On Saturday February 2nd, 22 hardy runners took on Cotswold Running’s Donnington Way 105, a 105km (66mi) circuit along footpaths and bridleways. The race passes the Donnington Brewery and its 15 pubs. The route provided an incredible challenge to these tough ultramarathoners, many of whom used the event as a springboard to multi-day and mountain races later in the year. The race started at The Black Bear Inn, Moreton-in-Marsh, at 7:30 AM. In perfect conditions, the leaders would expect to complete the race in less than 11 hours. However, as a result of the recent rain and snow, the saturated ground made for difficult underfoot conditions. The weather held fair, though, with bright sunshine for most of the day to lighten the mood as everyone slogged through the mud. According to Race Director, Kurt Dusterhoff, the course was chosen as a steady tour of the local villages. “In a dry year”, he explained, “the event would be an ideal winter ultramarathon, with beautiful surroundings and pleasant footpaths. With the water table so high now, these athletes had to take on knee-deep mud and sodden fields that would defeat all but the best runners. Every one of them completed at least 30 miles, and achieved something very special.”
By the 10-mile checkpoint in Willersey, the runners were already feeling the effects of the soft, slippery, and occasionally deep mud. Malvern’s Bruce Moore took an early lead, making light of the conditions and building a 20 minute gap by the second stop at Snowshill. The mud and steep hills between Broadway and Snowshill offered the first true challenge of the day. For those few who ran the risk of missing the cut-off times along the route, the long road section to Kineton offered a chance to gain back a few minutes. This extra time would come in handy as the path from Kineton, through Naunton, and to Bourton-on-the-Water included some of the worst footing that most of the runners would experience. By the time they reached the 38 mile point at The Fox Inn, Great Barrington, light was fading and participants prepared for the sudden drop in temperature that would come with sunset.
With darkness falling, runners began to struggle with the combined challenges of cold, deep mud, and the difficulty in picking out a path with their torches offering the only light. Steadily, runners were forced to abandon as the terrain and cut-off times took their toll. At both the Lower Swell and Longborough checkpoints, and in a few of the villages along the way, runners were collected from the course and returned to the start point to recover from a difficult day. Eight runners managed to carry on through the late evening, passing through Broadwell and Little Compton on their way back to the finish. During this stretch, with only seven miles to go, Moore became disoriented and lost the lead he had held from the start. Peter Heald, of Solihull, and GB ultrarunner Karen Hathaway took the honours, finishing in 13:03 and 14:10 respectively. The final finishers crossed the line at just after 11pm, just in time for a celebratory pint of Donnington ale.