Unlocked Ultra Attempt 2 Race Report by Stewart Unsworth

I cannot remember exactly what it was that made me think that I could run 100 miles; it was certainly not before my first ultra (Escape from Meriden in November 2017) and it was not after the ill-fated Cotswold Way Century attempt in September 2018 that remains (hopefully forever) my most embarrassing race attempt at any distance to date. Therefore at some time in between those dates I have got it into my head that my chisel and grind style would be suitable for running extreme distances.

The 80 miles racked up (albeit as a timed-out DNF) in the Grim Reaper ultra in Lincolnshire last year gave that perception more credence and this year I had entered the Ring O Fire multi-day 135 mile race round Anglesey. Sadly the covid pandemic has put that back a year so I am eternally grateful to Mark Cockbain for putting up his ‘Unlocked Ultra’ challenge that enabled me to attempt 100 miles for some tangible reward (a bronze medal if I broke 28 hours).

The 50 mile attempt six weeks earlier turned out to be a good sighter for the 100 mile challenge. I had decided that Cherhill away run route should still be used but with the lane added, primarily to chop out a twelfth lap of the dreaded Calstone Climb but also in my mind was the desire to make the distance something akin to but still marginally harder than the Ring O Fire coastal course. Roughly speaking the days are split into 35, 65 and 33 miles so a 35 / 65 mile split would be noted.

I was slightly more organised this time, arriving at Cherhill 30 minutes earlier than I did for the 50 mile run. At around 9:20am on the August Bank Holiday Saturday I was on the startline and away. The weather was kind; sunny but unlike the July attempt not too hot.

The main issue on my mind in the early miles was how to avoid suffering the severe cramp that kyboshed the previous attempt going over 50 miles. In all honesty, I did not have a clue other than telling myself not to run any mile quicker than 10 minutes and using the lane to cut down the constant ascending and descending that I felt contributed to my downfall. Hence it was a pleasant surprise that the confidently predicted hip flexor, groin and hamstring tweaks failed to materialise in the first half of the race. 35 miles came and went in 8 hours 23 and 50 miles in 12 hours 41. Both were in my target time area so as I moved into the darkness laps things were going as well as I could reasonably expect.

Cherhill was reasonably busy during the day but it was back to its lovely remoteness during the evening and overnight. To that end I had enlisted the help of Carl; Dan; Julia and the Mackies as a messenger contact in case I ran into difficulties. I knew that one or two of them had it in mind to meet me at some stage for heckling purposes; what I did not expect was that they would all come over at some point and run all or part of a lap with me. I was conscious that the ‘Unlocked Ultra’ rules required me to be self supported and that they should not pace me; however I was extremely thankful for the company, particularly in the later laps when I was fading like butter on hot toast.

I have always been reasonably proficient with fuel in a race, never before citing it as a contributor to any deficiency in performance. However, I had never run entirely self-supported over such a long distance before. In hindsight running in a remote location proved to be a major disadvantage in that respect: I could not gain any access to hot food or drink when I needed it in the final quarter of the challenge and required the Mackies to bail me out in that regard.

Pre-race, I had surmised that the last darkness lap would be the most challenging and as long as I made it to sunrise the worst would be over. This was a critical error of judgement. The ninth lap began with sunrise at the opposite side to the course and, as at the Grim Reaper event the previous year, the dawn light prompted hallucination. At the far end of the stony track a massive flag of Northern Ireland (the Ulster Banner) that is used in Olympic events was draped across the course. I have no idea how my subconscious dredges this sort of stuff up but as I got nearer I realised the flag was in fact the same configuration of large puddles that were there for the previous eight laps.

I recollect hallucinations with wry amusement when reporting on them after the event but the reality here was that it was effectively the end of the road in terms of breaking the 28 hours. My strategy in the race was to walk the three large inclines (Morgan’s Hill; Poacher’s Croft and Calstone Climb) and to run or trot at sub-15 minute miles the rest of the loop. 74 miles in, at the top of Poacher’s Croft on the swing round to the Landsdowne monument I instructed my legs to run and the response was minimal. My speed had dropped from 18 minute miles – enough to squeak under the 28 hours – to 25 minutes. I had hit the dreaded wall. My mind became a sea of negativity and as I dropped down onto the lane I decided to extend the trudge on it so when I got back to the car I would be on 81 miles and could give up at my longest ever distance. I relayed a message to the gang saying I had stopped to nothing.

