Running is a series of contradictions. It is solitary or social; competitive or non-competitive; pleasure and often pain. Sometimes running as an individual benefits a team. Often running as a team can only be achieved thanks to the efforts of individuals.
This weekend I have been fortunate enough to see all of these contradictions played out on the stage of a quite unique race: the Round Norfolk Relay (RNR).
The RNR is a team relay event which covers 198 miles around the circumference of the beautiful county of Norfolk in the east of England. The relay consists of 17 unequal stages which are run by day and by night over a 24 hour period. In this 30th year of the RNR, I was to make my event debut by running stage 2, an off road, 14 mile, coastal trail run between Hunstanton and the hamlet of Burnham Overy. Moreover, I was to represent Tri-Anglia triathlon club in the process.
Even getting to the start line of this race was dependent on the hard work of many individuals behind the scenes. I won’t name them specifically on a public blog, but to our team organiser, the time keepers, safety marshals, supporters, van drivers and cookie bakers(!), I want to say a sincere thank you. There were lots of roles fulfilled aside from the role of the runners. Without these efforts, the runners would simply not be there at all.
So what of the race? It feels a bit self-indulgent to write about my own stage when there are so many more tales to tell, but here’s what happened.
After the excellent logistical planning of my travel buddy Kat, we arrived at a very wet and windy Hunstanton at about 7:15am. The sea was a frothing turmoil of white capped waves which, despite the early hour, were being attacked with vigour by some hard core kite surfers. The weather was certainly worse than the previous weekend when I came up to do some course reconnaissance (more about that HERE). Standing at the change over point in long sleeved T shirt, Tri-Anglia T shirt and Tri-Anglia rain jacket, I was quite frankly freezing! My hands were shaking and our organiser/timekeeper kindly offered me an extra layer! The GPS position transmitted by the tracker in the baton carried by our stage 1 runner was not getting picked up by our phones thanks to a lack of mobile reception. We had no real idea of when he would come in. Other teams coming in were recounting tales of breaking waves on the coast soaking their runners as they ran down Hunstanton sea front and we were left in no doubt that today’s weather would make the runs challenging.
Our number one runner came in and it was handover time. My turn to run out for the club. With baton transfer done, it was time to head off en route. I forgot to start my GPS until about 200 meters into the run, which was to be the first of several stupid mistakes I’d make on the course.
The first couple of miles passed quickly and I soon realised that my layers which had felt so insufficient at the cliff top were actually excessive whilst running (schoolboy error number 2). Because I was wearing a hydration pack with a bit of luggage space, I decided to stop and ditch the long sleeve T and rain jacket. With the layers stowed in my pack, I swung it up over my shoulders and ran onwards like a the coyote chasing a road runner. In a bid to not lose too much time, I decided to fasten the various clips and straps on the run. With clips done up I felt comfortable and at a sensible temperature once more and I internally congratulated myself on a F1 style pit stop. 300 meters or so later, something dawned on me. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite place what it was. Hang on a minute – this is a relay isn’t it? WHERE IS THE BATON??!! Yes folks, much as it pains me to say it, I left the baton on the ground when stripping off and in my haste to get going, left it behind (school boy error number 3)!! Turning and sprinting back, lots of words came to mind. Words that have no place here. I saw coming up behind me a runner from Dereham AC who waved at me to stay put. He kindly picked up my baton and brought it up to me saving me the humiliation of a sprint past him in the wrong direction. Dereham and I then ran together for quite a few miles and we chatted about various things along the way. It was all rather social.
At about the mid point of the stage, I had to run on road for a time so Kat cycle marshalled for me. I was still running with Dereham and his cycle escort at this point.
I was tucked in behind him for quite some time when it occurred to me that he was taking a fair bit of the headwind. Given that he had already saved my bacon with the baton, I offered to go in front for a bit to give him a bit of wind protection. Having passed him to give him a break, I tried to maintain the same pace but he seemed to drop back almost immediately. From this I learned it’s much easier to be hanging in behind someone else than to be leading them. Dereham eventually told me to push on (at least I think that’s what he said!) and by the time we hit the next bit of off road, I had a bit of a lead. This part of the course was on a boardwalk through marshland. The boardwalk was made of wooden railway sleepers with a chicken wire cover to aid grip. Whatever grip the chicken wire gave was very hard to detect as running on the wet boards felt like running on an ice rink. I came up on another runner, this time from Bungay Black Dog AC who stepped aside to let me pass but almost skidded over in the process.
Continuing on, after a couple more miles, the track headed out onto the last part of the course, a very desolate raised bank which had no protection from the wind. I had not checked out this part of the course before and I kept thinking I’d missed a turn somewhere as the trail just seemed to go on and on. The wind and surface made it tough to keep pace, but on this stretch I did manage to build more of a gap on Dereham who had also overtaken Bungay Black Dog. I was pleased when this bit ended and I met up with cycle escort Kat once more to run the final road section to my stage finish. As I ran through the hamlet of Burnham Overy, I ran past a pub called “The Hero” which I found quite amusing and slightly ironic. Then it was time for the baton change to runner three. Thankfully we did not drop it! Lots of crowd support and praise at the stage end was very welcome.
Cookies and one of the best finishers medal I’ve ever seen were then supplied by our timekeeper before Kat and I had to transport ourselves to Cley where she was due to run stage 5 in a couple of hours time.
Kat’s stage was a 10 mile stage from Cley to Cromer and the first 3-4 miles were all on shingle – not good! My role in proceedings was to be as bike escort to Kat in the last mile or so of her leg. The plan was to park Kat’s van at Cley and I would cycle to the rendezvous vous point just outside Cromer. Once Kat finished, the plan was to catch a bus back to Cley to pick up the van and head home. My ride to Cromer was pretty uneventful (although the mountain bike felt slow and lethargic on its nobbly tyres) and Kat had a great pace on the final section of her run. She finished very strongly. With Kat now in possession of a race medal, it was time to head off.
The bus driver was adamant that bikes weren’t allowed on the bus, so Kat travelled back to get the van before coming to get me. My wait in Cromer was made much more bearable by chatting to a couple of other Tri-Anglians about bikes, running and other stuff.
Kat dropped me off at home at around 5pm and Daddy duties were assumed as soon as I got in. It was time for colouring with Oscar and then onto bedtime routine. I found it pretty strange to think that whilst I was bathing the kids, eating takeaway curry, sleeping and waking the following morning, Tri-Anglians would be striding around the rest of Norfolk.
What an amazing race. I hope to be part of it again next year.