Thornbury Running Club entered 3 teams of 10 runners in the 27th edition of the Cotswold Way Relay on Saturday 29th June. 2 mixed teams of men and women, called ‘Hawthorn’ and ‘Quickthorn’, and 1 team of male veterans over 40 years old called ‘Thorn in the Side’ were in a field of 103 teams. The first stage started at 07:00 in Chipping Camden, and then on the hour every hour, a separate race started approximately 10 miles further along the hilly terrain until the final athletes left Cold Ashton at 4 pm and raced to Bath Abbey to the finish. The total time for each team in the 10 separate races along the 103-mile length of the Cotswold Way decides the winners.
The runners are encouraged to learn their leg in advance, as there are no race markings present, so finding your way is almost as crucial as keeping a steady pace. The logistics and pre-race planning required meticulous attention, Thornbury’s runners have Judy Mills and Mike Bennewitz and host of supporting crew to thank for this.
The huge factor in this year’s race was the punishingly hot conditions with the thermometers reaching 33 degrees in the mid-afternoon. At the top of some of the most challenging hills along the route, the TRC runners had the immense pleasure of meeting club mates Judy Mills and Steve Dimond, who were positioned with cups of refreshingly cold water.
The one benefit from getting out of bed early for the 07:00 start on stage 1 was the slightly cooler conditions. Nick Williams got the Quickthorns off to a perfect start by finishing the 12-mile course in 2nd place out of the 103 runners, setting a new club record for stage 1 in the process in a time of 1 hour 23:49 mins. Dave Beard made a solid start for Thorn in the Side in 11th place overall and 2nd male vet in 1 hour 32:17 mins and Arthur Renshaw finished in 99th place 2 hours 30 mins for Hawthorn.
Stage 2 from Stanway to Cleeve Common includes the most amount of climbing of any of the stages and 11.5 miles. Paul Saville, Hannah Kinloch Haken and Natalie Bennett were fairly close together on the long hill out of Winchcombe. Hannah was the first TRC runner to finish in 45th place in 1 hour 55:20 mins for the Quickthorns, followed by Paul Saville 49th place (1 hour 56:31 mins) for Thorn in the Side followed by Natalie in 64th place for Hawthorn in 2 hours 4:22 mins.
Stage 3 from was a close-run affair between Quickthorn’s Adam Frontczak and Garry Slater from Thorn in the Side team; Adam was the first home in 14th place in 1 hour 7:47 mins, Garry was one place behind 1 hour 8:09 mins. Suzy Cundy finished in 103rd place 1 hour 55:00 mins.
Another close battle between Thornbury runners ensued in the 12.7-mile stage 4. Ian Evans and Rob Hopkins were nip and tuck climbing up Coopers Hill and were only separated by a minute at the finish, it was another close victory for Hawthorn’s Evans in 31st place in 1 hour 59:07 mins to Rob’s 33rd place for Thorn in the Side in 2 hours 7 seconds. Hawthorn’s Kevin Cundy finished in 76th place in 2 hours 23:38 mins.
Dylan Roberts was in flying form in stage 5 from Cranham and made light work of the hot conditions. A navigational mishap when he was near the top of the field cost Dylan about 5 places, which he set about recovering in the final few miles into Stroud. Dylan finished in 8th place for the Quickthorns in 1 hour 32:47 mins and was followed by Matt Johnstone in 17th place in 1 hour 35:18 for Thorn in the Side. Hawthorn’s Sarah Newnes finished in 88th place in 2 hours 18:24 mins.
Leg 6 may be one of the shorter in distance but still packs in plenty of climbing. Rob Cowlard kept pace with the early leaders up the steep incline from the start but was closely followed by Taryn Roberts, who led the women’s field and was leaving many following male runners shaking their heads in disbelief. Rob chalked up Thorn in the Side’s first win over Quickthorn and was 6th overall and 1st male vet in 1 hour 13:04. However, Quickthorn’s Taryn was only 1 place behind and the 1st woman by a significant margin in 1 hour 13:41 mins, a new women’s club record by over 6 mins. Hawthorn’s Sean Underwood finished comfortably inside 2 hours in 84th place 1 hour 57:25 mins.
Hawthorn’s Henry Orna had a great run in stage 7, which finished in Wotton-Under-Edge, finishing 6th place in 1 hour 1:37 mins. He looked for his teammate Paul Clark who had taken an early lead but had taken a wrong turn along the route. Running for the Thorn in the Side team, Paul finished in12th place and 3rd male vet in 1 hour 4:27 mins. Hawthorn’s Liz Dix sacrificed her own race to help a fellow runner who had fallen heavily, Liz’s final position was 99th in 1 hour 40 mins.
In the competition between the Thornbury teams, Rob Watkins helped to close the gap for Thorn in the Side on Quickthorn in the 12-mile stage 8. After a steady start up the opening climb, he started moving through the field in the second half of the race and finished in 14th place and 2nd male vet in 1 hour 53:04 mins. Quickthorn’s Jo Emerson finished in 51st place in 2 hours 16:09 mins and Hawthorn’s Colette Jackson arrived at the finish in a car after losing her bearings along the route.
Stage 9 from Old Sodbury to Cold Ashton featured another close-run affair between the two top Thornbury teams. Phil Lucker (Thorn in the Side) won the battle of the big men in the midday sun in 32nd place overall in 1 hour 31:03, ahead of Quickthorn’s Ben Foss in 42nd place in 1 hour 34:49 mins. Rebecca Twyman finished in 101st place in 2 hours 10 mins for Hawthorn.
Paul Harrod, Nancy Harding and Jon Welsh had the honour of completing the glory leg aka stage 10, finishing outside Bath Abbey and bringing the race to an end. Paul Harrod steered Thornbury’s male vets home with a 19th place finish in 1 hour 24:55 mins. Nancy was next for Quickthorn in 88th place in 1 hour 59:14 mins and Jon gritted his teeth over the final miles and finished in 93rd place in 2 hours 5:11 mins.
Experience prevailed over youth in the competition between Thornbury team’s, Thorn in the Side completed the 103-mile course in 15 hours 18:55 mins and was 3rd in the male vets’ competition. Quickthorn’s final time was 16 hours 4:10 mins and they were 7th place in the mixed teams, Hawthorn finished in 21 hours 44 mins and 53rd place in the mixed teams.