A mile later I had reached Calstone Climb and was marginally more positive in that I had decided I would rest in the car for a time and see if things improved. While I was pondering this strategy over, the Mackies came from the other direction. The fact that they had traipsed back to Cherhill must have pricked my conscience and as we met I had already decided to continue. Dave’s, let us say, choice words of encouragement further embellished that view and after a stoppage for food I was left with two and a bit laps to complete.

Three of the next seven miles were sub-20 minutes but they were ticking ever so slowly. I looked at my watch an inordinate amount of times but that served to frustrate further. For some reason Stuart Henderson’s comment in the previous week that the furthest he had run was 86 miles lodged in my mind and as I crept past that total I was slightly uplifted. At this point any semblance of positivity was gold dust as I had decided some time earlier that everything was falling to pieces. The truth of the matter was that my mind had fallen to pieces but save for a number of blisters on my feet the body was standing up to the task remarkably well, something I observed with frustration in the days immediately after the event.

Sue waiting for Stewart to finish.

I do not remember anything of the final lap at all other than it was dreadfully slow and painful. The Mackies had stuck with me throughout the final 20 miles but they kindly offered to let me run the final couple of miles – a shuttle along the path that did not take in any hills – myself. I recognised a couple from one of the houses on my post round going the other way and shouted hello to them; little did they know I was on my ninety-ninth mile! There were plenty of people on that path, all seemingly there to get in the way but I eventually neared the final stretch where the Mackies were there shouting ‘Sprint Finish!’ I said ‘OK’ and did! Legs not so tired after all! The last 25 miles had taken nearly 10 hours to complete and I crossed the line (right next to the car) in just under 30 hours and 37 minutes; thus the final 65 miles had taken over 22 hours. Not ideal given I have only 18 hours to complete the second day of the Ring O Fire but at least I can rest overnight in that event.

Stewart on his final trek down the path to the start/finish car park.

A couple of weeks later I marshalled one of Mark’s events (the White Horse 100) and was lucky enough to meet and thank him. I confessed (much to his amusement) that I was operating a ‘me versus him’ strategy and for each mile that I noticed was under 16 minutes I was saying to myself ‘one to me there Cockbain…’ but unfortunately although I was just ahead on points at mile 75 he then landed the knockout blow.

There is a lot of room for improvement, not least in the fueling and mindset over the last 20 miles but I can now say that I have managed to run (walk/ shuffle / stagger) 100 miles. After all, it apparently counts so long as it is on Strava.

Unlocked Ultra Attempt 1 Race Report by Stewart Unsworth

Event: Unlocked Ultra (Target of 50 miles in 12 hours or less)
Date: 20th July 2020
Result: DNF – Missed Cut-Off

It is fair to say that the last 15 months have not been my finest running period. Back injury, plantar fasciitis and hip flexor issues had me on the treatment table more often than out on the trails or road but thanks to Jane Clarke for firstly sorting the back and then (along with Andrew Wood) for putting up strength and conditioning exercises on the club Facebook page I began to string together some weeks without being injured. Indeed, after a 22 mile practice run I felt confident enough to have a go at the ‘Unlocked Ultra’.

The Unlocked Ultra is the brainchild of Mark Cockbain, a race director that thrives on setting exceptionally challenging ultra events. The Tunnel Ultra (yes the 200 mile one in Bath, forward and backward, forward and backward) would be his best known one in this area. I was casually flicking through his Facebook events page (memo to self – think twice before doing this again) where I noticed he had set two challenges during the lockdown period.

One was the ‘Accumulator’ where you simply start from the 1st of the month running one mile, two on the second and so on up to 30 or 31 miles on the 30th or 31st depending on the month you choose to run in. I was not keen on the challenge the back end of a month would pose so chose the Unlocked Ultra. The format is similar to the Escape from Meriden race that Dan and I attempted in 2017, the further you run, the higher the reward; you get a ‘wood’ medal for running 50 miles in 12 hours; ‘bronze’ for 100 in 28; ‘silver’ for 150 in 48; ‘gold’ for 200 in 60 and ‘legend’ for 300 in 120. Silver upwards are for the Damian Halls of this world but despite my weekly mileage being relatively low I fancied the 50 in 12 hours with an option to up it to 100 if I was feeling strong enough.

