The report below was written just a few days after GBR2004. Since then we have gone from 20 stages to 22. Over forty miles of the route has altered, the overall distance has increased by 8 miles and some of the old changeovers are no longer used. What Lynda and I do mainly remains the same as then, so I hope it gives you an insight to our weekend. I also hope you enjoy reading it and hopefully it may inspire a few of you to write about your run up to and what happened to you over GBR 2009.
In memory to John Barrow, who after a long fight with cancer died on 24th September 2008 Ė you were sadly missed at GBR2009 and will always remain an inspiration to us all.
Just another year, just another Green Belt Relay
If we had of known, in advance, how bad the weather was going to be, we may have cancelled it. Saturday morning was far from pleasant. It was raining and windy. Hampton Court Palace still looked great in all its glory. Pat & Alan looked wet, yet still full of enthusiasm as we pulled into the main entrance. The security guard was welcoming, but I donít think he knew what was just about to hit him. Within an hour, 300 hardened runners would descend on him. They would be full of life and looking forward to competing against each other in the longest and one of the most grueling races in the UK. Good luck to him, he stayed accommodating and wished us well as we left the Palace.
Friday Ė The day before the Relay
Most of the previous day, Lynda and myself, had spent out marking the course. Itís usually an enjoyable and relaxed day as we are not being chased down by the runners. We concentrated on mainly the road parts of stages 3 to 5. That morning Colin Penn was marking 1 & 2, Andrew Lane & Tim Wood were doing their bit on stages 6 & 7, Sue Ashley & Clive Beauvais, from Ranelagh, were on the new stage 17 from Boxhill, and Pat & Alan Short were marking 18. We were lucky with the weather, but because of all the recent rain, it was very muddy underfoot.
For the first time in years we got back to Staines relatively early. Over a beer and a pub meal we discussed what needed to be done before the next day. There was still a lot to do and time was getting on so we didnít stay in the pub for very long.
I arrived home at 8.30pm. Lynda had a longer journey. Before I could sit down and start on the work, the phone rang, it was Flanders, asking about the pushbike they wished to borrow. This was all set up, but because of the condition of the course, I advised against them using it. In the end, and after two phone calls from them, their decision not to use a bike was the correct one.
I got many phone calls that night. We still had not issued the race numbers to the teams and this alone prompted five calls. Tim & Andrew had decided to re-route stage 6. It took a couple of phone calls to Tim and one to Andrew, plus a lot of studying maps, to work out the change. This would mean changing the map and printing 40 copies of it. I could also see that Tim was having a good evening. He had a full house and from the background noise the party was in full swing. His guests included Weston, who had just arrived from New York, plus two Aussies called Dan and Dave. This party went on late and would have an effect on Timís run the next day. Andrew, by now was fast asleep, at home, and dreaming about wining stages.
I also spoke to Lynda on the phone many times that night, discussing progress and dividing tasks between each other. I last spoke to her about 1am. I got to bed just after 2am. I think she was up later. Anyway it was difficult to get to sleep; it was only 4 hours till I got up again. There were a lot of people depending on us both and we didnít want to let them down. It took a lot of work to get to this point and what does it matter if you wake up feeling tired. The buzz of the weekend always keeps you going.
Saturday Ė Race Day
Saturday morning, I did have a good breakfast, and for the second day in a row I made a picnic. I had no choice, as history shows, we donít get an opportunity to stop as the runners are never that far behind us. When we eventually arrive at the finish of day one, food is not the most important thing on our minds. Like maybe everyone, we think we deserve a beer whilst supporting the runners in. We do have a meal arranged for us later in the evening and we didnít want to miss our first opportunity of the day to see some of the relay.
I dropped my car off at a friendís house in Esher. It was very early and they were all still in bed. Lynda was already waiting for me. She had arrived just before me. It was a short drive to the palace and this year I had arranged for our car, as well as the Resultís Serviceís car to be allowed into the grounds.
A few minutes later we arrived at the palace. We gave Pat & Alan their agenda, and many items to issue to the teams. We then headed for the Green carpark. This is where we were to meet the timekeepers, James Long who was supervising them, and some of the other race official. It is also where the teams parked before their walk to the start.
James had hired a van the previous day. This proved to be a huge help over the weekend. He had it stocked up with 300 goodie bag, which Pat & Alan bought and stuffed the previous day. He had also collected the prizes, had the spare numbers, starterís banners and much more in there. Lucky for us his task was to make every changeover point that day. It meant he could dish out the goody bags to the timekeepers and issue numbers to runners.
Whilst briefing the timekeepers, and issuing their instructions, many cars and minibuses started to arrive. It wasnít long till the whole carpark was heaving with runners. People would come up and introduce themselves. They all seemed really keen, despite the weather. We were introduced to all of Flanders Running Club. They were mostly called Jan and seemed so enthusiastic, I just felt tired and wet, thought why do I really do this stupid event, and why have so many people put their faith (and fate) in both Lynda and myself? Lynda looked wet, but happy and just got on with the job. Superman, and many others, seemed to be really buzzing. So far the weather had not dampened any of their spirits.
This year we were very fortunate, we had more teams competing than ever before. On top of seven timekeeping teams and the Resultís Service, we had James in the van; Colin Penn as course referee and helping with the marshalling; Pat & Alan marshalling and being troubleshooters; John Barrow & John Greaves (plus Aussie Dan, who spent most of the weekend in and out of pubs) free to do what we asked; Lyndaís Family (the Piles) covered the most dangerous point of all at Amersham; Les Brown, and his army of six, making sure everything was looked after at Boxhill; Tony & Shirley Oakes helping runners to get under bridges at Staines & Kingston, Arthur Boardman directing them at Hampton Court, on the way home (this time he didnít turn up 3 hours early and was helped by Les and his army); Paul Sinton-Hewitt leading the runners down from Boxhill, and helping them off-road at West Humble. Most of these people have supported GBR for many years now and most take on the same duties each year. Itís a good feeling when you know that so many know their jobs so well from previous years.
The amount of teams and support we had also meant we could cover more marshal points than before, but allocate fewer to each team. Maybe there are more points that could do with marshals, but we know some teams struggle with their own agenda, and putting heavy burdens on them is not the solution. Our main goal is to give everyone a good weekend and get them around the course safely and in one piece.
So, as along as dangerous points are marshaled, some safety notices are used, and runners turn up in time for the starters briefings, having read their risk assessments and with their route instructions in hand, then everything should go as planned. It sounds simple, yet every year things do go wrong.
We drove back to the start. John Barrow and John Greaves were helping the security guard to keep the vehicles out of the palace. We were recognised and allowed entry. There were lots of people milling about, many were not concentrating and blocking the flow of normal Saturday morning traffic into the palace. Some runners were already jogging up and down, preparing for the start of stage 1.
I checked with Pat & Alan and Nigel & Paul that things were going as planned. Pat & Alan had done everything they needed to do; Paul was laughing and Nigel was talking to himself, muttering a few swear words under his breath, but to me that meant he was happy. Lynda checked with the timekeepers and organized the crowd.
At Last Ė Theyíve Started
Not having to wait for dignitaries, as in previous years, we managed to get the runners away on time. Lynda done the honours, Ruli & Hank got them on their way, I just sat back and listened.
Sue Waters lead the race for the first 400metres. OK, they were not allowed to overtake her till she said so. We had a controlled start; we had people on the button of the pelican crossing outside the palace. I told them they were not allowed to stop the traffic. Did it make a difference? Did they take notice of what I said? Not really. Six Stragglers in marshal bibs had their arms out, like policemen, and of course the traffic did stop. Shame we do not have a remote control for the lights.
