18th/19th May 2018
By Andy Wingate
The third weekend in May is now firmly inked into people’s diaries as one of the running highlights of the year. It marks the Green Belt Relay and whilst the race is in its 23rd year, it was the second for Shaef Shifters and this year the team was back with bigger ambitions collecting some friends along the way.
Team Bushy (Shaef’s Bushy Park based ‘rivals’) first ran the race in 2016 after it being suggested that the GBR had got too serious and was in danger of losing its inclusive appeal. The feeling was that Team Bushy would bring some much needed mediocrity – something they are experts at. That weekend back in 2016 was marked with a wide variety of performances - a few last places, people getting lost, several missed cut offs and the slightly bizarre sight of Ian F (running for TB since this was before Shaef’s inception) pulling off a stage win (Stage 7) and in the process ruffling a few feathers at Serpentine and THH who were all too used to picking up an extra t-shirt! The fun over the weekend set hares running and over the next 12 months Shaef Shifters became a reality, got seemingly loads of team kit. 12 months later, Shaef Shifters made their GBR debuts – see report for details http://shaefshifters.co.uk/green-belt-relay-2017/
In 2018 both teams were keen to go again and there was appetite to expand further. The idea was to run three teams one Shaef Shifters, one Team Bushy and then a hybrid of the two – the Bushy Shifters. There could be a feeling of ‘eyes being bigger than stomachs’ as in the end injuries and illness meant the teams were a couple of runners short and Ian F had a monumental task organising who was running which stage and who was in which car. The weekend is as much a logistics challenge as it is a running one and Ian did a great job in ensuring almost everyone got to where they needed to be on time – Sorry, Rachel. Nothing to do with Ian, but we all apologise for you getting left behind!
The weekend started as we all expected – like ‘herding cats’ as runners came from all directions to various random carparks and not all to the Hampton Court Green carpark for 7:30 as planned! We just about worked out that everyone who was running was at least close to the start by about five minutes before the race got underway.
However, the start seemed to go as planned with no-one going under the wheels of the cars on the Hampton Court Bridge crossing which we were marshalling. John S was first of the three teams to reach Staines with a strong performance and putting the Shifters into 7th among the 50 teams, Ian H (13th) followed him home a few minutes behind with Iggy (Stephen Igglesden) in 22nd – probably the highest position Team Bushy would be in all weekend.
The first stage is long, but flat and pretty simple navigationally since it is along the river and close to home – this is not the case for the whole event.
The second stage runs from Staines to Boveney Church and was one which everyone was nervous about. Price Harry and Meghan Markle had paid no attention to the race diary when planning their nuptials and so there was no signage allowed on the stage and traffic could well have been a nightmare. Fortunately, it seemed that everyone watched from home and so the predicted traffic chaos didn’t materialise, meaning the stage 3 runners had an hour to kill at Boveney Church – nice, but not the most exciting of tourist attractions.
Stage 2 saw Shaef move up the table with Rob E finishing 6th, followed by Julian 18th and Emma W picking up the first last place of the weekend for the three teams. From the sound of it, the Royal Wedding didn’t cause any real problems although one Clapham Chaser did report seeing the blushing bride on her way to St George’s Chapel.
Stage 3 takes the race back to kind of civilisation in the form of Little Marlow and Ian F kept up the positive results for the Shifters with a first podium of the weekend, with Charlie C 41st and Liz Z 43rd. Before the stage, Ian had been talking down his chances, suggesting he would be an outside chance for a podium but afterwards I believe there was a thought the stage win was not out of the question had he not gotten lost! He would not be the only person to suffer this fate over the weekend!
Stage 4 is where the route reaches ‘the mountains’ and the stage from Little Marlow to Great Kingshill is the first rated 10 in terms of difficulty. A lot of the teams put in their strongest runners on these stages as it is a chance to gain or lose a lot of time against your rivals, so Will R should be proud of his 8th place for the Shifters, Rob P with his 21st and Chris B with his 36th. This is a tough stage – made all the tougher for Rob and Chris since they chose to run extra mileage and reach the finish line from the wrong direction. Good works, gents!
