Path to Bath
Standing in a dusty layby on the A46 with the intense summer sun beating down and surrounded by 117 other runners, it could only be time for the Cotswold way relay once more. Suddenly a van screeches in and out pops the organiser quickly clambering atop the van. Addressing the assembled runners, he covers the safety warnings I have now become very familiar with and I drift back to nine years earlier when I first saw his predecessor and his large mad hatter hat. No Marshalls, look out for your fellow runners, one water station, careful of other way users, good luck.
Before I know it the horn sounds and were underway once more. Heading up the lane and almost immediately I hear shouts of “CAR”. The driver seeing the tsunami of runners, rather than boldly going forward quickly finds reverse. I look to take it easy knowing what is to come later but we are soon in freefall down a step lane, the high banks funnelling the wave of runners forward.
Finally we burst in an open field and I am able to find my own pace as faster runners who were bottled up until now pass trying to make up lost ground. Once at the valley bottom the true test starts as we climb through one field, then another and another, each time “Is this field boundary the top?”, no more climbing and slowly I make up places as others faulter.
We plateau and reach the water station but only 3½ miles in of almost 10. I’m am glad to see bottles not cups are on offer in the searing heat. So with a bottle in hand, water swishing back and forth I push on across the next 4 miles of undulating countryside, golf courses and horse racing tracks.
Entering the suburbs of Bath we cross a playing field giving me an opportunity to throw my remaining now warm water in a bin (remember don’t litter kids) before setting my sights on a group of runners in the distance.
By the first climb in Bath I’m within spitting distance of those in front and it soon becomes apparent none have recce’d the route. After shouting back several runners from making wrong turns I reach the lead of the now splintering group over the top of the final hill. As we pass bewildered tourists in front of the royal crescent only two of the group remain with me, while one is hanging on the other clearly has more pace.
As we round the final corner we are confronted with a split in the pedestrian area and the runner in front goes right, wrong it was left, I shout him back but his hesitation gives me the lead. We are now counting down the metres, I accelerate, a bell rings ahead of us as I slalom through the tourists. Then a voice in the crowd, “finish at Abbeydore”. ???? No “the finish is at the Abbey Door”. So not at the colonnade as I thought.
In the final funnel with a wall of sound either side, the flash of a Japanese tourists camera and the briefest of glimpses of Wye Valley runners amongst the crowd. I’m still ahead. Turning under the colonnade cobbles offer little grip. There’s the Abbey and I sprint like my life depends on it at the lady with the clipboard, finish and then collapse.