A Life in a Day: The Cotswold Way 24-hour Challenge

Bryan Stadden

It was a long day, in fact just 9 minutes short of a complete day. I completed my traverse of the complete length of the Cotswolds in 23hrs 51 min on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. It's easy to moan about the conditions though, some like it hot some don't. I reckon it was better than the opposite conditions though, heavy rain, that would have been a nightmare underfoot and also difficult for the support teams and helpers, so I'd stick with the sun any day, after all it's great for your tan.

OK I completed my personal challenge, good for me, but, there was no way I could have done it without the combined help of Bitton club members who turned out at all sorts of unsociable hours to help me. I owe them a lot; the Cystic Fibrosis Trust owes them a lot, as I raised in £1201which was presented to the Trust on September 26th. For those of you who came to the finish at Bath Abbey on that balmy Saturday evening, you would have seen my nephew Samuel Brimson who is afflicted with this incurable illness. He was understandebly perplexed at all the attention he got in the photo call in front of the Abbey doors, hopefully in time, he will come to appreciate this event amongst numerous other sponsored events that I have been involved with for Cystic Fibrosis. I know that I get a lot of satisfaction from doing such events as these. They do need to be a 'good challenge' though, something that drives me to the limit, where the chance of not succeeding the challenge is a real possibility. This facet combined with a lot of sponsorship money riding on a successful outcome seems to make me dig deep into those physical & mental reserves. The possibility of failure and the feeling of letting down all the supporters hasn't got to be an option on the day. OK so if your absolutely spent and can' manage another step, then that's the end and I would hope that everybody would appreciate a good effort, but I can assure you that it doesn't help at the time, giving up is certainly not in the dictionary.

Leg 1: Chipping Camden to Stanway House

A rather surreal scene greeted Hilary, daughter Joanna and me when we arrived in the picturesque Cotswold village of Chipping Camden. We pulled up right next to the starting point, an ancient way mark with the following inscription etched into it: "It's either the end or the beginning - Bath 100miles" No one else had arrived yet, we were waiting for the rest of the support team, Alan George, Trisch Newberry and daughter Kirsty, and of course my pacers for the first leg, the two 'Daves' - Christmas & Bulley. It was a beautiful summers evening, there was people wandering around enjoying the evening sunshine and the scenery, the pubs and restaurants were busy, a typical Friday evening anywhere, but, here I was preparing for the longest run of my life, and all the pleasure that it would bring. Perhaps if I knew at that stage what pleasures lay ahead of me I would have gone straight into a rather inviting Inn right opposite us and forget the whole thing. Thankfully though, we aren't blessed with hindsight, (although you would swear that some people are) otherwise that wonderful spirit of adventure that lies within some of us would never surface and show us what we are really capable of once we get an objective firmly rooted in our minds.

Off we go 8.00pm on the dot; I was on my way, excited but full of trepidation of what lay ahead. It was difficult to judge the pace at the start, we were brimming with energy, the pace was very easy, you could say I felt as if I could keep going all day, just as well really I suppose. The first split point at four miles and we were already fifteen minutes ahead of the schedule. It may seem like a good idea to get some time in the bag so to speak, but from experience its important to keep to a schedule and reserve energy for much later. It's the same for any race really, go off too fast and you will pay for it later, we have all been there, only this time I was going too fast and I was only going at 8mins/mile. We attempted to adjust the pace, it wasn't easy and we finished 12mins ahead, just creeping into Stanway at last light.

The first leg completed, I was in the groove, no hitches, and raring to go, problem was no Bill Graham or Ian Orchard, my pacers for leg 2. Elation immediately turned to despondency, I thought the worst, where could they be, broken down, in an accident, who knows, all I knew was that they weren't here, and if they didn't arrive in the next five minutes I would be off into the night on my own! . Dave 'the rock' Bulley immediately offered to continue on the next leg into the night even though he was due to go off on holiday early in the morning - thanks mate! Alas all my fears were unfounded as Bill & Ian roared into sight, as Bill put it they weren't late, just on schedule, it didn't do my nerves any good though.

Leg 2: Stanway House to Cleeve Common

Headtorches on and off we went into the night, Dave came too, he fancied a few extra miles and Trisch would drive his car on to Winchcombe, about half-way. Bill was chief scout up at the front, a little pool of light. I now had the pace worked out and he soon adjusted to it - slow and easy does it. We all trooped along behind, Ian and Dave were gleefully chatting away and I was lost in my own thoughts.

