When you’re in the pub on a Friday night, how exactly do you explain to your colleagues you have to go home because you’re getting up at 5am to spend the weekend in a 220 mile running relay round the M25, spending most of the time in a sweaty minibus, before spending the night in a classy Essex hotel called the Miami, then getting up at 6am on Sunday to do it all over again….and you’re just soooooo excited?
My colleagues think I’M WEIRD
Luckily for me I know a fair few other weird people, 46 to be exact, so at 6.45am last Saturday morning we all met in Clapham Junction to head over to Hampton Court to start our 220 mile journey around London’s Green Belt…
The Green Belt Relay is a fantastic event and is made even more fantastic by the fact it’s the Chasers annual weekend away, we’ve all been embarrassingly excited about this for weeks! In short, it’s an 11 person relay ran across 22 legs over 2 days around 220 miles of London’s green belt. There’s lots of river running, greenery, a fair few hills and brambles to negotiate and you need to be familiar with the route to avoid getting lost but the course is pretty and scenic.
Last year we entered 3 teams but word spread about how much fun it was so there was enough demand for 4 teams this year, that’s a lot of Chasers on tour! Rather than putting all our fast runners in one team and competing for the outright win, we were mixed into teams of weighted ability to create a bit of banter between ourselves (much more fun!). We had Blue, Simply Red, Deep Purple and Green Day…
The banter started early, which was mostly Alex demonstrating he clearly has too much free time at work during the day…but it succeed in getting everyone even more excited!
The race starts at 8.30 from Hampton Court (although not actually within the grounds because they wanted to charge a shameful amount of money) so we all headed over to cheer off the leg 1 runners, there were 30 teams in total.
Everyone runs 1 leg on Saturday and 1 on Sunday of various lengths from 6.6 miles to 13.5 miles. Each leg is given a difficulty level of 1 to 10 which combines distance, course profile and navigation so a 10 means there’s a fairly high probability of getting lost if you haven’t done your homework!
Organising an event like this is hugely challenging both for the Stragglers, who run the event, and for the clubs that participate (in our case Bryn, who does an outstanding job of ensuring everything runs smoothly which we are all massively grateful for). We had 4 minibuses, each with a clear schedule for the day and list of people who needed to be on it at different times. You get dropped off at the start of your leg by one minibus and picked up at the end by another before heading off to the next location. If that wasn’t enough to plan, the event is also self-marshaled so each team has several marshaling duties to make sure other runners get round safely. It’s a logistical nightmare, and that’s if everything goes to plan!
Can you spot Ingrid…?
The course is marked with sawdust and orange stickers but locals find it hilarious to tamper with them so, if you haven’t studied the route, or foolishly follow someone else, you could be in trouble. Naively, I failed miserably to memorise my route last year, relying on on-the-go navigation so this year I spent some time learning my legs and writing myself step by step instructions!
Although Green Belt is a relay, it wouldn’t be practical to run the event in the traditional sense and wait for your runner to come in (the first day is already quite lengthy) so each leg starts at the time of the previous leg’s course record. This means, unless someone breaks the course record, you will start before the runners arrive. Each runner is still timed individually for a cumulative team time.
I was on the 2nd leg on Saturday, a 9.64 mile stretch from Staines to Boveney through Windsor, I also ran this leg last year so I was already vaguely familiar with it (plus it only had a difficulty level of 3!). My minibus headed over to Staines to drop Ruth, Natalie, Hannah and myself off for our 9.42am start and pick up the leg 1 runners who would be finishing around the same time.
After injuring my hamstring I hadn’t actually run for 10 days and was really worried I wouldn’t be able to do it, it definitely felt dodgy. We had quite a few people pull out due to injury and had struggled to fill the places at short notice so I knew I had to run, plus there was no way I was missing this weekend! I just had to hope I wouldn’t be limping my way round.
We headed across Staines Bridge and along the river on the towpath but within the first mile my hamstring was getting tighter, I’d only just started! Trying not to panic, I made a conscious effort to slow down and hoped it would ease off…if I could at least make it to 7 miles it would be fine right? Luckily, I think a combination of slowing down and warming up worked and I actually started to enjoy the route at my slower pace.
I even sort of knew where I was going…right at the fork…across the bridge…away from the river…so I didn’t need to follow anyone else. I was a bit confused at the end but, relying on memory from last year, and asking the odd random if they had seen runners, I made it to the finish. I saw Adam and Alex a few metres from the end and tried to give Alex a high-5 (I missed and it was more of a high-1 but encouraging all the same!)
It feels a bit odd finishing the leg. Unlike other races, because there’s only 30 of you, you’re likely to be running on your own and finishing on your own with a crowd of people waiting for you. Everyone cheers and claps (and no one makes a noise like the Chasers!) but it’s hard not to feel a bit self-conscious.
