The Cotswold Ultra is an event put on by Ultrarunning Ltd and is part of the Thames Path Challenge which involves 4 ultra-marathon events over 4 days covering the full length of the Thames Path from the source in Kemble to the Thames Barrier in London (184 miles in total).

As part of my build up to Spartathlon I had decided to do a couple of long ‘back to back’ runs and as this was reasonably local to me I entered the first two days only (Day 2 report Oxford Ultra can be found here). Each of the events could be entered individually and there was a separate ‘Thames Path Challenge’ award for those people who did all four days. I did toy with the idea of running all four days but I felt that Days 3 & 4 would end up a bit of a slog and offer no training benefit to me. In addition by running the events on Thursday and Friday, I could enjoy a rare weekend off running afterwards!

Ready to go at the start

With thanks to Adrian Lee for transporting me to the start (and subsequently offering morale support at each of the Checkpoints), we arrived at Kemble Station for the start of the event where I collected my number. It was a small field with about 20 people taking part, half of which had planned to tackle all 4 days.

We took a short walk to the start and following a short race briefing where we were instructed to take a left along the path  further ahead and run to the stone marker at the source of the Thames before doubling back and heading along the Thames Path to make sure we had run from the source.

Moments later we were off with the lead runner missing the turn to the stone marker, followed by the next person and the next person and the next person (myself included) until most of the field had missed the turn off the Thames to the stone marker until someone bravely stepped up and mentioned “Shouldn’t we have turned off back there?” and then everyone ran the 50 yards back and we were on our way properly. Nothing like a little navigation error early on to focus the mind.

I had decided to take my eTrex 20 (handheld GPX device) for the race and after that start I made sure I carried this in hand for the first section where you are following footpaths for the first part of the event with the river Thames non-existent at the start before becoming a stream a few miles ahead.

The runners spread out over the first few miles and with a small number of competitors I was running by myself for the first section as we covered footpaths, trails and headed through Cotswold Water Park until we arrived at Checkpoint 1 about 8.5 miles into the race at Ashton Keynes. With a small number of runners, the Checkpoint arrangements were fairly low key with a number of marshals operating out of cars to allow them to follow the runners along the route and keeping the setup/close of Checkpoints to a minimum. I paused briefly at the first Checkpoint to adjust one of the gel toe caps I was wearing to protect (my precious) little toe before running on.

Foot check.. pass

The weather was perfect for running as continued on. A few miles later I caught up with the leader who then ran on ahead as I paused to adjust the toe cap which had slipped off my foot and decided to tape this in place which seemed to resolve the issue. The second section of the route heads through Cricklade onto a pub at Castle Eaton. This leg passed without incident as I passed through CP2 at 18 miles.

Arriving at CP2 at the Red Lion Pub

I was still running reasonably well as I set off passing Lechlade and seeing the footpaths through fields now turning to paths next to the River Thames which had started to form. There was one section here where the actual National Trail has recently been changed to run along the river rather than following some roads but this was really well marked and signposted.

I was running in second place with the leader (Rob) slightly ahead but as I arrived at Checkpoint 3 at 30 miles I was told I had been the first to arrive. Unbeknownst to me, Rob had taken a ‘little’ detour somewhere and was now trailing behind me.

Pictured at CP3

Now being in the lead, I made a bit of an effort to maintain a reasonable pace on this leg not knowing how far behind me the next runner was as we continued along the Thames passing a few locks at Radcot, Rushey Lock and Shifford Lock until I arrived at the next Checkpoint at a pub new Newbridge at 40-41 miles.

The weather was quite warm at this point and with a bit of exertion with the running, I was starting to build up a bit of a sweat.

I arrived at the final Checkpoint before the finish where I received news of Robs detour which was actually several miles in total and with no other runners near me then I was in the very comfortable lead position with a large gap.. nice!

As I was contemplating a nice jog for the final 4 miles to the finish the Race Director Steve mentioned I was currently way under the course record time (which admittedly was probably a very soft target as I hadn’t run the race that hard) but that was enough motivation for me to put in some effort for the last few miles.

I saw out the final few miles until I spotted the distinctive orange landrover of the RD parked at the the Ferryman Pub in Bablock Hythe and ran the final few yards to the finish. I had completed the 44.5 mile route in 6 hrs 49 minutes and finished in 1st place but I should point out that there wasn’t a large field of competitors on the day and my personal effort was good but not a great by any means. However, I did lower the previous course record by just under an hour but there is still plenty of opportunity for any decent ultra-runner to take off a further sizeable chunk of time.

Final sprint to the finish

Thanks to Steve and his volunteers for hosting the event and well done to the other competitors and thank you to Adrian for the morale support during the race (and a lift home).

Pictured with the RD Steve

With a mid-afternoon finish, this allowed me plenty of time to get back home, shower, change and relax in the evening before part 2 (The Oxford Ultra – see the next report) the next day. I must admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the second day knowing my legs would potentially be a little tired and maybe sore but that was the challenge I had set myself to run two long back to back days.