The rules were simple: you picked your own route and had to be self-supported. Many competitors chose their house as a base; I decided that the temptation would be too great after 30 or 40 miles to turn on the TV or find something else more relaxing. A dull flat route around the lanes was feasible but in the end I plumped for Cherhill, my favourite local route. Yes it has three stiff climbs per lap but I knew it like the back of my hand and I could organise laps where I could reach the checkpoint (my car parked in the Smallgrain Plantation car park) relatively frequently.

The days leading up to the attempt I was feeling a little nervous; I treated that positively as it indicated I cared about the outcome and would not give up at the first hint of trouble. Come the day, I took a little long getting all the gear and food loaded up and was only ready to start at 9:50am. This meant I had no wiggle room with darkness for the first part of the challenge.

I ran the first lap with no pack, reasoning it was an unnecessary burden for what would be an 8.25 mile loop. I decided to use the lane at Calstone Wellington for the early loops, calculating that the horrible Calstone climb only needed to be done six times for the 50 miles. Other than unnecessary dithering at the car the first few laps were uneventful; I noted with satisfaction that my time through 22 miles was identical to my practice run and I was set fair.

Bitter experience taught me that the first marathon or so is basically a warm up where you can get the miles on the board and things could quickly unravel at any stage thereafter. The first issue was that after the fourth lap, I realised that I did not bring enough water to fuel me for 100 miles. Therefore the 50 miles in 12 hours would now have to be the main goal and any miles achieved after that would be a bonus.

A bit like cricket, I use a ‘run rate’ method to continuously calculate what my speed is and what I need to do to meet the cut-off / target. When the required rate creeps up above 4 miles an hour (15 min/miles) it is a concern; above 5 (12 min/miles) and it is a serious issue. By running the downhill / flat sections as best I could I was keeping in touch – but eventually the equation was 7 miles left in an hour and 20 minutes. At this point I was in the first field leading down to the church and realised that the only hope I had was to ditch the Calstone Climb and accept a fate of doing a shuttle run along the lane for the best part of 6 miles. My tired mind was just coming to terms with the forthcoming tedium when my legs cut a swathe through the plan by completely seizing up, presumably with severe cramp. Reduced to a 2.5 mile an hour walk, the task was hopeless. Dan had promised to run the last part with me but unfortunately for him he had turned up at just the wrong time.

Stewart navigates a stile!

I decided to shelf the lane running and do a last short lap so the 50 miles would be completed just as I was back at my car so I need not run any further. Foolishly I did not bother collecting my headtorch for the short lap and although Dan was trying his best to keep my spirits up I was tired, frustrated, tottering round in darkness and just wanted to be back home. I did eventually complete the 50 miles in a shade over 13 hours.

So what next? The answer to me seems obvious; I am not quite fit enough to complete 50 miles in 12 hours round Cherhill so 100 miles in 28 hours is the revised aim. Or more realistically 100 miles in however long it takes. The lap has been revised so the lane is fully utilised and is now an 8.75 mile loop. I will be (hopefully!) six weeks fitter. The weather might be slightly cooler. I will bring enough water. I have now had a sighter and on August 29th (Bank Holiday Saturday) barring injury, the 100 mile attempt will be made.

Editor: To find out how Stewart got on for his second attempt, the report for that will be released at Midday on Thursday.

Four Fans Fell Race by David Mackie

With a decent weather forecast, easing restrictions and a socially distanced format, the 2020 edition of the Four Fans Fell Race provided a welcome reason to head over the River Severn to the Brecon Beacons with Andrew Wood.

Event start/finish was on the hillside opposite the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre, the very popular launch point for wannabe ascensionists of the highest summit in the Brecons, Pen y Fan. Even before 9am parking was at a premium. On the plus side, the Storey Arms burger van was open and provided an “old school” pre-race feeding opportunity.

Always a “no bells; no whistles” event with a small number of entrants, the 2020 Four Fans was even more austere than usual. No marshals and just a sign-in process before hitting start on the MapRunF application (An app that uses SmartPhones for timing and route checkpoints, avoiding the need to put marshals out on the course) and heading in the opposite direction to the Pen Y Fan hordes.

