There’s a lot to be said for dreaming big. It can give you hope when all seems lost, can keep you motivated through injury and recovery and it can see you entering races that once upon a (non-running) time ago seemed impossible.
I’d heard talk of #acoventryway brandished around the local running club not long after I’d joined. The 40-mile circular route, which circumnavigates Coventry, takes in the trails and rural villages around Warwickshire and is a highlight in the calendar for many local running clubs.
“You’re all mad” I thought in equal parts awe and disbelief. Back then, I’d only run a couple of 10ks and 40 miles in one go seemed so far removed from my capabilities that it was laughable.
But things escalate quickly in the world of running and that inner voice saying, “What’s next?” is never truly satisfied. I went through the full escalation of 5k to marathon in a very haphazard way and having managed to drag myself around a Ultra the year before (and immediately forgotten the pain) decided to sign up for The Coventry Way 2020; after all it was pretty much right on the doorstep.
The world of course had other ideas and the global pandemic saw the event postponed until April 2021.
It seemed a long time to wait. I’d studied the guidebook, ran sections of the route and as restrictions started to ease so did the idea of doing the route sooner. But there was a problem - directions are not my strong point and I felt sure that even with a map and digital assistance I would get lost.
It seemed serendipitous then that around this time local running legend - Ian Baynes - was starting up his running company RunwithIan and was offering guided runs of A Coventry Way on selected dates throughout the summer and autumn. It was almost too good to be true so I, along with a few running friends, signed up for his guided A Coventry Way run on 1st August.
It soon became clear that we were in great hands. In the days that followed, e-mails arrived full of helpful information including what to do to prepare in the days beforehand and what to bring on the day.
The big day rolled around and saw us gathered at 7am at the Memorial in Abbey Fields, Kenilworth. We set off down through the town and quickly picked up the main route of A Coventry Way at the fenced walkway parallel to Frythe Close. Within minutes we were happily running through a very peaceful Kenilworth golf course, the early morning sun gently warming us up.
Good company, good conversations and not having to think about directions made the first 10 miles fall away effortlessly. Ian directs the route perfectly, leading us though trails, and woods before arriving at the beautiful village of Bubbenhall a few miles later. Bubbenhall’s picturesque 13th century St Giles Church takes centre stage and a quick photo stop was too good to resist.
We arrive at Ryton village a few miles later and take full use of the town’s Co-op enjoying coffee and ice creams by the side of the road – our first pit stop.
Onwards to Wolston, a small village located halfway between Rugby and Coventry, which has 2 churches, and the River Avon flowing through it. A couple of road crossings a bridleway and beautiful violet lavender field make the next few trail miles seem effortless. The trail takes us over the magical Pedlars Bridge and into Brinklow.
Brinklow is a pretty little village with a wide high street, a handful of pubs and a fabulous red phone box library. It’s also home to the famous Brinklow Castle - a double motte-and-bailey earthwork, which has associations with William the Conqueror’s campaign. It’s a clear day and we take a few minutes out to walk to the top and enjoy the stunning views of the medieval route - A Fosse Way.
We carry on our way and a few miles later we near the halfway point and collectively decide it’s a good place for our first pub stop. The Rose & Castle in the village of Ansty does the job perfectly. Half pints of beer, lots of salty crisps and use of the pub’s outdoor tap to fill up water packs and we are back on our way. Everyone is in good spirits as we pick up the Oxford canal path and continue on our way at a very gentle pace. It’s lovely to be running alongside the water. Pretty barges drift by as we take our time jogging slowly in single file.
We stop for a group photo by Nettle Hill Bridge (or Bridge 24 as its less affectionately known) and head up steps away from the water through a short trail and back into open fields.
Beltex sheep, looking like pub bouncers of the sheep world, eye us curiously as we shuffle by.
By mid afternoon we are starting to tire; there’s no denying that it’s a long way but the camaraderie, group banter and beautiful scenery keep out sprits up.
There is no worry of veering off course, Ian not only knows the route inside out but his facts and information about the local points keep us educated and are a great distraction.
With about 10 miles to go we stop at the The Red Lion pub in Corley Moor. It’s a sunny afternoon so we sit, or in my case stand, in the beer garden and order Warwickshire’s most expensive coffee and cakes. The cakes are worth the extortionate price though and give us a much needed sugar boost.
Carrying on after the rest stop is hard. Aching muscles, tired legs and the temptation to just walk to the finish is hard to resist. Ian is brilliantly motivating and encourages us all to keep to a very gentle jog and sure enough it starts to feel easier again.
With a couple of miles to go we pick up the top of the Greenway and the colour drains from our faces as one by one our Garmins start to die, the sure sign that we’re on a ultra long run.
10 hours and 42 amazing miles later and we finish at the Memorial in Abbey Fields. We head to the Almanack for the celebratory beers and chips. Ian congratulates us and gives us all RunwithIan mugs, T-shirts and the toastiest hoodies which we put on immediately.
We manage to sync the only remaining powered Garmin to Strava and tag ourselves to it. There’s a theory that if it’s not on Strava it never actually happened but even without this proof there’s no doubt that it did. The wonderful memories, beautiful photos on our phones and rewardingly aching legs are proof enough of a fabulous day.
Running A Coventry Way with RunwithIan was a brilliant experience which I’d recommend to not only experienced runners but also to anyone looking to complete their first Ultra. There are no time restrictions and the pace was relaxed and enjoyable. Ian has run A Coventry Way nine times in 2020 so knows every section of the route inside out. The motivation, encouragement and camaraderie were second to none and made it a truly memorable adventure.
Who knows what next year looks like from a race point of view but if A Coventry Way 2021 doesn’t go ahead then this is hands down a fantastic way to experience it. Sign me up, again!
Author 🖊 & Camera 📷: Tanya Follliot, 1 August 2020
Read more about the challenge here: https://www.runwithian.com/bookings-checkout/acw-42-mile-guided-ultra-1