Green Belt Relay 2016

So this was the 3rd Green Belt Relay that we have taken part in.  This could become a habit.  In fact, it already has.  Last week I received emails from a couple of our runners counting down the number of sleeps until the weekend.  People really have taken this event to their hearts.

After 4 months of preparation, the weekend was upon us.  3 teams, 33 runners, 2 reserves and one dedicated driver were ready to go.


My preparation hadn’t been good.  My stomach issues have got in the way of pretty much everything since March.  I wasn’t even sure that I was fit enough to get through 2 stages totaling 22 miles over 2 days.  Things got a lot more ‘interesting’ last week when Ernie was attacked by a fox.  Ernie is the stray cat who is living in the shelter we built for him in our garden.  We couldn’t risk him being outside for a while, so I spent over a week cat sitting him in either the spare room or the living room, keeping him away from our elderly, rather poorly house cat.  The result of this was about 3 or 4 hours sleep per night and this doesn’t make me a happy boy.  Sometimes it’s hard to be an animal loving tree hugger.

Anyway, back to the Green Belt Relay.  Have I ever mentioned how totally amazing this race is?  If the answer to that question is ‘no’ then you haven’t been listening.

In short, it is a relay around London’s Green Belt in teams of 11 running 1 stage per day over 2 days, with each stage being between around 6 and 14 miles.

It’s an early start on the Saturday.  The 3 teams met up at 6.15am in Burgess Hill to get to Hampton Court Palace for the 8.30 start.


Hampton Court Palace was as lovely as ever and we’re there in plenty of time for our 3 runners on the first stage to get ready.


And they’re off bang on 8.30am and the fun begins.  We head off to the end of stage 1 to meet our runners and the other 2 vans head off to their relevant stages to get our runners safely to the start of the 11 stages on day 1.


My stage on day 1 was stage 7, from St. Albans, through Hatfield, finishing just south of Welwyn Garden City.  A lot of the stage was on the Alban Way.  It is a tarmac path which is protected from the roads around by trees and bushes. This is a lovely part of the race, but far from being the most picturesque of stages, which says a lot for the other 21 legs.


I really quite enjoyed it.  I set off a little too quickly, but that’s nothing new.  I slowed down a little towards the end, but that was more a choice than a necessity, given that this was only day 1.  This is a pretty easy stage and the route markings were very easy to follow.

Our path crossed with our other 2 vans throughout the day as the start and the end of stages are in the same place.  This is great as you get to swap stories about what has happened and you get to encourage people in at the end of their stage and cheer people off at the start of theirs.

It is a little unfair to pick out highlights, but there were a couple of special moments on day 1.  Seeing 3 Green Belt first timers and pretty new members of the club off at the start was great to see.  Seeing Nick, Gary and Helen come in at the end of the Epping Forest stage was great.  I really want to do that leg one day.  Glyn’s finish at the end of stage 4 was one of the best I have ever seen.



So, with the running over on day 1, we headed off to the hotel in Brentwood.  The check in could have been slicker (although checking in 36 people at once was never going to be that smooth).  Before you knew it, we had beer in hand and were off for a curry, 5 minutes down the road.  The food was excellent again and catering for that many people at 10pm is not easy.  They serve Quorn piece curries.  It’s veggie heaven.  Give that restaurant a medal.


With 5 hours sleep, we’re off again.  Jaded and a bit sick with nerves, we head off to the wonderful Thorndon Park to drop off our first runners of the day for a 9am start.  Pictured below, Jonathan treated his body more like a temple than I did.


My favourite start/finish location of the whole event is the end of 15 / start of 16 at Lullingstone Park.  I just love it.  The end of stage 15 is beautiful and I have very fond memories of running stage 16 in 2014.


My stage on day 2 was 19.  We had wanted to run up Box Hill and during the planning we allocated ourselves the stage called Box Hill.  It turns out that this is the stage that starts at the top of Box Hill.  A school boy error for sure, but it certainly didn’t make things any easier.

Stage 19 is amazing.  Difficult. Really tough, but totally amazing.

You run steep downhill for about 2km and then steep up for about 4km.  After that, it is up and down for the rest of the stage.  It takes you through Denbie’s vineyard and through some amazing countryside.  Several sections are on the North Downs Way.  It is totally different from the South Downs Way.  There is a lot of tree cover and there are a lot of technical sections.  I loved the forest trails.  They were technical with tree roots to avoid and the uphill and downhill sections were short, so it was constantly changing.


