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Green Belt Relay 2024 - Roma Denetto

This year was my first time running the Green Belt Relay, and boy it did not disappoint. Having no idea what it entailed, but excited for a weekend of running and getting to know some fellow Hoopsters more, it completely exceeded my expectations. 

For those who don’t know, the Green Belt Relay is a 220 mile race around the Green Belt Way over 2 days. This year, it comprised 54 teams from running clubs and corporate groups in the Greater London area - my favourite is the team of retired pilots from British Airways. Each team must have 11 runners, and each runner must run on both days since there’s 22 stages in total. You need to have at least two minibuses to get everyone around because it’s not the traditional pass-the-baton type of relay you’d expect. Each stage has its own start time, and whilst the start and finish lines are in close proximity to each other, a lot of the time the next stage starts before all the runners have finished the previous one. Oh, and you also have to marshal some stages too. Easy peasy! 

I’ll be honest and say once I’d read into what I’d actually signed up for, I was nervous. Logistically, it’s mind-blowing and I’d agreed to be a driver, and whilst the stage lengths vary from 5 miles to 13 miles, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to handle racing back to back. But I’d committed, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to see what I can do. What I soon learned from previous Green Belters is that there’s absolutely no pressure to smash it out and win your stages. Everyone from QPH (Harriet is the exception to this because she won both her stages! Incredible!) is there because they love the race and the community that comes with it, and I’m proud to say that I am now a card-carrying member of the Green Belt Relay Fan Club. 

It’s fast, high-energy, and so much fun. I really can’t find the words to describe how much I enjoyed it. One minute you’re being cheered at the start of your stage, the next you’re shouting “GET IN THE VAN!” to drop someone else at the start of theirs. This quite literally did happen to me. When I ran stage 2 on day 1 (9.1 miles from Staines to Boveney), I was greeted by Luc and Brian at the finish who said, “well done, now get in the van, you need to drop Luc off to start his stage!”. This isn’t usually supposed to happen, but the nature of the Green Belt means you have to be flexible to changes because logistically, it’s a nightmare. 

This leads me to say a HUGE thank you to Tim Lewin, Harriet Preedy, and Hardik Rathod for all of their hard work making sure we all knew exactly where we needed to be and when. My brain hurts just thinking about how you figured it all out. 

After finishing my stage on day 1 and jumping in the van, I spent the rest of the day as one of the designated QPH chauffeurs, closely checking and checking again the detailed print-out of who needed to be where and when. Oh, and also who needed to be dropped off for marshalling. Truly, there’s no race experience quite like it. We pay to run a race that we marshal ourselves. Go figure. But that’s all part of the fun of the Green Belt Relay. 

I’d heard from my teammates that it’s not really a QPH Green Belt Relay unless there’s a last minute drop out, and we faced exactly that. Apologies for the panicked message at 6am in the Hoopsters Whatsapp Chat. Because we were a man down, we had to quickly find someone to become our 11th team member and this was (unsurprisingly) quite tricky on the day of the race. We were lucky that although Tim - a fountain of Green Belt knowledge - has been injured recently, he joined to help us with the logistics and driving over the weekend. He’d said at 6am on Saturday morning that there was always a saviour of the GBR weekend, but what he didn’t say was that this year it would be him (last year it was Charles, and no, we didn’t leave him behind this time!). Sinking two pints for courage, our newly nicknamed ‘Two Pints Tim’ ran the entire final stage of day 1 in a pair of corduroy Carhartt shorts.

We then realised that Tim would run on day 2, and originally he’d planned to go home and re-join us in his own car on Sunday. Luckily, a quick trip to the Tesco Extra by Lakeside Shopping Centre meant we could kit Tim out with Tesco’s finest pants and running shorts. And so, ‘Two Pints Tim’ became ‘Tesco Pants Tim’. That’s the way of the Green Belt Relay.

I spent most of day 2 co-piloting Tim because I had the privilege of running the final stage, or ‘The Glory Leg’ as previous Green Belters were referring to it. And what a Glory Leg it was. Granted, it was hot, I was tired from everything on day 1 and also suffering from some nasty blisters on my feet. But the energy was incredible. I completely messed up my pacing on day 1 - I think it was all the excitement and uncertainty for what was to come. So I went in on day 2 and told myself I’d find someone I thought was a bit slower than me and stick with them. The famous words from Susan Kennedy of ‘don’t go off too fast’ were ringing in my ears. The final stage itself was pretty, running along the river from Walton Bridge and finishing by the cricket club in Bushy Park. 

By starting slower, I got to chat with some runners from other clubs on the way. Everyone was SO friendly, but Burgess Hill Runners got my vote for the friendliest club of the weekend. I hadn’t heard of them before, but what a lovely team. Not only did they stick with Maryam at stage 10 on day 1 when she was literally crawling under fallen trees and traversing cross-country-like mud, but the man I spoke to when I was running actually remembered me as we were packing up the van to head home. He complimented me on how strong I looked when I ran ahead of them, and we congratulated each other on our race. What a lovely team. Kudos to them. There were some teams who weren’t so nice, and I won’t name names, but we did see one crash their minivan into two parked cars and another parked in a disabled bay. I’m going to put it down to the fact they were probably rushing. I am pleased to report that QPH were respectful and we did return the minibusses in the same way we found them.

Overall, I love the community that comes with the Green Belt Relay. I went into the weekend only knowing a few of the people in our team, but I left it with new friends and a shared understanding about the ‘lore’ of the Green Belt Relay. People do their marshalling stops in a tuxedo. There was a loose horse and the stable owner called the police on the organisers on stage 19. The slowest team wins a toilet seat shield that’s literally a dark wooden toilet seat with the plaques on it that you’d expect to see on a regular shield. Truly, as cringey as it sounds, it’s hard to explain just how special of a race weekend it is. I really hope to see you there next year.


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