Our first checkpoint was Fan Number 1, Fan Frynych, and the route initially followed a reasonable path that formed part of the Brecons Way. Navigation was not therefore a challenge in the morning hill cloud that was at least keeping the sun off. The temperature was, however,already ominously high, as was the humidity…

After a gentle uphill introduction on a well marked path, the more direct racing line to the first Fan required a bit of map and compass work but we picked up the “runners’ trod” without too much difficulty. The short out and back excursion to reach the summit trig point (A triangulation station, also known as a trigonometrical point, is a fixed reference point, often on hill and mountain summits, used in the past for map surveying. Typically marked by a four sided concrete pillar.) / checkpoint was duly reached without drama and in good fettle at this early stage. There was still a good way to go though.

As we headed further West the ground started to get a little rougher and the sun started to make its presence felt, burning off the morning cloud. The leg to the next checkpoint was a decent stretch which was enlivened by a brief but close sight of a family of mewing Peregrine Falcons.

With the cloud dispersing navigation became easier and brought the second Fan and checkpoint, Fan Nedd, into sight. A direct line to it provided some tussocky entertainment and colorful language but delivered us efficiently to the foot of the all too obvious climb to the summit. At these points I have found it is better to focus on the ground directly in front and establish a sustainable uphill rhythm; the summit, like Christmas, always eventually comes and provides delight.

The Summit of Fan Nedd (Fan 2) with Fan Frynych (Fan 1) in the Distance

Delight in this instance was the close proximity of the third Fan of the jaunt, Fan Llia; just a mile away. The mile unfortunately involved just under a 1000ft of down followed by the same up; it was time to disengage the brain and crack on. Apparently there is a runnable line off Fan Nedd. It eluded us however. We instead enjoyed some impressive tussocks that required some “high-stepping” action and robust vernacular to overcome. The lovely stream crossing at the bottom of the valley provided welcome and cooling refreshment ahead of the long climb to gain the height lost; such is the way of fell racing.

Looking back from Fan Number 3, Fan Llia, to Fan Number 2, Fan Nedd

The summit of Fan Llia, and the third checkpoint was hard won. Expansive views of the Brecon’s Wild West were the reward. It also provided a route choice to the fourth and final Fan, Fan Fawr. The first and most direct option provided another steep, rough down and up, while the second offered a more runnable traversing line with less height loss. Having had our fill of down and up we elected for variety and took the second option. With the midday sun now beating down it certainly seemed a better choice with multiple stream crossings at the head of the valley providing opportunity to cool off. The subsequent uphill to Fawr’s summit provided a final morale tester ahead of a mercifully short but leg testing swoop back down to the route’s starting point at the Storey Arms.

Almost at Journey’s End; Fan 4, Fan Fawr, Summit

There we collapsed gratefully on the grass and reflected on a cracking couple of hours tackling the Four Fans with nothing more to worry about other than the simplicity of getting round some points on the ground as swiftly and efficiently as possible in one piece. That achieved we withdrew for much needed refreshment after another tough but hugely satisfying and rewarding outing across the Severn Bridge.

PS. It was a time trial race and we were delighted to have bimbled round without getting lost and just avoiding the “relegation zone” end of the results table.

Dave Mackie and Andrew Wood

Phoenix P24 Report by Jo Motto

During lockdown I did a few virtual events, mainly because I liked the medals and thought they would be a good memento of a rather weird year. With no competition however I struggled to show any speed at all and so looked for other challenges to keep me motivated. I ran for 65 days on the trot and did 100 miles in a month, which was a lot for me, although I appreciate that some people do this distance in an event!! Then I saw the details of the Phoenix P24, The Longest Day – all you had to do was run 1 mile every hour on the hour for 24 hours, simple! It was apparently the first event of its kind ever run in the UK so always interested in doing something new I signed up, joined the Facebook group and started counting down the days until June 20. It surprised me how many people did sign up and the amount of runners who weren’t based in the UK. Regardless of where you resided however you had to run your first mile at 8am (UK time) and then every hour on the hour until 7am on 21 June.

