Saturday 21st dawned bright which was nice for the wedding in Windsor. Harry and Meghan were getting hitched and this was causing something of a stir amongst the UK populace. The other main event in running circles taking place that weekend was the Green Belt Relay, often foreshortened to “the GBR”. The two events coincided with stage 2 which usually runs through Windsor but this time took a diversion through nearby Eton. Which is how I found myself standing in the sunshine near the 15 arch bridge looking at the amazing rear facade of Eton College.
This year a record 50 teams took part in the most ambitious running relay in the UK. GBR follows a 220 mile course around the outskirts of London (think country lanes and paths roughly following the route of the M25). There are 22 stages, run over the weekend. Each team has 11 runners, each of which must run a stage on Saturday and Sunday. The logistics alone are awesome. Getting runners and timekeepers to the stage start and finish and marshals to points in between. And that’s aside from racing on average 20 miles over the weekend!
Having marked the course with sawdust over the tricky new section between miles 6 and 9, John, Karen and myself were now in position to ensure runners successfully navigated a series of small bridges and turns to stay on course. Getting off route has in the past led to runners getting massively lost. But all went well and we cycled back to where we had left the car parked well away from the building traffic attempting to head into Windsor and being halted by a massive police presence.
Although some of the stages are shorter and quite easy, most are moderately to very hard and ideally you want to be in marathon condition to take part. I had originally planned to spend the weekend helping out with the organisation, but a spate of late injuries had resulted in a call from team Captain Malcolm Davies on the Wednesday before asking me to run with the mens team. I warned him I would not be fast but agreed I would do it. If I had known the stages I was inheriting I might of said otherwise!
Saturday afternoon was Stage 9, which starts at the very picturesque Dobbs Weir in Hertfordshire and finishes at High Beach in Epping Forest. It was still hot at 5pm when 50 runners congregated for the start on the tow path alongside the barges moored on the Lea Navigation. We set off and fairly quickly found our pace. the faster runners and main bunch disappeared into the distance, but I had some runners around me running at about 9mm pace. The first 7 miles of the route is dead simple, following the canal to Enfield Lock. By the time we reached there I had slowed a bit and lost contact with the two runners in front of me, although I did overtake a guy towards the end of this section. The next bit involves crossing the canal and some route finding. In the past runners have often gone wrong at this point. But since Peter Kennedy took over the organisation things have improved and course marking is much better. Before runners relied largely on the paper stage maps they carried. With the well placed arrows and sawdust I was quickly through the difficult part and following the route over three bridges which lead out to a good path and onto the final three mile road section.
The last couple of miles involve a long and at times brutal hill section, which give the stage its grade 7 ranking. Stages are graded according to difficulty and length. grade 1 would be very easy but in fact the easiest stage is graded 3. Grade 7 is pretty hard. My Garmin showed the average pace creeping up steadily over this section, but I stuck with it and reached the top for a final run in to the finish. Sudden cramp in my left ham string brought me to a halt with a quarter of a mile to go but managed to stretch if off and make a decent finish on the green at High Beach. Just over 10 miles in 1hr 36.21 with an overall average of 9.36mm.
Back to the car to drive to the finish of the last stage of the day at Blackmoor then on to the Hotel. A funny incident though before leaving. I had parked in a big car park next to a large pub on the Green. as I went to drive out the car par exit became blocked by several cars and some extremely inebriated middle age ladies wearing wigs and costume dress. It would appear they had spent the day in the tavern celebrating the Royal Wedding.
To follow: GBR Day 2