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The Cotswolds Way Challenge

In June 2019 the Bench Events’ Charitable Committee supported Matt’s 100km Ultra Marathon – The Cotswolds Way Challenge. Matt decided to walk the distance, starting in Bath and ending in Cheltenham, over two days. His efforts raised £2428.78 in aid of MIND – the Mental Health Charity.


Read Matt's account of the walk below:

"I’m no endurance athlete – I can hardly run more than 3 miles without some part of my body breaking, pinging, snapping or seizing. In fact, I’ve never participated in any sort of organised running activity, a fun run in a park, a 5k a 10k, anything. So, of course, the logical thing to do was to jump in the deep end and participate in an Ultra Marathon – a 100km walk/run.

Having moved recently to the Cotswolds area I heard, through one of the school mums, about the Cotswold’s Way Challenge. I thought this was a great opportunity to see the local countryside.

I started the process believing I could run the 100km between Bath and Cheltenham. But after numerous and continuous injuries – I was forced to approach this as a walk. Turns out, even this, is not a little amble through the lovely countryside either! In that regards – naivety is a good thing – setting out blindly into the challenge benefited me. If I had started to consider all the variables, from time needed to train, to improving fitness, I’m not sure I’d have started.

Nearing the event, after numerous injuries, I almost gave up but, after hearing the tragic news that an old University (rugby) friend had committed suicide I thought I’d support MIND – the Mental Health Charity. This moment gave me focus and impetus and, as the support money came in, it helped with the energy needed to work towards the goal.

It also helped me take stock and enjoy the experience. Certainly sobering to hear such awful news and, with walking, I was able to use the time training as time to reflect, listen to music I’d not listened to for years, listen to podcasts, audio books, nothing. I started to love training – taking in the wonderful countryside, soaking up the views and finding my own little mindfulness.

I felt prepared going into the challenge – “Taxi for Hills!” my team was set and I had decided I would split the race up into 50km first day and 50km second day. I’d not done back-to-back big walks but I felt confident I shouldn’t be too sore after completing my first marathon length walk two weeks before and feeling ok.

The Cotswold’s Way Walk

It all went in a blur really – I was very nervous.

I met my team mate in Bath at 7am – we both had an 8am start – he was going to run it – and attempt 100km in one day.

The news of over 30 degrees heat, however, was a little worrying – it was going to be a scorcher. The buzz at the start was great – most participants had amazing stories, reasons to be involved – many carried those stories on their backpacks – it was very inspiring.

We set off at 8am and we climbed away from Bath until we were looking down on the city and entering the Cotswolds themselves. At the beginning it’s hard to find your pace with the amount of people in a group and in the first kilometre I rolled my ankle – a recurring injury I did when doing a training walk in Turkey. It didn’t seem to impact me so I pushed on stopping at the first organised stop – Bath racecourse some 8km out from the start.

The ankle felt good and my pace was good – the temperature was growing so I refilled my empty camel pack and headed out, with high spirits, into the beautiful countryside. I went through 2 litres of water in the next hour and was then fighting against this for the next 8 or 9km. I’d also tried to arrange a podcast during this period – and, although it didn’t work, it gave me time to speak to Sally from the office. I was also kept company by my daughter Caitlin – who would whatsapp me during the weekend – these little moments really helped drive me on.

I reached the half way point of the first day and I was very dehydrated. I took on a lot of water and refilled again – stopping for around 20 minutes to shade myself and cool down. I had started to pull away from the walkers and started to overtake a lot of the runners – who many, by now, had hit some walls. I found myself alone for the majority of the rest of the day – the searing heat over lunch was hard – the heat bouncing up off the fields making you feel like you were in an oven. But thanks to locals offering hose downs, cold sponges and extra water I pushed on. Completing the first day in just shy of 9 hours.

My team mate, Alex, wasn’t so lucky. He showed signs of heat stroke, getting lost off the path and just after the 50Km point told me he’d run out of water. The knock on effect was that he had to stop shortly after 60km.

I was lucky enough to be able to go home in the evening – being close – and was able to paddle in a friends paddling pool and Tess was keen I have a few beers. I didn’t realise you could track your performance and Tess told me that, within my group (those running or walking 100km over two days) I was actually in 9th position!!! I couldn’t believe it – I think the heat took it’s toll but I also felt I could push on now – Sunday was going to be cooler. I don’t think they were too impressed with me lancing my blisters during the evening mind you. But I was focused!!!

Day 2 I set off at 7am or so – after getting my feet professionally lanced and protected. I immediately got into a good walking speed and was being held up less by people.

I found myself being immersed into my books and plays. I’d finished Glengary Glen Ross and moved onto one of my favourite books – All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and, although the scene he set was in the prairies of West Texas and Mexico, you could almost imagine yourself in the Mexican plains as the heat bounced off the floor. I walked through miles of beautiful forests, long fields and some small Cotswold’s villages.

Bouncing my way along now – full of energy I didn’t stop to eat – just refilled water and continued. The hills on the second day were brutal in some places but I found myself over taking people and even running parts of the course. At the final water stop (7km away) I knew I was going to complete the challenge – and, in true form, became a little emotional with the situation. Somewhat delirious I remember talking to llamas and singing songs to myself and full volume.

At 99km – as I approached Cheltenham through a park I felt my right foot’s blisters burst. A warmth of water filling my shoes and then, at each step, the shift of skin as it moved around my shoe. Hobbling a little I pushed on – then, pretty soon after, the burst of my blisters in my left shoe. Being so close – I took my shoes off and pushed on. I felt sorry now for those who were obviously distressed with blisters earlier – it wasn’t nice.

I arrived to meet my sister and Alex waiting for me – it was a great sight – well, they were holding a beer for me! In the end I managed to come 4th in the race – which was surprising for a walker and, more importantly raise almost £2500 for charity."