Cotswold Way Birthday Trip

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For my birthday I wanted to get in a bit of an adventure. Here it is/my week in training with 12 weeks to go until the Boston Marathon… (Majority of photo credits to Alan Li.)

Monday I did an hour of restorative yoga. Tuesday and Sunday were rest days. In between I spent 4 days celebrating my 29th birthday running the Cotswold Way.

It’s a select group of people you can text saying “Have you got any annual leave to take at the end of January and do you fancy going on an adventure?” 4 guys replied pretty unquestioningly with a yes. So 5 of us were set to run the whole length of the Cotswold Way originally over 5 days, with another 2 planning to join us just for the Saturday. Numbers gradually depleted over the next couple of months, and 5 days became 4. We made it to the startline in Chipping Campden as a 3.

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Day 1:

The route starts with an ascent of Hoo Hill, thick mud, starting as we meant to go on. We then passed through Broadway, Stanton, Stanway, Hailes, and Winchcombe, where after 18 miles, we were another man down and 3 became 2. At this point, jackets and headtorches had to come out. After our 3rd huge climb of the day, we stopped at The Rising Sun pub on Cleeve Common for a pint of Diet Coke and two call a taxi, no longer fancying the 4+ mile descent off the trail and through Cheltenham town centre to our accommodation. Our taxi dropped us off at the train station, and we knew it was nearby. So plugged our destination into googlemaps and off we went. A little hacked off at having to walk almost a mile from where the taxi dropped us off, we were close to a sense of humour failure when the code to the front door wouldn’t work and our room number didn’t even exist once we’d access to the building. Turns out there’s two Gloucester Road Serviced Appartments, and the one we wanted was just out of the station and turn left, not out of the station and trek a long way to the right….

Total mileage for the day = 24.5, with well over 3300 ft / 1000 metres of ascent. The discrepancy between mine and Alan’s watches was about 500 ft despite running together and with the same brand of watch!

No lunch break today, but we shared my Chia Charge bar and Luke’s winegums. Dinner was a stodge-fest 3 course affair from TGI Fridays.

Day 2: MY BIRTHDAY

Despite not going to sleep til gone midnight, I was awake around 6:30. We had a leisurely start to the day and saw Luke off to his train home at 8:30, getting out at 9:00. Started with a little jaunt around Tesco (Alan left his watch running inside while I paused mine, which must explain the 0.3 mile discrepancy between our distances!) to pick up breakfast. We headed to Cheltenham town centre, and then up the brutal Harp Hill and Aggs Hill to join the Cotswold Way Trail after 4.5 miles, and around 1.5 miles South of where we’d left it the previous day.

The ground was crunchy underfoot, preferable to slippy or indeed grippy mud which sticks to your shoes and acts as an additional weight work out for the legs. Around 10 miles along the trail, after passing by Dowdeswell Resevoir and over Leckhampton Hill, we stopped for tea and toasties at Crickley Hill Country Park Cafe.

Emerging an hour later, we were high up, exposed, battered by wind, and really cold. We shuffled down the hill to some tree cover, then crossed a busy road and followed the A417 up for a while before heading off towards Birdlip. It wasn’t long before we were leaving the trail again to get to our hotel for night 2: The Mercure Bowden Hall.

Total mileage for the day = 22, with something like 3000 ft / 900 metres of ascent.

Having planned to go out for curry, seeing  a couple of places around a 1 mile walk again, we had a shower and a rest, then started looking at the next day’s route; had a little panic realising “30 miles” could be more like 37, and chose instead to order Indian takeaway and icecream in to the hotel to maximise our recovery time. Pretty wild birthday celebrations eh!

Day 3:

We decided not to back track from the hotel and go the 2 miles back up the road to where we’d left the trail, instead heading south and meeting the trail a little way down (I think skipping about 3 miles and a climb). We joined near Painswick Beacon and Catbrain Quarry. As it was to be a long day, we planned to stop twice for half an hour each. At King’s Stanley, there are two options to take, along the canal or straight through town. We decided to go straight through town (I say town, actually very small village) so that we could take our first stop there around 14 miles in. I had a hot chocolate and a slice of carrot cake for the second day on the trot, and Alan had a bacon bap.