I decided on 1.1 miles every hour so that would give me a marathon distance and was handy as the loop that I decided to run, during the hours of daylight, was exactly 1.1 miles. A video was posted on the FB group page of an American guy who had done something similar and he suggested having a list of 20 minute jobs, ie all those little things that you keep meaning to do but never get round to, to do during the downtime in between runs. He did actually make a garden table in between his runs but my carpentry skills aren’t up to that standard! I duly made a list of about a dozen jobs to do to keep me busy – one of the items was to make a shepherd’s pie and boy was I glad of this one the following day!

Fuelling was a big concern because although I was only running 1.1 miles it was going to be a long day and also I was planning on no sleep until I’d done! Regardless of how far I run I struggle with eating beforehand so knew I had to go for the little and often approach to avoid nausea but had to eat enough so I didn’t feel sick through lack of food! Therefore I stacked my ‘aid station’ with chocolate, squashies, crisps, more squashies (best post-run food ever!!), some cake and haribo. I was ready! The only other bit of prep I did was to set alarms for 5 minutes to the hour every hour just in case I got distracted and decided to make a garden table or fell asleep!

So the morning of the longest day arrived I dragged myself out of bed early so I could shove some toast down me, listened to the race brief on FB live and off I went on my first run. The weather was great for running and lap 1 was over before I knew I’d left the house! On about the 4th lap I saw one of my neighbours who thought she was seeing things as thought she’d seen me running a few hours ago. I quickly explained what I was doing and her response was ‘WTF?’

For the first 6/7 runs it was just a case of wait till the top of the hour, press the Garmin, run, home, next item on my to-do list, wait for the alarm to go off and repeat!

The race director had suggested several themes for a few runs to alleviate the boredom – 2pm was a family run, 8pm beer run, midnight fancy dress. Now my kids have both left home so my husband, who I have never seen run in 20 years of knowing him, took it upon himself to accompany me for the 2pm run. With all due respect he did make it without stopping but don’t think it will become a regular thing as he declared he would be sticking to fishing in the future and leave me to do the running.

7pm was the halfway point and this lap was run to Bon Jovi on repeat:

Woah, we’re half way there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, livin’ on a prayer

I admit that I joined in very loudly with Jon’s dulcet tones which must have been a joy to anyone who was out walking at the same time but hey ho I was halfway there. From the FB group there were people all round the world doing exactly the same!

I had my chestlight ready for the darker hours and a route – basically back and forth outside my house. I live in a hamlet with no street lights so my lap was ok during the hours of light but creepy as hell in the pitch black. So 10pm was the last proper run I did and then 11pm saw me don my lights and off I went – now at this point everything was stiffening up; the distance I was running wasn’t very far however the stop/start nature of the challenge was playing havoc with my tired, old body!! I had also overestimated the distance from my house to the pull in at the end of the road and trying to run and see the time (without my reading glasses!) was difficult!

My husband went to bed and left me to it after my 11pm run so it was just me, the dogs and Netflix until the following morning. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk so much tea during the night before – I was struggling to stay awake and to find something decent to watch on the TV, the time before each run seemed to be getting longer and longer as well!

It started raining in the early hours of the morning and I can assure you that putting cold waterproofs back on is not a pleasant experience. I did discover that my elderly neighbours have pink flamingos and other weird stuff in their garden which they illuminate at night – unfortunately because of the rain and tiredness I didn’t take any photos. I also discovered that the pull in at the end of the road is used by canoodling couples and at 3am I’m not sure who was the most surprised when I ran past them – they perhaps thought I was some kind of pervert with my lights….

At 4am I could see dawn approaching from the east and I knew the end was nigh – only 3 more to go! The support on the FB group throughout the night was excellent with virtual marshals encouraging us and I don’t think I would’ve completed without them.

I can only loosely describe my last 3 outings as runs – everything was stiff and achy and I must have looked like a geriatric running. I just wanted to sleep. 7.11am and I was done – time for breakfast which tasted fantastic as all I’d really eaten was sugar for the previous 24 hours. Then it was time for bed.

After a few hours sleep I got up, did some washing and came to appreciate how many shorts/t-shirts/pairs of socks/sports bras I actually possessed and had worn during the duration of the challenge. I’d worn the same trainers throughout though even when they were soaking wet – it’s not like I’ve only got 1 pair so I can only blame it on sleep deprivation.