Stage 5 is another 10 difficulty stage in the ‘mountains’ and saw Gary N make his return to GBR after the glory of last year’s Age Group record. He set out steadily and just wound up the pace consistently, finishing strongly to destroy the previous age group record.
An aside - One of the things that was particularly good about the weekend was getting to know the different members of the various teams better. Whilst I knew most of the people to say hello to, I cannot say I knew many of the Shifters particularly well and it is always interesting to get to know different people’s particular foibles! When I first joined Stragglers Running Club and started going to their club nights I learned early on that the ‘6 mile group doing 8 minute miling’ actually ran 7 miles at 7 minutes per mile. There was a secret language which if you understood the rules was pretty easy to decode, but if you didn’t then it caused you some pain. Gary seemingly has a similar code - ‘Oh, I don’t think so. My legs are not feeling great. The previous record looks pretty solid. I am not interested in setting records’ is evidently code for ‘I have studied the stage and know exactly what I need to do to get the record. This is a key target and I am going to go for it!’
Gary ran brilliantly over a brutal stage on a blisteringly hot day for 14th and to set the Age Group record is no mean feat! I (Andy W) ran this stage and felt I had done well (32nd), but as with Stage 4 many of the teams stack these stages with their best runners and Zoe F’s 35th place is particularly commendable. Zoe ran a flat road Half Marathon earlier in the year at Thorpe Park did a 1:51, so to tick off a 1:52 on a longer (13.5 miles) and much hillier stage was impressive to say the least.
Stage 6 moves to flatter territory and runs from Chipperfield to St Albans and Stewart C ticked of an 8th place finish for the Shifters, finishing ahead of Kirsty B and Ian F. This was Ian’s second stage of the day and so he decided to step away from racing for podiums a second time in a few hours and so was Kirsty’s map reader at the back. Both missed the cutoff, although both have pretty good excuses for their comparative slowness and so I would imagine Ian probably takes the record for biggest fall from grace within two stages!
Stage 7 runs from St Albans to Letty Green and is seen as one of the tougher stages on day 1. Clayton B was first home of the three teams in 12th, with Ciaran 22nd and Ian C 31st.
Stage 8 is flat and long along a canal, but can be tricky from a navigation point of view. I was running my second stage of the day to cover some of the gaps and so wasn’t sure how things were going to go. We waved goodbye to Aaron C on the start line confident that we wouldn’t be seeing him after the first 50 metres and it certainly ended up that way with Aaron blitzing the course to finish in 8th place. Justine and I along with about six others got lost in Hertford and so dropped a fair bit of time. I was fighting to hold onto the group once we were safe along the towpath and was just seeing the elastic stretch and stretch until it finally snapped – I was toast and still 5 miles from home, so a long slow run-walk to the finish line and a lie down was all I could manage. Justine ran strongly for 32nd and I just about avoided recording the second last place of the weekend with a 47th.
Stage 9 takes you on to a place called High Beach and saw Tom C finish 12th for the Shifters, just 10 seconds ahead of Mo F in 13th for Bushy Shifters’ best finish of the day. Karen W’s 1:34 for 40th place was a huge improvement on her last GBR stage but that might be to do with the fact that no-one had to come and find her when she called in lost from a quarry!
Stage 10 sees everyone starting to think about evening meals, but the sun was still shining on Dan D who scorched round to finish 2nd overall and push the Shifters up the table again. Ralph B’s 13th and Rachel L’s 47th completed the placings for our teams and took us all onto the final stage finish.
Stage 11 is the last stage of the day and so comes as a huge relief after a manic day of driving around the countryside. Suzan had been particularly nervous of the navigation and so had travelled to Essex a few weeks previous to check out the course! This stood her in very good stead and a sprint finish gave her 48th place whilst Rob J (16th) and Louise A (42nd) stood with the rest of the teams to cheer her in!