My reaction was thank God itís started at last, Lyndaís reaction was, ďcome on Sean we got to goĒ. Sheís a hard taskmaster, but sheís good with it.
The last two things I remember on leaving Hampton Court, were Nigel Collins speaking very loudly to himself and Paul Hutchings just laughing. This was our Results Service. Their navigator, which seems to change each year, was Clare Nicholson, who had to put up with them for the whole weekend.
As we drove back over Hampton Court Bridge, I spotted and shouted to Jim Desmond as walked casually back over the bridge. Last yearís winning captain and a huge help to me over the years, a good second to Lynda in the amount of work he has put in. Just like him, his only reaction was to put his hand up and smile back at us.
We soon got past stage 1; we passed what was Lyndaís old house on the way. I remember most of my early committee meetings taking place in that house. A lot of where this club is today was decided there. I really enjoyed those meetings, I know that most committee members did and we also enjoyed a few bottles of wine and some nibbles, whilst discussing the clubís business.
Our first stop was Runnymede. The warden got upset about our arrows last year, so we only used sawdust this year. At Runnymede, where the runners cross the road, there is a point you can pull up and park. It doesnít fully take you off the road, but it lets cars go past you in both directions. This didnít stop many motorists enjoying the sound of their horns as they passed.
At the entrance to Windsor Great Park a gatekeeper watched interestingly as I saw-dusted GBR and an arrow pointing to the deer park. Three young girls on horses stopped to talk; they were friendly and interested in what I was doing. They were also well spoken and very pretty. Yet no time for that, we had to get going.
Lynda, as usual took ďthe wrong turnĒ after this. It was the short-cut we had used the previous five years, and all of those five years, I have let her work out herself that it was the correct turn. As usual, she slapped me over the knee when she realized and I had said nothing. This was one of many laughs I had with Lynda over the weekend.
Going through Windsor, I thought ďThank God we are here a week before the QueenĒ. Up to four years ago we always had GBR on the same weekend as the Royal Windsor Horse Show. That last year we did upset Her Majesty, by having marshals appear next to her, as she presented new colours to the Canadian Mounties. I got a good telling off by Windsor Police shortly afterwards. As a compromise we now hold GBR a week before the horse show. However, this year as we passed through Windsor, I noticed the Royal Standard was flying on the flagpole of the castle. My thoughts were good on you Mam; you have come early to support the runners.
Across the bridge from Windsor is Eton. Itís a wonderful place, so set back in time, so much history, lovely buildings, shops and restaurants. The previous day as we drove through, the students from the college, were changing classes. On a warm Spring day they looked so silly and so hot in their full regalia. However, you think to yourself, in 20 years time these young lads will be in charge of countries and huge companies
Eton College Boat Club Manager, Mr. Brown, is always very formal, but very friendly and accommodating when I speak to him on the telephone. The carpark at Boveney is the changeover point for stages 2 and 3 and is the property of the college and under the control of the adjacent Boat Club at Dorney Lake. The rowing lake and the boat club are incredible and part of the London bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. Mr. Brown always offers the boat club facilities each year, but I prefer the river next to the old church.
I enjoy the tranquility of the Thames at Boveney, but I think today it may get a little bit more lively than the old church and river are used to.
Maidenhead Bridge always scares me, where the runners have to cross the A4. The road goes into a bottle neck and the traffic is always constant over the bridge. Each year I put two teams of marshals here, one being Stragglers and I know I can always depend on them to get the runners across safely. However, they always complain about how dangerous it is for the runners to cross.
Lynda has now told me that we can cross under the bridge. I believe her and there maybe something I have missed here for years.
On Stage 3, at Cookham, I only had a mile to run down to the river and another back. I often wonder why I do it, as there is nowhere else for runners to go. It was muddy underfoot, but I have always marked it as it gives comfort arrows to runners and itís the first arrow they see for two miles.
A short visit to the new marina at Bourne End, confirmed that the site manager, had already been there and put up our arrows. Lynda had spoken to him the previous day and he volunteered to do this for her.
The long slog through stages 4 & 5
We jumped from Bourne End to the start of stage 4 at Little Marlow. Anyone that has ever run stages 4 and 5 will know how difficult they are. However, they will always remember the bluebells, the scenery and the historic sites they pass. I personally love both these stages, even though they are the biggest bastards in the world to mark. I often get lost and have to come back on myself to re-mark.
For the first few years of the relay, due to limited parking, Little Marlow had always posed a problem. We often upset the landlord of both the Kingís & the Queenís Head pubs. However, thanks to the Cricket Club, the Parish Council and Philip Emmett (owner of Wilton Farm) we have managed to overcome this problem.
I run most of the cross-country parts of 4 and 5. Iím more unfit than I have ever been, so had to be really careful this year not to go the wrong way. The Chilterns are very hilly and you run over a lot of paths with flint underfoot. It sticks up through the ground and when wet is difficult not to loose your footing. I fell over twice between Booker Common and West Wycombe. I didnít care; I was too focused in not going the wrong way and getting to where Lynda would pick me up. I did stop at times to look at the views, look down into an up and coming football teamís ground at Wycombe, and on occasions just to appreciate the tranquility and isolation. So close to London, but you can imagine you are out in the backend of Scotland or Ireland.
I ran, and enjoyed, many cross-country bits over those two stages. Lynda was great. Sheís got no sense of direction, canít read a map, had a four day old car and was always there to pick me up. She never complained once about my muddy feet in her car. The car had only 400 miles on the clock, and most of those were from the previous day.
Stage 5 can be fun. In past years, marking the route, we have cheated at Little Missenden and drove through fields to reach a few turns on the path. We did so this year again, but after sinking a few times in the mud, we decided it was a bad idea. I ran the rest of the way to put the markers up. Running back, all I could see was a marooned car in the middle of a huge field. She seemed content. I was worried, we had to get back out of here and there was no option of turning the car around. She did well, reversing all the way. Back at the road I checked the car for damage. Everything looked OK, but we did take a lot of the field with us.
We passed Shardeloes, but drove into Amersham Cricket Ground near the lower house. From my times with Mike Hutchings I know that both houses were built by Robert Adam, one of Britainís greatest architects. Mike taught me a lot about English history and buildings, and through the years I have studied the history of the course, and what I have learned can be read on the race website.
Lynda ran across the grounds to arrow the runners around the cricket match and not through it. I took in the views of the houses and the grounds built by Robert Adams, a few hundred years before, and thought about the 5,000 children that were born her during the last war.
Shortly to come was a huge climb, at Amersham, up through a field to the Martyrís Memorial. I never need to run it, but I always do as its inspiring and my favorite part of the course. I love running through the old graveyard and along the river past the new graveyard and then up to the memorial. Somewhere in the graveyard lies the remains of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in this country. I enjoy looking back at the views over Old Amersham and the Chilterns.
When I got to the top, I walked along to the memorial, the inscription is breathtaking and the most shocking I have ever read anywhere. I walked back to the path and there was an orange arrow pointing the way. I hadnít put it there. When I got down the next path, there was Lynda, her mother, father and brother. Everything was explained. Lyndaís family being there, and having already put the markers up, showed the runners were hot on our heals. I always get visions of this point from a few years before, when we arrived there and the marshals had not turned up. It is so dangerous coming down a steep path and hitting a very busy road blind. That year we waited for the runners and phoned our marshals, to take over from us. The first runner we had to stop was Hugh Jones, and believe me he was moving. Lucky for us that year, within 10 minutes of Hugh going through, Mark Caldecourt and Brian Wiles turned up and took over. This allowed us to get on and mark the course, but we were now behind the runners.
