Inspired by Banff film festival and after a touch of tequila, Emma and I thought she should run from the west coast of Africa to the east. This is our story of dreaming up the idea, researching it, planning, training and running the distance.
We spent the first night in the company of Emma’s friend Hayley’s in her terraced house in Bristol where she cooked us an amazing meal.
Cotswold way day 1:
We arrived in Bath and found the information centre where the trail started, got the camera out and set off through the streets. After about half an hour we were in the fields of the Cotswolds National Park. Up and down rolling hills of bright green spring grass. Towards the end of the day there was some big hills to go up and down, keeping up with Emma is extremely hard work on these. So, I took a detour on the road to meet her at the other side. When she arrived, I could tell she was tired but, thankfully, we were almost at the end of the run for day one. We arrived at the road where we were picked up and taken to the campsite. Emma was tired and cold, she lay in the tent for about half an hour wrapped in down jackets and blankets. Aysha cooked steaks for tea and we sat under the stars chatting for a while before bed.
Cotswold way day 2:
After breakfast and some yoga, Emma and I were dropped back on The Cotswold way. After about 10 minutes, we discovered we had gone the wrong way. After getting back on route and feeling frustrated, I thought to myself this is a good lesson for the future: to check and make sure we are on route. The miles went by and we met Aysha for lunch. The afternoon was spent mostly in woodland, which is just coming to life after the wet cold winter, on dried up muddy 4×4 off-road tracks. Thank goodness it was dry, as it would have been a nightmare, if it was wet.
Cotswold way day 3:
We were up an hour earlier with the intention of reaching the end of the Cotswold way by nightfall. The morning’s route went along almost the top of a rolling ridgeline. After a short pit stop, Emma and I split with the intention of meeting about 10 minutes further along the trail. It took me just over ten minutes to get to the checkpoint and thoughts were racing through my head, has she already passed the checkpoint? Is she going to be waiting on me? Eventually, I got to the path junctions where I was meeting Emma. I waited for 15 minutes asking people, who were walking the path, if they had seen a woman running in a white top go past, “no sorry” they said.
I checked my map, making sure I’m in the right place. From here the Cotswold way did a massive loop of about 2.5miles, which would take Emma about 45 minutes to get round. We had decided the night before I would cut the loop out and meet her at the other side. I decided to leave the first checkpoint and go to the next one. I got there worried and confused, I was annoyed that I had no way of communicating with Emma to find out if she was ok and where she was.
I rode around asking dog walkers and runners if I was in the right place and if this was the Cotswold way path I was on, they all said yes. I sat next to a post with the little green acorn symbol on it, which marked the Cotswold way.
About an hour had past now and I looked at my phone to see a text from Aysha: “just met Emma on Cleeve’s Hill and she’s on her way to your check point now.” Another half an hour went past, getting more and more worried, then a little Emma shaped figure appeared on the next hill along, it was Emma, thank God! It turns out that the Cotswold way had changed and the map we had was a old one. Communication is very important and I am happy we made this mistake there and not in Africa.
The next few hours went smoothly. We met Aysha’s mum for lunch and she had made chocolate brownies for us, which were amazing. The afternoon was more ups and downs, which would have been hard for the bike, so I went on road, while Emma stormed up and down the hills. Our spirits went through the roof when we discovered we had one page left of the map till the end, a huge smile came onto Emma’s face. It was mostly down hill to the end now. We arrived in Chipping Campden. It was over. Massive well done to Emma running 107 miles in three days. Day three was over and the run complete, well done team!
Top ten tips for riding a bike and supporting a woman running on the Cotswold way:
1. Watch out for bad smells coming from your runner.
2. Be prepared to shit anywhere, just watch out for nettles.
3. 2 pairs of cycle shots makes riding more comfortable
4. Make sure your bike is the right size for you.
5. Keep your mouth shut in the evening or it will be full of insects.
6. Practice lifting your bike above your head for the hundreds of gates and styles.
7. Make sure you wait long enough at the meeting check points.
8. Carry energy shots.
9. Charge your phone at any opportunity.
10. Power naps should be no longer than 20 minutes and make sure you have sun cream on.
I knew from the day that we planned this run that I wouldn’t be fit enough. The point of it was more about practicing team logistics than proving any fitness. The fitness part will come with time but its important early on that we figure out what kit we need or don’t need and how each of our roles come together etc. So I knew it would test me.
Day 1: Thankfully, we had the generous hospitality of my friend Hayley the night before in Bristol and we didn’t have too far to travel to the start point in Bath. Even so, we were still behind schedule. Probably because I don’t like mornings!!