A physically challenging leg this one, I ran it in the Cotswold Way Relay so I knew what lay ahead and I was dreading the final steep climb up onto Cleeve Common, mind you I was racing then and was completely spent by the end of the leg! A few problems developed this leg, not least of all was getting slightly lost, what looked easy in the daylight suddenly isn't very obvious at night. We worked through it and barely lost any time at all. What really concerned me though, was the bad stomach I was developing. A couple of calls to nature certainly hadn't cured it, and I was feeling pretty rough, a bit sick and occasionally giddy. It was traumatic, I quietly felt as if I might be stopped in my tracks for a stomach bug if it got much worse, after all I still had 90 odd miles to go! It was to plague me for the next four legs, until it gradually and rather unpleasantly I might add, worked through my system - not good.

At Winchcombe we bade farewell to Dave Bulley, I really felt that he wanted to come much further, but he could hear Sylvia calling and he was off. The cool of the night didn't arrive and I was running hot, sweat was streaming off me. I had no vest on, and was struggling to keep cool and here we were at 1.00 in the morning, what temperatures would the daytime bring? A great job done by Bill and Ian, we finished smack on schedule at 1.15am after completing the leg in 2hrs 54 mins. I recalled Bill saying that he had taken 1hr 30mins during the relay's

Leg 3: Cleeve Common to Seven Springs

I had a scheduled 10mins rest built in and I used every minute of it stretched out on the portable armchair that George had brought along. This was to become the highlight of completing each leg as the day went on, just slumping into it and being waited on for a very brief few minutes. Next on was Rich Cook and Dave Ricketts also joined by Kevin Hucker. It was 1.25am and four Bitton Road Runners were off on the Cotswold escarpment overlooking a fantastic nighttime view of Cheltenham stretched out before us. It really was a great experience to be running at this time of night, deathly quiet, no one else to bother you, quietly making our way along the trail, hopefully going in the right diction. Tracker Dave was up front with a little help from Kev, Rich took on the task of making sure my needs were taken care of, but that didn't include wiping my ... yes I was still having trouble there!

2hrs 1min and we were at Seven Springs, and my welcome armchair once again. Hilary, Trisch & George were doing a stirling job, the brew was on, food was made ready, I was still managing to eat something although I was starting to force it down and hopefully make up for the total loss of appetite I knew I would experience later on. I glanced in the back of my car and could see a few small shapes huddled under blankets, Joanna and Kirsty were fast asleep, I wondered what their reaction would be when they woke up to see me still running.

Leg 4: Seven Springs to Royal William Hotel

We posed for the photo's and were off into the night once more, Kevin and Rich continued as pacers and Dave headed off for a well-earned rest. We were six minutes behind schedule, not a lot but, I only had 20mins spare built into the plan overall. A long leg with lots of ascent this one so once more I settled into focusing only on the leg and tried to blot out the remaining ones. Kev was up front sorting the route and Rich a veteran now continued looking after my needs. The Cotswold Way weaves such an interesting course that you very quickly lose all track of where you are, especially in the dark. Each section had its own character, features that made it memorable from all the rest, this is what makes the trail so interesting unlike running across a featureless open moor or such like. We arrived at Coopers Hill, which is infamous for the annual cheese rolling; it's more like a cliff, they must be absolutely mad to run down it. Rich joked that we had to go up it until he showed me a gentler path round to t

It was a wonderful dawn, almost imperceptible as the darkness gave way to greyness and eventual the orange glow of the sun, a full sun with not a cloud in the sky. The boy's got me to The Royal William Hotel right on time at 6.16am where the next pair of Nick Kane and Mike Grinham were ready for Leg 5.

Leg 5: Royal William Hotel to Ebley Mill, Stroud

I was in the armchair as if my life depended on it, perhaps it did, I was physically tired but not sleepy even though I had now already been awake for 24hrs, the adrenaline was obviously keeping me going. Nick started a bit of impromptu massage going on my legs and that felt really good, he could have gone on for hours but alas my five minutes was up so soon and it was time to get back on the trail. I bade farewell to Kev & Rich, I had enjoyed their company for quite a while now, and hopefully I would be catching up with them at the finish.

