After being cancelled last year, the Green Belt Relay was back on the weekend of 17th and 18th May with 22 of our runners (plus “logistics crew”) taking part. The trouble with May is that you never know whether it’s going to be a bit grey and drizzly (ok for running) or a scorcher (ok for spectating and generally enjoying the countryside) and this year it certainly was a hot one.
For those not familiar with the Green Belt Relay, it starts at Hampton Court Palace and finishes at the Hawker Centre, going in a clockwise direction around London, following footpaths, country lanes, forest trails and other countryside generally green and pleasant bits. The course is split into 22 stages with 11 on Saturday and 11 on Sunday, running from roughly 8am to 8pm. Although it’s a relay race, stages will start before the first runner from the previous stage has finished so that all of the stages can be fitted into the hours of daylight. The shortest stage is 6 miles, the longest 13 miles and they are graded in difficulty from 1 to 10, with runners running once one stage on Saturday and one on Sunday. One of the additional challenges is the logistics of how you get runners to the start of their stages and how they will be picked up at the end of their stages, which usually means a few of the stages will have less runners than they should (my stage on Saturday only had 25 runners and there were supposed to be 33)! Although it’s a nightmare to organize the logistics plan, a great thanks has to go to Kevin Stone, Joe Chang, Jacqueline Chang, Grant Davison and probably some other people I’ve missed, who put many hours into planning this. Once again I’m pretty sure all of runners made it to their starts on time and no-one was left standing around for hours after they’d run wondering how they were going to get home from Essex, so kudos to the people that put together the plan so the rest of us could run!
There were 33 teams taking part this year that were a mixture of running clubs (Stragglers, Ranelagh, Clapham Chasers, Serpentine etc.) some company teams (Cisco, Accenture, BA, Stock Exchange) and some fun/charity teams. The Golden Joggers were back, who were good fun as always and this year had ditched the golden morph suits and tutus for luminous yellow sunglasses and headbands. The Frontrunners were also back with 4 teams and I always find it slightly odd that they seem to be a big club with some very good runners but you never them at any races. As per usual one of the Serpentine teams set up an early lead that was never beaten and the rumour going round was that their runners weren’t allowed to be even considered for their Green Belt Relay teams unless they run a 78 minute half marathon or quicker! The 26.2 RRC teams were made up of a mixture of GBR veterans, with Dave Wilson coming out of retirement to run a 13 mile level 10 stage, some new faces wondering what they’d let themselves in for, and some walking wounded drafted in at the last minute to make up the numbers. We knew we were never going to win anything so in true 26.2 RRC style we just enjoyed the weekend for what it was, getting to run through some very picturesque countryside, with a bit of camaraderie thrown in.
One of the additional challenges of Green Belt Relay is that the stages involve running with a map as the course is only occasionally marked and marshalled. The stages also have a cut-off time that if you don’t finish by, the finish crew move on to the next stage and all runners that haven’t finished by then will be given the same cut-off time. So as if map reading and getting lost weren’t bad enough you also have the added pressure of not making the dreaded cut-off, and some of the cut-off times didn’t allow you much leeway.
Not seeing many other 26.2 people over the weekend I can only comment on my own stages, but they were very picturesque. On the Saturday I ran stage 6 – Chipperfield to St. Albans which I’d run in my first Green Belt Relay in 2009, so I thought I remembered it. I managed to not get lost and didn’t need the map but I’d unfortunately erased the fact that it is mostly up-hill from my memory. So there was me at the start telling Vicki Kirk “there are only two hills”, when it was actually mostly up-hill for seven miles (oops). For some reason this stage is rated at 3 (out of 10) and I have no idea why, it’s much harder than that. I guess because it is mostly on country lanes rather than off-road they downgrade the difficulty, but even so, hills should count double! On Sunday I ran stage 21 – Ripley to Walton Bridge which is one of the most enjoyable stages I’ve run. It’s totally flat and follows the Wey Navigation, so for 95% of the time you are running along a river or a canal. With the temperature hitting 25 degrees on Sunday it was hard going though and I’m glad I decided to run with my new camelbak, which didn’t have much water left in it by the end.
The final stage finishes at the Hawker Centre that we know well from Kingston Parkrun with most of the teams converging there to cheer their runners in, have a drink and cheer the winners. Once again Serpentine came first, with the 26.2 RRC teams coming 24th and 29th, but at least we didn’t win the toilet seat trophy for last place! Everyone agreed it was another great weekend. It always seems too much hassle with the amount of planning involved, but once you get running you remember why you did it and how much fun it is.
From chatting to our runners afterwards, there were various stories and bits of banter that make the weekend so much fun: Maria beating Grant at their stage on Saturday, Vicki Kirk being told off by a stroppy Straggler who couldn’t map read when marshalling, Kevin Stone getting lost right at the end of his 13 mile level 10 stage and doing a 2 mile detour, Jon Wilson keeping up the Wilson family tradition and finishing ahead of Joe Chang , and me getting to run behind a young lady who had seemingly left her shorts at home and decided to run in her pants, who later told me “Jesus loves you”.
Many thanks to the team that gave up their free time over multiple evenings to work out the logistics plan, the supporters that popped up at various points along the route, and the people that didn’t run but did a lot of driving, let’s do it again next year!
Full results can be found on the Green Belt Relay website.