Our bus had a bit of spare time before we needed to drop anyone off for their leg so we headed to Great Kingshill to cheer on the leg 4 runners coming in and leg 5 heading off. Leg 4 is one of the hardest at 12.2 miles and rated a 10 so it was pretty awesome to see Cat come in on a head-to-head sprint finish against a man, she totally nailed it! Sorry mate, you’re chicked.
We then headed off to St Albans to send off James, Steve, Dan and Louise and pick up those running leg 6. We were really lucky with the weather considering how much wind and rain we’d had so we got to enjoy some sunshine while we waited.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, we ended up staying in St Albans a little longer than planned, we’ll call this ‘nameless blameless incident’ to protect the identity of those involved…but eventually we were on our way to drop some people off for marshaling duties.
Finally it was time to drop off Rob, Simon, Ellie & James for the final leg of the day (which didn’t even start until 6.58!) before heading over to the finish to meet everyone else and cheer everyone home. There were some very drunk Chasers to be met (case in point, see above…)
It had been a looooong day and was time to head to the grand Miami hotel for dinner, drinks and a couple of hours sleep. Perhaps the best part of the evening was an appearance from a VERY special guest. Yep, we only had Spiderman (ACTUAL Spiderman) pop along to present some fetching gold spoon awards for various achievements throughout the day such as Drama Queen, Loose Women, LAD!, Least Likely to be a Getaway Driver… around midnight, it was time to sleeeeppp.
Welcome to Miami…
Not for long though, the alarm went off at 6, we were out the door by 7 and leg 13 was off at 8! Sunday saw much of the same with each bus heading to various legs to drop people off, pick up those coming in and completing our marshaling duties.
For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to sign up for the very last leg, aka the glory leg, but this would mean I wouldn’t be running until 5pm and I was starting to get nervous about finishing in front of absolutely everybody. The finish is at the Hawker Centre in Ham and is also where the end of event BBQ is held and everyone meets back up again, there were going to be a lot if people!
My hamstring was tight, and my legs ached in general, so I was glad of the maximum recovery period, but as the day wore on I was getting more and more nervous. Instead I focused on helping Gemma navigate our way around for most of the day (Gemma was also on the last leg so we tried not to think about it).
Eventually, after travelling round a lot of narrow country lanes, it was time to head to Walton Bridge for the start of leg 22. Our leg was 9.15 miles and was apparently the easiest route to navigate, but I was worried about my leg giving out, worried about being too slow, and worried about finishing in front of 300 odd people when I knew I was likely to be running alone. Stupid glory leg.
I was running with Gemma, Hannah and Nikki and we had a bit of a team huddle pep talk before we started. Alex had also been trying to tell us calming stories (inbetween singing Oasis and rapping Fresh Prince) about how everything would be just wonderful but all I remembered was something about seaweed.
Then we were off running along the river. We’d only got up the road before Gemma was chatting away about how she was going to shove me in the river and I started to doubt how genuine her pep talk was… Anyway, my hamstring didn’t feel too bad and after a couple of miles I picked up the pace and caught the girl ahead that I had been chasing. All I could think as I passed was ‘yes, my seaweed is greener than yours!’, but then she offered me some encouragement and I felt bad about my greener seaweed.
The route was lovely and there was another girl not far in front that I was trying to keep up with so I had a reason to keep pushing. As the miles ticked by I started to feel nervous again about coming into the finish so I slowed down a bit to conserve some energy for a sprint finish, I had to finish strong!
At 9 miles I could see the big yellow finish line and see everyone up ahead, stomach churning I just ran as fast as I could and didn’t make eye contact with anyone, I don’t even think I smiled (sorry!)
Finishing on the glory leg was amazing, although I was nervous having all those people cheer me home was the most fabulous end to the weekend I could have asked for.
And that was that, my 2nd Green Belt relay done! When everyone was across the line we headed back to Clapham for a well earned drink, everyone was shattered!
- 46 Chasers (2 of which couldn’t run due to injury but didn’t want to miss out!)
- 880 miles run
- 6 leg wins
- 1 course record smashed by our leader (Bryn, if you weren’t sure)
- Several sprint finishes
- 1 furious Alice after Marcus sent her the wrong way then casually ran the right way himself…
- 1 sweaty Adam insistent that he had no moral responsibility to call back a runner who had taken a wrong turning a couple of metres ahead of him (we all thought Adam was a nice guy)
- Several surprised guests at the Miami hotel who had smelly Chasers walk in on them after being given the wrong key
- 1 surprise visit from the best superhero ever
- 1 ever so slightly dented minibus (nameless blameless)
- 46 completely exhausted people
Once again, Green Belt weekend was bloody ace! Thanks to the Stragglers, thanks to Bryn, thanks to all our drivers, and thanks to everyone who made it such a great weekend. See you next year!