By midday I was absolutely ravenous and was so grateful for the shepherd’s pie I made. I uploaded my results on to the internet and I was done – time to kick back and wait for the medal to arrive. I have included a photo of Bruno, one of my Rottweilers, wearing the medal as he is a significantly more photogenic than me and did run about 100 yards with me!

I really enjoyed the challenge and have to admit to those 24 hours being one of my most productive in a long time. There’s another P24 scheduled for October when the clocks change again but I might only do the 12 hour one then!

If you want to watch the American guy’s video of his 24 hour challenge you can find it at YouTube Link

Since P24 I’ve also done their M25 Vultra which was running the equivalent of the M25 – 117 miles and you could pick the length of time you wanted to complete in, from 1 day to 30, (needless to say I picked the 30 day option and it took me 24) and the 7 in 7 which was any distance you wanted but you had to run for 7 days on the trot!

I’ve also done the ‘Run 8K with a mate’ charity run for the Samaritans – this was with my daughter Nats and as she’d been the last person I’d run with on the day that lockdown was announced it was fitting that she was the first person I went out with again!

Running has kept me sane this year and it’s been nice to get back to some club sessions over the last few weeks – really need some effort/tempo sessions now though before I lose any speed that I might once have possessed.

Weekly Review – Week Ending 30th August

It’s another week over, lots of miles, lots of runs, lots of club sessions with many members in attendance. We also seemed to have many club members climbing Snowdon during the week (The Hibles, the Morrells and the Zaleks)

There is an actual race this week as Steve Watts did the DBMax Castle Combe Beer & Wine Day 10K. He missed out on a sub-50 by just 4 seconds. Fantastic run Steve.

Regular readers may remember that 5 weeks ago Stewart Unsworth attempted to run 100 miles in one go, doing laps around Cherhill, he stopped at 50 miles and started training for a second attempt.

This weekend was that attempt. He had some support from the Mackies and I visited him too. He was in fine spirits and moving well. He definitely beat his previous attempt but if you want to find out whether or not he got to 100 miles, you’ll have to wait for the report he promised me.

And finally – During lockdown, I have attempted to keep the weekly review going. At the start we had lots of online activities and many people were still doing their miles. Then we had virtual races and we started to get back to club sessions.

However, it has been more and more difficult to find things to go into the weekly review so until things get back to some semblance of normal, I’m going to move to monthly reviews, on the last Monday of each month.

Please continue to let me know of the races and activities you’re up to in the meantime, either by email or posting it on Facebook.

Weekly Review – Week Ending 23rd August

We’re deep into the summer holidays, there are still no races on the calendar and the virtual races seem to be disappearing too.
We’ve still managed to achieve nearly 1,500 miles and club sessions are soon expanding to groups of 8 people which is a positive step.
One advantage of the summer holidays is the opportunity to get out to new running routes. We’ve seen our members running in Wales, the Lake District and on the South West Coast Path this week.

Weekly Review – Week Ending 16th August

The summer holidays are in full swing as the miles are marginally lower than they have been, although I didn’t notice any virtual or actual races this week.

Club meetings have now resumed sessions which is great to see as some form of normality returns. If you’re booked onto a session and can no longer make it, please ensure that you cancel your place.

With it being holidays though, we’ve got some people on tour, running in new and interesting locations. It’s always good to see the sights.

Weekly Review – Week Ending 9th August

We have had a race! This is not a drill, we’ve had a race (of sorts). We had 2 racers and I’m sure if I gave you 3 guesses you’d probably get the 2, David Mackie and Andrew Wood.

The race was the Four Fans Fell Time Trial. The organisers used an app to time when people start and hit the four checkpoints, one on each of the Four Fans – Fan Frynych, Fan Nedd, Fan Llia, Fan Fawr. It was a hot day for both of our competitors, especially as it was 11 miles of up and down, 3,900ft, but David did enjoy the opportunity to dip his feet in the streams.

One of the benefits of summer running with CRC is our away run programme and we had our first one this week as 2 groups ran from Monkton Farleigh. The 10 spaces were booked up very quickly and they had a fantastic evening for it.

The whole club is enjoying the sunshine as we did 1,617 miles this week.