The end of Day 1, meant the teams all split up with Team Bushy heading to the Travelodge whilst Shaef Shifters were across the carpark in the Holiday Inn rooms which Team Bushy had previously had booked! (Long story and I am still not over it!) Evening plans were also different with one group heading for pizza and the other wanting the home cooked delights of the local Toby Carvery! Neither stayed up too late, as Day 2 starts early!
The end of Day 1 saw the Shifters in 6th place, just over an hour down on the leaders, Serpentine. However, it was a tight race with them leading a pack of three teams split by less than 90 seconds after 13 hours of racing!
The other key battle was not for position, but for bragging rights between our other two teams - Bushy Shifters and Team Bushy. At the end of the day one, incredibly the two teams were split by 9 seconds!!! This one would go to the wire!
After the late night logistic planning had roughly come to fruition, Day two started early with some tired legs and tired heads trying to work out bag movements and the like!
Aaron C, Rob P, and Ralph B all got the early morning lift to Blackmore for the start. Aaron started off slowly and worked his way through the field steadily to finish 13th, overtaking Rob with a few kilometres to go leaving Rob in 18th. Ralph had decided to take it steady as day two was his turn to double up and take on two stages and this was very much the warm up act, so he ran at his ultra marathon pace to 43rd saving his legs for later in the day.
In Thorndon Park, Gary N, Emma W and Zoe F were lining up for Stage 13. This was another stage Gary ‘wasn’t targeting’, but somehow it transpired he knew exactly the pace he needed to take the course record and duly tore up the course for 7th place and a second new Age Group record of the weekend. Zoe ran strongly in the first of her two stages and finished in 24th, while Emma finished in 46th place. This last fact might not seem particularly remarkable, but that hides a tale…
When she toed the start line of Stage 13, Emma had run five previous stages and missed cutoff each time. However, Stage 13 is one she had been targeting, had done a decent amount of training and she was going for it. Her version of events included – I noticed that there were some elderly ladies on the start line and instantly thought ‘They won’t like the woods, I need to gap them in the woods as they might be faster than me on the road!’ She ran hard, got frustrated by two random runners who didn’t have numbers, but pushed on to finish a good two minutes inside the cutoff.
As we waited at the finish, Dan D and I had jogged about 200m from the finish line to see where she was with five minutes to go and were pleased to see her racing along, when she reached us all we got was a grunted ‘How far?’ between breaths. When we explained the finish was 200m away and that you could see the timers hi-vis jackets Emma pointed out that she knew where the finish was, but wanted to know how far the people behind were. Basically, had she dropped them? You show weakness if you look over your shoulder! The people behind her were not in the same postcode, so she was clear – she flew down the hill to record her first official time and had beaten four official runners and two random people running the course!
It goes to show that the people who claim the slower runners at Busy parkrun don’t care about their times are dead wrong!
While this was all going on, Rob J, Justine A and Louise A were deep into Stage 14. Rob finished in 22nd, with Justine 31st and Louise 46th. By the end of stage 14, Team Bushy had extended their lead over Bushy Shifters to 35 seconds, whilst Shaef had slipped four minutes behind Clapham Frontrunners.
Stage 15 takes the race to Kent and the start line is just over the QE2 bridge with the run heading from Stone Lodge to Lullingstone. Tom C finished in 17th for the Shifters, whilst Charlie C (35th) put 12 minutes on Liz Z (45th) to move Bushy Shifters into the lead.
The stage from Lullingstone to Tatsfield sees the race move back into ‘the mountains’ is seen as the hardest stage on the course, so all the big guns line up – Ian F, Ian C and Mo F. Ian F ran strongly despite his big mileage from the day before, but got lost AGAIN to finish 10th. Whilst Ian C finally stopped having breakfast to run strongly alongside Mo for 33rd and 34th.