We started the leg eight mins late; I had enjoyed the massage a bit too much, a few more minutes lost but still OK for the 24hr target time. It was a great morning, we crossed Painswick golf course, the really keen golfers were already out on the greens; we must have made a rather strange and unexpected sight at that early hour. You could already feel the heat of the day, there was no early morning coolness, it was straight into the furnace as the sun gradually rose in the sky. Fortunately there is a lot of shade to be had on the Cotswold Way, especially so on this leg with long wooded sections.

Mike lead the way and Nick looked after me, he was great with the water, more of it was now going over my head though as I attempted to keep cool. The schedule was good, we were keeping on track, just keep on jogging the flats and downhill and walk anything uphill and keep on going, that's it really. The support team unfortunately missed us at the first split point, so we carried on although water stops were becoming more critical now as the heat rose and we were using far more as most of it was going over my head. The second split reached and still no back up team and now out of water, not good but we had no choice but to push on, where could they be, after all it wasn't as if we were going too fast for them to catch up. My stomach was still feeling bad and during one of my pit stops Nick used his phone to check on their whereabouts. I could hear the conversation: Nick eloquent as ever described the wonderful scenery surrounding us and included to my embarrassment a descriptive comment on my position at

A wonderful downhill section completed the leg, it seemed to go on forever, and we cruised into Ebley Mill. I was however, thinking what goes down must go up, but that would be after a rest on my beloved armchair. Arriving at the mill were now amazingly eleven minutes up on schedule, what a turn round, 2.00hrs for the leg instead of a scheduled 2hrs 19mins.

Leg 6: Ebley Mill Stroud to Dursley

Copious drinks were swilled after the rather dry run, it was 8.30am, and boy was it hot, the beach beckoned but that would have to wait until another day. Simon Hill and Bob Sperring were in place and sorting the kit for the next leg, it was all working like clockwork, what a show Bitton was putting on.

Nick fancied a bit more running and came to the top of the steep climb out of Stroud, Mike he wanted a lot more and would run the whole leg as well. This time it was Bob up front leading the way, setting a great pace and Simon was keeping an eye on me. A short leg this one but with a lot of climbing crammed in for good measure. The sun shone and the water flowed profusely, we met Hils and co at Coaley viewpoint for a welcome top up with iced water courtesy of George well he is a refrigeration engineer.

In the distance I could see the prominent feature of Cam Long Down rearing up. Simon was filling me with the delights of racing up it in the relays, and as we descended to the bottom of it I kind of hoped that Simon would give me a fireman's lift up it, he's such a strong lad. It came it went just like everything on this day out, and we were soon heading into the outskirts of Dursly, this was very uplifting, it felt as if I was getting somewhere, Stroud had still seemed a long way off, but Dursley had a familiar not far from home feeling about it. This was my first experience of any traffic so far, it was 10.38am on a busy Saturday morning in Dursley high street, normal people going about their shopping, a few sideways glances at me, a rather bedraggled figure I must have looked, but thereagain not unfamiliar from runners completing the Dursley Dozen along the same road. We completed the leg nine minutes faster than scheduled which left us two minutes up on the overall schedule, pretty well spot on. At th

Leg 7: Dursley to Wooten-Under-Edge

Another faultless performance from the pacers, Steve Tarling and Keith Sawyer were now stepping quite literally into the 'hot' seat. This was a short leg, all it needed was a good effort to get up out of Dursley, mush the same as the Dursley Dozen route onto Stinchcombe Golf Cse for those of you who have sampled the delights of this great race and we would soon be in Wooten, well that's how I viewed it. I felt as if I was on home territory now and was could see a bit of light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

Once onto the golf course it's a real sickener having to run a couple of miles right around its perimeter when I could see the route a few hundred meters short cut straight across, but you're only cheating yourself if you take it, and anyway the Steve and Keith weren't going to have any of that. I wondered what I might have done if I was on my own though. The role on this leg was Steve in the lead with Keith nurse- maiding me. We were now approaching mid-day and the full heat of the day was on us with no shade on the escarpment around the golf course. Thankfully once past Nibly monument a long wooded section allowed a welcome relief from the sun, but also gave a little confusion over the exact route. A crisis meeting between Steve and Keith soon sorted the problem out and we were quickly winging our way into Wooten ten minutes ahead of schedule, a really good morale booster. Wooten was now beginning to feel that I was knocking on the Abbey door, I felt for the first time that I could do this inside 24hrs,

Leg 8: Wooten-Under-Edge to Old Sodbury

Once more slumped in the armchair, being pampered for my every need. I reckon a virtual reality headset could have been useful that would have take me way to some tropical beach for a few brief minutes, but, then maybe the shock of coming back to reality may have been all too much for the system, who knows, but then maybe I've been watching too much Star Wars?

