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The Green Belt Relay 2015 Report

Green Belt Relay Report 2015. Chris Kelly.

This will have to be a rather personalised version of the GBR Report this year, because, as it turns out, I wasn't there for most of it.
I like to think that I put in the usual quality preparation - procuring a team of elite athletes, or at least Dave Dixon, obtaining a new specialist driver, Nick "Livin on the" Edge, ensuring a complement of First-Aid-qualified marshals, Paul & Kaye Brandon, entering the team early to get the early-bird discount, then waiting until most folks had forgotten about it to spring the surprise that they were in the team - sorry Brian - and insisting that despite their best attempts to pick up excusatory injuries (DaveB, Richard, Vicky) they were all going to have to run slightly further than they wanted to, again.

I was worried, though, because the GBR weekend coincided with a friend's 50th birthday, and he was having a party, which was going to be in a nice hotel, with various events included, on the same weekend. In Anglesey (300 miles from Hampton Court...). But I was reassured, on speaking to Richard, that if I organised myself an early leg on the Saturday, and a late leg on the Sunday, there would be plenty of time to get to the Saturday night party and back on Sunday. Of course these somewhat delinquent tendencies of the team captain meant we needed another driver - Roderick - and a deputy captain and driver - Graham - to be in charge, on the day. But anyway, we had a plan. There were a few more constraints to be added to the excel spreadsheet, but we're GBR veterans, and I knew my team wouldn't let me down...

On the day, it all started pretty smoothly. I was very pleased to have my wife, Sarah, with me for her first GBR, because I said I didn't have time to pick her up from home or drop her off on the way back - which was true - so I was regaling her with all sorts of GBR folklore along the way - which she put up with heroically. We met John at Staines at 7.30ish, to get him to Hampton Court for the first briefing, and start, and the weather was holding up, the other 30 teams were ready, Hampton Court looked fine from the towpath, and soon they were off.

A small amount of traffic later, we were back at Homebase Staines, meeting Vicky, James, Graham, Neil, and Dave Boy Bird, and making the short stroll along the river to watch Graham, and his Clapham Chaser competition, our own Natalie Ruffell, set off in close order. One team missed the start slightly (I thought they were the previous stage winner coming in!) but set off in pursuit anyway. We then turned round to watch the Leg 1 runners come in, and were impressed to see a 1/2/3 finish by Clapham, followed by the usual Stock Exchange and Serpie folks. Our John arrived in a creditable 11th, looking noticeably cool and unruffled - which he put down to the strong headwind, and nothing to do with keeping a bit in reserve...

Next up for us was to get to my start at Little Marlow, but not before popping into Homebase to pick up my friends 50th Birthday Present - BBQ Tools - just in time... Meanwhile, Neil was driving Graham's car to his start at Boveney, with DaveB, Nick was following up with Vicki and James, and Graham was holding Natalie off as long as he could.

At Marlow we met Roderick, with the Marshalling kit, who waited for reinforcements from James and Dave then set off to take care of the West Wycombe roundabout crossing, which I would be passing through 7.9 miles later. I said hello to Alan Barnes from Stock Exchange, who usually runs and wins this leg - as again this year - and after our briefing, and checks, we all set off.