Running (Hiking) the Cotswold Way North Solo

On the 5th of June, I received an email from Kurt at Cotswold Running to announce that the Cotswold Way Century was cancelled. Having volunteered in the odd numbered years and run it 3 times previously in the even numbered years, this was going to be my last time running it and I’d already decided that if it got cancelled, I would not go back for 2021 and would continue to volunteer every year from now on.

Having run it 3 times previously, as well as doing all 10 legs of the Cotswold Way (including numerous recces) and once I ran it over 3 days, I had run the southwards route at least 5 times and some sections would be in double figures. However, when I looked at my northward journey, I calculated that I’d only run about half of it and apart from the 19 miles nearest Bath, it had only been once on each section and over 5 years ago.

So when I messaged Kurt to let him know that I was not requesting a transfer to 2021, I also mentioned that I had a plan to run north solo. I still had one race (of 130 miles) left in my calendar so said that if it got postponed that I’d do my north journey this year, otherwise I’d wait until next summer. Within 24 hours, I had picked the date of Saturday 4th July.

I had a DNF at the Century in 2018, due mainly to rubbish kit not being good enough as it rained solidly for 21 hours. So for numerous reasons I picked a summer date instead of waiting.

  • I’d have 8 weeks to recover for my race
  • Even if it rained, it shouldn’t be as cold as the end of September
  • The night would be short as it was only 2 weeks after the solstice
  • And Tammy was off work that weekend, so I was free and would be able to get picked up at the end

As I was going solo, the biggest concern was being able to get water. Unlike some other trails, there is only one tap on route. I was looking at shops and there was a shop at 19 and 40 miles, but then no other shops until 84 miles. Luckily Max Luff lives in Gloucestershire now so I asked if she minded meeting me at around 62 miles with water. Kurt (who lives at the North End) also offered to meet me and bring some water (and a bacon sandwich) so I was sorted.

I had kept my attempt pretty quiet but the day before I shared a tracker link to a few people I felt would be interested, one of them (Robin Lewis) said he would meet me at the start and join me for the first few miles.

So on the morning of 4th July I had breakfast, got myself sorted, packed my bag with masses of food and water, the route on my watch (in case it’s completely different running north), a first aid kit, my phone loaded with a lot of podcasts, a power pack and cables, and a proper waterproof jacket so I wouldn’t get nearly hypothermic this time.

I caught a bus towards the start at Bath Abbey and set off with Robin at 8:19, planning to keep going until I reached Chipping Campden 102 miles later. Robin had run 45 miles, 3 days previously, so I was hoping that he’d keep me from setting off too quickly. No such luck as the first mile was my fastest and the only one under 10 minutes.

Robin joined me for the first 7 miles and left me at the Gloucestershire border. I would now be on my own for around 50 miles and 13 hours until meeting Max at Painswick Beacon.

You’ll be pleased to know that I won’t be doing a mile by mile breakdown, just highlighting a few things. A couple of miles after leaving Robin, I was bitten just behind my right knee by a dog, this was about 5 seconds after the owner had told me she was friendly.

One advantage of starting early and going the opposite way to usual is that I got to see some views that I usually miss when doing the century as they coincide with the night. In the space of about 3 miles after Stroud there are two parts of the Cotswold Way route which do an out and back just for the view and it was nice to actually be able to see it.

There are 2 places where the route splits in two, I decided that I would do the reverse of the Cotswold Way Century. There is the frankly evil 3 mile loop along the edge of Stinchcombe Hill Golf Course above Dursley in the dark when there is a perfectly functional 1/4 mile alternative route. And the other one is the slightly shorter route through Stroud which avoids Ebley Mill and the canal.

It was great to see Max when I got to Painswick, especially as she’d brought the banana I’d requested. I did not eat nearly enough on my journey and chewing anything was difficult so it was great to have something easy to get my teeth into.

Unfortunately for Max, who was joining me for a few miles, I was suffering from large blisters on my feet, caused by the wet, dewy fields early on. And combining that with not enough long runs and not enough hills in training, as well as self preservation through woods in the dark (didn’t want to trip over roots), my run had long since become a hike, albeit a speedy hike for the most part.

It was great to have company for a couple of hours even if we did misnavigate to the top of Cooper’s Hill (you know, the cheese rolling one), one of only 2 navigation difficulties, neither of which were major or added any time or distance.

