Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Saturday, 20 September 2014

24th June: Leg 433

After the poking and prodding of physio last night, this morning was my scheduled running of leg 433 of the GB Relay. Rather than my normal tactic of traveling down the night before I decided just to get-up extra early and drive down there in time for the scheduled handover of 05:44 seeing as it was only around a 2 hour journey to get there.

Before I hit the sack the previous night I was aware that the baton was running late by around a couple of hours, so I figured the night-shift of runners would have held fast on the delay, or perhaps even clawed-back some of the time.

My stage was to be run from West Bexington to Langton Herring, with the handover to me taking place in West Bexington’s beach-side car-park and the handover from me in the village centre of Langton Herring.

Parking-up I had a breakfast and switched my phone on to check on the updates… It seemed the baton had not managed to gain time, so it was a case of sitting and waiting.

I changed in readiness and went to stretch my legs as the dawn fully broke, the beach being surprisingly busy at stupid o’clock in the morning with anglers coming along and staking their claim on a particular part of the shingle beach.

Early morning anglers playing with their rods.
Come the appointed time and there was no sign of the baton as I had expected. I received a communication from the relay HQ that the handover from me to the next group would no longer take place in the village of Langton Herring, but on the coastal path before it so as to claw back some time… This shaved about a mile off my run as the last part was uphill into Langton Herring, and after handing over, the next runner was to retrace my steps back down on to the coastal path, so it was decided to just hand over where the 2 legs met on the coastal path.

Checking one more time for an update on the Facebook page and there were comments about the baton being 4 hours+ behind schedule, so I figured I’d be fine for a bit of shut-eye, so went for a nap in the back of the van.

With me being in a proper car park I woke up at the time the metering was about to come into force and went and paid for a day ticket, as at this rate I did not know what time things would start or finish so best to err on the side of caution… Checking again for updates on Facebook, again their was nothing, so I went and had another snooze for an hour ensuring I was awake for the 4 hour lag to end.

With it being the middle of a decent spell of summer weather, the sun was climbing high in a cloudless sky and increasing in strength as it went as I sat there twiddling my thumbs, reading and waiting.

As the temperature rose to the mid twenties centigrade, eventually I saw a shimmer on the horizon… For those of you who have watched Lawrence of Arabia and the entrance of Sheriff Ali through the heat-haze across the Sahara desert, it was something akin to that, the blurring shape slowly getting bigger and more distinctive, and eventually after all my waiting the baton was in sight.

If you ever need proof of the world being small and how everyone can connect to any person famous, infamous or insignificant within 7 handshakes, then what happened next proved this to me inexorably!

In 2012 I took part in the Real Relay by running the stage from Tadley to Basingstoke. The previous stage runners had been a small group from the Hungerford Hares led by Stuart March and Barry Miller - both of whom I managed to catch-up with at the Portsmouth marathon before last Christmas… Now completely by chance, the person handing the baton to me was a lady called Kirstin Hay… Who informed me as the baton was passed over, that she’s the girlfriend of none other than Barry Miller! How about that for a strange set of joined-up circumstances?

The approach of Kirstin.
As we jogged along together for the last 50 metres or so of her leg, Kirstin informed me how hard the stage had been running through the shingle beach… I did not think too much of this, but as the car-park ended, the coastal path turned into ankle-deep pea-shingle, something that is impossible to get through at anything resembling speed! It made me realise how tough the previous leg had been on Kirstin and anyone else before who had the misfortune of running over the shingle along this coastline - its not a pleasant experience in the slightest and I would not wish this upon anyone!

The evil shingle.
The ‘baton’ in this relay was more something akin to a child’s lunchbox in size and shape, and not much heavier. It is made of a solid plastic case with the GPS tracker and battery pack inside it. It also has a time-lapse camera on the bottom of it to ensure that there is a continuous record of the journey every 30 seconds or so, so as to enable the record attempt adjudicators to tell if the baton has been ‘dropped’ or on the ground.