Usually, by now, we have had lots of phone calls asking questions and telling us what was going wrong. So far, this year, we had none. I was so worried that someone would fall and get hurt over the Chilterns, but nothing was being fed back to us. As it turned out, no news was good news. We had total faith in the Stragglers on the ground and the silence was our reward for their hard work. I may have felt disappointed that there were less Stragglers teams running than ever before, but I was very proud of the overall support we had from our own club.
A few more arrows and a mile jogging, through Chiltern Forest, we reached Latimer. We could tell the runners were not too far away as many race minibuses had already passed us. I decided not to go and visit the naked man on the wall of the dam. Iím sure he was still there and happy in all his glory, as he has been for hundreds of years. I donít know why, but every time I see him, Mark Thomas comes to mind.
A couple of miles along the road we passed the Jolly Green Giant at Flaunden. He was still there peering over the hedge at us as he always does. Lynda was convinced she had seen him twice earlier that day.
When we reached Chipperfield, at the end of stage 6, the place was heaving with runners. We could see James Long rushing about; the van looked abandoned at the side of the road. Paul Hutchings seemed to be enjoying his beer, and having a laugh as he spoke to some supporters who were admiring his well presented results board, Nigel was sitting inside the car talking to himself. Runners were jogging about in all directions, and to my delight, most of them had maps in their hands. These were the maps I printed in the early hours of the morning. Keith & Alan were there to time-keep the runners in and were both looking very official with their marshal bibs and clipboards. Thereís no doubt, they had taken charge of this place. As we drove through this mayhem, I looked at Lynda, we were thinking the same thing Ė ďwe need to get a move onĒ. So we drove straight through unnoticed. We have learned from previous years, to stop means to be told of problems, which means weíre delayed.
The easy bit before Epping Forest
Stages 6 & 7 had already been marked by Andrew & Tim the previous day. Our only task was to drive the route and check the arrows. With time a major factor, we had to assume that any off-road arrows would still be up.
The change to stage 6, as described to me on the phone the previous night, was almost the same as what I had changed the map too. Not bad, but we did have to slightly re-route the re-route so it would reflect the map. We decided not to mention this to Andrew or Tim, as we did not want to hurt their feelings, but as we found out later, Tim ran this stage and our secret was discovered.
At St. Albans, I persuaded Lynda to stretch her legs (not that she really needs to). We have to get the runners to climb steps from the river towpath up to the Alban Way. Last year, I arrived just as the first runner went past and had to call him back. I marshaled all the runners through, and we struggled to get in front of them again before Hatfield. It also resulted in a few of them going the wrong way at Hatfield. Lyndaís first run of the day was really worthwhile; the arrow had come down overnight. She also got back to the car, before the first runner appeared, and we made our escape.
The rest of our trip to and through Hatfield was pleasurable. The arrows had stayed up and we could drive through. The only place we needed to remark was where runners come off the Alban Way. This was always a tricky point and we have lost many runners here before. The amount of sawdust and arrows we used was maybe over the top, but it would have taken someone a while to remove it all.
It was at this place four year previous that we had found an elderly gentleman, who had fallen over and bashed his head. He was badly hurt and could not move. That year we werenít far in front of the race but did have to wait 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Itís a strange story, but had a happy ending. I can still always picture the incident in my mind and every year worry that it maybe repeated.
Through Hatfield and weíre still in front of the runners
Arriving at the A1000 at Hatfield felt good, it was a moral victory to stay in front of the race to this point. From here we could move swiftly to Little Berkhamsted and then onto the Lea Valley. Andrew & Tim had already marked most of the way to Little Berkhamsted at the end of the Hatfield stage.
With only country lanes and no off-road between Little Berkhamsted and The River Lea Valley, at Broxbourne, it was plain sailing, just having to stop every mile or two to put up an arrow. Once we got them onto the River Lea Towpath, the only way they could get off, before Enfield Lock, was to fall in the canal.
From Broxbourne we could jump to near Epping Forest. Well to the Plough Public House, on the A112, near at Stewartstone. One of the many pubs we pass on this run. Some day Iíll have to sit down and list them all.
The route we use, to get away from Enfield Island Village, is all thanks to a local man who once provided me with a cup or tea, called me Patsy, and gave me most of his life story. Patsy comes from the name he used to call Irish builders who worked with him many years ago.
He lives in the bungalow next to the lane that leads to the island. The lane is the property of the National Rivers Authority. They upset him a few years ago, by closing it off with a large metal gate. His hobby is repairing and rebuilding old motorbikes. The gate prevented him from driving the old motorbikes up and down the lane. He got his own back by moving his garden wall, by a few feet, and giving access again.
Epping Forest and onto Blackmore
By now we were over an hour ahead of the race. We needed every minute of it. There was a long and complicated stretch, through Epping Forest, just ahead of us. Itís over three miles through, and I would have to run it and mark it. Lynda would have to find her way around it in the car. I ran and won this leg on the first year of GBR. Although I did have support that year, I had to use the map a lot on a lot of occasions. Each time I used the map I got overtaken by the second runner, but did manage to get ahead before the finish. I donít believe I have ever stopped so many times on a run as I did that day.
Two years ago in marking the stage I went three miles in the wrong direction and had to run around the forest, to where Lynda way waiting and then back into it to find out where I went wrong. It was only a mile back into where I needed to reroute the race. In previous years there was a well defined path at this point, but this year the park wardens had left it to overgrow, and because of this, walkers had not used it. Luckily, on coming back out of the forest, that year, I still managed to stay ahead of the runners.
In many years marking this stage we have both gone a little (and sometimes a lot) wrong. Last year we worked out a point where Lynda could support me half way. I could fill both bags up again with sawdust, and she could reduce my distance on foot, by driving me for almost a mile.
This year, apart from going slightly wrong near the start, everything went like clockwork. I came out of the forest at Debden just as Lynda arrived. The runners were still about two miles behind us and it should be plain sailing from here to Blackmore.
For next year I hope to use Epping Forest a lot more and then the Essex Way and St. Peterís Way to Blackmore. It will be a huge improvement and will take a bit of work, but with support, from Stragglers and others I know we can do it.
Theydon Bois was a mile after Debden. There was a lot of race traffic around waiting to support the runners. Again we drove straight through, sticking a few arrows up at junctions on our way to Passingford Mill.
Last year we had a slight problem at the start of stage 10, from Passingford Mill. We had driven the first mile and spotted a junction, which was not on the map, and one we had never thought of marking. Maybe we had avoided it for a few years as I got attacked by a large dog here in 1997. We decided we were far enough ahead to go and mark. A few gates had also been put up by farmers to stop kids dumping stolen cars. However, these did have stiles built into them to allow access for people on foot. It can be a bit confusing for the runners, but everyone seemed to get through without any worries.
The lane from Passingford Mill is a very quiet one. But, today it was a hive of commotion. James was there with the van. Nigel & Paul were putting their results out. Steve Rowland looked as if he was limping and in pain, his wife Sonia was bouncing happily along the lane. Runners were everywhere. There must have been almost 30 vehicles parked along the lane. The Timekeepers, again Keith & Alan, with their uniforms and clipboards still looked as if they were in total control of the situation. We were unlucky; we didnít manage to stay unnoticed. As a matter of fact, many were waving us in to park in non existent spaces. This would be a bad move, so we just waved back and smiled.
