started the night part of the race.
Part 2: Night
While at Leckhampton Hill I felt fairly positive, because there started the 25 or so miles that I had recced before. So, on the navigational front I felt confident. Past Leckhampton Hill Thane and a bunch of other runners overtook me as I was struggling on an uphill. I caught up with them though soon thereafter before Crickley Hill Country Park and we continued together until the checkpoint at Birdlip at mile 38.5.
After a bit of rest, food and drink, I swiftly moved on. It was very nice to meet Keith Godden there, considering that 2 months before I received from him the medal for finishing the Kennet & Avon Canal Race. Keith was manning the CP rather than running the race. He asked me if I’m up for some 145-mile racing along canals in 2018… No decision on that point yet ?.
I was familiar with the stretch to Painswick, so I confidently followed the Cotswold Way. Confidently, but not very fast, as my legs felt tired. Some 2 miles from Birdlip, Thane and the guys swiftly overtook me and left me behind.
Ascent up Coopers Hill was a huge struggle and I lost my will to live there. I felt so exhausted at the top, that I was unable to take advantage of the subsequent downhill, where a few weeks ago I had so vigorously sprinted down. Focusing only on the next CP I shuffled like a zombie. I lost a few minutes at Painswick golf course where I took a wrong turn and a few runners overtook me. This was very frustrating. Eventually I reached Painswick and having jogged through the town I luckily reached the 47.5-mile CP after 11 hours and 18 minutes from the start. That was almost half of the distance in less than 12 hours’ time, so I was actually pleased with it and felt confident that my 27-hour target is doable.
I spent about 15 minutes there to gain some Energy, eat, and rest. I accessed my 2nd drop bag and stuffed my running vest with goodies. Some hot food and a cup of coffee re-energised me a bit, but still, I wasn’t looking forward to the next, 11-mile-long stretch.
Soon after the checkpoint I caught up some guys and with Thane who got a bit lost and for the next few miles we continued together in a group of 5 guys. After a series of viewpoints, a nice downhill followed. I took a caffeine gel which gave me a nice boost and I set quite a hard pace. Having recced some tricky bits before really helped me and I could barrel down confidently. The guys were in sight for some time but soon they fell back and it was the last time I saw them.
Continuing at a good pace I crossed the Stroudwater Navigation canal and soon thereafter climbed up the hills again. 2 miles later I checked in at the Coaley Peak CP. On the plus side, I was in a power mode and I was glad to have put 58.5 miles behind me. The downside was that this was the extent of my recce, so I head terra incognita ahead of me. In spite of, what I considered a strong pace, the 11 miles took me as much as 3 hours and 12 minutes!
Fuelled by hot noodles I continued. A bit of a flat land, followed by a steep downhill, followed by a painfully steep ascent up Cam Long Down and then descent to Dursley. After Dursley a slog back up and a funny, frustrating bit around the Stinchcombe golf course. Frustrating, because 2.5 miles could have easily been shortened to 300 or so metres. But rules are rules, if one has to follow the trail, one follows the trail.
Another landmark along the way was the William Tyndale Monument, standing atop yet another hill. When I passed it, it was still dark, but I was aware that sunrise was almost upon me. Indeed, soon thereafter, when I ran down to Wootton-under-Edge, where the next CP was, it was light enough that I no longer needed my torch. It took me 18 hours and 31 minutes to cover 70.5 miles. This meant ‘only’ 31.5 miles left. I had 8.5 hours for that if I wanted to stick to my self-imposed limit of 27 hours.
Part 3: Sunday
After a short break at Wootton I left towards the next CP, but going was very slow. My legs felt heavy and I had no will for running. On the upside, I was glad that my feet were in prime shape with no evident blisters or chafing. That made me force myself to run at least short bits at a time. My memories from this 9.5-mile-long stretch are blurred; I just remember that each mile was dragging on and I seemed to cover the ground painfully slow. I jogged n flats and easy downhills, otherwise pretty much marched. The whole stretch to Horton took me 2 hours and 33 minutes, resulting in roughly 10 mins/km pace. That was faster than on the 2 previous stretches, so not too bad!
During my short stopover in Horton I took advantage of my 3rd drop bag and took onboard supplies for the last 22 miles. There were only 7 miles until the next CP in Tormarton. Moreover, mentally it was an important milestone due to crossing of the M4 motorway which in my mind signified the proximity of Bath. I covered these 7 miles at roughly the same pace as the previous stretch. Cannot report anything from this stretch, apart from putting one feet in front of the other and regularly analysing the map to monitor how close the CP I was.
There were just 5 miles from Tormarton to Cold Ashton, but this stretch dragged on and my pace decreased to 12 mins/km. From Cold Ashton just 10 miles remained until the finish line, out of which 7.5 until the next CP in Weston. The stretch to Weston was tough and it felt like to cover each mile took an eternity. My legs were heavy: I would slowly lumber uphill and had hardly any energy to run or jog downhill or on flat ground. Nevertheless, I did reach Weston after 27 hours and 24 minutes from the start. My 27-hour target was obviously overshot, but I decided I will push hard on the last 2.5 miles to finish under 28 hours.
Uplifted by a rush of adrenaline, or endorphins (whatever), I ran hard through Weston, swiftly conquered the final climb and then ran hard down to Bath. I passed the Royal Crescent, the Circus and continued to push hard towards the Bath Abbey. At one point however, I panicked at one intersection. Have I just overshot the Abbey? Nooooo!!! After a moment of reflection, I fortunately realised that there were two intersections more. Indeed, the end was around the corner and I crossed the finish line in 27 hours and 57 minutes. I needed 33 minutes for the last 2.5 miles, so not too bad.
I was the 41st runner at the finish line. Out of 106 starters, 62 people eventually crossed the finish line; out of them 15 people under the 24-hour mark. The winner set a new course record of 17 hours and 34 minutes. What an amazing feat!
My Garmin Forerunner recorded a total distance of 166.5 km (104 miles), 11,910 calories and a moving time of 26 hours and 33 minutes. This meant as much as 84 minutes spent at checkpoints. Plenty of time wasted one could say, but I’d argue, that for the level of my fitness and preparation, completely necessary and justified.
While writing these words a week after the race I feel quite well. I had serious muscle soreness for 3 days after the race. My feet survived really well: I didn’t get any blisters at the balls of my feet (which is often my major hindrance). I had 3 insignificant blisters on my toes only.
I finished and ticked off the race, so job done. I am however not very pleased with my performance, because I know I was slow and that I could have finished the race much sooner, if I had had proper training and preparation. Because of a very intensive year, packed with too many races, I missed out to be in top shape. Lesson learned: in the future go for fewer races, but prepare better for them.
I’d like to finish with a positive note. Cotswold Way Century follows a spectacularly beautiful trail and offers a multitude of pretty sights. Not many roads, not much mud, lots of forested areas and well-equipped checkpoints make it a wonderful experience. As it’s also tough because of many hills to climb and descent along the way, it’s a viable candidate for one’s main race of the season.
All the best,