The inevitable photo-call once more, thanks to Steve & Keith another great job done, and welcome the new team of Moya Blue & Paul Sperrin, hmm, I wondered to myself how I was going to keep Paul in check. On my way once more, seven minutes up on the schedule, a long leg this one and I knew every step of the way having ran it several times before, and also at night last year when I was helping Greville Smyth from City of Bath on his Cotswold Way attempt. It was a tremendous coincidence that on that night the other pacer was Rupert Marsden who was now up ahead of me on his own attempt, it's a funny old world at times. On that night, Greville ground very slowly to a halt at Aldersly, so psychologically I was yearning to get past that point and on towards the finish.

Paul certainly took control of the stage and was operating a strict schedule of drinks and food from his watch. Every 10mins the watch would bleep and fluid would be directed my way even if I didn't want it. I cursed Paul's belligerence to drink at the time, and I'm not sure if I thanked him afterwards, but at that stage of the day I'm sure that it contributed a lot to me eventually completing in the time. It did get worse however, as Paul also insisted on me eating, and by now I found it difficult to digest anything but oranges. I was force fed bread, I felt like a goose being fattened up for Christmas, and at times I was almost choking on it. Nevertheless more pieces would keep coming from this seemingly endless bread roll that Paul was holding.

We met Hilary & co at Aldersley, where the water bottles, or perhaps more aptly names shower bottles were refilled and, I reckon I saw Paul get another bread roll, he must have thought I was enjoying it. Most of this happened as I continued to trundle along, there wasn't much doubt about the pacers having difficulty catching me up, it was also a little game, put a bit of effort in and see how far I could get before I was caught again, anything to pass the time and miles.

Back to the dreaded bread once again. It was different having Moya along, a woman's presence definitely alters your manner, had to put on a manly show about it all, well kind of, I was just thankful that my stomach problems of earlier had cleared up now! Old Sodbury hill fort loomed up and reminisces of the 'Beagle Bash' came back; it almost seemed enjoyable now. Once past the fort and a good downhill stretch led into Old Sodbury, we thought at one point that we could see the Bath lad up front, but it just turned out to be someone out for a stroll, it was strange, We were being told that he's was just up front but where? I suppose at our incredible speed catching up was just going to take quite a while.

Finally Old Sodbury arrived and what a reception, lot's of club members and families had turned out, it was a proper carnival atmosphere. I just wanted my armchair, which had been well sited in a shady spot. I finished exactly on schedule at 3.13pm having taken 2hrs 45mins and used up the few minutes up on my schedule, still couldn't complain with being on schedule.

Leg 9: Old Sodbury to White Hart, Cold Ashton

Slumped in my armchair, I surveyed the scene around me and thought how lucky I was to have such great support. It was getting emotional now, with this sort of support I just had to finish and also under 24hrs. My throbbing legs and sore feet however, was a constant reminder that completing inside 24hrs was going to take a lot of will power over the remaining seventeen miles.

Thanks to Paul and Moya, I'll try and return your efforts to force-feed me sometime Paul! In with the new crowd of Geoff Beazer and once again Bob Sperring of leg six fame. A rapturous applause resounded in my ears as I set off on the pre penultimate leg, I was getting there slowly but surely, this time it would be a case of keeping Geoff Beazer in track, like Paul Sperrin he's not used to running slow. I felt optimistic though, I was still able to jog, this was a relatively short leg and, I felt sure that I would be able to find that little something extra for the final leg.

Geoff had run this leg in about an hour on the Relay's and set a course record as well, so things were a little bit steadier now as he led the way from way ahead. Try as I did there was no response other than a slow jog on the flat bits and downhill of course, anything that resembled a gradient reduced me to a walk, but, that would be good enough to get me round on time, I hoped. The now veteran pacer Bob was doing the honours looking after me, and a fine job too, almost continuously drenching my head, where was all this water coming from?

