The GBR is a 22-stage running relay around 220 miles of the green belt that surrounds the outside of London. It takes place over a single weekend, starting at Hampton Court on Saturday morning and ending in the Hawker Centre, Ham, Sunday night. Its been going since 1995 and usually involves around 50 teams. Runners form teams of 11 people, and each runner runs one stage each day (unless you're a Harrier, but more about that shortly!). The course mainly follows footpaths, towpaths or minor roads, making it a very mixed terrain event. It's organised by The Stragglers running club, and all surplus funds from the race are donated to charity.
To the uninitiated, the Green Belt Relay might appear like a chaotic scramble on and off minivans from dawn till dusk for two days, and while most of the day is spent bundled in a van with a squashed banana under one thigh and a smelly hooped vest dangling behind your head, for one or two glorious hours you find yourself pounding the miles of a challenging and varied course.
If you’re lucky you’ll find yourself admiring the finest views the outskirts of London have to offer. Whether that be the grey/green snaky curve of the Thames, or the vistas afforded from the crest of the North Downs way (ask Stu, he Insta’d it). But GBR has its darker side and if you’re a little less lucky, or a masochist, then your weekend will involve punishing hills (ask Tim, he made some new friends–nasty blisters!) and the odd section of an M25 slip road–it's not all beauty in the Green Belt!
For the captain and campaign strategist (hats off to Alban) and our drivers, Alex, Victor, Matt P, Sam and Johan, as well as running, they also had to juggle pick-ups, drop-offs, and water stations that ran on a timetable where every minute mattered. For us mere foot soldiers we just had to follow orders; get on the right bus, don't run off to the pub when Alban says to stay in the van, don’t forget the maps, run and try not to get lost.
We got off to a flying start with Matt K winning stage one, which set off at 8.30am from Hampton Court, ahead of a Thames Hare and Hounds runner (a club that would dominate the weekend). Hare and Hounds took a wrong turn and lost a four-minute lead on Matt, going to show that on GBR being able to follow the route is just as important as spe
Both our teams were buoyed by Matt’s win and we set off to tackle the rest of the stages.
Every pick up and drop off had a different feel. The hundred-odd gang of runners, timekeepers and supporters would descend on unsuspecting Green Belt residents in order to cheer off the start of a stage. Once a group of runners stormed off into the countryside, the remaining team mates had an indeterminate amount of time before the runners from the previous stage arrive at the finish line. This means that each stage is run as a race in its own right.
Very fast runners often beat the next stage, arriving before it even started, but waiting around for your incoming team-mates gives you plenty of time to get up to some good quality GBR mischief–disrupting one or three cricket matches, scuttling past scowling bartenders to use the loos (strictly no boozing before one's stage) and shopping at the British Cactus and Succulent Society fair–an annual event which coincides with GBR. In hindsight though, adding spiky plants to an already full mini-van probably isn't the cleverest of ideas.
As for running heroics, every runner who had to jump out a van and start their stage without going for a pee due to tight turnarounds deserves a round of applause. Ayo also deserves a special mention for his titanic effort. Despite destroying his calf on the hills and limping the majority of the way, he still finished and was 30th out of a field of 52.
Tim also took on two monstrously hilly 13.5 mile stages with his classic Californian sunshine approach, and it was almost like he wanted to extend the route when he took a little detour into a churchyard 20 metres from the finish line of stage five. As you can imagine no one made any jokes about this...
While rain held off for most of the first day, it felt a little like the clouds were chasing us round the course. They eventually caught up with us just in time for our last stint marshalling a water station. Despite Jen, Ayo and Hannah very diligently filling up cups in the pouring rain, our wares were not in high demand, except for one runner who took two cups of water, and threw them both over himself despite the downpour!