The Green Belt Relay
Signing up for the Green Belt Relay had been a moment of enthusiasm at a time when I’d been struggling to find the motivation to run. I needed a goal, and this sounded like one of those bucket-list type challenges that I shouldn’t pass up.
Months past, and I’d almost forgotten about it. But there it was, at the back of my mind, ensuring that I did do that 10k when I’d really rather not. Still, I definitely did not feel prepared when I finally made it to a track session 2 weeks out and John asked if I was still doing it. I knew some people had been struggling with injury, so I knew I couldn’t let the team down at the last minute when I was fit and well, if extremely nervous.
The night before I was panic packing. We were camping Saturday night, and so I just decided to pack an array of warm clothes and hope I’d be ok. We’d been advised to bring two bags- one for post-run, and one for overnight as they’d most likely be in different cars. Adding a couple of emergency snacks into both bags, I felt pretty sorted.
The 7am Saturday morning meet was a challenge after a busy week at work, but everyone was in good spirits which immediately helped to still my apprehension. Some of the team had done this all before and seemed incredibly relaxed about the complicated logistical challenge ahead…and some of the team were like me and completely clueless about what was to come. That was until I saw The Spreadsheet. A marvel of organisation full of numbers and letters that meant nothing to me, but apparently made lots of sense and told us everything we’d ever need to know about where to be when, and with who.
Philly led us out from Hampton Court and all cheered her off. The atmosphere of comradery and excitement was fantastic, and it carried on throughout the entire weekend.
I was Stage 2, so off we went to Staines, ready for me to run the 9.4 miles to just past Windsor. It was a lovely introduction with a simple route that followed the river for the most part. A flat course, mixed with sunshine, and the ability to be nosey at all the amazing houses backing onto the river made for a wonderful run. I was done by 11.30am, picked up smoothly by a different car to the one that had dropped me off, and off we went to follow our plan for the day which just so happened to start in a lovely village where I was glad to fulfil my craving for a fish finger sandwich (or ‘cod goujon in this case) and a change of clothes.
The rest of the day was a mix of driving, being driven and hopping in and out to cheer people off or congratulate them on finishing. Sometimes we did both. You got to see some people constantly, some people sporadically and a few people rarely. But everyone had a story to tell about their route, how they’d done and/or how lost they’d gotten. Some of the stages are pretty complicated, and whilst there were maps, some signage and some marshals, it’s still a pretty huge route to direct people around. The great thing was that in almost all cases, someone would be around to shout at you to come back if you veered off course, or you had some fellow runners to debate the most likely course if no one was clear.
The only bit of significant rain coincided with some marshalling duties at the end of Saturdays penultimate stage. But there did happen to be a pub nearby so at least we’d been able to warm up beforehand!
Luckily the campsite avoided the rain, and tents were dry and up by the time we arrived thanks to our fellow teammates. One welcome, stodgy dinner and some excellent crumble later, and I was ready for a shower (finally!) and bed.
It wasn’t the best nights sleep I’ve ever had… but there was no time to dwell on that, the plan continued and off we went to drop Bill for his stage where thankfully there was a café. Caffeined up, I was ready for my second stint, this time from Dartford, through Kent, to Lullingstone Park. Another 9.4 miles awaited me, and I was feeling nervous again. I’m not sure I’ve ever had to run back-to-back days of that mileage before, and with the few hours of sleep I must had, I wasn’t sure how it would go. Armed with my map to try and navigate this more complicated route, I set off for a rather dreary 4 or so miles through the delights of Dartford’s industrial estates. Sights included the M25 and the odd housing estate. Then suddenly we were off road, and I was treated to a mix of woodland trails, paths running through fields, the odd cricket pitch, and finally, a Roman Villa! I surprised myself by finishing strong, helped by a 100m-out cheer on from Jude.
The rest of the day passed much in the same way as the previous, only by now of course we were experts. The only small blip was us trying to outsmart the plan by trying to save some time and dropping John off somewhere so he didn’t have to wait for some others to finish marshalling. Lesson learnt- don’t alter the plan! Small diversion later, and we were back on track and headed for Box Hill where we watched an incredibly speedy downhill finish, picked up George and saw off Jude.
The day drew to a close at Kingston, where some beers and our whole team were waiting to watch Philly finish off our 220 mile loop. There was a real sense of achievement from everyone, helped by the alcohol when we were all a tad dehydrated no doubt! We didn’t win, and we didn’t come close, but that wasn’t what it was about, and it certainly did nothing to dampen our high spirits.
Five things I learnt from my first Green Belt Relay;
1. Make sure your post-run bag is in the right car. It’s neither comfortable, nor sociable to be stuck in sweaty kit until you see your things again.
2. NEVER diverge from the plan. I have no idea how the incredibly complex series of spreadsheets were created that ensured we were all in the right place at the right time, but it worked marvellously, even if we did have the ‘where are we going again?’ conversation 10 times a day at least.
3. Runners are awesome. The Green Belt route wasn’t always straight forward, but if you took a wrong turn, there was usually someone shouting after you. I had a few map consultations with various people, and it really felt like everyone was helping each other out
4. Team comradery makes you achieve things you didn’t think you could. I was really dreading my second leg after virtually no sleep, but with everyone’s support and reassurances, they made me believe I could do it. And I did. I even enjoyed it.
5. I still hate camping. But… I’d also still do it all again.