After lunch, we had a 7 mile leg to Dursley, then  two options of either 4.8 or 7.3 miles to Wotton-Under-Edge, and finally 7.4 miles to Hawkesbury Upton, though I’d noted from Wotton to Hawkesbury along the road would save 3.5 miles should it get too cold/dark/late. Only a few miles in, I felt miserable. I was completely full of a cold, coughing my guts up, litres of snot pouring out of my nose and quite dead, having had a sore throat since Monday and earache since Tuesday night. Whenever I get ill, I go deaf and find it just the most frustrating disorienting thing. On quite technical trails, needing to concentrate, I was struggling and was worried I’d make a mistake. I’d also realised I’d tipped over from “beneficial winter base mileage” to being potentially detrimental, sabotaging my Boston goals. I also felt bad, holding Alan back, and was feeling stressed about not being able to keep up. I decided I would stop at Wotton and get a taxi, but kept that thought to myself for a while thinking Alan would push me to keep going. But soon he realised I was slowing and struggling and suggested I stop at Dursley. I’d started singing things like “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more if you paid me loads and loads of money” then “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more to be the man who had no feet because they’d worn away….but looking on the bright side, at least it would reduce me BMI”. Also when I stopped for the 84th time to remove a stone from my right shoe and couldn’t get the shoe back on, Alan told me to take my time and stay calm. I shouted “I AM CALM!” and stamped the stone into the ground so it couldn’t follow me and sneak back into my shoe again; that was probably a clue it was time to call it a day.

I called a taxi (£27.70!!) and Alan carried on, planning the shorter 4.8 mile option for the penultimate leg, so 12.2 miles to go. I got to our hotel for the night, The Fox Inn in Hawkesbury Upton, ran a bath with all of the bubbles, cranked up the radiators and warmed up with a cup of peppermint tea. A good while later Alan sent me his map location and he was at Wotton. I sent back “only 7 miles to go…or less than 3.5 if you take the road!” He opted for road, skipping the last bit of trail. Turns out he’d missed the turn for the 4.8 mile option at Stinchcombe and done the full 7.3 miles. By now it was dark and raining and he too had had enough.

Total mileage for the day = 22, with another 1000 metres of ascent. Alan’s watch read just over 34 miles and 2000 metres of ascent (though his GPS did look a bit bonkers when he was stationary in the pub I got my taxi from, adding a good mile or so by my reckoning).

We ate at The Fox Inn’s, Flavours of Italy restaurant and went all out, sharing calamari to start, then I had duck risotto and Alan a king prawn spaghetti dish, with a pizza between us, and finishing up with lemon curd tart for me and tiramisu for him. I also sampled a glass of the homemade Montepulciano which was excellent.

Day 4:

The home straight. A full English breakfast saw us on our way, and from Hawkesbury Upton, we headed up to Horton Fort, which I believe is where we got our first glimpse of the Severn Bridge, then descended through Horton and Old Sodbury, to Tomarton and past Dyrham Park where we saw deer to add to our animal count, now including horses, donkeys, sheep, cows, bulls, squirrels, cats, dogs, and pheasants (Alan maintains he saw a fox and a bright yellow bird on day 1 but neither me nor Luke did, so if I’m not allowed to count the owls and cockerels we heard but didn’t see, there’s no fox).

We wanted to stop around this point for lunch and following the Cotswold Way down on google maps, we should have come close to The Bull pub in Hinton, but it turned out to be a mile off the trail, and I wasn’t keen on adding 2 extra miles. So I followed the route down a bit further and found another pub, The Crown less than 2 miles ahead. But it didn’t appear. Perhaps the trail on googlemaps is an old version, as we know it has evolved over the years. Instead, we grabbed hot chocolates from the Shell garage, and Alan got another bacon bap.