Leg 4 is my favourite. It starts with an amuse-bouche - 3 miles of gentle climb - as if to say "Don't get any ideas". Then it drops and twists under the M40, where I passed the first group of folks who weren't sure which path was right, then climbs back up next to John Lewis, over another rise, where I passed another couple, then down through some woods, which were still cool, though the day was warming up, across a busy road, well marshalled, and up the first of the "hills". A turn off on the way up - not good to miss - then a dip and more rise, to a section of woodland that seriously confused me the first time. Five years later it’s not such a struggle, and as the path drops away, you can stride through the loose dirt, leaves and enjoy going a bit too fast, down towards another saddle, and back up, quick view of Wycombe Wanderers ground, then the first time I had to walk. Eventually at the top, round some bends, past the bit in the forest where they cut the trees down so that they can see down the hill to West Wycombe, then round and down - too fast - gonna feel those quads tomorrow - and through West Wycombe to the Marshal point. Quick hello and a cup of water, and off up the hill to Hughenden Manor. Now it’s getting serious - running gave way to striding even earlier, but fortunately no-one around, so by the time I reach the top, and Disraeli's old gaff, I am running again, and blowing a bit. Over the hill, and looking forward to seeing my wife on the other side at the church. Since waving me off, Sarah has been into the Farm Shop at the start of the Leg to pick up some asparagus, yum, then driven down into High Wycombe, and up the other side to get to Hughenden Manor to meet us at the 10 mile point, offer water, and maybe catch a pic. Unfortunately lack of prep on my part - she didn’t know which way we'd be coming - so after an enjoyable watch of a path across a meadow full of cows, she notices a runner hurtling down the road behind her - oops - that’s where they are - a couple more speed past - and she began to get worried that she'd missed me (no need - they were going far too quick) so jumps back in the car to get to the finish - moral - don’t over-estimate how fast you'll go - or at least include a worst case option too.. Back with me, I'm plodding along the road now, to get past the clues-in-the-name Cryers Hill, which I'm about to go parallel to up Boss Lane (Churchill’s base nr RAF Bomber command). This is the last of the hills, and it’s a toughie. Very glad it’s in the woods, and no-one can see at what point I start walking…but soon enough its done, and on the level, I get my breath back, and see the penultimate turn, with a spectator on it, so am sure I know where I am, then along through the bushes behind the houses and out onto the last stretch of road, picking it up all the way - chest out - tummy in - so quick in fact that Sarah hasn’t got time to take a photo, as I power down the road to the line. Phew. Probably didn’t work hard enough, as it’s a minute slower than my previous best, and no nearer the magic 1:30, but am happy with the position, 9th, but have more work to do for next year...

Saw Nick, and Natalie at the finish, and enjoyed a rinse and a cup of tea, in the Village Hall. Glad to see that the cricket was just starting on the green, and the weather is staying fine. So at this point, my GBR goes on hold this year. Change of vest, and we're off to Anglesey! Five hours later, shower in a turret, cocktails on the terrace looking out onto the Menai Straits, BBQ & Pud, Disco till 12 (Heaven 17 - Temptation - George up in the air - customary), drinks till late in the Music Room, good night’s sleep in a bed that’s as wide as its long, up with the lark, a short walk around the village, Full Welsh breakfast, cheerios and we're off again, five hours later, briefing at Walton Bridge, glory leg, legs feeling a bit stiff...
Meanwhile, it’s all been happening. Vicky put a shift in on Great Kingshill - note the first and last syllables - James navigated his way from Chipperfield, Simon joined up and enjoyed his run from St Albans. Nick had fun finding Letty Green - it is well hidden - but Richard made it, and ran well. DaveB enjoyed Dobbs Weir, at least the flat bit until he saw our marshals, it does get a bit hilly after that... and DaveD was on fine form - knocking nearly two minutes - !!! - off his 2014 time - and picking up another Stage Winner T-Shirt again - so there is hope for us all. Roderick brought the day to a close at Blackmore, and all made it to the Olde Plough House for some essential refuelling, and sleep.

Sunday dawned, and everyone cracked on again, DaveD made his appearance, then departure, Neil did a bit more driving, Richard crossed the golf course, then was on his way to pick up his doggy duties, Vicky ran down to the river, Simon started again on the other side, Graham, having manfully stepped in to relieve DaveB's knee of its original Lullingstone responsibility found out that they had changed the route slightly from what he remembered... with hindsight, he would rather not have teamed up with a runner who thought he knew the way, and ended up running 14.9 miles instead of 13.3 miles. Graham is available next year for all runners who need reminding to pay more attention to their own map and not believe what other people tell you! DaveB gratefully ran Tatsfield, and Neil enjoyed Merstham, though he also found the cut off hard - especially as in the second half, he managed to overtake 3 people on the way up to Box Hill "leaving them for dead" only to find that he was just 3secs ahead of the cut-off time which they were all given. "Hey ho". He had to keep going anyway, because he was due to pick up John's car at the next leg!!  James had a good crack at Box Hill, another tough leg, Roderick flew down the hill from West Hangar, and then John stormed from Ripley back to Walton.

As always, there were a few areas where the plan needed last minute adjustments, such as drivers still running when they need to be driving, ahem, but that’s part of the fun, I think...

Nick, Neil, Barbara and Poppy met us at Walton Bridge. I gave my keys to Sarah, who suggested, impishly, that as it had been going so well, perhaps I try to go for it, even more, and see how it works out. Fair enough, I thought - I'd taken plenty of Vitamin I(buprofen) so what’s to lose. I went out hard, found myself fifth... Not bad, thought I'd try to keep going. Seemed like everyone behind me was knackered too, as no-one caught me up. The guy in front started coming back to me, I wasn't sure I could do anything about it, but he kept coming. I think I misjudged the end - thought there was more to run - so I didn't quite catch him - but 5th felt pretty good.

