Sonia leads Green Belt home, but the Stock Exchange fails to catch the Snake
This weekend saw the 10th running of the Green Belt Relay race with thirty four teams of 10 competing.
The relay is organized by Stragglers Running Club from Kingston-upon-Thames. The first running in 1995 saw eight teams of ten runners completing the 20 stage 206 mile relay race around London. The relay has grown in teams and distance over the last eleven years, with 2005 being the largest with 34 teams and 212 miles. In 2001 the event was cancelled due to the foot and mouth outbreak but bounced back becoming one of the most highly rated races amongst runners in the UK.
The race starts at Hampton Court and ends the first day in the pretty village of Blackmore in Essex, before returning back to Kingston on the second day. The course is renowned for its scenery and the places of interest it passes through.
Irish international athlete Sonia O’Sullivan, running for the Millennium Group, started the proceedings by finishing first lady and third overall on the first stage, along the Thames to Staines Bridge (12.8 miles). She doubled up by also taking the last stage (9.5 miles from Walton Bridge to Ham) in a new record time of 49 minutes and 55 seconds, a full 32 seconds faster than the men’s record, and the first ever overall stage win by a female. Sonia was drafted into the team the previous day due to one of the Millennium runners acquiring an injury.
The overall winners were Serpentine Runners, from London, in 21 hours and 32 minutes. They held a 39 minute lead after the first day with an impressive performance in varied weather conditions which saw torrential rain to bright sunshine during the day. Serpentine’s lead was slashed to twenty minutes after their first runner on the second day took the wrong turn whilst leading, but eventually found his way to the finish to make for an interesting finale. However, normal play was resumed as their lead grew to a winning margin of 43 minutes.
The Stock Exchange won the Corporate Prize, finishing second overall, one minute ahead of London Front Runners in third and five minutes ahead of Stragglers, with Brighton & Hove a further thirty seven minutes back in fifth. Front Runner, Shaun Whelan won his stages on both days, and set a new record on stage 6 into St. Albans.
The Millennium Group finished sixth overall and first veteran’s team in 23 hours 21 minutes to take the Walking Stick. They were closely chased by Dulwich Runners Vets with Stragglers’ Over Fifties in third.
Serpentine Ladies matched their male counterparts to win the Women’s event and claim the Pewter Plate in a record time of 25 hrs 2 mins 13 secs, with a comfortable lead of twenty minutes over Richmond based Ranelagh Lassies. Both Serpentine and Ranelagh Lassies won six stages, with new stage records from Serpentine’s Marie-Anne Perrier on 10, through Essex and 19 along the Rivers Wey and Thames, and Emma Calderbank on 17 from Boxhill. Ranelagh’s Lizzie Clifford and Anna McLaughlin both set new records on 7 through Hatfield and 9 through Epping Forest. Third placed Stragglers managed four stages wins: Clare Nicholson with two, including a new stage record on 2 through Windsor.
Other notable performances by ladies over the weekend, included a new stage record on stage 8 along the River Lea by Thames Hare & Hounds only female runner, Kate Symons, and a surprise stage win by Serpentine Ladies 2nd Team runner Louisa Ruderman, beating her 1st team club mate by over 2 minutes. The oldest lady runners (and probably oldest in the event history) was Patricia Hewlett from Ranelagh, who has been in the V65 category for a few years now. She ran stage 2 through Windsor and stage 20 along the Thames to Kingston, and had runners behind her in both.
The Kings and Queens of the Mountains prizes which is contested over the four most difficult stages, two through the Chilterns and two along the North Down, were won by Thames Hare & Hounds and Ranelagh Lassies. Dave Symons of THH won both the Amersham and Chevening stages, while fellow team-mate Matt Jones claimed his second stage record of the weekend with a win on 17 from Boxhill.
Julian Smith of Ranelagh Old Dogs was drafted into the team only hours before the event. He went on to win the notorious stage 4 mountain stage around High Wycombe on the Saturday and lose another from Boxhill by 6 seconds on the Sunday.
The coveted Toilet Seat (prize for last team to complete the course) was won by the Stragglers Mixed Team. Made up of six men and four ladies with an average age of over 55, they completed the course in a time of 33 hours and 48 minutes.
Special awards were also presented to Tony Hopkins of West 4 Harriers and Tim Wood and Alan Pemberton, both from Stragglers for having completed all ten Green Belt Relays. Michael Hutchings, 87 years old, of Stragglers, and the only octogenarian to have completed the relay, also received an award for his outstanding contribution to the event throughout the years.
Olsgbosco Runners from Essex have come together for the last two years to run the race in fancy dress. Their runners include “Noel the Nun” and Superman. They are a charity team from Essex and so far, from this year’s event, have raised over £2000 for the John Bosco Children’s Charity.
proceeds this year will go to The Children’s Trust for children with multiple
disabilities, and MENCAP.