Both sides of 'Casey'.
Because of its shape, size and construction, the baton had been given the nickname of ‘Casey’, and by the time that ‘Casey’ was in my hands she(?) was looking a little the worse for wear! She had been stickered by some previous holders to mark the tenure of their geographic legs, and a velcro strap was on there as well so you could wrap it around your wrist so as to act as a safety strap in case of droppage.

Anyway, back to the running and finally after moving off the shingle and on to the concrete and tarmac path and being able to pick up my pace, the realisation of how hot it was now dawned upon me and how ill-prepared I was for running in the midday sun. I had come prepared for an early morning jaunt, so I did not have any sun-block on me, or a sun hat to protect my head, nor did I have anything approaching enough fluid with me for the run in these conditions. I had planned on running to the handover and back, to total a distance of around 2/3 a marathon and be all finished by around 9am and the worst of the heat… Instead I was now in the blazing sun of midday. But there were 432 legs behind me and another couple of hundred in front of me that owed my dedication to just push myself as hard as I could and get to the handover holding as close to time as possible.

After arriving at the East Bexington’s beach-side car park the path took a turn slightly inland and part way up the side of the first hill. Crossing a stream I made my way along the path through cow-pastures, having to shoo a load of them out the way at one point! Above me cresting the hill looking over the village of Abbotsbury stood St. Catherine’s Chapel. The pasture gave way to some woodland and another stream fording as I rounded a farmhouse before joining a country lane and heading round past the car park for the visitor’s centre of the Abbotsbury Swannery. Beyond here it was a mile or so of undulating country lane that was bereft of any shelter. The sun was beating down with such ferocity that the road surface was now melting, with the bitumen in patches all black and sticky as it began to blister.

Looking back along the melty road to Abbotsbury & St. Catherine's Chapel.
At the next farm yard the path took me through some woods and a short respite from the sun’s rays before spitting me out of the other side into fields, traversing the edges of the hard-baked ground leading me on to the edge of the ‘Fleet’; the tidal lagoon to the rear of Chesil Beach, which loomed on the other side of the water, the ‘beach’ being formed of a bund of shingle around 10m high between the lagoon and the English Channel.

The Fleet lagoon.
Through one final wheat field and a corridor of reeds and rushes I was at the handover, where no sooner had they taken ‘Casey’ from me, leg 244 disappeared off in to the distance like their arses were on fire determined to make-up as much time as they possibly could!

Stopping here to gather my thoughts as I felt as though heat-stroke might get me, I took stock of my situation and decided on the best option for the return journey whilst not causing myself a mischief in doing so - I concluded the only sensible option would be to walk - as although it would take much longer than a jog I was critically low on water, which would certainly not last me running even a quarter of the distance back. I wrapped my technical t-shirt over my head to keep the sun off my ears & neck as well as my head to act as a partial respite and attempt to ward-off any ill effect from an even more prolonged exposure to the sun and started off for the van.

After what seemed forever and a day, I finally returned to the van and made a bee-line for the 2L of water I had in the back, drinking enough to quench my immediate thirst, then walked down across the shingle beach to the sea and had a good sit in it; allowing the cool salt water to chill my core temperature back to a normal level and help me feel like a functioning human being once more!

The baton long-gone, all that was for me to do was to travel home. The feeling you get from these long-distance relays is a strange one. You feel achievement in that you have been part of something, you know you are part of something, but as much as you are part of a greater whole, your individual contributory part is a very solitary one… Its not like a normal event or race where there are those to cheer you and slap you on the back for something well done as you go about the route, there’s only you and you must be able to motivate yourself to push as hard as you can. Then after the baton has been passed there’s just a wait, a long wait until the relay is over to get your sense of completion and fulfilment that you and everyone else has got the job done.

There may not have been anyone there to cheer me, but at least I know I managed to play my small part and complete my leg holding to my allotted pace and time as much as I physically could in the conditions, and passed-on the baton to the next leg with it not having left my hand for the journey… Good luck ‘Casey’ for your many stages to come!

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