At the end of the lane, from Passingford Mill, the race follows the river under the M25 and then follows a path for over a mile through Howletts Farm. Itís a big farm, but the path is a public footpath. Itís difficult for runners to go wrong until they get to, an oak tree, near the farm buildings. Itís a big, old tree and never likes you to staple an arrow to it. We usually ignore the ďPrivate PropertyĒ sign and drive up to the tree to put some sawdust down. Itís not a good road and is only really designed for farm vehicles.
Up to this year we have been lucky, by getting in and getting out, without being spotted. Unfortunately, this year, as we drove up to the tree, a Range Rover was coming in the opposite direction. It stopped next to us and a well groomed gentleman inside wound his window down. He was very well spoken and friendly. It was Mr. Howletts himself. I was worried, but Lynda held her confidence and explained, what we were doing. She won the day and he took a lot of interest in our event and wished us well as he drove away. I canít work it out, but while Lynda was speaking to him, he was blushing. I always thought that older men never blushed. Anyway, game won we moved on. Next year I think Iíll ask Lynda to write to Mr. Howlett and maybe he will marshal at that point for us.
On the way out of Howletts Farm the phone rang. It was Pat & Alan. Lucky for them they had already arrived in the Bull Inn at Blackmore and had a beer in their hand. They had done well as roving marshals, looking after many problems that we could do without. Lynda told them weíd be with them in 20 minutes, when weíd finished marking stage 10. We were, and first thoughts on our mind Ė a beer. Well we deserved it. Thinking back on the day I knew we had a picnic and I know we stopped for 5 minutes to eat it. But it was a hectic day and I canít remember where we stopped.
End of Day 1
With a beer in hand it was time to relax. I looked around the bar for Tony Hopkins & Mark Critchlow, both of West 4. The previous two years they had reached the Bear Inn before us and had been generous enough to buy us a beer, and tell us how the relay was progressing. However, this year to my disappointment, there was no sign of them. So it looked as if I would have to buy a beer myself.
The Flanders Team arrived very soon after us. In bits of pigeon English, Irish and whatever language they speak, I worked out that they were in second place. I already knew that their runner on stage 3 had taken a slight detour and had gone from first to last. I congratulated them for doing so well to be in second place at this stage. They downed their beers very rapidly and went to the finish to greet their runner in. I followed beer in hand. It was my first of the day and it tasted great, I didnít want to part with it too quickly.
At the finish were Nigel and Paul, they both had a beer. Paul looked happy and Nigel was talking to himself. Keith Haworth & Alan Souness were timekeeping; most of the Flanders Team were standing a short way away. The first runner hadnít arrived yet and Keith needed the loo. I relieved him of his duties so that he could relieve himself. I was worried as now I was given real responsibility, yet with a beer in one hand, clipboard in the other and Nigel close by, I was quite content. I think Flanders found this somewhat amusing. After the event they e-mailed me their club report on GBR. Itís in Flemish, itís on the website (GBR 2004 Report page) and I do get one mention in it. Something to do with a pint of beer at the end of stage 10. Well I suppose I canít complain, as any publicity is good publicity.
As the first runner came in, it was pleasing to know that people had been following us all day, and that the work Lynda, I and others had put in wasnít just for the hell of it. I found out shortly afterwards that Flanders were in front. This was a bit confusing for me because in all their correspondence in the run up to GBR; they were only coming to have a good time and not to really compete for the prizes. Again, I congratulated them.
After another beer all the runners had finished. I studied Nigelís results on Paulís noticeboard. I was impressed by the number of stages that Don Andersonís New Malden Team had won and wondered why they were in last place.
Don has been with Stragglers from almost the start, he has won many stages on GBR, and on the year he was relegated to the Stragglers B team, he was the only Straggler male to win a stage. He is also President of Belgrave Harriers. OK, maybe world club champions, but not on a par with us. I tease, but I have been grateful of Donís support for GBR over the years and maybe next year he can persuade Belgrave to take part in GBR. I know they could go close, and would love to see Don run in the team.
I spoke to Don and Nigel about the results board and they were also confused. I know we had problems with the numbers this year, but at the end of the day I knew that Nigel would put everything right. He was talking to himself and complaining, but it gave him something to sort out, and thatís what makes him happy.
By now it was time to find our B&B. I was spending the night with John Barrow and Lynda. OK, wishful thinking, I was sharing with John, Lynda was staying at the same house. We had to get there, freshen up and get back to the Bull Inn for dinner.
It was a four mile drive to the B&B and John said he would follow us. He did, past the house and past again, and again. We eventually found it. John pulled in behind us. He was a bit confused why we kept driving past it. I was a bit confused when he said that he stayed here the previous year. Why was he following us?
Freshened up we headed back to the Bull. John was good, he drove, and it meant Lynda could relax and have a few more beers. As for me, I wasnít allowed to drive. Iíd be stopping at every corner to put up an arrow.
Saturday Evening at the Bear in Blackmore
When we arrived at the Bull, it was a great sight to see the whole place taken over by Stragglers. OK, the locals still held the public bar, but they were a friendly bunch. They had been talking to me and some other runners earlier; I chatted with them and scrounged a light for my cigar. They asked me which stages I ran. I told them I wasnít running in the relay. They were very complimentary saying ďit showsĒ, and ďmust be good to be invited to such an event without having to do anythingĒ. I smiled and nodded, I enjoyed their company and their banter. They seemed happy to have us there.
I was also happy, I had a beer, and I rejoined Lynda and John. I was tired. My food wasnít great, that was my fault for going for the vegetarian option, but I enjoyed the time in the pub. I wasnít really enjoying the beer by now and was happy when Lynda suggested we shared a bottle of Rioja over the meal.
I met Weston from New York, Tim Wood had a laugh about us changing his and Andrewsís arrows at St. Albans, and we got many other stories from Stragglers about their day. All of them seemed to have an eventful and enjoyable day. Like me, John was also very tired. Lucky, for both of us, Lynda had found a new lease of life. She was bubbly and cheerful and replied with enthusiasm to everyone who spoke to us. John and I just smiled and said very little.
Now, when I look back on it, I was very tired and just wanted to go to bed, but it was a lovely night. To be in a pub in deepest Essex with so many Stragglers who had worked hard and supported so well. It was a privilege to just be in their company, have a beer with them and enjoy their banter and all the individual stories that each one had to tell.
As I looked around the people in the Bull that night, I thought of a lot of happy memories I have had with most of the people there. Through the first years of GBR, our early days of the Welsh Castles, when we once had over 60 take part, the Round Norfolk Relay, the first successes we had in cross-country and when we won the Harry Hakes 8, year after year. These were the same people that were there so many years ago. OK, there were a few new people there and it was great to see. Yet, as our club grows, I would love to see more support from the newer members. Hopefully we will see that next year.
On leaving the Bull at 11.30pm, I was brought back down to earth. Main thing on my mind was, tomorrow we have to do this all over again. John broke my thoughts when he found a big puddle. He jumped in it and managed to soak Lynda. She wasnít pleased, but she was good about it. It also got her talking a lot again.
I sat in the back of the car on the four mile journey to the B&B, Lynda and John sat in the front. Lynda had been so quiet and so good all day, but the bubbles in the pub and the fact that John soaked her on the way to the car, meant I could stay quiet all the way to the B&B. John did try to speak a few times, but could hardly get a word in. Lynda was happy with the sound of her own voice, having a go at John and at times me also. We both didnít mind this as the day had used up all of our energy, and anyway I was happy not to respond.
It was a good day. We sent Lynda to bed and coloured in a few arrows. John and I retired at 12.45am. I was happy as I had a bed this year. We would be back up at 5am to start the next day.