Ian Orchard was tracking our progress and informed me that 'the other' guy was just ahead. I'd been hearing this for hours now and I felt sure that it was in people's imagination, as there was never any sight of anyone. From Dryham park there is a long climb up to Cold Ashton and lo & behold as we neared the A46 crossing there he was waiting to cross. It was a funny moment, obviously Rupert knew I was catching him up, I kind of felt sorry to be catching him as the 24 hr schedule was a lost cause for him. We briefly exchanged formalities about the past day and both came to the same conclusion - 'never gain'. I believe I have said that many times over the years, and I'm sure Hilary will bear testament to that, but for anyone involved in endurance activities there is a tremendous magnet that draws you back for more once the pain has subsided. Ironically, the tougher it is the more you eventually want to have another go, there cannot be a truer saying that 'time is a great healer'.

The White Hart and a wonderful reception once again, not quite as fast as Geoff's record breaking time, finishing in 2hrs 1min felt as fast as I could, but as I gratefully collapsed into my armchair I found out I had taken fourteen minutes longer than the schedule. It was now 17.24hrs and even after a scheduled ten-minute rest I should have started the final leg at 17.20hrs. All of a sudden the relatively relaxed feeling I had developed with keeping on the schedule disappeared as serious of failure rushed in. I was up and off down the road like a rocket, the back up team would have to catch me up, although I didn't for one minute think that would be much of a problem.

Leg 10: White Hart, Cold Ashton to Bath Abbey

The usual formalities of the changeover were gone, so as I didn't have time to say thanks to Geoff and Bob for getting me through leg nine, may I say it now. Once the pacers had sorted themselves out I fou8nd that I had Steve Donne, Kevin Summers and Rich Cook once again on his third leg of the day for company. Not far down the road we picked up Kevin Rose as well, and I wondered how many more might be joining us on the way?

The final leg, eleven miles to go with a great downhill section into Bath, I must do it, the though kept going over in my mind, all I had to do was survive the long climb up onto Lansdown. The boys were great, they were quite literally clearing a path for me, any large stones were removed from the track, and I'm sure if Kev had had a brush he would have swept the path for me. I suppose the sight of me trying to get over styles must have spread doubts about my ability to finish. I can vividly recall at one point on the back Lansdown Golf Course where for the first time in the whole route I literally ground to a halt, and at that moment I can recall saying that it was all over, there was no way I could finish inside 24 hrs. The lads however were having none of it, Steve and Kevin kept on pushing me, they knew that if they could keep me moving towards the long descent into Weston, I would hopefully pull back some time going downhill with the sight of Bath Abbey to spur me on. Guess what, they were right! An

Following the exact Cotswold Way through Bath, the route actually climbs a long way above the City before descending around Victoria Pk to the finish. It hit me hard as I was expecting a cruise along the flat streets straight towards the Abbey. As I staggered up narrow alley ways seemingly heading away from the Abbey, it really got to me and I felt the euphoria of a few minute past quickly slipping away, I couldn't cope with this and I believe I might have let the lads know it, in particular Steve Donne who was leading the way, sorry mate, you know you were doing a great job.

I recall constantly nagging someone about the time, possibly every minute, but there was no need, all of a sudden we descended a flight of steps into the shopping precinct and the tunnel into the Abbey lay ahead. What a fantastic welcome I got from all those who turned out, I felt on top of the world, the door was infront of me and suddenly I was kissing it, great, it was all over. I was motionless, my whole body was still going up and down, I turned round, the crowd was everywhere, I wondered what the public must be thinking about this loony who staggered past them and then I saw it, the armchair, and I was in it before you say Cotswold W...

The following hour was something of a blur, Sam my nephew was there, we had lots of photos taken, there was a great cheer from Bitton when Rupert finished his course, typical of our club I thought, what a bunch of stars, there is no doubt I couldn't have done it without the support and especially that of the back up team who were looking more tired than me especially Hilary, I reckon she was a bit stressed as well, funny I thought she would have been used to it by now!

"What next then Bry?" I have often been asked that since completing the Cotswold Way. Well, to those who asked me when I finished there was no doubt that was the last, but well now... well that's a different story ... to be continued.

Epilogue

On Sunday 26th September I presented the Cystic Fibrosis Trust with a grand total of £1,201.00. Sam was present, once again he wondered what all the fuss was about, if I had arranged the presentation a week earlier he wouldn't have come, he was in hospital for IVs (Intravenous Antibiotics) that's what all the fuss was about, so with that in mind I've got an idea about a ... you'll find out soon

© Bryan Stadden, 1999