So I’m sitting at home on Monday morning reflecting on the 2 days of the Green Belt Relay 2015.
I am British, so my first thoughts focus on the rain that is currently hitting the patio doors and the wind that is shaking the trees in the garden. The weather was also like this last Thursday. However, the 3 days sandwiched in the middle were a joy, so a huge thank you whoever booked the lovely weekend weather.
I also sit here with a huge sense of relief. The plan worked, everyone got home safe, none of our runners got hurt or injured (apart from the odd twinge here and there) and everyone got to the start of their 2 stages on time and often with quite a bit of time to spare.
So this is the Green Belt Relay in a nut shell. You take 30 teams with 11 runners in each team and they circumnavigate the area of green land that surrounds London. It sounds easy on paper, but in practice it is a feat of organisation beyond belief. I spend some of my time getting 120 people each week around the 5km at Clair parkrun. The work involved in safely getting over 300 runners around 220 miles each running 2 stages over the 2 days is something else. I have total respect for Peter Kennedy and his dedicated team for making this happen. The list of work that they do is immense. Too long to go into, but just imagine having to mark out a 220 mile route with arrow signs and sawdust. It is all done with a lovely smile, a sense of humour and seemingly very calmly.
The event is also self-marshalled, so there is obviously a huge debt of thanks to be said to the other teams who help to keep us all safe, encouraged and watered along the course.
So, onto Burgess Hill Runners. We had 2 teams this year. We only had 1 team last year, but the response was so good this year, we decided to double the number of participants. The greatest compliment that we can give to the GBR organising team is that all 11 runners from last year came back this year.
The make-up of the teams was different this year. Many of the first timers this year were some of our quicker runners, which meant that they were allocated the tougher legs. The plan was that this would make it easier to get between stages on time. It worked. Almost seamlessly as far as I can see.
The start of the event was at Hampton Court Palace as always, although not inside the grounds of the Palace, as they wanted to charge a stupid sum of money to do so. It was great to have club chairman Mark Craigs run the first leg. Huge amounts of work go into that role and the honour of running the first leg was naturally his, along with first timer Steve Bird.
Having seen Mark and Steve off, this is where the fun begins. It’s over 10 hours until the end of the first day and we have to get our 22 runners to the start of 11 stages, picking them up at the end of their stage, before moving onto the next one. 2 minibuses and 2 cars make sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time.
My minibus headed off along the Thames to Staines where Nick and Philippe were due to start the 2nd leg of the day, a lovely flat one of 9.6 miles.
Having seen them off, we make the short drive to the end of their stage, where we find John and Lee about to start stage 3 in the most beautiful of locations on a small green area at the side of the Thames and next to a beautiful little church. By now the sun was start to heat up. Great news for those who had run already, not so good for those who had yet to do so.
And no sooner had Lee and John set off on stage 3, the runners started to arrive behind us finishing stage 2. Nick and Philippe arrived together big smiles on their faces.
So it’s straight into the van and off to the start off leg 5 where the 2 speediest runners in our van for the day are going to tackle one of the most difficult stages of the event.
With Joe and Jonathan on their way, we headed over the park to see Jon and Andy finish the previous leg, another difficulty 10 run. This stage is very hilly and finishes in a street where there is a church hall that was serving tea, cakes and sandwiches for us.
Jon was the highest BHR finisher ever at the GBR in 5th place and he was followed in by Andy.
A great run by both of them and Jon got his well deserved cake at the end.
As you can see, they were greeted by the BHR supporters who were out in force.
It was quickly time to move off to the end of stage 5 to meet Joe and Jonathan.
What a beautiful setting for the end of a stage in the village of Chipperfield.
Jonathan came in 15th and Joe 18th, both very creditable results, given the quality of the runners on this leg and the fact that Joe got a bit lost.
We then moved on swiftly to stage 8, where Jay and I were going to tackle the 10.2 mile course.
This stage is lovely. Over 2 miles of downhill trail, a small section through Hertford town, past the castle, then all the way to the end on the tow path of the River Lea past lots of lovely boats and houses.