The day started off with a frantic tour of Bath in search of a toilet. I found one in a dungeon at the back end of a cafe and Aysha went to a posh hotel. We eventually located the tourist information centre and began our journey from there after some time faffing around with cameras and deciding which direction we go. The route wasn’t very well sign posted out of Bath but Mike did a fab job of map reading. We passed the iconic semicircular row of houses, a few steep ups and downs and then we were into the countryside. By the first hour of the trail we must have already gone through about five gates, Mike is definitely going to get strong arms from lifting the bike every time. The weather was lovely, warm, sunny, perfect for running.
After 19.5 miles we had a picnic in Sodbury where Hayley and Aysha met us with some delicious food. Mike proved his ability to sleep anywhere!
Break time over. More hills. Up, down, up, down, up, down… This started to get really tiring on my quads and a real ball ache for the bike. So, the next hill, I decided to go alone and Mike would take the road. This seemed like a great idea until I got to the top and realised I was knackered, my brain was sending messages to my legs to move but they weren’t responding. I felt like crying alone at the top of a hill but, realising that wouldn’t get me anywhere, I shuffled along at snail pace. I was so happy to see Mike at the bottom of the hill and I quickly raided the bag for an energy gel. I felt like it worked in seconds and I continued further. We got to Wotton-under-Edge and had done 32 miles. This is a good enough distance for the day but, it was only another couple of miles to the campsite. I knew I was already pretty close to exhaustion but, I was still standing and talking so, with a bit of encouragement, decided to get my butt closer to the tent. I got my head down and pushed through the pain to the top of the hill. At the top my legs were 100% jelly!! I could see by the look on Mike’s face that he knew I was screwed. This reassured me for future exhaustion! I managed to wobble myself down the hill and, thankfully, that was it for me for the day. I got to the campsite and collapsed in a shivering mess in the tent. I can’t imagine this filled the team with confidence for Africa.
I ate steak!!! Then slept.
Day 2: I was woke up by the sun beaming into the tent. This must have been about 6 o’clock but I felt so cosy and warm that I snuggled further into my sleeping bag. I eventually had to force myself out of bed before my bladder burst. Aysha cooked up some porridge with cinnamon and banana, amazing. Incredibly, my body felt great. Hayley dropped us back at place she collected us yesterday. And this is where my sleepy brain proved its uselessness by sending us off one mile in the wrong direction. Obviously, this could have been a lot worse but, running a mile the wrong way (downhill), first thing in the morning, dampened our spirits slightly. Once back on track, I tackled some hills by myself as it seemed ridiculous for Mike to struggle up hill with the mountain bike. I ran over Cam Long Down which I think is the most picturesque place of the trail. It is a small, grassy, rolling ridge which gives you views for miles in each direction. Stunning.
Aysha had done another great job of sourcing some delicious food and making us lunch. We stopped to warm up and refuel at Haresfield Beacon. The weather was a bit chilly so I buried myself under blankets in Cleopatra. We had no plans for accommodation this evening so I marked five points, A to E, on the map so Aysha could collect us later once she has found somewhere to sleep. I intended to get to point E.
Me and Mike stayed together for the rest of the day. I made a plan to dose up on energy gels after about 25 miles to avoid crashing like I did yesterday. We both had one and within minutes we had gone from slogging along the paths to bouncing around like children. The terrain was pretty tough going, undulating and muddy, so I had no chance of getting to E. There was a long woodland section to pass which once you were in you had no chance of knowing where you were. Disappointed, we rang Aysha to get her to collect us from point A or B. I think she was quite shocked when we she saw us approaching B, prancing down the hill, a slight difference to yesterday.
Due to unfortunate accidents with cooking equipment we had to eat in a warm, cosy pub. Shame!
Day 3: We woke early which, I’m sure you can guess is a challenge for me, even though it was my idea. We worked really well as a team to swiftly pack up the tent and gear, and head off. Aysha dropped me and Mike back at point B and we were off running by about 8!!
Even though I was dazed and confused by the earliness, I felt super psyched to get the distance under my belt and aim to finish the run today. I really didn’t want to be getting up tomorrow to run a short distance. Mentally that doesn’t work well for me. So off we went with a sleepy yet determined attitude.
For the first part of the morning Mike stayed beside me as the map looked as though we would be staying relatively flat. We had arranged that Aysha would meet us in an hour and ten minutes at the Dowdeswell Resevoir to pick Mike up so I could get up the next hill alone. We got to Leckhampton Hill with no problems until either we missed a sign or there wasn’t one and we continued on what we thought was our path down a hill. We both felt that something wasn’t right, checked the compass, and we were again running in the wrong direction (again) down hill. Annoyingly, we had to go back up hill and get back on track, Mike pushing the bike up a very steep rugged, muddy track. 35 minutes late, we met Aysha and as always she was looking fresh faced and energetic. Off I trotted up the hill. I think I had built it up in my head to be so hard that when it came to it, it was actually quite gentle and pleasant, and before I knew it I was at the top where I met Aysha and Mike for first break.
