Ok, I’m three cups of coffee, one cup of tea, a load of sweets and a two hour power nap in. I can do this.
This morning (or last night depending on your view of the world), I woke up at 4:10am to take part in the 198 mile Round Norfolk Relay for my awesome running club Ely Runners. For the uninitiated (as I was prior to my taking part in it) the RNR is a 17 stage mega relay that goes – yep, you guessed it – right the way round Norfolk, starting and ending at King’s Lynn. I was given stage 14, which is thankfully one of the shorter legs at 7.27 miles and goes from Feltwell to Wissington, and my faithful running buddy Pete took on the 10.59 mile stage 15 from Wissington to Downham Market, which meant that we could travel to the start together.
The thing with the RNR is that the organisation behind it is frankly insane. Our team of 5 must have worked their socks off working out everyone’s estimated start time based on the pace each runner thought they would run their leg in. And it’s so hard to know exactly how you’ll do on the day. if you end up being a bit slower than expected it’s not a disaster as the runner you’re handing the baton to should be there ready and waiting. However, if you run a blinder (as some of our runners did) and shave some time off, there’s a risk your runner might not be there waiting for you. It’s high stress stuff for those on the support crew, trying to make sure everything runs smoothly.
So at 4:15am, as I was putting my contact lenses in, I got a message saying my leg would be due to start no later than 5:30am. My previous start time had been 6:08am. And Pete and I had planned to be there 40 minutes in advance. So cue a somewhat, um, “energetic” rush round the house. Pete got to me at 4:48am, 12 minutes earlier than we’d originally planned, and we crossed our fingers and set off.
Now we hadn’t planned for mega thick fog, which scuppered all chances of putting our foot down, and messages between us and the support crew were intermittent at best due to the ropey Fenland signal. And then we got to a mist-filled Feltwell it looked more like something out of a horror movie than a place where a hundred or so runners and crew would be gathered. Thankfully Pete had been organised and knew where in Feltwell we needed to be, so we finally parked up at around 5:25am, panicking ever so slightly that I needed to be kitted up and raring to go in 5 minutes. But as it turned out, the cheeky little sausages on the support team had been erring on the side of caution due to the previous runner arriving late for their handover, so in order to be sure I’d be there in time they’d told me to be there a tad earlier than necessary. I may not have been overly impressed as I stood in the freezing fog, but with hindsight it gave me bags of time to prepare myself, get hydrated, use the portaloo (3 times -standard) and grab the baton from John at a couple of minutes to 6:00am.
The fog was still super thick but it wasn’t too cold out once I got moving. It was also just starting to lighten up when I set off. It was a weird experience. I haven’t run for a while because of a grumpy foot (suspected tendonitis) and I am SO not a morning person. So the entire run seemed to pass super quickly in a bit of a blur, and I really didn’t take much in. I think I just went on autopilot. The sun came up when I was running but the fog was so thick I could barely see more than a few metres ahead of me. And it’s such a weird sensation to hear cars crawling along just a few metres behind you (every nighttime runner needs a support vehicle driving behind them). The Ely Runners crew (we were on the club’s B team) were just awesome, checking I was ok, and the human megaphone James knew me well enough to know that I’d respond well to some banter (by that I mean giving him the finger when he told me to hurry up). And before I knew it, I was being told I was 500 yards away but a cycling marshal (I resisted to urge to ask him how far that actually flipping meant as I haven’t a scoobie about yards) and then I was passing the baton to Pete, who had driven to his start point with Andy from the support crew.
After a few minutes to gather myself and to crow over the frankly RIDICULOUS medal Andy gave to me, we then hopped in the car and drove towards Downham Market to meet Pete, honking the horn and whooping at him as we overtook him a mile or so down the road.
The organisation that goes behind the RNR, both by the support crews and the overall organisers is unreal. This was its 31st year, and they had over 1000 runners taking part. They had marshals positioned 500 metres or so from the start of each checkpoint, who would shout team numbers over their walkie talkies to their colleagues waiting at the check point so that they could make sure the next runner was ready to go (provided they had turned up on time – apparently the chap in front of me had no one waiting for him at Wissington). On paper it looks like an absolute nightmare, but from my point of view it was seamless. The support crew even turned up with a coffee for me as I waited for Pete arrive in Downham Market (the van had switched to cycle support by then).
Pete roared in to Downham Market at around 8:07am, and handed over to Anne who was running the penultimate leg. We also managed to catch up with some members of the A team, who had made up enough time to overtake the B team during stage 16 (the idea is faster teams start later so every team taking part finishes in around a 45 minute window from 10:15am – 11am). Pete and I then hopped in to the car to drive the 25 minutes home (the beauty of our stage of the race is that it’s the closest part of Norfolk to Ely) and at 9:30am went to Arbuckle’s with Rachel, her and Pete’s daughter Ellie and somewhat randomly my parents, niece and nephew. A great end to a great event.
On paper the RNR seems wildly complex, and in some ways it really is. But it’s also SO well done, and it’s an incredible event to be part of. Some people are doing epic feats of endurance (some legs, including one that falls in the early hours, are 19 miles long) and the atmosphere is great. If you’re thinking of entering a team I can’t recommend it enough, if only to go home with a medal that doubles up as a cake plate. I really hope I’m lucky enough to take part again next year. Huge thanks to our organisers Sarah, Steve Caroline, Andy and James. We could not have done this without you depriving yourselves of sleep for 30+ hours, not to mention the hours of organising in the run up to the event. And after all this, I might even wear that flipping hoodie again!