The Green Belt Relay 2005
Big sigh of relief…. it’s over. We don’t have to worry ‘bout it again; not till early 2006 anyway!
It started in an ominously familiar way – with Graham and I having hysterics in the car as we desperately tried to get him to the start of his leg before the race started. This year however, we did make it on time – with 2 whole minutes to spare – no less!
And a big thank you to the Attendant on duty at Hampton Court Palace who threw away the rulebook, and let us in through the front gates when he saw how desperate we were.
Graham did start his leg on time, and promptly got trounced by the leading woman who finished more than 8 minutes ahead of him; and she was a Vet! But he wasn’t too upset – she was after all Sonia O’Sullivan, the 5000 metres Silver Medallist at the Sydney Olympics.
We had a total of 15 runners from our club taking part that weekend. We initially entered one ‘Official’ London Frontrunners team of ten runners. Then the organisers of the race, Stragglers Running Club, got in touch to ask us if we had any ‘spare’ runners who could help them complete one of their teams. That odd bunch became ‘The Straggling Frontrunners’, a team made up of 6 Stragglers and 4 Frontrunners. And then 2 days before the start of the race, one of the ‘Charity’ teams ended up being one runner down; so Richard Stack offered to run one leg for them on the Saturday. The rest of that team seemed to all be running dressed up as nuns or in a Superman costume; and they almost won the ‘Toilet Seat’ – the prize for the last full team that completes all 20 legs of the race. It was Richard who ruined their chances of winning that coveted prize because he ran his 13 mile leg for them, far too quickly!
At the other end of the League Table, our ‘A’ team finished the first day in 4th position. Shaun very cleverly took a wrong turn towards the end of his leg, but still managed to win his stage, and break the Stage Record for that leg by about 6 minutes along the way.
For those of you who don’t know how this race works, let me explain. It starts at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning (9 am actually, but crack of dawn sounds so much more dramatic). It starts at Hampton Court, and goes all the way around London, outside the M25. The circle is eventually completed when the runners arrive back in Kingston on the Sunday evening, having covered a total of 212 miles over 2 days. Each team is made up of ten runners, and every runner has to run both on the Saturday and the Sunday. The distance of each leg varies from an ‘easy’ 6.9 miles to a tough, hilly 13.8 miles.
I still remember that feeling of dread when the heavens opened on Saturday morning as we sat cowering inside our cars, wondering if the downpour would stop before we had to get out and start marshalling just after the start of Leg 5. Yep, every participating team is allocated at least one marshalling point on each day, and it is their duty to get the runners safely across a busy road, or point out to them a gate they’ve got to go through to get into the next field.
The last leg on Saturday finishes at a little village near Chelmsford, which is where the race re-starts the next day. So ten of us had booked rooms at the Western Lodge in Chelmsford, and the intention was to ‘party through the night’ as we watched the Eurovision, but in the end most of us were snoring long before they had started celebrating in Athens.
The night wasn’t without its own mini-crisis or two that cropped up while we were carbo-loading at the local Pizza Express. They came in the form of a back injury that was going to possibly prevent one of our runners from competing on the second day, and dying phone batteries as we attempted to rustle up a possible replacement at the last minute (Toby – you still haven’t responded to that desperate message I left on your voicemail just before midnight on Saturday, asking you if you’d be able to run for ‘The Straggling Frontrunners’ the next day).
It was another early start the next morning. It was sheer delight seeing the look of amazement on the Receptionist’s face when the 4 of us who were involved in the early legs asked for breakfast at 6.15 on a Sunday morning. ‘What is going on?’ he asked, ‘I now have 10 people wanting an early breakfast tomorrow morning before the kitchens open at 7 am!’
We assumed there was another team staying at the same hotel with us, but we never saw them at breakfast the next morning. Did they miss the start? We did made it back to Blackmore Village long before the 8 am start (well, at least ten minutes, this time). Apologies once again to the runner from Mornington Chasers who asked me if I could look after his warm clothes for him while he ran. They were still safely tucked away in the boot of my car, three stages later when I realized I’d forgotten to meet him when he finished his leg and re-unite him with his warm clothes! They eventually did make their way back to him via one of his team-mates who was running one of the later stages. Oops!