Tatsfield to Merstham saw Ravi make his 2018 GBR debut, alongside Dan D and me. Dan scorched the course for his second high finishing position (6th), whilst Ravi and I ran together slowly reeling in a group of runners ahead who Ravi was sure had gone off too fast. I was pretty sure that I had also gone off too fast, but we pushed on anyway. We eventually caught them up and ran as a group of seven, only for it to splinter a touch with Ravi (18th) pushing on to finish ahead of all his rivals, while I (21st) managed to stay ahead of all but two.
Stage 18 saw takes the race up Box Hill which is obviously rough for the runners, but on a nice day is also carnage for drivers. Ralph B decided to run at his HM pace as opposed to ultra-marathon pace so produced Team Bushy’s highest position of the weekend with a 9th place, ahead of Clayton B (14th) and Ciaran M (20th) – all three runners in the top 20!
Stage 19 runs back down Box Hill and so is not the easiest either, but Stewart C (14th) and Iggy (23rd) ran strongly, while Zoe’s legs gave up on her a little on her second stage of the day and she finished in 43rd. Running down hills absolutely smashes your quads and so doing that on heavy and tired legs is not much fun!
Stage 20 is allegedly the easiest on the course – a 6 mile run downhill from West Hanger into Ripley – however it is only as easy as you choose to make it. If you run it hard, then it is hard and this is where Shaef Shifters had their first taste of real glory! Will R ran with the Stock Exchange runner for the first 5 miles and then decided that if he was going to go for the win, then he needed to not leave it to the sprint and so went from a long way out – breaking his rival early to finish seven seconds clear and deliver Shaef’s first stage win! Elsewhere on the course, Rachel L ran well to 48th and Kirsty B continue her comeback with second long run of the weekend – this time accompanied by her fiancé Dan Morl instead of Ian F.
The penultimate stage from Ripley to Walton saw Rob E appear again and our first muck up logistics wise as Rachel was left stranded at the end – fortunately she was ferried to the Hawker Centre by the stage timers and no real damage was done! Rob E completed a double of good results with 5th place for the Shifters, whilst Ioan (25th) put the decisive move on Suzan (47th) to move Bushy Shifters into the lead with one stage to go!
All that was left was for Jon S (5th), Julian D (15th) and Karen W (42nd) to run the familiar towpath back to the Hawker Centre and the booze to start flowing!
The final standings saw the Shaef Shifters finish in 7th, while Bushy Shifters kicked on in the final stage to put almost 30 minutes on Team Bushy. Next year a serious tilt at the Vets category is in order for the Shifters!
The celebrations at the finish were great and every runner came in to raucous applause!
Finish line photos and few presentations and then home tired and stinking for a shower, bite to eat and an early night!
Awesome weekend, great fun and it is already in the diary for 2019!
Then after a few days of reflection, every race should be a learning experience and this is no exception.
So here are three things to think about for next year…
- Learn to map read. About half the group lost time by getting lost on various stages. Highlights of this would be Rob P and Chris B approaching the finish line from the wrong direction and Ian F mucking up on both his stages costing him potential stage wins.
- Have enough runners. Ian F, Ralph B and Zoe F all ran extra stages to cover for injuries and last minute drop outs. I could possibly say the same about myself, but you can’t really call what I was doing on my second stage on the Saturday ‘running’!
- Be resilient. Justine A bounced back brilliantly from navigating her car to the finish of one stage as opposed to the start and causing some panic for Ravi and a bit of logistics issues for Emma and Ian to clear up. However, she bounced back a few minutes later by claiming she had ‘managed that water station brilliantly’ – totally ignoring the fact that there were four other people involved and they arguably did the actual water bit as opposed to simply standing with their arm out pointing directions.
Finally - thanks to all the runners, to the drivers and especially to Janet and Rodney for coming along even when they couldn’t run – it all certainly added to the fun!
See you all next year!