We were looking forward to the last 10 miles, having been told the “last 10 miles down into Bath are glorious”. Turns out I’d misread and added in the ‘down’. It wasn’t all down and we had a few more climbs across slippery muddy fields, and even nearing the very end in Weston and Bath itself. This was where Alan’s sense of humour failure moment occurred, as his chafing got too much, and I had to sing cheering songs such as ‘I like big butts and I can not lie’ and a traditional Welsh number. We travelled through Bath, via the Botanical Gardens and the Royal Crescent, finishing at the Abbey and the commemorative stone listing the villages we’d passed through on our journey.

Mileage for the day = 24.5 with just under 1000 metres of elevation.

We changed and refuelled in Wetherspoons. Alan had a burger and his 3rd bacon fix of the day / 5th of the trip, and I had a burrito. Then we parted ways, racing home, Alan on the train to London, and me in my dad’s car to Aylesbury. (He won).

Summary:

Total mileage for the trip: 93 miles. (105 for Alan). The Cotswold Way is supposed to be 103 and we did about 7 off the trail to and from hotels, so I skipped about 17 miles of the 103. However, 1.5 was Cleeve Hill where I’ve run many times, and around 7 were part of my Cotswold Way Relay leg, leaving only a few I haven’t covered.

Total elevation: Approx 4000 metres / 13,000 feet of ascent.

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Exercise Calories burned: Approx 11-12,000. Plus base ~ 17,000 over 4 days.

Calories consumed: Approx 14,000.

Kit:

Bag: Ultimate Direction 20L Fastpack.

Clothes: Wearing compression tights, a long sleeved too, a tshirt, underwear, and Injinji socks, I packed the same outfit 3 times over. Each night after washing, I put on the next day’s clean kit for eating and sleeping. On the 2nd night, as I pulled on my clean brand new compression tights before dinner, they split up the back, sort of necessitating dinner in the room! I had to wash my tights from that day in the sink and dry them on the radiator to rewear the next day. I also took an extra warm long sleeved top, which I only wore once for dinner on night 1; a rainproof jacket for running; and a spare for the evenings, which again I only wore for dinner the first night; 2 buffs; 2 pairs of gloves (only used one); a hat (didn’t use); and a clean dry pair of trainers for the evenings (lightweight racing flats). I ran in Inov8 trail shoes.

Other:

5 snacks for the trail – I ate a chia charge bar on the first and last day, didn’t touch the sweets, and scoffed the two protein bars on evening 3 before dinner in the hotel.

A tennis ball and a theraband for massage/stretching – didn’t use.

Petzl headtorch, foil blanket, KTape, medical tape, elasticated adhesive bandage, compeeds, scissors, savlon, knife, painkillers, reusable handwarmer.

Mini shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, moisturiser, comb, face wipes, toilet paper, concealer, and lip balm.

Laminated route card, printed itinerary and hotel reservations.

Phone, charging cable, Suunto Ambit 3 sport watch and charging cable, selfie stick and portable charger, money.

Cost: 3 nights hotel (2 with breakfast) came to £100 per person, but all originally booked for 4 people, so that meant we were a little more restricted/couldn’t use Air BnB as readily as if we’d known we would be 2/paid over the odds for a family room when switched from 2 twins due to already paying non-refundable deposits etc. Plus food, drink, and taxis.

Overall, tougher than I’d expected. I underestimated the hills, mud, the psychological impact of short daylight hours making me panic about finishing before dark, and the physical impact of having recently had a month off running. The terrain was far more difficult than the Marathon Des Sables, and while we didn’t have to contend with heat, sand, sleeping on the floor under a big black sheet, freeze-dried nutrition, awful toilets, and a 56 mile long stage; we had hills galore, mud, cold, a sprinkling of rain, and our bags didn’t get lighter as the week wore on as instead of food getting eaten, we were carrying clothes which got heavier with sweat/mud.

However, it’s definitely something I’d do again, and quite fancy trying all the national trails. But first, back to focusing on Boston.

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