I have a lot time for John Barrow. At my first Stragglers AGM, my wife and I sat next to him; we had just joined the club. We were in the room above the Cabbage Patch at Twickenham; he was really friendly and made us both feel at ease.
At that AGM John got elected Chairman of the club, he was unopposed and offered it to anyone else that wanted it, but he was forced upon him. He was a great Chairman and great ambassador for the Stragglers. He introduced me to a lot of well known runners and no matter how far we traveled, he seemed to know everyone in the running community. Two years later, when I had the privilege of being Menís captain, and Stragglers were in the third division, we won our first ever league event. We had over 40 runners, John finished last overall, but on speaking to other runners, he said he was a member of the winning team. To me thatís what our club is all about, it was the team spirit, and it was being a Straggler and being proud of it. That was the proudest saying I have ever heard from anyone in the Stragglers.
John has now moved back to his roots in Norfolk. He introduced me to the Round Norfolk Relay. Itís a great event and I ran in it for many years. Stragglers still support it and some day I hope to go back and run in it. John has been for years and continues to be involved in the organization of the Norfolk Relay.
Sunday Morning Ė Start of Day 2
After freshening up and a quick breakfast, the three of us squared our bills and set out for another dayís fun. John headed for Blackmore and the start of stage 11, Lynda & I in the other direction along the course. It was well before 7am and over an hour till the runners started. We had already marked the first 4 miles of stage 11 the previous night. OK, I did put a few arrows up on the way to the Bull, but this gave us a good start on the runners.
Stages 11 and 12 are mainly on road and are not very difficult to mark. Some of the off-road parts, we have found from experience, can be driven. Lynda did most of the hopping in and out of the car. I think she noticed that I had not fully woken up yet.
One of the things about GBR, is that over the years we have added more and more off-road parts. This makes it more pleasant, and less dangerous for the runners, but also make it much more difficult to mark. There is an option to take all of stage 12, and many other parts of the course off-road, but to do this we will need to know we have more support over the three days.
We crossed the QE2 Bridge to the start of stage 13. We got there before stage 12 was due to start. This still left us over an hour ahead of the runners. However, we knew most of this would be lost marking the next two stages. Our phone stayed quiet, the weather was starting to look brighter and I was starting to wake up. Lynda was back to her usual quiet self, driving and getting on with the job. Once in a while she would try and guess which direction to turn as we approached a junction. She was never very successful at this game and sometimes had to have 2 or 3 guesses before she got it right. By now she had also acquired the habit of carrying a full, heavy bail of sawdust, when putting down arrows, instead of just a small bag of the stuff.
Stage 13 starts at the Bridge View Carpark near Stone. Itís a bit isolated but does have toilets and a good view over the Thames. As we passed we could see a few cars and five people in marshal bibs. We think it was Sue Long, Shelagh, Keith, Alan and Colin. We didnít wait long enough to find out; we just kept to our task and pushed on.
The first 2 miles of the stage through Dartford isnít pleasant, but the course soon takes you back into the countryside. At about 4 miles we turn left into Roman Villa Road. Itís a very narrow, hilly lane with passing places and a good view across the Darent Valley. As I enjoyed the view, Lynda mentioned a big puddle ahead. I looked in front but was confused. Reaching the top of the next hill I understood what she meant. It wasnít a puddle in front of us; it was more like a lake across the road. There were two cars coming in the other direction and the only close passing place was on our side and in the puddle. Lynda obliged and pulled in. The other two drivers raised their hands in thanks as they passed, but also gave our car two full showers of muddy water. So what, we had the windows closed. I thought it was somewhat rude of them. However, Lynda explained to me about there being a certain speed you need to drive through deep water so as not to stall your engine. Something to do with the height of the wash Ė in this case about 7ft. Anyway I was confused, but Iím sure she knew what she was talking about.
Although the weather had improved, all the off-road sections were still very muddy and slippery underfoot. Marking was taking more time than we expected. We needed a fallback plan. A phone call from the Secretary of Merstham Village Cricket Club didnít help. He seemed to want a long chat and was looking forward to meeting us.
Looking through the list of roaming marshals and their instructions gave us an idea how to save some time. John Barrow, John Greaves & Aussie Dan were listed as marshalling just before Chevening. Here the runners go off-road along a farm track. Itís very muddy, full of cow dung and has a stile with an electric fence next to it. They could mark the track and tell runners to be aware of the electric fence. One phone call and everything was arranged.
At Chevening Church, as usual the Sunday Service was in progress and the carpark was full. Unknown to them, when they finished, they would be greeted with bright yellow, sawdust arrows and GBR graffiti, all over their carpark. I loaded up with a bag full of sawdust in one hand and another in a rucksack on my back. In my other hand was a bag with orange arrows and a staple gun. There was a long, complicated, hilly section through Chevening Park ahead of me and I wouldnít be able to get more supplies until I met Lynda again at the other side.
The Long Slog through Chevening
Chevening, was Prince Charlesí home before Highgrove and is now the country residence of the Foreign Secretary, so there is a lot of security around it. This means there is no straightforward way through, there are many electric fences and itís a long jog to where I have to put up the first marker. Just my luck, the staple gun was out of staples and I had no tape with me. This meant sawdust would have to be used all the way. I just prayed I had enough.
The run through here is very lonely, but pleasant, with views of the house and of the surrounding countryside on the big climb up onto the Downs. However, I needed to stay focused and not stray off the right track. Apart from being careful in how much sawdust I used, I may also find it difficult to explain why an Irishman is running around a government ministerís back garden, carrying half a ton of sawdust, bright orange arrows and a staple gun. It was only a few years ago that two Irishmen got arrested and imprisoned for taking pictures on the same path.
The climb, to the top of the Downs, out of Chevening Park, is very long and tough. Today it seemed tougher than it had ever been. It was very muddy, slippery and at points impossible to run up. When you reach a stile, and a forest, you think you are finally at the top, but the steepest bit has yet to come. Eventually at the top, there is a flat half mile through the forest to my rendezvous with Lynda. The sawdust had lasted and I sprinted for all I was worth, taking the odd look over my shoulder to see if the first runner was on my tail.
Lynda was standing, by her car, next to the Keeperís Cottage when I arrived. It still wasnít very warm, but I was burning up. She had already put out the next few markers. She asked how long till the runners arrive. I looked at my watch and estimated 3 minutes. I said ďabout 15 minutesĒ. This was enough to speed things up, but still not make her panic. I think I was doing enough of that for both of us. I know she was too, but she didnít say.
As we set off down the lane, I remember something Hillary Walker once said to me, about this part of the course. She thought it was really unfair to make runners climb all the way up to the top of the Downs and then to take them all the way back down after such a short time. She did have a point and I was now almost agreeing with her. However, on seeing the results at the end of the relay, I did notice that Hillary had run this stage yet again, and I now agree with her about how difficult this stage really is. Yet because of her endurance and persistence, I also believe that she enjoys this stage very much.
Along the Pilgrims & North Downs Ways
At the base of the North Downs, the course joins the Pilgrims Way. This follows narrow, peaceful lanes, but not today. Thanks to the relay, there were a lot of vehicles on these lanes, making it more difficult for us to mark. I think some of them found us annoying each time we stopped to put up an arrow. Many others were very supportive and patient.
Apart from a private road, called The Avenue, which doubles as the North Downs Way, the last few miles to Tatsfield were easy marking and no real test for the car. The Avenue itself gets my vote for the worst road in the UK. It is just over a mile long, is lined with very private, expensive houses, and got the biggest concentration of deep potholes I have ever seen. This year, to add to our enjoyment, each one was an individual pond of water, giving no clew to their depth.
