Back in the 17th century in the thriving wool trading town of Tetbury male workers would show off to local women by running up the hill between pubs carrying a sack of wool. In the 19th century the wool trade went into decline but for over 40 years now the tradition has been revived with races taking place on woolsack day.
The official race day sees males carrying a 60lbs sack over the 240 yard up hill course. Women run the same distance carrying 35 lbs sacks and there are also kids races and relays. The event is known as the World Championship and the fastest times are entered into the Guinness World Records book.
On May bank holiday Monday Quirky Races’ Chris made the trip to the Cotswolds to give the race a go.
It was approaching midday and I’d almost completed my two hour drive from home to Tetbury when the heavens opened. We’d had glorious sunshine for well over a week so it was just typical of the good old English weather to pour down with rain on the last day of our extended weekend.
I parked up in the official event car park, left my wife and two children in the car to shelter, hooded up and headed for race registration which was both further away and harder to find that I was expecting. A miles jogging later I arrived at what was one of the steepest hills I had ever seen on a regular town street. This was the race’s starting point then! Wow. A little more jogging (or trekking) to the top I saw the finish line banner and knocked at a cabin door where a helpful lady ticked my name on her list and advised me that the relay races would set off at 2pm, followed by the females races and then the males.
Barriers and banners were all set up, market stalls, food venters and street sellers where all in place but other racers and any human beings for that matter were very scarce.
I jogged back to my car, moved it closer to the start and together with my family took a walk back towards the race HQ. Taking a toilet stop along the way I realised most people were keeping up the old tradition in The Royal Oak pub.
As the start drew closer the streets began to fill up. In previous years the race has attracted crowds of up to 5,000 people and it didn’t look like the weather was going to stop them from showing their support again this time.
As 2pm struck the rain was not letting up but the show must go on as they say and the relays were off. Then it was the turn of the ladies who like the men would race in two’s or three’s in a time trial format with the fastest time overall being the winner.
There were some really impressive performances being registered and what I also found just as impressive was how everyone was just getting on with it. Umbrellas were a plenty and supporters were finding shelter in doorways along the route but nobody was hiding away or letting what was now torrential rain stop them from doing what they came to do but just when everyone thought the weather couldn’t get much worse it did. This resulted in a brief break in proceedings which I think everyone welcomed.
I met back up with my family, took some shelter of my own for the first time, dried off with a little towel I’d brought with me and took my jacket off as it was by now making me wetter and colder rather than protecting me from the elements.
As the rain eased slightly I realised I couldn’t quite here the announcer from where I was so made my way back to the finish area via a quick toilet stop. As I jogged back over I heard my name being called out over the microphone. All the other men had assembled at the bottom of the hill and I had been drawn in race one. Much to everyone else’s amusement the MC proceeded to announce that I’d been delayed by a toilet emergency. He seemed to take great pleasure in sharing this news and repeated it several more times as I ran down the hill with a big grin on my face.
In the start line each competitor was given a different coloured bib so it could be distinguished who they were. I was given a red one. We then got to feel the woolsacks for the first time which were now quite wet and therefore even heavier. I had two other guys in my race and as the started shouted “go” they both got a few yards on me as I was clearly the slowest to react.
It didn’t take me long to get myself into second place but the leader lad got off to a flyer and had a big gap on me as the hill got steeper.
I was feeling better and better as I pushed on up and began to close the gap. With the finish now in sight, the crowd roaring and the man on the mic announcing that I was catching up with every stride I gave it all I had but that early lead was just a little too big and the finish line came a bit too soon for me as I stopped the clock at 56.88 seconds.
There were eight races in total so I watched and waited to see if anyone else could beat my time. It turned out that I would have won every other race until the very final one where the winner clocked 56.81 pushing me back into third spot. I was happy enough with that on what was my first attempt at this event. I know in future I need to get out much faster and I would love to come back for another go hopefully when the sun is shining which would make the day much more enjoyable. That being said I still had a good time and was really glad I made the journey.
As this event has been going for so long I’m sure that there is a reason for what I am about the say but I did wonder why the races were so split up. I would have much preferred to have ran in a larger group rather than in a three, this would have been a lot more exciting for both racers and spectators and meant the day wasn’t so drawn out. I realise it would have been more of a strain on the timekeepers who did a great job all day long but really only the winner’s time is important in a race like this anyway and there is enough room to accommodate more people. That would be the only major change I would like to see in what is an event that I hope will remain on the Quirky Races calendar for as many years as it’s already been going.