The Cotswold marathon is an overnight hiking event run from Murray Hall Scout Centre in Tuffley, Gloucester that offers scouts and guides from across the county three challenging distances to walk, ranging from bronze level at 10 miles to silver at 20, all the way up to gold at 30 miles- trekking through the chilly February night over Gloucester’s hills and valleys. And this year, 4 brave Young leaders from the 23rd Batheaston scout troop decided to go for gold!
I happened to be one of these 4, who after discussing navigation and organizing practices prior to the event decided this was the year to go for the full 30! Myself (Emily) and my three teammates (Theo, Henry and Rory) were feeling ready and raring to go on the morning of the event, and after the hours drive to Murray Hall managed to get our bags through the kit inspection and were off and away! After trespassing ever so slightly through a private wood and pushing on up the steep north side of Robinswood hill, we’d already passed through checkpoint one and were feeling quite ahead of ourselves! The next 9 or so miles to the Bronze checkpoint consisted of some Usain Bolt-esc speeds up more winding hills, lots of heavy breathing and an unbreakable will to succeed!! We ended up reaching mile 10 (Bronze) in a swift 3 hours at around 9pm, and stopped to eat some dinner before taking off at a similar speed in pursuit of the next checkpoint. I’d say these first ten miles were our highest point, as after around the 15 mile mark the intensive speed admittedly began to take a toll on our legs.
The hardest part about hikes the length of these is that the seemingly rewarding pleasure of sitting yourself down on a nearby wall or a countryside bench after a long stretch of sticky mud actually has quite the adverse effect on your legs when you go to stand up again. Rory and I found that after a quick breather taken on a drystone wall nearing the 18 mile mark, that the muscles in our thighs had seized up almost completely, leaving us to hurriedly hobble forwards to catch up with Henry and Theo a few meters in front of us. It’s an unpleasant sensation, almost as if you can feel the lactic acid flooding ever cell and capillary as you struggle to recover from a break that you thought would help you. But nevertheless, the 4 of us marched on and eventually reached the silver checkpoint, the 20 mile mark!! In the 2 times we’ve participated in the Cotswold Marathon before, we had attempted 20 twice and reached it just once, the very February just before the world fell into lockdown and all events like this were closed down abruptly. And now entering the very same village hall we had entered previously as our final checkpoint, the room being associated with victory and success in our minds- presented a bittersweet feeling amongst the 4 of us knowing we still had another whole 10 miles to go before we could stop.
However, as Henry handed over our walked cards to be approved by the staff at the administration desk- to our surprise the women handed them back with a smile after stamping them’ and congratulated us- ‘well done Team 95, you’re currently 17 minutes in the lead overall in the gold class!’
We were shocked! Since the 2020 marathon saw us complete the silver distance with just 4 minutes left before the cut off time, we really weren’t expecting records to be set as we attempted 30 miles for 2022. But alas, by the skin of our teeth we were in the lead!! It was certainly a console to our exhausted group receiving this news, and with a hopeful mindset and a plastic cup of squash we set off for the next checkpoint feeling the familiar unseizing of our weary muscles as we arose.
Now, you’d expect that nothing could be better for our young egos than being told we were in the lead- however over the next few miles, I think we could all sense that our spirits began to drop. Our group formation began to disperse, from a strong diamond into what looked like a weary prisoner’s parade. Few words were said as we passed through subsequent checkpoints, nodding routinely at the staff’s same jokes and monotonously reciting ’30 miles, yes we’ve done silver before, Bath, about an hour away.’ We grew more and more exhausted, and it’s funny the ways in which your mind begins to wander when in the silence of a gaping Birdlip valley is the only thing you can hear. But in the true spirit of 23rd Bath, our leader Roger in mind, we soldiered on toward the penultimate checkpoint, and were soon on the homerun back to Murray Hall, checkpoint 15.
By this point, despite barely speaking, I think it was clear to all of us that we had lost our lead that the kind woman had informed us of at silver. The total time of all the rests we took as well as a spontaneous 2am diversion certainly totaled to more than 17 minutes, so sadly the spark of hope we’d felt in that moment had been lost to the dark hills. But as we trudged closer to the finish line, we all agreed that we came here not to win, but to finish, and that was what we were going to do. So feeling a sleepy yet rekindled team spirit, we powered through the final 2 kilometers of Tuffley and eventually crossed the final finishing line back at Murray Hall, to meet a tent of sleeping retired walkers and a table of organizers with warm and happy faces that checked us in and shook our hands as we were presented with 4 gold medals in the shape of little, bite size marathon boots.
I looked to Henry, Theo and Rory with a prideful smile, and they looked back with that very same glowing grin that is unmistakably my best friends. We may not have won, but it was a victory for the four of us, and in that moment that was all that mattered.
The next day at around 12pm, I saw my phone light up with a notification that my half-opened eyes endeavored to read. Opening my messages with a clumsy hand- I realized it was from Roger, our leader at 23rd, and a photo of 4 very familiar faces next to a trophy… We had won it!! My eyes frantically scanned the text, ‘Fastest team to complete gold route in under 18s age class’
I was over the moon!! Our little victory here is certainly not only a testament to my three outstanding
teammates, but to Roger and the amazing leader team at 23rd Batheaston that has lead us to be able to achieve things like this, and hopefully many more in the future. My time in Scouts has been the best start to life in the outdoors that anyone could wish for, and allowed me to have eye-opening experiences along with making some of the best friends of my life.
I truly wouldn’t want to walk with any other team.