As we came out of The Avenue, it was a pleasant sight to see Andy Smith of 26.2 standing next to the road wearing a marshal bib. As always, Andy had a smile on his face, and looked as if he was having a great time. I handed him an arrow and some tape through the car window and we headed merrily on our way.
If at the start of the day, I wasnít fully awake, then I certainly was by now. Lynda and I were thinking and moving very fast. As we drove through Tatsfield, the Village Green in front of The Old Ship was buzzing. One set of Timekeepers (Keith & Alan) were standing by the finish, clipboards and stopwatches in hand, the other set (Mike & Kirsty Bangham) were standing a short way away, surrounded by runners and going through their pre-stage briefing. It made me realize how all the long hours of hard work, the meetings, the briefings, and everything else come together, over the weekend, and produces a moving circus that makes it all worthwhile. As a club, we probably organize more events than any other. We also have so many people to rely on to help with what we do. In this way we are really lucky.
At Tatsfield, once again we manage to get through unnoticed. Itís still a long way to the Hawker Centre.
Stage 15 from Tatsfield took us to Merstham, and stage 16 to Boxhill. They were tough stages to mark and we had been passed a few times by the runners last year, before Boxhill. This year, if we could make it to Boxhill and stay in front of the runners, we would almost be home and dry. The two stages after this had been marked on the Friday by Sue & Clive and Pat & Alan. They are both couples, so I can couple them like that. Sue probably runs more miles before her breakfast than most people do in a week, and Clive has the honour of being one of the few people that has beaten Don Anderson in this race. That was 1995 and Clive was a member Ranelaghís winning team.
One worry on our minds, on stage 15, was that we would have to make a long diversion around Godstone Vineyard. In these conditions we would not be able drive a shortcut along a bridleway.
As we marked the lanes towards Godstone, I was doing mental calculations as to how far the race was behind us. It was never far enough. We drove along the track to the ďno goĒ bridleway. We had no choice, we needed to arrow the runners onto the bridleway. After putting up the arrow, we looked at each other. We were both thinking the same thing. ďDo we risk it?Ē Itís only about 400 metres, itís very narrow and there is a steep drop on the left (thatís my side). However, it was Lyndaís car, not mine, that might be damaged. I suggested that she could run ahead and see what she thinks. She wasnít gone long. As she jumped back into the car, she said ďletís give it a goĒ. There were other vehicles down there and her attitude was if they can do it, well so can we. Looking back, it was very risky. The other vehicles were at the other end of the path but had come from the opposite direction, yet Lynda wasnít to know that. Someone had also blocked the other entrance (our exit) with a huge tree trunk. I got out and tried to move it, but it was much too heavy. Lynda came to my aid, but together we could only move it about an inch. It weighed a ton. Lynda was more determined than me, as I had already admitted defeat. She said weíll just have to try harder, and we did. Eventually, after what seemed like an age, we had moved the huge tree trunk enough to get the car past. As we drove past, Lynda stopped the car. ďWe now got to move it back,Ē she said. I wonít say what way going through my mind at this point, but it wasnít happy thoughts. Luckily for us, another car had appeared in front of us. The man inside ask us not to move it back as he and his workmates would do it. What a relief, I felt like someone had removed a huge burden from my shoulders. Lynda looked at me, but said nothing, I said nothing but I knew her thoughts.
Back in business, we were soon to come to another short-cut. This one would be a doddle compared to the last. We use to ever use it, but once saw a postman and his red van disappear up it a few years ago. Since then we knew it was drivable.
From here there were only a few more off-road sections to be done. The next one was very soon, was just over a mile long and involved climbing many steps, past Pilgrim Fort Camp, and up to the viewpoint at Gravelly Hill. I ran it and as usual Lynda was waiting at the top. She was putting the final touches to a piece of artwork, made of sawdust and pointing to the road. I congratulated her and awarded her with the prize of best arrow of the weekend. However, when I told her that it wasnít on the route, I donít think she was too amused.
Just before Merstham, I mark another off-road section. Itís quite an easy one as the second half is mostly downhill. The North Downs Way cuts diagonally across two huge fields and under the M25. You can really get a good speed up on the decent and the views are wonderful, but as itís a bit uneven underfoot you have got to be very careful. A few years ago, most of the runners followed Mark Daly past the turn off to the first field, and because of being a Straggler, he had a bit of explaining to do when he realized he had gone the wrong way. Ever since that year I have ran and marked this section.
On my decent through the second field I noticed a lady standing, just off the path, in front of me. She was looking around her. My first reaction was to look around myself and see where her dog was. From past experience, Iím very weary of dogs, surprising me and jumping up on me. I didnít see a dog, but as I passed, the lady said something to me. I didnít understand what she had said and I must have looked very confused. All I could think to myself was, why is a young woman trying to make conversation to me in a lonely field, over half a mile from the nearest road? OK, M25 an exemption, it was buzzing away only a quarter mile, below us. She spoke again. ďAre you with the Green Belt Relay?Ē I was speechless. Fame at last, the word has reached the isolated farming fields of Southern England. I replied, ďYes, and the runners will be here very soonĒ and I went on my way.
As usual, on reaching the road, Lynda was waiting, and as usual, I was overheating. We avoided Merstham, there was nothing there for us to do. Maybe, apart from introducing ourselves to the Village Cricket Club Secretary, who has been keenly expecting us for the last 3 hours. Anyway, we didnít have the time. It was less than 10 minutes till stage 16 started and we had a lot still to do.
Stage 16 starts at the now famous Merstham Village Cricket Club and the first miles crosses Reigate Hill Golf Course. Iíve never played here, but Iím told itís quite a snooty place. However, the club secretary is always very pleasant when I speak to him on the phone. This year the secretary had changed to a ďherĒ but she was just as pleasant.
Lynda drove in and dropped me off next to the 7th tee. Three golfers were just about to tee-off and I had to get to the other side of them to arrow the runners onto a path. As a golfer myself, I knew it wasnít keeping with etiquette to charge past them as they were half way through their backswings. I waited quietly and watched. The 7th hole is a par 4 and they all had the big bats in their hands - big bats means drivers, or Number 1 wood. I noticed they all had the very best equipment and were dressed like pros. I was expecting something special. They took what seemed an age over their build up. One by one, they went through their own little routines. By this time two groups of walkers had stopped next to me and Lynda was just behind in the car. They had a huge audience and they seemed to be enjoying it. One by one, the teed off, their ball going in all directions, but none of them in the direction of the fairway. As the got their equipment together and walked off the tee, I did charge past them and put my arrow up. If I had another in my hand, pointing straight on, I would have put it on the tee pointing towards the fairway. It may have helped the next group of golfers to work out which way to aim.
Back in the car and only 2 minutes to the start of the stage, Lynda asked me about the standard of the three golfers. I didnít need to reply, she had already worked it out for herself.
A place to get overtaken
After quarter a mile, the path from the golf course leads to a quiet road and then The Royal Alexandra & Albert School. The North Downs Way goes straight through the school grounds and we follow it through. Today was their Founders Day and the Duchess of Gloucester would be present. I already knew this from speaking to the school. They had asked if we could not move the run back a week. However, a few years ago we had to move it forward a week due to upsetting the Queen. Now if it comes to pulling rank between the Queen and the Duchess, I know who would win every time. They school were reluctantly of the same opinion.