Oftentimes, people doing long distances and going into the night will experience hallucinations, a stick on the ground will slither like a snake, branches in the distance will look like a person. I didn’t suffer with anything like that but I did have one brain freeze when walking along a road and everything suddenly went dark. I was going past a very large house at the time and assumed they’d turned their lights off. It took me about 5 seconds to realise that my headtorch batteries had died. It was supposed to last 10 hours on full beam, I got about 4 hours out of it. Luckily I am conscientious and had a backup headtorch.

Not long after the sun rose on the second morning, I was going across Cleeve Common Golf Course, which at 1,040 feet has the highest point on the Cotswold Way, providing beautiful views all around.

At just around 24 hours, I was coming down a rocky path (tough on the blisters) from Belas Knap Long Barrow towards Winchcombe when I saw Kurt waiting for me. He had a bacon roll and a cup of tea for me. They were both fantastic. Kurt also met me again another 2 miles on with another cup of tea. And with 12 miles left to go, I saw him walking with his family and he told me he’d left some fruit salad in syrup for me, behind his car. Kurt was a real Godsend.

I’ve often said that the Cotswold Way looks harder going north than south (and not just because you’re heading away from home) and I was being proved correct. From looking at an elevation profile, there are 4 hills on the route which climb around 200 metres in very short forward distance. One was after 40 miles, the other 3 were the last 3 hills.

For the last climb, up to Broadway Tower, I had been joined by David ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, friend of Kurt and the only known person to have gone there and back on the Cotswold Way in a single go (just over 50 hours). I had joined him from Tormarton to Bath and back to Tormarton again on his run, so it was a great pleasure to have him with me for my last 6 miles.

The tower at Broadway never comes, it’s a long slog, the tower is hidden and it’s relentless. As we finally neared the top, Kurt joined us too. The nice thing about finally reaching Broadway Tower, is that you then basically have 5 miles of flat and a downhill to finish.

Kurt went off to wait at the finish, where Tammy and the kids would also be waiting for me and I walked along with Mitch. He had cycled to Broadway and was wheeling his bike along, so with half mile to go, he cycled off to let them know I was coming and allow me to finish solo.

I was hobbling down a rocky path, but then it turned into glorious paved roads. I knew I had to take a right before I met with Chipping Campden High Street and nearly took one too early, but just resisted.

Having navigated the correct right and then left onto the High Street, it was a small straight line to the stone that marked the start/end of the Cotswold Way. As I got to the last building, I thought it was time to start running again and at least finish as I started.

After 31 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds I stopped and laid down on the stone and that was it, I had gone north on the Cotswold Way powered only by my feet and I never have to do it again!

Along with Mitch, we may be the only two people who’ve completed both ways of the Cotswold Way in single goes, although Mitch was much quicker and did them both together. Indeed, his north run was quicker than mine when he’d already gone south.

From a psychological perspective, I find it fascinating. I was weak mentally as I could have run much more than I did, especially once the sun rose on the second day. But I was also mentally strong, because I was happy to just keep moving forward and never had any dark moments. I kept my pace up at all times.

It took a little while to recover and I still have remnants of the blisters now after 5 weeks. I couldn’t even stay awake that evening, so the celebratory bottle of red had to wait until the day after. While I could have gone faster, I had a lovely hike along the Cotswold Way and enjoyed myself.

I’d like to thank Kurt, Max, Robin and Mitch for meeting me along the way for company and to provide me water and tea. Also like to thank the supporters following me on the tracker. And obviously I’d like to thank Tammy, Oscar and Bonnie for supporting me in doing these things and picking me up at the end.

Weekly Review – Week Ending 2nd August

Week 4 of Return to Running has passed so we’ll be starting to have training sessions included, but don’t worry, there are still plenty of opportunities to have a regular run too.

This week we managed 1,667 miles. I did my notice that some people are managing a huge number of runs each week. Vicky and Stuart Henderson each averaged at least 2 runs a day. Laura Midwinter and Chris Hunt were into double figures.

Due to the Garmin outage our miles I published last Monday were not reflective of what we did and I’d been hoping we’d do over 2,000 miles for only the second time. Well Garmin is fixed (and Damian postdd his run) so I looked at the numbers from last week and pleased to report that we managed 2,079 miles, a record for CRC.