It’s isolated images that come to mind when I try to recall memorable moments from the second day. Our ‘Official Photographer’ who had joined us for part of the second day, in order to record the event for posterity, lying flat on his tummy in the tall grass at the start of Leg 16, focusing his zoom lens on us as we got ready to speed off, the breathtaking scenery as we ran along the North Downs Way, and the runner in front of me going left in spite of the huge sawdust arrow pointing to the right because she hadn’t realized ‘that we had to follow the sawdust arrows’! And this was on the second day – how did she manage to get round on Day 1?
I think we must have had a bit of a transport crisis on Sunday afternoon. Mark F. & Stephen, I’m really, really sorry. I only heard the desperate sounding messages you’d left on my ‘dead’ phone when I eventually got home at about 10 o’clock that evening, asking me when I was coming to collect you from wherever it was you’d been abandoned. I still don’t know who rescued you from wherever you were, and what time you were eventually retrieved. I console myself with the fact that it must have happened because somebody had to rush off in order to get a runner to the start of their leg. I was pleased that the two of you didn’t appear to be too traumatised when I saw you a couple of hours later as the last runners were coming in at the end of the race in Kingston.
That was the other leg that Sonia O’Sullivan did, when she trounced our Callum, and the rest of the field as she romped home in first place, setting a new Women’s Stage record, that was even faster than the Men’s Stage record!
So how did we do? Our ‘Official’ team came in at a very respectable 3rd place out of the 32 teams that completed the entire distance. Our total time was 22 hours, 17 minutes and seven seconds – almost 2 hours faster than the time we did last year, and only a minute and a half behind the team who came in second. The ‘Straggling Frontrunners’ were 18th in 26 hours (and a bit), and Richard’s team – well they didn’t get the Toilet Seat! Sonia O’Sullivan’s team did not win, despite her efforts, but they did get the ‘Walking Stick’, the prize for the fastest Vets’ team.
So, what else do I need to tell you? I suppose I should say a few ‘Thank yous’, and give credit where credit’s due. The Organizers, once again, did an amazing job. Do you realize how much effort is needed in getting at least 2 ‘Start Marshals’ and two ‘Finish Timekeepers’ to the start and finish of each of 20 legs at hourly intervals, on both the Saturday and the Sunday. And the handover points are scattered around Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey! And as we’d line up to start the next leg, somehow a billboard would materialize with the names, times and finishing positions of each and everyone of the 30 odd runners who’d just finished running the previous leg, less than an hour ago. They even managed to get the full results (all the 76 pages of results with all our details) onto their website within 24 hours of the race finishing! And I don’t know how many people they had, going round the entire course, marking the junctions with sawdust and putting up little GBR arrows pointing us in the right direction.
From our crowd, thank you Graham for most of the 279 e-mails that ended up in my inbox as we tried to ‘organize’ our participation in this event, and for doing most of the work quietly behind the scenes while I went around tactfully persuading the unwilling. Andy – thank you for that glorious looking Excel Spreadsheet that was supposed to tell everybody where they were supposed to be, when, and how they were getting there – I wished I’d been able to decipher it; and James, our ‘local’ boy from Kingston, thank you for shouting instructions to Graham over the phone, telling us how to get to Hampton Court from wherever we were, when I’d insisted we should turn left ‘because I knew a shortcut’; when all the road signs said you had to turn right to get to Hampton Court!
Our two Volunteer Drivers, and our Photographer, thank you. We just about managed to get everybody to where they should be in reasonably good time – we couldn’t have done it without you, and the runner/drivers, and let’s not forget the navigators (Gus – what a talent!). Mark C., yes I know you got abandoned at a pub in your running shorts for about two hours, but then again, you couldn’t ask for a better place to be abandoned at. Pity you didn’t have any money on you at the time!
So are we going to do it all over again, next time round? How could we possibly stay away? We’ll all be lined up outside Hampton Court Palace on a Saturday morning in May 2006; and next year, we’ll definitely get there on time!