My worst fears about our participation in this year’s race were realised almost immediately as the occupants of car 3 (grey Mazda) watched cars 1 (red Fiat) and 2 (Bill’s car) head off south along the A3, tracing a sub-optimal route towards our nation’s capital. It seemed that we might be in for a long weekend.
Nevertheless, by 8:30am on Saturday morning we were all somehow in attendance to cheer our team captain H. Irving as she departed from Hampton Court on the first of 22 stages which would eventually return us just up the road to Kingston in under 36 hours’ time. The ‘M25 Relay’ had begun.
Ours was one of 50 teams representing 26 different clubs from in and around London. This was the 22nd running of a race I had never heard of, but which embodies so much of what is wonderful about amateur sport: organised and manned entirely by volunteers, marshalled by the teams themselves and with an atmosphere which made us feel that we were all in it together every bit as much as we were competing against each other. Nobody made any money except the Children’s Trust in Tadworth, to which all proceeds were donated.
For all its appeal, this race is an enormous logistical challenge. Teams are required first to enlist and then to deposit and collect 11 different athletes at various start/finish points around the home counties at specific times over 2 days. To add to the fun, each stage begins before the previous stage has even finished, making it simply impossible to do the whole thing with just one vehicle.
Last but by no means least, an American was getting married near Slough at around the same time as stages 2/3 were scheduled to finish/start just west of Eton. I. Campbell might be about to crash the party.
Fortunately, we were in safe hands as C. Peck, with the aid of a prior year’s ‘Ealing Eagles’ plan purloined by our team captain, set about the logistics of how to convey 12 people, 2 and a half cars and a surprising amount of camping gear, 220 miles in under 36 hours.
With the captain on her way, we began to relax. The planning was over, the weather was fantastic and we could begin to focus solely on the race itself. Well, that’s what the rest of us assumed anyway as we headed off up the M4/M40, until we learned that the occupants of car 1 (red Fiat) had decided to hang around at the start and take part in Bushy parkrun. We wondered if they were taking this whole thing seriously enough.
As stages came and went, we settled into a rhythm: drop off athlete, lie on idyllic village green eating ice cream, collect athlete, drive to next location. Whilst we joked about this being the ‘M25 Relay’, in fact it was a showcase of just how beautiful the countryside is around London: from the riverbank at Hampton to the myriad pretty villages of the Chiltern Hills, from Epping Forest to the views south from the North Downs Way and almost to home again near Shere before a final push took us back into London and the riverside finish at Kingston.
For the record (though it matters little), our team finished in respectable mid-table obscurity, in both the overall and ‘Mixed’ categories. J. McKenna spent his first ever night under canvas, slowly baking in thermal trousers and an arctic-grade sleeping bag. The presence of a full-length towelling bathrobe in the kit bag on one team member suggested that the instruction ‘pack light’ had been overlooked (oh, how I wish we had a picture) and H. Irving has an infinite capacity for ice cream.
Chris’s Top 5 Moments
- Taking the surprise win on Stage 17 by 2 seconds.
- Views both north – across the whole of London – and south from the stunning Stage 17 route on the North Downs Way. Strict captain’s orders meant I wasn’t allowed to take photos (after chastisement for doing so the day before).
- Doing Bushy parkrun as a warm-up on Saturday morning, followed by a rather-too-relaxed post-run coffee which contributed to us nearly missing the start of my stage.
- The “brutal and complex” Stage 4, which involved getting lost twice with 400m+ of altitude gain while trundling up and down the Chilterns.
- The impressive water conservation measures in force in Kelvedon Hatch, where the pub will only provide tap water if you promise to drink it, and the showers are 5 seconds long.
Particular thanks must go to our captain for her energy and enthusiasm in getting us involved, to our stage winner for his unrivalled organisational ability and to W. Fordham for entrusting a bunch of kids with his pride and joy (which turned out to be a grey Volvo). We plan to be back next year and hope more of you will be able to join us.
Philly’s Top 5 Moments
- My sprint finish to take 2nd place in stage 9. I had no idea I could move that quickly, especially after a 2 mile steep ascent in the baking-hot sun!
- Through the wonders of technology (WhatsApp – other messaging services are available) getting stage results, snack updates (how early is too early for an ice cream?), instructions (please can someone get beer?!), photos (Chris’ surprisingly stylish daisy chain crown), Z-list celebrity spots (a former MP at the M25 services), speed camera warnings (mostly aimed at me!) etc., allowing all of us to stay in touch on our mini adventures.
- Arriving at Crown Court car park at 6:45am to play 3-car/12-person Tetris with a weekend’s worth of camping/running/marshalling paraphernalia.
- Eating instant porridge, foam rolling and scribbling on my arms in semi-permanent marker pen whilst sat on the tarmac road by the tents!
- The whooping and cheering from ALL teams for ALL runners at the finish in Kingston! What a wonderfully uplifting sound and vision to top off the best way to spend a weekend – running about with your friends in the glorious English countryside in the sun. Can we pleeeease do it all over again next weekend?