IMG_0989_72dpiUsually on a Sunday, Tom is out and about on one of our scheduled guided day trips of the Cotswolds from Stratford-upon-Avon. However, on Sunday 13th September we took the rare decision to cancel a tour, as we had the opportunity to see the Cotswolds from a very different perspective!

Extreme Energy is a company specialising in organising multi-stage ultra-marathons, and when our good friend Chris said he’d signed up to take part in one of their events – a two-day, 57-mile ‘Cotswolds Way Challenge‘ run along part of the Cotswolds Way national trail, we thought he was bonkers. Then he casually dropped into conversation, “So, do you fancy joining me?”

Although my knee-jerk reaction to this was, “You cannot be serious?!” after a while I started to think, “why not!?” I’m a bit of a sucker for a fitness challenge, and this would be my biggest challenge yet! Tom and I both decided to enter just the second day of the two-day event (it takes a lot to get Tom to give up his Saturday cricket!), but at 31 miles this still qualifies as an ‘ultra-marathon’ distance.

Photo © Amy Wagner

At the start! Photo © Amy Wagner

In the weeks leading up to the event, I was really nervous. Although I’m a regular runner, I’ve never run further than a half marathon (13.1 miles) before, and all my running is usually done on nice smooth tarmac roads, not uneven, muddy, rocky, off-road public foot paths. But the day before the Cotswolds Way Challenge I happened to read a blog post in which the author described her first ultra marathon as “a 50k buffet with a bit of jogging in between”, which put a rather more positive spin on it! So, on the day, despite the early start – the alarm went off at 5.20am for a quick bowl of porridge I wasn’t hungry for – I was a ball of excited energy, which didn’t leave me all day!

We arrived in the village of Bishop’s Cleeve just before 6.30am and met up with Chris and his girlfriend Amy, who had also signed up for Day 2, at the start point. After pinning on our race numbers and grabbing a quick final drink, it was soon time for the briefing, and then, at 7am, the start! Chris waved us off at the start line – he went in the hardcore group starting an hour later.

20150913_155243And then we were off! Leaving the sports centre, we followed a short bit of road before turning onto the Cotswolds Way footpath, which we followed all the way until a few miles before the end – here’s the route we took (blue line). It’s all a bit of a blur in my mind a bit now, but the route was absolutely stunning with breathtaking views, lovely forest trails and a mixture of terrains to keep it interesting. It was incredibly hilly, but you don’t get to see amazing views like the one in the photo without a bit of a hill climb!

On the way we passed beautiful viewpoints, through the pretty village of Painswick, and even hiked up the side of the very steep and infamous Cooper’s Hill, where the annual Gloucestershire cheese rolling event takes place – you can learn more about this and some of the other crazy Cotswolds sports if you come on one of our tours!

I didn’t manage to run the whole way (it was far too hilly, and it probably would have been stupid to try!), but I did run as much of it as I could, and was pleased with how much I managed. I finished the course, which ended in the little town of Stroud, in a time of 8 hours 45 minutes and 26 seconds, which I didn’t think was too bad at all really! Tom, who had sprained his ankle playing football a couple of weeks before, walked the whole way, but he’s a pretty fast walker so only finished about half an hour after me.

What really made the event special was the support of all the other runners/walkers and the organisers. Everyone was so friendly, welcoming and encouraging – it was like being part of a crazy little family. The helpers at each of the four checkpoints clapped and cheered as you arrived, topped up your water bottles for you, provided plenty of food and drink to keep you going (it really was a 50km buffet!), and sent you off with a cheer (and in some cases a hug!) towards the next phase. Likewise, all the other runners were happy and smiley, congratulated you and wished you well for the rest of the run, and bemused members of the public were great too. It was absolutely brilliant. The most amazing thing is I literally enjoyed every single minute of the event. There just wasn’t a time when I ever thought “I’m not enjoying this” or “I can’t do this”! Isn’t it amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it?! I must admit my legs were rather painful for a few days afterwards though!

The dates for next year’s Extreme Energy Cotswolds Way Challenge haven’t been confirmed yet, but if you fancy trying it, why not sign up to receive Extreme Energy’s newsletter (scroll to the bottom of the website), or like their Facebook page? Other companies also organise similar runs and walks, in fact tomorrow (26th September 2015) sees the start of an even more hardcore event, the Cotswolds Way Century – this time going the entire 102-mile length of the Cotswolds Way between Chipping Campden and Bath with a cut-off time of 30 hours! There’s also the 100 Mile Run Cotswolds Way Challenge, the PLOD Cotswolds Way Midnight Trek, and others. The Cotswolds Way national trail is well signposted, so even if you’re not an endurance athlete, I highly recommend walking even a little bit of it!

Here are a few more photos from our day…