By Megan James
THE XNRG COTSWOLD WAY CHALLENGE MULTISTAGE ULTRA
2016 57 miles | 2 days | 2750 meters ascent | 24th-25th September 2016, Chipping Campden, Gloucester.
XNRG’s Cotswold Way Challenge is a multistage ultra, open to runner and walkers. The event at 57 miles is tough with over 2750 meters of ascent over the two days, and it accepts entries for single days (both days are ultras in their own right) as well as the full two-day package. I had entered the two-day option and I arrived early on the first day feeling more than a little under prepared.
Having pushed back my mileage in the last year to marathon distance, this would be my longest distance of the year and also my first official multi-day event in about two years. I was banking on time spent in the mountains to make the hills I’d heard so much, more of a ‘friendlier environment’ than the elevation chart depicted! I was not alone.
As a UTMB point qualifier, the race attracts your seasoned ultra-runners, but with its all-inclusive philosophy, is equally a great race for those looking to try out ultras for the first time. Sitting sipping more cups of tea than was perhaps prudent for the running challenge ahead, I comforted myself by chatting to other like-minded runners. ‘Its my first ultra’, one man told me, ‘I’ve only run 14 miles before today’, said another taking part in the one day option with his wife who was in the walkers group.
Day One Ultra
I stood at the start line, nervously chatting to a fellow Newent club runner (and multi-day novice) and before I knew it, we were off. A little excited, I spent the next two miles caught up with the inevitable ‘runner fast pack’ moving at a speed that was unusual for my 4ft 11 stature - a bit of an ambitious start! I soon dropped back into a steady run to enjoy the rest of the day in a relaxed and really friendly group of runners, sharing our experiences on the way.
Now, this was fun, until the first hill, that is... This was a theme set to continue to make this XNRG event a challenge even for a seasoned runner. Despite the hills, the route for day one stayed mostly on very well tracked and dry footpaths, open fields, common land and one of the largest (And windiest!) golf courses I have ever seen. Broadway Tower really captures the imagination, standing proud on the top of the ridgeway, with the exceptional views from the renowned Cleeve hill for a backdrop. With four rather large hills, walking was definitely essential, but the views from the top were stunning in the September sunshine and to me - made it all worthwhile.
Day Two Ultra
I woke on day two, understandably tired, but spurred on by the encouragement and enthusiasm of the XNRG team and other runners. After the initial first hill back up to the top of the escarpment, the course really came into its own; beautiful undulating ridgelines, soft woodland tracks that were kind on the feet and amazing views across the Severn Valley and over to the Malvern Hills from the trig points over towards Stroud. Although the rumored mud did rear its ugly head, it did not stick around for long (Phew!). The route was beautiful, showcasing some of what for me is the best of English countryside and quintessential Cotswold villages. Combined with the newfound company of second ranking lady from the first day, Sarah Booker, the miles quickly fell away.
Like all XNRG races, always incredibly organized and well supported, The Cotswold Way Ultra was no exception. Every checkpoint had a welcome smile and a great choice of real snacks to refuel (anyone who feeds me peanut butter sandwiches is a friend for life!). Everyone was welcomed, no one left behind. The team and its volunteers do an amazing job and look after everyone so well.
The social experience goes well past just running or walking, there is a real community atmosphere with many entrants coming back for more across their whole race series. The chance to meet, be inspired by, and share ideas with like-minded runners and walkers is really a defining feature of any of these events and one of the reasons I keep coming back for more.
A massive well done to everyone that completed the event, I hope to see you at a race again soon!
Other events in the XNRG series can be found here.