We thought it only polite to stop at the school and drop off a few t-shirts. Lynda thought that one would look very good on the Duchess. However, on getting to the entrance, there were lots of cars queuing. Before I could say a word, Lynda jumped out of the car, ran up to the woman supervising entry, said something that took 5 seconds and plunged the T-shirts into her hand. Within seconds she was back in the car and we were away. As I looked back, I could see a rather large woman waving two T-shirts in the air and shouting obscenities. Lyndaís first comments were ďwell that was easyĒ, I thought yea, and said well done. We do both have memories, and not good ones, of the same large woman from the previous year, and yes it was much easier this year.
Within a few minutes we had driven around to the point where the runners exit the school. We were well down on time and an arrow with a written instruction was stapled to a noticeboard. We didnít have time to run up the track and mark the next junction.
Whilst putting the notice up, a big bloke, dressed in a dark suit and with a walkie-talkie in hand, had been watching us. He enquired, what were we doing? I explained that a fun run was following and we were marking the route for them. He was the Duchessí chief private bodyguard and said ďthatís OK, if the arrive at the same time as sheís leaving, I can stop themĒ. He seemed sincere, but I donít think that even an army of bodyguards would stop the runners.
We soon drove past Reigate Hill. As we had Stragglers marshals here and recommended it as a good place to support the race, we drove straight through. We were almost there, only another few points to mark and then Boxhill. We thought this last year, but then the runners overtook us twice in the next three miles. This year we were determined not to let this happen again.
I have past memories of sorting the route through Reigate Hill and many other parts of the run along the South Downs Way. Five and six years ago I used to take my kids, Emma and Clare; they were about 3 and 6 at the time for walks and picnics along here in the winter. They got tired and cold, but we had great times and it was a good learning curve for them. At some points I had to carry them and there are pictures of them on the website from that time. They loved it and now they look back on it as happy times. Also, in the early days I remember Lynda supporting me as I ran through unknown terrain and arriving at playgrounds with her pushing Sam and Charles on the swings. They too were very young, but they always enjoyed the adventure.
Buckland Heights was our next target. The previous year on our drive to Buckland Heights we made two wrong turns and lost five vital minutes. I can put my hands up here, they were both my mistakes. As we crossed over the M25, we were both fully focused. I said second turn off the dual carriageway. Lynda disagreed, ďfirst turn, we made that mistake last yearĒ. This put an element of doubt in my mind. I reassured her, second turn. She went with it and lucky enough we were right.
As I saw-dusted the route off the North Downs Way, towards the large houses of Buckland Heights, I was approached by a lady on a very large horse. She politely asked me to stand clear of the path. She explained that the horse had stood on a nail a few weeks ago, and was very nervous as this was its first outing since. I told her that 30 runners would be coming past very soon. She thanked me and said she would be careful.
A short jog and I was back to Lynda and the car. Again, the next turn was second left, she was still set on first left. However, she had already realized and was correcting the arrow as I arrived.
I often think, why do we not keep the runners on the North Downs Way past Buckland Heights? It would be much easier and we would not have to mark them off the Way and back onto it. Yet, Iím always very impressed with the vastness and sheer wealth of the houses at Buckland Heights, so much so, that I think it would be a shame not to let others gasp in amazement too. The view, climbing back down to the North Downs Way, is also impressive, with the chalk cliffs, in the distance, towering over the M25.
Leaving Buckland Heights, I looked at my watch. The runners were due, but lucky for us still no sign of them. We were almost there. Not many words were exchanged leaving, but I knew we both felt that we were going to make it. It was a long drive to the next point, six miles by road, but less than two miles for the runners. To our delight, we made it. Boxhill was now our next stop.
A few years ago Lynda ran and won this stage. I marked it. When I think back, I will never understand how we managed that. I marked the stage on my own. I put down an arrow, and saw dusted ďWell Done LyndaĒ shortly after Buckland Heights. I also stopped in a pub for a beer and cheered all the runners on as they came past.
That was a few years ago and we may never get the chance to do it again. We certainly didnít this year.
Boxhill at last!
On approaching Boxhill, I remembered that Peter Creasey, the Chief Warden, had not got back to me. I had spoken to him on the phone and had written to him. However, he usually contacts me shortly before the relay to ask a few questions. Heís an ex-military officer and he likes everything to be worked through to the last detail. This is why we have a lead bike and an army of marshals on top of the hill. I didnít dwell on this for long, as now it was too late to worry about such details.
As we approached the first carpark, we could see a huddle of people, in fluorescent yellow bibs, taking instructions from their leader. This was Les Brown and his private army of marshals. The briefing seemed too be too well organized for us to distract them. It did put a smile on both our faces to see the discipline and the effort. We chatted about this. We only had praise for Les, and we talked about all the helpers and the marshals from all the clubs who we had not yet seen. They all have a task to do. There is always someone who acts as a leader and all these individual agendas make this relay happen. Without everyone else we would be two sad people rushing around the outside of London with no agenda and no one to stay in front of. It made us think back to the first GBR, when no one had a clew what to expect, what their instructions were and what lay ahead of them, until 30 minutes before the start.
I will never forget turning up to Elbridge Leisure Centre on my pushbike, with a rucksack on my back, and issuing individual pieces of paper to everyone, with their agendas for the weekend. As always, Lynda was there in support. From the first day this relay was mentioned at the Stragglers AGM in 1994. Lynda has stayed with the event every step of the way. Sheís always put a smile back on my face when things have gone wrong. She persuaded me to stay with the race a few years ago when Iíd stopped running and was going through a bad patch. She keeps me at the finish to hand out the prizes, when Iíve had enough, and all I want to do is get as far away from it as soon as I can.
Seeing Les Brown and his army at Boxhill did make a lot of sentiments run through my head. Most of the memories, he sparked off, were good memories. I felt so privileged to have him and everyone else on board. This event is not about me. I know I get a lot of credit for it and others donít. Maybe a reason why I always want to just get away as soon as the last runner has come in safely. Maybe also a reason why I donít talk about running on Thursday nights. Maybe once I was a half decent runner, I havenít got a medal to show for it, but GBR is just another event. As a club we organize many events and as a club we do them all well. OK, I reply to the e-mails, I pass them on and I try to get some press coverage. However, after that, Iíd prefer not to hear GBR be mentioned for six months, maybe even more. I do get pissed off with my name being so much connected with the relay. This relay belongs to the Stragglers, the timekeepers, the results service, the marshals, the teams that take part and also marshal, and everyone that supports the event.
Anyway, thatís enough of that and we have only reached Boxhill. Passing the main carpark, we saw the timekeepers talking to the Chief Warden. Peter Creasey looked happy. There was a smile on his face. I stopped worrying about him not contacting me with his many questions. The runners were starting to congregate for the start of the next stage. Merran & Jim Sell were there to keep them in order and to start them down the hill. I saw an official on a moped. I could only assume it was Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who was to lead the stage down Zig-Zag Road. Again we drove through, by now we had won the war, but neither of us had the energy to stop and make small talk.
From Boxhill it was easy, we drove the parts of the course we could. Most of the road arrows had stayed up. We replaced those that hadnít. By Byfleet, we had managed to get an hour and a half in front of the race. I live in Byfleet, and we stopped for a cup of tea. It was the first time weíd had a break all day. Lynda made the tea, I washed and changed. It was such a relief to feel clean again. Lynda was very quiet, but seemed content. We didnít dwell too long over the tea. There was still some work to be done.
New Haw Lock, on the Wey Navigation, was next. Then Weybridge Lock, Thames Lock, through the carpark at the Old Ship and back onto the Dessborough Cut. James arrived in his van at the same time as us at the Old Ship carpark. He asked us to marshal, but there was still some work for us to do. Luckily, Colin & Julia (two of the race time-keepers) turned up and took on the task.