I’m so lucky that I accidentally allocated this stage to myself.  I can think of lots of people who would love to do it next year.

We dropped our last runners off at the start of the final stage and headed to the finish where everyone was gathering to welcome the runners crossing the line on the glory leg.

We did it in style as well.  We were last over the line with all 3 runners hand in hand.


I always find the end of races a bit emotional.  This was especially so.  We’d got around the course safely and all of the vans were still intact.  I feel a lot of responsibility on this event and the most important thing for me is that everyone is safe.  After that, everything is a bonus.  Luckily there were lots of bonuses.  Club course records, great atmosphere in the vans, amazing countryside, Helen went under cut off for the first time and I wasn’t ill.

And we won a trophy.  The Most Supportive Team.  I’m so proud of this.  We are never going to be the quickest people out there.  That’s not really the point of why we spend time together in fields at the weekend.  It’s all about enjoyable and supporting each other.  So I got the chance to lift the Wissahickon Trophy.  Oh yeah.


It’s hard to imagine what goes into staging this event.  Organising the marshals (this is a self-marshaled event) is a huge task in itself.  How on earth do you mark out 220 miles of course close enough to the event so that idiots get as little chance as possible to move the markings and signs?  How do you handle a tree falling down on the day of the race, making the route impassible?  The answer is with a huge amount of organisation, dedication and pride in knowing that this event is just the best.

The last 3 years have given me and Burgess Hill Runners that chance to test ourselves against some great countryside, to get to know each other better and to forget about the troubles of life for a  whole weekend and immerse ourselves in the wonder that is the Green Belt Relay.  For that, we will always be indebted to Peter, the Stragglers and everyone who makes this happen.


We already have new people asking if they can come along next year.  Will it see 4 teams of Burgess Hill Runners taking part?  That is a question for another day.

In the meantime, it’s off to the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon for me in June.

Take care, Neil.


Green Belt Relay 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

20150516_111234So 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.

20150516_12461520150516_12495120150516_125144With 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.

20150516_130728Jon was the highest BHR finisher ever at the GBR in 5th place and he was followed in by Andy.

20150516_132612A great run by both of them and Jon got his well deserved cake at the end.

20150516_131853As 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


20150517_113436Back 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.

20150517_11550220150517_115811And 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.

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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.

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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.

The Green Belt Relay 2014

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.

10353582_10202698102188086_19016499223464344_nWe 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.

10310978_10202698109988281_6310574872973060717_n10390919_10152226440037655_7723856900896655611_nThat’s me on the far side.  It’s the closest to winning the event that we got 😉

10339766_10202698035746425_5337830567801192565_nSo, 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.

stage 1This 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.

20140517_15272610407012_10202697976784951_5368449167174159554_n10378529_10202698004745650_5016063969116671230_n10363266_10202697827101209_8812061909930037236_n10341644_10202697950584296_5256523599015358387_n10292537_10202697910063283_8602180346329766628_nThe 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.

1010076_10152120713823870_8812153680425254078_n10255278_10152124462463870_7062844774972783544_nNick 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.

10366299_10152124462718870_9125473157249461584_n10366019_10152121109428870_111449975160846336_nThe 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.

10307244_10152124463068870_6876096411499867330_n10307183_10152226456182655_2555637662073432650_nIt 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.

10363610_10152124465513870_1039295697001475293_nMy 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?

10325332_10152226459382655_3482985161696893327_nThere 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.

10320567_10152124531478870_2518803791539814284_nstage 2This 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.

10361969_10202698113988381_5448446266724305864_nWe 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.

10363840_10202698105588171_457132791717122768_n10176176_10152122387758870_5933165096338083585_nIt 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.

10402832_10202697855021907_4619345121550202122_n10329012_10202697997225462_1137165301886653503_n1964777_10202697881742575_575907504359134641_nAnd here are some of the lovely sights that we saw

1782068_10202697841341565_1430761811150564112_n10380769_10153254127428306_8570800317559472485_n10389666_10202698103308114_6094368874014937412_n20140518_144634So 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.

10295785_10152124466458870_6051735378543856311_n10329289_10152124466668870_378032525721490237_nWe’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).

10156009_10202698404075633_7068467517217346913_nThis 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.

1010077_10202698405515669_1265122446434787656_nThank 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,


10378004_10152123484878870_6652970454268006511_nPhotos courtesy of Paula Ridley and Helen Pratt.