On Saturday night, 21st July, Darryl Carter jogged into the car park next to Painswick Library. He was 55 miles into his attempt to set a new record for the fastest completion of the Cotswold Way. I was to pace him, with another runner, Austin Blackburn through the remaining 47 miles north to . We also had a fresh support driver, Scott Garrett.
The official record, 22 hours, 23 minutes, was set in May 1994 by Frank Thomas, and an unofficial record of 21:29 had also been set. While we’d waited for Darryl, Dan Martin, the support driver for the first section, filled us in on how things had gone so far. Darryl had set out with a 18.5 hour target: he was clearly not on course to do it that fast, but it still looked like he could beat the record.
He’d received excellent support from Mark Palmer, who paced him along all of the first 55 miles, Peter Cusick, who ran the first 30 miles with him, and several other runners who accompanied him early on.
My legs were still a little under par from the South Downs Way 100, three weeks earlier and Darryl is a very strong runner who has won several ultras in the last few years: I wondered who would be pacing whom. I put these worries out of my mind, glad that we were finally setting off (we had arrived in what turned out to be very good time). Overnight runs feel like an adventure to me, and being part of a record attempt is very exciting, so I was in high spirits.
I don’t think I could give a blow by blow account of our run, and it would be very repetitive if I did. The trail never seems to ‘settle down’, there’s always another hill to climb or descend, a field or open down to cross, or a pretty village to pass through. Considering the ‘summer’ we’d been having, there wasn’t that much mud to cope with. The weather had turned only a few days before and, although it had got a bit hot during Saturday, conditions were conducive to a record attempt.
Austin and I complemented each other well. He lives near the trail, had ‘recced’ most of it, and is a good map reader: he was our ‘trail blazer’, running a few yards ahead and sussing the route. I stuck to Darryl’s shoulder or behind him if there wasn’t the space. I felt it was important for Darryl’s morale to not be trailing at the back of the pack. We carried Darryl’s supplies and encouraged him to keep eating; I kept up as much chatter as I thought he could manage, as a means of distracting him from the fatigue (and because I’m a gobshite).
We had ‘aid stations’ arranged at roughly 7 mile intervals. Scott met us at each one, and we replenished our supplies and ate a little, then tried to move on quite quickly before we seized up!
It was lovely to see the Cotswolds again when it got light. It’s a lot less mentally taxing running in the light even without scenery to lift your spirits. We were still cautiously confident that we could beat the record: Darryl and Austin thought we were heading for 21+ hours; I thought more like 20+.
Once we hit the last aid station, in Broadway, it looked fairly certain that we would comfortably beat 21 hours, although, unless we could suddenly up our speed to a decent half marathon pace, we weren’t going to beat 20! The last climb up to Broadway Tower was long and gentle. I suspect Darryl would have preferred a shorter, sharp climb so he could ‘get it over with’: he wasn’t running even fairly shallow gradients by this stage.
The small ‘diversion’ of the path over to Dover’s Hill seemed a little cruel to our addled minds and tired legs, but it was an excellent viewpoint, the last of the many we’d ran over and a worthwhile farewell to the edge of the escarpment we’d followed for so many miles, before we dropped down to the finish in Chipping Campden.
We turned into High Street, Chipping Campden and heard cheers from Darryl’s supporters. His girlfriend, Yve and his parents were there, together with our driver, Scott, Austin’s wife and son, and Paul Thomas (Grade 2 (c) Timekeeper and the Oxon AA Endurance Officials Secretary) and his wife, who had 2 stopwatches each – very official. Darryl though he might cry and/or throw up when we finished, although in the end he just looked ecstatic, as we all did. His time was 20:36:48.