MW: the middle

Stage 5

This stage starts with a long section of runnable disused railway line. I should have run it. But my foot was still feeling tender and I convinced myself that I’d overheat if I alternated running and walking in the pre-dawn chill. I stopped at Chipping Camden for breakfast, two large croissants from the Co-op.

It was a decent morning. The sky was overcast so it didn’t get too hot and I managed to jog some of the roads. I even actively enjoyed the grassy decent into Moreton-in-Marsh. The clouds were clearing though and it was going to be another hot afternoon. I stopped in Moreton-in-Marsh for a Co-op lunch: sandwiches, crisps, Mountain Dew and my first ice cream of the day. Checking my phone I saw Peter was passing through Chipping Camden (I’d later learn he’d been late leaving CP4 due to a headache) while Ellen and Jon were one and two towns further down the route respectively, a pattern we’d maintain for most of the day.

The next section of the route was new to me, when I did my rece I used last year’s GPS which missed out Stow-on-the-Wold. I know wold means hill, however I’d assumed that in this case it was a river and therefore (like most of the other Cotswold towns) Stow would be in a valley. The steep climb up to it was therefore a nasty surprise and I stopped and rewarded myself with not one, but two ice creams. I stopped behind a hedge in the fields after Stow to re-lube my undercarriage, and narrowly avoided being caught by the first walkers I’d seen all day. I still didn’t do a good a job with the rest of my self-care. I was wearing sleeves and longish tights so thought I could get away without suncream. The result was a bright red face which would look ridiculous during the next two rainy days.

I got to Bourton-on-the-Water late in the afternoon and would have loved to join the crowds drinking outside pubs. But instead I went to Londis and bought a cheese and onion pasty, crisps and another ice cream to eat on the grass. I’d felt pretty good up to this point, but the rest of this stage took forever, the route plunged in and out of a seemingly never ending sequence of steep sided valleys and the sky clouded over. I did manage to jog most of the gravel track into CP5, but was secretly glad when Lindley came out to meet me, giving me an excuse to walk it in.

I arrived at CP5 an hour or so after dark and, again, Jon was getting ready to leave. I padded my chilli and rice tea out with bread and butter while gazing longingly at an empty takeaway pizza box in the bin. I managed a decent ~4 hours sleep, only waking up briefly to drag my kit bags into the tent when it started raining. Brian made me some bread and butter for breakfast and I asked him about the weather forecast. The clouds and rain during the night suggested we could be in for a wet day, but there was no signal for me to check the forecast myself. He told me it might rain a bit. I also asked about Peter’s whereabouts, the other tents were unoccupied so I’d assumed he’d passed through the CP while I was sleeping. However he was still to arrive, which surprised and worried me since all day he’d been not far behind me. Brian woke Lindley up to drain and dress my foot and then went out to walk Peter in. He seemed even happier to see us than I was to see him and greeted us with big handshakes.

Might have been a good idea to take my pack off before sitting down...
(photo: Lindley Chambers)

Stage 6

I set off into drizzle an hour of so before dawn. The rain got steadily worse until it was a full blown storm. Post dawn drowsiness hit me as usual and I was very glad to find a giant tree to shelter under for a 5 minute power nap. I got to Cirencester just before 8am, soaking wet and fed up. For several miles I’d been dreaming of a Wetherspoons veggie breakfast, but of course somewhere as poncy as Cirencester wouldn’t have a Wetherspoons. In fact the only place that was (about to) open was a French restaurant. Probably my least favourite type of food, but I was desperate for somewhere warm and dry where I could consume lots of calories. It was a bit posh, but the waiter was very friendly and tolerant as I dried myself and my kit off while eating two breakfasts.

2 poncy French breakfasts

I was slow getting moving again. My feet hurt and I stopped at Tesco for supplies. Finally leaving town I bumped into a bloke (Henry?) who’d come out to meet me and had spent most of the last hour trying to work out where I actually was. The morning was tough. It carried on raining, and wearing waterproof trousers made my chafing issues worse. Two things kicked me into trying to move faster: a stunning field of red, purple and blue wild flowers and the discovery that Ellen and Jon (who were now together) were pulling away from me and Peter was closing in from behind.

I stopped in Tetbury for a slightly less poncy lunch: cut-price ice-buns and giant pretzels from Co-op. As I sat on a bench redressing my foot a bloke rushed out of a nearby hairdressers to ask if I was OK and offer me a bowl of warm water. If I hadn’t just retaped my foot I’d have taken him up on it. The afternoon dragged by, the highlight was getting caught in a traffic jam of cows on the way to be milked. For the last two days my goal had been getting further than the first drop in 2017, now I switched to focusing on getting to Somerset and breaking my previous longest race distance (314 miles). Another incentive was seeing how long the OH Steggy could keep coming up with new ‘motivational’ messages.

The day had a nasty sting in the tail. The skies clouded over and it started raining really heavily again. I barely had time to get my waterproofs on, let alone find shelter. It was one of the heaviest storms I’ve ever been out in and it soaked straight through my usually reliable OMM Kameleika waterproofs and I had to put on a Primaloft jacket to stay warm. The final few miles from Chipping Sodbury to the CP had been straight-forward when I’d recced them. But it was a different story now it was dark and the field paths had become overgrown. The rain had stopped, but pushing through wet bushes was making me wet again. I was therefore happy to meet Andy Persson, who’d come out to walk me in to the CP. Having someone to talk to was a very welcome distraction from quite how wet and miserable I was. I did feel guilty about how wet his jeans got though (and also temporarily leaving him behind in the dark without a light while he shut a gate).