On the map, Cleeve hill/common area looked very confusing, and I had no idea what to expect. I was thinking that it could possibly be rocky or bumpy, either way not suitable for the bike. Aysha had been told by someone that there could be an area that was boggy and the bike wouldn’t get through so me and Mike arranged two meeting points around here. One before just down the road, before the confusion, and one after. The first would be where Mike would give me water and energy gel. The second would be where Mike would rejoin me. Off I ran, 10/15 minutes later I was at the first check point.
Mike wasn’t there. I waited for a while. I then ran around looking for him and asking people if they had seen him, nothing. I waited some more. I started to worry. I told myself not to worry. I worried more. Maybe it was just a miscommunication. Maybe Mike had got here too early and had left before I got here, thinking I had done the same. My phone had died this morning so I was unable to contact him. I drew a HOH sign in the dirt on the ground and continued on, hoping that everything would be ok, and I’d find him at the next check point.
At the end of Cleeve Hill, I was met by Aysha. I explained what had happened (probably in a quite frantic and stressed manner) and she decided to try and contact Mike or drive back to see where he was. This put my mind at ease, and I continued on to the next checkpoint feeling calm. When I arrived, Mike was nowhere to be seen. This was not a good feeling! I had come to the conclusion that something must have happened and that I should probably stay where I was, as they wouldn’t know where to find me if I wandered off. So I sat under the Cotswold Way sign feeling very thirsty and worried that my team was broken before even getting on the plane to Africa. Every person that walked past I asked if they had seen Mike but nobody had. 45 minutes later, after drawing a second HOH in the sand, I asked another walker if they had seen Mike. Hooray!! There had been a sighting of a man with a bike under another Cotswold Way sign. Ecstatic to have not lost my team mate but frustrated to have wasted so much time and energy, and being dehydrated, I ran back to where Mike was. It turns out that the Cotswold Way has changed route since our map was made and we both thought we were at the meeting point. This was a major lesson to learn about having communication devices on us at all times. Lots of stress and lots of tension could have been very easily avoided. This is the point of the practice run though.
Morale was boosted by a visit from Aysha’s mum at our lunch break. She brought along smiles and laughter, and yummy treats. Aysha made me the biggest sandwich in the world. We had a doze in the sun, refuelled, hydrated and got psyched to push through to the end. I knew I had quite a distant to go to the end so I went up all the hills alone, this time armed with a walkie-talkie and energy gel! There were three hills. As I came down the second one I met Mike and asked how far we had to go till we were on the last piece of map, he looked at me confused, we were already on the last pice of map and I hadn’t realised. This made me sooooo happy. The end seemed easily reach-able now, but not without a toilet stop first. And I’m sure any runners reading this know how it feels when you’re running and you NEED to go. Anyhow, I found a very posh restaurant to pop into and use the facilities and then made a very quick exit. As I met Mike at the top of the last hill, the sun had started to set and the temperature started to drop, perfect timing to pick up the pace. There was a beautiful stretch, flat and straight, through the fields that lead into Chipping Campden. At 20:23 on Sunday we finished the run in the centre of the town, not sure exactly which part is the official finish but we were there. Very happy to have completed it, but even more, very happy to know I have the best team ever with me.
Massive thank you to Clif Bar for your products, they are amazing and I probably couldn’t have completed the run without them! Thanks to Hayley for looking after us and keeping Aysha sane for a day. Thanks to Charlie Rowlands for letting me borrow your GPS watch, big help. Thanks Luke for letting us borrow your tent. Huge thank you to Aysha and Mike for supporting me so well. And to all the others mentioned in Aysha’s blog, thank you.
Main learning points:
I need to carry my own water
Having comms saves drama
I need my own camera with me
I need my own GPS watch with longer battery life
Even without fancy equipment we can and will work well together.
As part of our preparation for Emma to run across Africa, Emma suggested that we did a practice run of 100 miles! Its really hard to take someone seriously when they are utterly casual about a huge endurance event. On Wednesday 26th March we met up, looked at the Cotswold way, thought about things we needed and that was it. Thursday, I travelled to Norfolk and bought the 21 year old car we are taking to Africa and named her Cleopatra. Two weeks later we drove to Bristol to stay the night with a friend of Emma’s and start the trail in the morning. Emma’s running, Mike’s on a bike as support, and I’m in the car.