As everyone arrived at the finish, I found out more about everyone else's runs - there's always another tale to tell - you'd need to be in three places to get the full stories. All went reasonably well. We managed to staff all our Marshal points - which is essential to keep the race going, but also enjoyable - ably assisted by the Brandons - some with Caution Runner signs, Hi-Viz, & Drinks Table too. At the front of the race, it was a pretty tight competition between the Serpies, Frontrunners, and Stock Exchange. In our Corporate category, there's a new contender, the young, lithe staff of Loughborough University, who pipped us by a couple of places - we'll have to be back! After a beer and a burger, we headed home, no longer carrying the Corporate Trophy, but pretty satisfied, all the same.

And reports from some of the others…

Neil:

Quirky stat of the week-end. I came 25th in both my runs and both were within a minute of each other despite the first being 2 miles longer and flat compared to the roller coaster to Box Hill. I really enjoyed the week end.

Nick:

 What a great weekend. Adrenalin ran a bit high at times (Would I get X to the start in time? Who is going to pick up Y - it's not covered in the matrix?) and very high when I got lost (I never want to see Hemel again!) but we were blessed with good weather and no serious traffic hold-ups. After I got I home I watched Rory McIlroy spank the yanks, had two glasses of a rather nice malt and went to bed where I slept for nine hours. Would I do it again? You bet!

Roderick:

 I was standing by a lamppost in Merstham at the end of stage 17 when my phone went off. I hurried to answer it – what had gone wrong?  I was waiting by the finish to see Dave Bird come running down the hill – had his knee had given up on him and he was phoning to say that he couldn’t make it to the finish.  And I’d just seen Neil Frediani off at the start of leg 18.  Perhaps he had tripped over a tree root and needed rescuing?  Or could it be Nick – he had driven off with James but perhaps he had a puncture and needed me to drive out to pick up James and get him to Box Hill?  But just a moment – I had still not heard from Simon!  Perhaps he was calling to say that Graham had STILL not finished leg 16 and therefore wouldn’t be able to collect Neil at the end of 17.  Or perhaps it was Graham, phoning from the Princess Royal or some other hospital somewhere?  But no need to worry – it was our errant team captain coming back from his party and wanting an update and a chat. No problem.

There was an interesting comparison between us and the Stock Exchange in how seriously the event was taken…no that sounds wrong – “how our planning included sufficient contingency to allow a more relaxed approach”. The Stock Exchange first – at the finish of leg 13 (Thorndon Park) the fifth finisher home was Karen Ellison with an impressive sprint across the line.  But she wasn’t allowed to stop.  Four of her team mates literally grabbed her and escorted her, jogging, across the car park and into their car whereupon they drove off at speed – just pausing long enough to have the “first ladies shirt” passed in through the window by the chasing timekeeper.  If she had picked up a water at the finish she must have spilt it all by the time they had accelerated down the road.  Our contrast was at the end of leg 5, Great Kingshill, a great finish by Vicky (though perhaps the sprint across the line hadn’t been quite as fast as Karen’s).  Vicky recovered her breath and asked – “Do I have time for a drink?”  “Yes, of course” we said and the four of us escorted her to the front of the bar of the Two Brewers for a well-earned reward.  I can’t remember if we told James that that was the reason that he got to St Albans on foot before us in the car but he didn’t seem in any distress about it.

The start of my leg 20 (West Hanger) was interesting.  As we were about to be launched by the starter there was a shout of “Runner Ahead!”  The runner was from the previous leg and he was coming up the path in front of us, not from behind as you would expect.  He mistook us and the timekeepers for the finish crowd and it took valuable seconds before the message could be conveyed to him that the correct finish was around the corner from where we were.  Then we were off but there was another surprise in store – half a mile into our leg (I had just checked my Garmin) there was another runner from the previous leg coming towards us up the path.  The overall course does do a right turn at this point but either he was a mile off course OR, perhaps more likely, he had been ¼ mile off but then spotted course markers and started off down our leg before realising his mistake!  Apparently the course setters discovered afterwards that some locals had sabotaged leg 19 including moving the sawdust trail.

Finally

The GBR organisers are keen to get a big race next year for the 20th running, so let me know ASAP if you want in. Their official report is at:
http://www.greenbeltrelay.org.uk/index.php/component/phocadownload/category/11-race-documentation?download=124:2015-race-report

Chris Kelly


 

      

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