I didn’t run well. I wasn’t really expecting to, but really enjoyed the stage.
There was a lovely welcome at the end of the stage and after a quick stretch of the troublesome achilles and a nice drink, we set off to drop Steve and Kim off at the start of stage 11, the last leg of the day.
We were also due to marshal on this leg, which was really good fun, guiding runners across a road and giving them some water.
So with everyone safely across the road and watered, we headed to the end of the stage to collect Steve and Kim, before heading off to the hotel in Brentwood.
It was around 9pm when we got to the hotel and we were the last to arrive. So it was straight to the room, quick shower, a couple of swift beers, before heading off for a curry.
The hotel was a huge improvement on last year (quieter, better service and ideal location), as was the restaurant (very friendly, very quick service, given that 25 of us arrived at 10.30pm and the food was lovely).
So, we got to bed at just gone midnight. The first stage of day 2 was due to begin at 8am, so sleep was going to be of a premium. So what we didn’t need was someone ringing me at 3.15am, leaving a message to meet me as soon as possible in the usual layby in Birmingham ??????? My head started to focus on the upcoming events of day 2, so I didn’t get much more sleep, resulting in this.
Tired boy. So, after a bar of Soreen (one of the nicest things that man has ever created), Jay and I were ‘ready’ for the off.
I had decided to take my time on the second day, although there was little choice really. We started off at the back and we stay there with only a couple of runners behind us.
This leg was 10.9 miles and undulating. It started on lovely country roads, not everyone’s cup of tea, given that the roads were open to traffic. We had to go through the town of Hutton, which was, well, pretty ‘towny’, but then we head out onto 3 miles of trails and fields, the things that make us happy.
The end of this stage is in Thorndon Park, which is a lovely place. Wooded and shaded, which is exactly what we needed.
Having dropped Lee and John off at the start of stage 15, we headed to Lullingstone Park where stage 15 finishes and 16 starts. Before Lee and John arrived, we saw Jon and Andy off on the tricky stage 16.
Back over the car park we could hear the first finishers on stage 15 arriving in, so it was time to make our way over to the lovely finishing area.
Lee and John were soon in, finishing 19th and 22nd in really impressive times.
And as is now BHR tradition, John went into the water.
Next stop Merstham, where we dropped Catherine and Linda off to tackle Boxhill. We had to leave them before the start as we had to marshal a very dangerous road crossing.
This is a really tough stage, so tough it even reduced Linda to some poor language, which is hardly ever heard off and totally out of character.
Next we’re off to the start of leg 21 and the end of leg 20.
We drop Helen and Gary off for a lovely trot along the Thames.
The next hour provided me with my 2 favourite moments of the weekend.
Firstly, as we were approaching the end of the day, we had a lot of BHR supporters at the end of stage 20 to see Steve and Kim in. They are not our quickest runners, but the effort, determination and the smiles on their faces encouraged everyone to make lots of noise.
Then, as Gary and Helen were approaching the end of stage 21, we saw that Gary was about 100 metres in front of Helen. He stopped, went back for her and then they went over the line together.
So with Helen and Gary in the van, we head off to the finish to see the runners coming in.
Paul and Kevin made it in and both teams had successfully completed the course.
To cap the day off, it was announced that we had won the ‘Most Supportive Team’ award. We know that we’re never going to be at the top of the leader board, but one of the most amazing things about our group of people is the way that we offer support to our runners and other clubs. We always have most people supporting at the end of the Fun Run League races, there’s always a BHR out on the route of marathons taking photos in all weathers and our club really does help to make Clair parkrun the friendly place that it is.
We were also incredibly lucky to have 3 volunteer drivers in Paula, Alan and Steve, who did a great job in getting us from one place to another. Hopefully they will be back in a running capacity next year.
So that’s it for another year. It only remains to say thank you one last time to Peter and his team. Good luck in everything that you and the Stragglers do over the next 12 months and see you again same time same place next year.
Happy running folks and I’m going to rest my poorly Achilles for a while.
Take care, Neil.