For those of you who don’t know what the Green Belt Relay is, here is a quick synopsis.
It is a race around the Green Belt that surrounds London with teams of 11 runners, each running 2 stages over 2 days, with a total distance travelled of 220 miles. This year there were 33 teams.
We set off from Burgess Hill in 3 vans at 6.30 on Saturday morning. I was seriously nervous. I’d done all of the planning to get the 3 vans and 11 runners, plus support crew to each of the stages on time. As this was the first year we had taken part, I had no idea if it would work. My nerves were not helped by the fact that I put a quarter of a tank of unleaded into a diesel van on the way to the start and I then proceeded to drive for a couple of minutes with the hand brake on. I only realised when we saw the black smoke and the van filled with a horrible burning smell.
Anyway, we got the Hampton Court Palace on time. The grandest place I have ever begun a race by some distance. It was already getting hot and I had 12.7 miles ahead of me. I don’t do well in the heat.
That’s me on the far side. It’s the closest to winning the event that we got 😉
So, we gathered round for the pre-race brief and before I knew it, we were off. A guide runner escorted us across Hampton Court Bridge and then the race begin on the tow path on the other side.
This should have been a lot easier than it was. It suddenly dawned on me that I was one of the slowest runners. By a distance as well. Stupidly I set off too quickly as I was concerned about getting lost. This was one of the easier stages though. It was flat and simple to navigate. The only difficulty was the heat, the length, my preparations and the fact that I set off way too quickly.
The tow path was amazing. So may great views. No photos sadly. There were 4 runners in my van and I didn’t want to hold the team up by taking photos, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say how lovely it was (or check it out on the Green Belt Way website).
The heat really got to me and I struggled and my pace dropped. I finished towards the back of the field in 1 hour 56 minutes for 12.4 miles. I didn’t cover myself in glory with the speed of my run, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
As I was running, stages 2 and 3 also got under way. Our other 2 vans took those runners to the start of the relevant stages. There were several occasions over the weekend on the longer stages where we had 3 runners on the course at the same time.
Here are some nice pictures of the other members of the team strutting their stuff.
The rest of my day was spent getting the other 3 runners in my van to the start of their stages.
Jay’s leg was a long tough one and the sun was blazing down by that stage. Sun block was definitely the order of the day.
Nick was next. It was a struggle for her and she was just happy to get over the line, which she did in a pretty creditable time as well. Here she is at the finish line. She definitely is a legend, who makes her husband very proud of her.
The final runner of the day from our van was Steph. She had a tough leg through Epping Forest. This is her at the end. She was pretty keen to speak to whoever chose her for stage 10.
It was a long day. The last leg didn’t finish until around 8.30 and we then had to get to Romford, check into the Travelodge and get to the restaurant that we had booked.
We didn’t sit down to eat until 10.30, but it was a great way to round off the day. A couple of beers and a curry and an insight into the nightlife of Romford.
Day 2 started early. The first leg of the second day began at 8am, so the first van left the hotel at 7am.
Jay ran the first leg in my van on day 2.
My leg on day 2 (stage 16) could not have been more different from day 1. The map and instructions describe this leg as ‘not only the toughest leg, but also a complex one, and runners in the past have gone a long, long way wrong.’ Also, there are 360 metres of climbs, a huge climb at half way and it felt hotter than the previous day. I also had over 12 miles in my legs from the previous day and 3 nights of 5 hours sleep.
Is there any wonder I looked terrified at the pre-race brief?
There was a huge difference on this day. I was going to run my own race, enjoy the countryside and tackle the map reading.
As expected, straight from the start, everyone ran away from me. After 2 miles, the only time I saw other runners was when they’d gone wrong and had temporarily promoted me from last place. It didn’t matter. This was my race for me to enjoy.
Again, there are no photos. It was too tough for that and I did want to do myself justice, which I did. 13.3 very hilly miles in 2 hours 20 minutes.
This is one of my best performances ever. It may not seem like it from the outside, but after a pretty emotional week, lots of driving and little sleep, I think I stormed it, even though I finished some distance behind the rest of the field.
The marshals were amazing. Just incredible. When there was a marshal station at the top of a hill, the marshals walked to the bottom to give me a drink to help me up the hill, before giving me another drink at the top to help me on my way.
The race ajudicator, David Clarke followed me on his bike for a lot of the road section, advising me on the route and giving me encouragement.
On one of the road sections the Accenture team were going to the finish to collect one of their runners when they stopped to give me a bottle of water.
That sums up the level of camaraderie and support at the whole event.
The difficulties that everyone faced with the heat are summed up perfectly by Karen’s means of cooling down at the end of her stage on day 2.
We also had to marshal a stage on each day. Many of the marshalling points were manned by the other teams. It’s a great way to get the marshalling done and a lovely way to give something back to the event.
It wasn’t all about the running either. We all had chance to sit down, take in some of the lovely sunshine and relax, while waiting for runners to arrive at the end of their stage.
And here are some of the lovely sights that we saw
So after 2 days and 220 miles and a total of 36 hours 31 minutes and 20 seconds of running, Linda, our runner on the last leg arrived at the finish on the banks of the Thames in Kingston.
We’d finished. Not only had we managed to complete the distance, with every runner completing their leg, we’d managed to get every runner to the start each leg on time (or nearly on time).
This is all of us under the finish line. Smiles all round.
What an amazing event. I’m so proud of what we achieved. We’re not the quickest, but we gave it everything we had, certainly went outside our comfort zones and came out the other side with some great memories and a great sense of satisfaction.
Thank you to all of the Burgess Hill Runners for sharing this with me. Thank you to the Stragglers and everyone who organised and marshalled this event. It really does put getting 130 people around Clair parkrun into perspective.
This is a very tough event. Don’t ever doubt that. It’s tough to run and it’s tough to get your team around the course. It is definitely worth every bit of the effort it took.
Have fun and take care,
Photos courtesy of Paula Ridley and Helen Pratt.