Friday (35 miles)
As soon as the 6.30am alarm goes off, I’m up making porridge and tea. Emma’s a sleepy bug in the morning which gives me a chance to get everything ready. Mike eats all of his and some of Emma’s too, I think, which is satisfying for me as the cook. When we get to Cleopatra, we notice a small green oily/viscous puddle under the front nearside wheel. I’m worried. I take some photos and send them to Lukas for a diagnosis. Its 7.30am so we get going whilst we wait for a reply.
Bath is beautiful but it feels odd. Emma’s about to do something epic and there’s no-one to see except Mike and I. I guess that happens a lot in the world. Emma, wanders off to the fudge shop.
Emma and Mike set off appearing very relaxed and I skedaddle to get things we need and chat to Lukas over the phone about Cleo. He diagnoses the fluid is grease from the front axle air vent and tells me where to look. I love poking around under the bonnet. It’s a giant toy. Lukas tells me I should be fine until I get it back, he’s a little concerned when I tell him I’ve got 500 miles to go. I’m a little worried by his concern and drive more carefully.
Cleo’s cigarette lighter doesn’t work, which means we can’t charge the sat nav (or phones) and her compass always points north. I navigate my way out of Bath by using the sun – seriously – I head east and then when I feel roughly out of Bath I head North looking for signs for villages near the first check point. And I make it! However, its way past the time so I hazard a guess that Emma and Mike have carried on and head on into the higgledy piggledy land of the Cotswolds and get lost. Well and truly.
Me “Excuse me, could you tell me where I am and where I’m going?”
Them “You’re off the map, about here, take the next left, its signposted Nowhere [or some place like that]”
The next left didn’t have a signpost.
This becomes a general theme of the trip. Fortunately, Emma and Mike are two of the most easy going people you can meet and are just happy to see me, even when I get to check points after them. They never complain about anything. Not once. Mike is a bit concerned about the amount we’re spending on food at one point. I like my food. And Emma, on Saturday night, gets serious about starting early in the morning. That’s as demanding as they get.
Happily, this time, I am early for lunch. Its a gorgeous sunny day and the birds are nattering away. A few minutes later, Emma and Mike appear trundling down across the field and Hayley (our guest for the day) pulls up in a car. It’s idyllic. I feel there should be more drama on a 100 mile run, not chilling in the sun. Lunch is delicious. Chicken, avocado, basil, tomato, salt and pepper – I made it myself. Mike falls asleep and Hayley and Emma are busy catching up and laughing.
After lunch Hayley and I head to the campsite and arrive at around 6pm at what looks like a stately home, (after an unquantifiable several mile road works detour, inability to find the campsite, food shop and a panic over Cleo puffing out smoke).
Not long after, Emma and Mike arrive both looking shattered. Emma wraps herself in her sleeping bag in the tent and is still cold. This worries me. She’s run 35 miles and the food isn’t ready yet. Eventually, Emma goes for a shower to warm up. Mike gets busy helping us get the fire going. I’ve splashed out on the first meal, and using the gas canister and the Kelly Kettle, Hayley and I manage to cook: mashed potatoes and broccoli, followed by steak and mushrooms. That’s better than I cook at home. But I believe food is important for this kind of thing. Emma is a lot better after food and a shower. The trickiest thing is persuading her that she doesn’t have to do anything, she’s running 100 miles. Kindly, North Nibley campsite lets us off £4 as a donation.
Saturday (33 miles)
I’ve forgotten how slow, cooking is, on a gas stove. The porridge is not boiling and the 8am start is not happening. There’s a general sleepy, happy, feeling. Emma is stretching and Mike gets a brew going.
Once we’re all off, I am swiftly lost and take up talking to myself. We get on remarkably well but an extra set of eyes to look at the map and road signs would be more useful than a split personality. “Uley” I shout with joy for no-one to hear (it’s a village that means I’m going in the right direction). And am 5 minutes late for mid-morning break. Emma and Mike are both quiet. They went in the wrong direction and its dampened both their spirits a bit. Emma’s cold again and I worry whether she’s getting enough food in her. I shouldn’t really though, when I next see them, they are both chipper. Its an odd relationship, me dipping in and out of their experience. After lunch, Emma wants to push on as far as she can and gives me 5 options where she might want to be picked up from. I get busy with finding accommodation nearby. Happily, I find some out the back of a friendly pub. Emma and Mike call me to come and collect them. I’m there first (woohoo!) and surprised when they both come bounding up to me – turns out they’re both rushing on CLIF gels.
