“A Coventry Way” (Unofficial) Ultra

A Coventry Way” is a 40 mile route circumnavigating the city of Coventry. Although you’re never more than 5 miles or so from the city centre, the large majority of the route is off-road and passes through mainly agricultural land in Warwickshire and Solihull.

A couple of friends had completed the route and having lived in Coventry for three years whilst at University, I must admit I was keen to give it a go.

With Lakes in a Day less than 5 weeks away, this was scheduled to be my last long run and a chance to test my conditioning and on-going Achilles issues. Physio had been going well but there’s nothing like spending hours on the trails to ascertain where you are in terms of injuries and fitness.

As it turned out, I received an email from the race organiser – James Thurlow – the day before I was due to run ‘A Coventry Way’ confirming that ‘Lakes in a Day’ had been cancelled – yet another event falling victim to Covid-19. No doubt it was the correct decision but it still left me feeling deflated and demotivated. A quick talking to from the wife – who always puts things into perspective – and I was back on track. I don’t run to train, I run because I enjoy it. ‘A Coventry Way’ was back on. She really is my rock!

I’d agreed to meet fellow adventurers Colin, Jasper and Nick for a 5am start.

With the alarm set for 3:45am, I grabbed a quick shower and bite to eat before heading off for the 30 minute drive to the Queens Head in Meriden – and official start of the route. I’d packed the night before so kit was all sorted and ready to go, with easy access to a headtorch as the first 30 minutes or so it would still be dark.

The first couple of miles were mainly though fields and farmland as the route, heading off in an anti-clockwise direction, made its way towards Berkswell. Under the guidance of our head torches, navigation proved slightly tricky in places as we made our way through fields trying to locate gates and stiles in the distance. Within the hour, the sun made an appearance on the horizon and navigation became much more straight forward.

Spirits were high as the sun made an appearance

By mile 2 I’d become increasingly aware of an issue with my trail shoes – or in particular, my right shoe. I’d opted to go with my new La Sportiva Lycan’s which on paper were perfect for long distance. They were well cushioned and extremely comfortable straight from the box. I’d taken them out on a couple of short, local trails to break them in and my opinion hadn’t changed. I’d got on with them straight from the off. However, I’d yet to wear them in wet conditions. The morning dew meant that the ground was saturated and it wasn’t long before my feet were soaked through. This in itself isn’t an issue, most trail shoes drain pretty well and it doesn’t impact upon comfort or performance. The Lycan’s however, don’t appear to drain well and seem to retain the water in the sole. Again, not necessarily an issue but they squelch on every step. This was just annoying – it’s like running behind someone with keys or loose change in their pockets which rattles around with every step. The repetition slowly drives you crazy and I found myself heal striking or changing my gait every now and again to eliminate the noise – not a good idea with a dodgy Achilles!

Squelch!

The next few miles were a mixture of fields, farmland and bridleways as we made our way towards Kenilworth at mile 9. Navigation was straight forward with well placed ‘A Coventry Way Association’ signposts situated throughout. Conditions underfoot were runnable, despite being wet and muddy in places but with regular stiles and gates to address, meant that it was difficult to get into any kind of rhythm. Between miles 6-8 we found ourselves running down a bridleway which will soon be part of the HS2 route linking up London, the Midlands and the North – a sober reminder of the environmental impacts this will cause.

Squelch!

Miles 10-20 were pretty uneventful, although we were all commenting how beautiful the surroundings were. I’m not sure what we were expecting circumnavigating around Coventry but the landscape was stunning as we made our way through the vast countryside, secluded villages and picturesque churches.

Approaching a church in its stunning surroundings

The sun had now risen and temperatures were starting to hit the late teens – almost perfect running conditions. Conditions underfoot were a mixture of grass, hard packed trails with small sections of tarmac. Conversation was flowing and the miles were ticking themselves off. With temperatures rising, I was also taking on board plenty of fluids. I carry two 500ml soft flasks of Tailwind which has been sufficient for anything up to 30 miles – for anything longer then I’m usually in a race environment so have access to aid stations. We’d passed a couple of shops up to this point so I wasn’t too concerned – I’d refill my flasks as and when the opportunity presented itself.

Squelch!

At mile 23 we reached Brinklow Castle, known locally as the Trump, a medieval castle in the village of Brinklow. Upon summiting the Trump we took the opportunity to take ten minutes and get some food and fluids on board. I also applied some Compeed plasters to a hot spot developing on my heel – damn squeaky-new-rubbing trainers!

By mile 25 two things occurred – 1) the morning dew had now evaporated and my trainers had finally dried out – NO MORE SQUELCHING! – which was a relief and 2) I was completely out of fluids – no bother – I’ll replenish at the next shop.

Mile 32 – yet to pass a shop but a milestone for Nick as this was his furthest run to date. Kudos indeed! We were all feeling OK at this point, if a little tired. My Achilles was starting to ache but not to the point where it was causing any discomfort – almost an underlying niggle which was making itself known but not enough to warrant stopping. The Compeed plaster had done the trick with the hot spot and I felt relatively fresh. The pace was steady, conversation was flowing and we were having a good time out on the trails.

Mile 35 – another milestone moment, this time for Colin and his longest ever run to-date. Kudos again.

Mile 36 – I need to hold my hands up to this one! The dreaded field of wheat! In part, the route is well signposted so navigation is relatively straight forward…until you get to mile 36 that is! Approaching a farm, I took the wrong turn and started to descend down a track – followed by everyone else – getting carried away as gravity took its course. Once at the bottom of the hill, I noticed that we’d gone slightly off route so taking a bearing on my watch decided that we could get back on track by cutting though a field (there was a white signpost which suggested to me this was a right of way). Anyway, not being able to see the other end of the field (and the expected stile) we made our way though the tractor tracks around the perimeter of the field, being careful not to damage the crop. It was a long old slog! Upon reaching the other side it became apparent that there was no stile so rather than retracing our steps I/we decided to continue around the perimeter in search of another exit. Fail. We ended up leaving the field at the same point we joined it and retraced our steps back up the farm. All in all, this added over a mile to the route! It was one big ass field!

Apologies done, we immediately found the correct route and continued on track. It was at this point we bumped into a couple of other runners who were also doing the Coventry Way. They’d joined the route slightly further on than us so were up to the 28 mile point – some 8 miles less than what we had done at that stage. We chatted for a while before wishing them good luck as we headed off in front of them.

Over the next couple of miles we found ourselves leapfrogging each other as we’d have slight nav issues or sections where our pace would ease off. Still no shops mind!

Now, I’m not usually competitive but we did find ourselves increasing the pace slightly to get ahead, and stay ahead of our fellow adventurers. We eventually lost them as we made our way through the maize fields.

Navigating the maize fields

Mile 40 – still no shop and I was feeling dehydrated at this point – but the end was in sight. The prospect of finishing at the Queens Head – and a cold pint of their finest – was driving me on and the last three miles went without incident.

With 500 metres or so to go, we hit the tarmac and the final push to the pub!

We’d done it.

43.1 miles in 9:28 with just shy of 2000ft of elevation.

Pints ordered with a glass of water to quench the thirst, we found a table outside and chewed the fat about the mornings work. 5 minutes later, the two adventurers limped past the pub, looking somewhat beat up with the knowledge that they had another 8 miles to go.

I hope they made it.

2 thoughts on ““A Coventry Way” (Unofficial) Ultra

  1. Great photos, esp the maize field one! I was surprised doing the Coventry Half that we went through villages with thatched cottages, pretty churches and hand-bell ringers (to be fair, the latter were probably there for race day). Well done all of you!

    Liked by 1 person

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