At the CP Lindley was about to start treating Jon’s feet and told me to sit down and he’d sort me out with food and my drop bags once he’d finished. Jon’s feet were a mess so this wasn’t a quick job and I was now trapped in the corner of the gazebo. I stripped off some wet clothes and put on all of the dry spares I had in my pack. I was really hungry and ate the remains of my supplies from the stage and anything edible I could reach from the CP table. After about 20 min Lindley was about to start on Jon’s 2nd foot and I was starting to shiver so I asked him to find the bag with my spare clothes in. Dinner was a pasta pot which didn’t do much to satisfy my gnawing hunger so I hit my flapjack stash again. Ellen was getting ready to leave her tent, so we had a quick chat before I settled down for another ~4 hour sleep.

I got up at the pre-arranged time, but there was no sign of Lindley. I briefly contemplated dressing my foot myself, but my boots were in the van drying off, so I had no choice but to bang on the door and wake him up. Four hours was nowhere near enough time for my waterproofs to dry off, so I switched to my back-up set. I’ve got several decent hard-shell jackets, but they were all at home as I didn’t think I’d need them for a low altitude Summer race. As my backup I’d packed a lightweight Alpkit jacket. It’s a perfect good jacket, but not up to coping with storms like we’d had the day before. I’d already realised I was potentially in trouble the night before and had discussed buying a heavier duty jacket in Bristol with Andy. I now ran the plan by Lindley as he sorted my foot out. He ok-ed me going off route to buy a jacket and regaled me with stories about having to do army exercises in wet clothes (call me a lily-livered desk jockey but I didn’t fancy another day of being soaking wet and cold while ‘running’ on empty).

blisters on the bad foot getting better

Stage 7

I got started a bit before dawn into drizzly weather again. I stopped for breakfast in a church porch and later my usual post-dawn power-nap in a fancy stone bus shelter. There’s a long runnable stretch along the River Avon so, for the first time, I dug my iPod out and got my head down. I managed a decent shuffle-jog most of the way to Bristol. I was so proud of my shuffling (which seemed to be closing the gap to Jon and Ellen a bit) I decided to give it a name: shoggling. At the time this seemed really clever...

Every day I’m shuffling (or shoggling)

Just before reaching the heart of Bristol I saw a familiar race coming the other way, Roz Glover had come out to meet me. We chatted as I shoggled and Roz walked. Roz is a fast walker, but it still brought home that my shuffling speed wasn’t all that. Like the last evening it was great to have company and a distraction from the miserableness. A bit later Rich met us with a big stash of food. It wasn’t completely clear under what circumstances we were allowed to accept food, but after the pasta pot dinner the night before I wasn’t going to say no and I gratefully stuffed my face.

Looking miserable (and short) in the drizzle in Brizzle

deluxe pavement picnic
(big thanks to Rich Cranswick and Roz Glover)

Rich then took me to the main shopping centre and showed me the outdoor shops. On the way we discussed my shuffle (which I’d regained my pride in). Apparently it makes me instantly recognisable. Going shopping in the middle of a race, in a city I’d been to lots as a kid, was really surreal. I went round the cheaper shops but couldn’t find anything with a decent number of Schmerbers (even while running, I’m still a scientist at heart). I ended up in Blacks buying a half price, but still not cheap, North Face jacket. After all that shopping I was hungry again and went to Burger King for coffee, chips and foot airing.

Leaving Bristol the weather gradually got better and the waterproofs came off again. I stopped in Long Ashton for Co-op discount bakery products (ice buns and giant pretzels again) and foot airing. The rest of the afternoon was sunny with good views, but the constant rolling hills slowed me down. Thanks to my shuffling I’d closed the gap to Ellen and Jon to ~ 2 hours by Bristol but now it was growing again. I was cheered up by some interesting looking sheep sticking their noses through a wire fence for nose-rubs (I’m guessing it was really food they were after).

As usual the last few hours dragged. At one point I came across a foot-path which was completely over-grown with head high stinging nettles. I thought sod that and took a long cut around it. I then got really frustrated about having to find invisible overgrown styles in hedges in the dark in order to cross rutted fields when there were perfectly good minor roads going from A to B more directly. Again animals provided some light relief as a calf repeatedly charged playfully at me (I later discovered it had done the same to Ellen and Jon several hours earlier). Eventually I reached the camp site and Lindley came out to walk me in.

After the pasta pot experience the night before, I decided to dip into my dehydrated meal stash and asked for some boiling water. But Lindley offered me one which he had, which tasted great and (accompanied by yet more bread and butter) filled me up. Ellen and Jon were still sleeping so I got sorted quickly and told Lindley that I planned to get up at 4 and leave at 4.30. There was a shower block, but I couldn’t be bothered with the faff so had another wet-wipe wash in the tent. I didn’t have the best ‘nights’ sleep. After ~2 hours I woke up with stomach cramps and only just managed to make it to the toilet block in time. And then I had a nightmare in which my tent flooded and I failed to save my pet rabbits from drowning somewhere else.

I got up when my alarm went at 4, got myself ready and had some breakfast. By 4.30 there was still no sign of Lindley. This time I had my boots, but I really needed some expert foot care (the uppers of my boots had creased up and caused various blisters and raw patches on both feet). I tried knocking on the van door, but that didn’t work so I ended up phoning him. While he was sorting my feet his alarm went off to remind him to wake Peter up, so it looked like Peter was going to be starting the day not far behind me.