Sunday (39 miles)
Emma wants a quick, early start. We’ve no fuel for cooking so that’s easy. After the mid-morning break I have 3 hours until lunch. In my head, I plan a yoga session at the meeting point. But, decide I can’t miss Cleeve’s hill, the highest point on the Cotswold way, and there’s a chance I’ll see Emma and Mike and can cheer them on. I have a little faff parking the car, pick up my water, and not my phone, then set off upwards. Near the top, 1 metre above me, Emma runs by. That’s uncanny timing.
She looks worried, “I can’t find Mike. He wasn’t at the checkpoint.”
I pass her my waterbottle as Mike was carrying her water for her. She hasn’t had water for an hour. But, she’s much more worried about Mike. I promise I’ll call him and go back and look for him. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anything has happened to him, he wasn’t on a tricky part of the route. I’m expecting him to have moved on to the next check point. But Emma’s running a 100 miles and run about 80 miles at this point and I’m only going to do the thing that puts her mind at ease fastest. It takes me 40 minutes to get back to where Mike should be – no, I wasn’t lost, it was fiddly. I’m literally 2 minutes away (sigh!) when he calls to say Emma hasn’t arrived and he’s moved on to the next check point. I explain where I saw her, turn the car around and head for lunch. 30 minutes later Mike calls again. She’s not arrived. This is concerning. Have they missed each other again? Is she lost on the Cotswold way? Is she hurt? She hasn’t got water or communications, as her phone isn’t working. I go to the furthest point I think she could be, park the car and start walking back. I agree to meet Mike at a monument on the way but, he decides to wait a little longer. I’m asking everyone if they’ve seen a thirsty looking woman, with red curly hair, running the Cotswold way.
Then, they are both coming towards me on the path. And there’s just a bit of an atmosphere.
Apparently, they were waiting for each other in different places. Emma’s frustrated,
“I don’t know, I don’t know if I can make it up the hill.”
I figure annoyance will power her to the second option (but, obviously, don’t say that). We make some quick decisions and I join them on the run back to the car. Its gorgeous and I’m bounding with joy at being out in the fresh air and having found Emma. The tension quickly lifts. But don’t mistake me, that is not happening in Africa. I get back in the car and muddle around in single track lanes before arriving for lunch 2 minutes after Emma and Mike, who are both cheery when I meet up with them (I reckon they’ve been on the gels again).
My mum arrives with chocolate brownies, which makes everyone happy. Emma and Mike go for ice cream at the farm shop.
After lunch, dinner and campsite are sorted quickly, I’m half an hour early in idyllic quiet Broadway, reading the manual for Cleopatra. Emma and Mike come companionably up the road. I join Emma and run to the start of a hill. Then, Mike and I scoot back to the car, load up the bike and drive to the top (cheeky). We’re all getting giddy, the end is so close.
Unpacking the bike. I wait to film Emma as the sun begins to set.
The fields are a gorgeous colour of yellow flowers, set against green, on one side of me is a fading pink sky and on the other an almost full moon. Cars are rare and, mostly, all I can hear is the wind and the birds. I stop for a film shot, as I realise Emma will run right past me and then, race her the last 2 miles to the finish. Parking up the car in quiet and serene Chipping Campden, I head back down the Cotswold way with the camera.
Dusk, and Emma comes round the corner, friendly and smiling as normal. Jogging and filming is ridiculous. Emma’s more worried about me falling over whilst filming than the fact she’s run 40 miles in one day. You’d think she had run only a mile or maybe two. I run with her the last 100 yards. We can’t find where it officially finishes and wander around a bit confused. To be safe, Emma taps the War Memorial and Tourist Information. (The official point is the War Memorial.) 107 miles run in 3 days. Total running time: 23 hours and 38 minutes including detours and waiting.
To celebrate we opt for beers and wine in the tent and, a lie in in the morning.
Special Thank yous to:
Hayley for putting us up and feeding us on Thursday night, helping me set up camp and cook, and bringing lots of laughter.
Lukas and Jay (Mini-Max Garage) for advising me on what to do with Cleopatra.
Hayles Fruit Farm for letting us snooze in their car park and charging my phone.
Things I learnt:
Emma is never allowed off on her own, I know she’s done it before in South Africa but its a risk I’m not willing to take.
Emma needs a better water system so she can run and carry her own water.
I need a warmer sleeping bag and coat.
Mike needs regular brews.
We need bigger cooking pots.
We need a way to keep everything charged.
The best map we can find is essential and don’t rely on electrical equipment.
We’re a great team already. There will always be hiccups and annoyances but Emma and Mike are two of the nicest people you can meet. And Emma will always find a reason to laugh. They’re both pretty handy too.
I need a friend in the car before this talking to myself or the car gets out of hand.