On the way back to Kingston, we stopped so that I could pick up my car from a friends house in Esher. We went in convoy to Kingston, putting the last markers up on the way. Where the run comes off the road, and onto the towpath just before the Hawker Centre, we used our last of the three bales of sawdust. Instead of a GBR and arrow, it was a ďWELL DONE GBRĒ and arrow. Our first task for the weekend was done.
Back at Ham
Like any other year, on arriving back at the Hawker Centre, all I wanted to do was to go home. Lynda wanted to do the same. Now I didnít think this was fair that was my party piece.
We had two cars with us. This was not a good idea as we still had a few things to do. Someone might spot us, distract us, and we could loose our opportunity. Our main worry was we had to drop a car off and find a somewhere local and quiet to prepare for events later at the Hawker Centre. We had a lot of thinking to do, we had to get ready our excuses for mishaps, think about the prize-giving and write a speech. The speech would probably be irrelevant as Keith, as always, would stand up and make a better one after it.
Our brains were still into marking the route and we needed time to get out of this mode. We still just wanted to both go home and for the first year Lynda needed to be persuaded to stay.
As we dropped my car off, and I got back into Lyndaís car, we were spotted by Sue and one or two others. As we hot-tailed our way out of the carpark, we told them weíd be with them in a minute. This was maybe not the exact truth, but we werenít the best of company at that time and we were just sparing them.
On arrival at a local pub, I wonít say which one, Lynda went to clean herself up, and I headed for the bar. It was a bit embarrassing, because, when I had managed to freshen up and change at Byfleet, I had forgotten to take my wallet with me and could not pay for the beers. On her return, Lynda obliged.
As we sat down, Tom the Landlord of the Hand & Flower came over and said hello. He was having a birthday celebration with his family. I have known Tom for over 10 years. The first time I had ever spoken to him was when Stragglers were looking for a different venue for Tuesday nights. I ran from St Margaretís Pub with Mark Thomas, Mark Daly, Alan Pemberton and a few others earlier in the night. After the run we drove here for a drink. We had a few words with Tom and he was happy for us to use his pub as a venue for Tuesday nights. He was very welcoming and we have never looked back. In the following few years Tom became a friend, and still welcomes the Stragglers with open arms into his pub. This was the first time in two years I have spoken to the guy, but heís still as friendly as he was from our first night there.
OK, I wasnít going to tell you which pub we went to, but I did. Anyway, back to the relay. Lynda was sitting opposite me enjoying her beer; she had pen and paper in hand. We listed those we needed to thank. Three full pages later, we thought, maybe it was too many. Some people had come a long way and maybe two hours of thanks was too much. We were there for a half an hour and we got done what we needed to. We had finished our beers and left. James had been on the phone about where to set up the prize-giving. We asked him to look at the sky and use his own judgment.
As we left the Hand & Flower our minds had released from the marking routine and were thinking on what was to come. We still got back to the Hawker Center before the first runner. As we walked to the finish, we were stopped, but we got through it, we still had time to get to the back of the centre and applaud in the first runner. However, we were stopped another 4 times before we eventually reached the finish line. By now half the runners had finished. I had lost all sight of Lynda, but hopefully Iíll find her again before next year. I spotted Mike Hutchings and made a b-line for him. I was very pleased to see he had managed to make it.
Mike is now nearing his 90th year. Heís been through tough times over the last few years, due to his wife being not very well. I have a lot of admiration for Mike as a runner and as a supporter of this event. He has won age graded gold in London, and has worked hard on GBR from the first day it was suggested. Age for age, he is possibly the best runner Stragglers has ever had. On the day that Richard Neurekar set the world record for 10 miles on the Cabbage Patch, I was standing next to him as Mike collected his prize for V75. Richard, looking a bit confused, asked me how old he was, I replied 76. I know that Richard was more than impressed, but I canít really write his words here as this may be read by children. Through the years of working on GBR, I have been really lucky to have spent many hours with Mike and got to hear many more of his stories.
Mike Hutchingsí son Paul, like Mike has got a beard, maybe it runs in the family. Paul has been to every GBR, he done the initial results. If you read the GBR booklet, you will know that after the first day of the first GBR, Paul had 26.2 B team in first place. OK, that was maybe due to too many beers and sharing a room with me. He still got it right by the end of the weekend.
By now Lynda had found me. I thought she had had enough of me. I was feeling relaxed, I had a beer in my hand and was thinking all my duties were done. Could I not just happily stand and hold the bar up?
Sheís a tough taskmaster and she does keep me in place at times. I admire her for it, but please never let her know. As usual there were still things to be done and as usual time was still a factor.
Final Results and the Prize-giving
Because of the numbers issue, Nigel was having a hard time producing the final results. We knew who had won, but we needed to know all the prize winners. Last year Nigel had said that he reached the point where he could do these results with his eyes closed. This year it was a bit more difficult. Eventually he got there and handed me the final results sheet. I noticed there were no results for the new Kings & Queens of the Mountains Prizes. Nigel told me to bugger off when I asked him about this. I didnít blame him, he had done a lot of work over the weekend.
People were gathering for the Team Captainís Meeting in the next room. Nigel chucked 28 pieces of paper at me. It was the individual times for all the teams. I grabbed Colin Penn and asked him to read out the times for the mountain stages. It took about three minutes to work out that Flanders & Serpentine had won the new prizes.
Unlike the Round Norfolk Relay. Where an ex-army colonel chairs the meeting, and I have experienced it many times, the GBR Team Captainís Meeting wasnít very exciting. They were all happy with the results and we had a few nominations for most supportive club. Most were for Stragglers, who as hosts donít qualify. My beer was empty and time was getting on, so we kept it short as I could decide this prizes later and present it next year..
If you were at the prize-giving, I think you know the rest. Lynda said the thanks, made the excuses and announced the prize winners. I handed out the prizes to Flanders, Serpentine, Millennium, British Airways, Ranelagh and Stragglers. Keith made his speech and we all retired to the bar. Thank God, I had a beer again. Well it was really thanks to Jim Desmond as I still didnít have my wallet.
The one thing I really do remember about the prize-giving, was the amount of people present. There were lots, more than we have ever had. This year most had followed to the end and stayed. There were a huge amount of Stragglers present and the atmosphere was great.
Time to Relax
When I thought back to the previous day, at Hampton Court, the miserable weather, our thoughts about canceling the event and our worries about runners getting hurt, I now had a different attitude to what had gone on. We had got away with it. We had given people a weekend that they enjoyed and that maybe theyíll never forget. That was a nice feeling. It gave me my energy back and there were other things I wanted to do that evening.
I could tell the weekend and the prize-giving had taken a lot out of Lynda. Yet she seemed really content, surrounded by friends and having the odd conversation with runners from other clubs.
I was happy to make my escape from the Hawker Centre. I stopped off at a friendís house in Esher on the way back. His kids were getting ready for bed. His wife put some food in front of me, which I was really glad of. That was followed by some wine, some jokes and banter about everything except running. The three of us had a great night. In the back of my mind, I also had a great weekend with a lot of wonderful people. Itís something Iíll always look back on with many fond memories, and always be grateful to the others who supported and made it possible.
This is my report from what happened at GBR2004. If you have read this far, I apologise for it being so long-winded, but I did try and include most of the things I remembered. However, itís only one personís story and I know that 300 different people have their own stories about that weekend. A few, including one from Flanders, have been sent to me and I have put them on the website and exerts from them in the StragMag. If you have a story about GBR that you think is worth telling, I would love to read it.