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Race Report: Green Belt Relay 2023

Pretty much every May since 1995 (bar 3 years), the Green Belt Relay has been a much anticipated fixture in the calendars of many running clubs; ours included. For those un-familiar, the event is – in a nutshell – a two day, 22-stage running relay race, covering 220 miles of the Green Belt around the outside of London.

Brilliantly organised by The Stragglers, this not-for-profit event starts at Hampton Court Palace on Saturday morning. Runners & teams then make their way clockwise around outer London over the weekend, before finally finishing at Bushy Park Sports Centre on Sunday afternoon.

The scenic (sometimes brutal) course follows the footpaths, towpaths and minor roads of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey, with some serious elevation thrown in for good measure. Stages vary in distance and difficulty, with the longest just over a half-marathon and the shortest about 6 miles.

This year 3 teams formed Ranelagh’s charge: The Rapids (Open Men’s), The Rebelles (Open Women’s) and The Rockets (Open Mixed), with club representation of all ability levels. Led by team captains Suzy Whatmough, Claire Fowler and James Whistler, the mammoth task of organising, re-organising, assigning, cajoling, chasing and reminding all 33 entrants about absolutely EVERYTHING went right up to the wire.

After frantic team changes due to unavoidable dropouts, it all finally came together – stages were allocated, cakes were baked, bags were packed, rooms assigned (well, it was then), drivers were prepped (some more than others), and pickup times settled. The Ranelagh Harriers GBR 2023 teams were raring to go.

The occupants of the 3 minibuses Handie Kockett, Narkie Bertox & Phoenix Club; along with those of Gav’s Wheels, met at 7.45am in Hampton Court, to cheer & roar – COME ON RANELAGH – as our Stage 1 runners set off. Straight thereafter, everyone drove off in their respective directions; to drop runners at their designated stages, pick up finishers as assigned and fulfil the requisite marshal, cheering & water station duties.

The day started cool – in hindsight, perfect running conditions – yet the much anticipated promise of 20 degrees (more conducive to beer gardens than running) never materialised. Whether this was the reason everyone was running so fast, we’ll never really know, but The Rapids quickly got down to showing that they meant business this year.

For a bit of context, Ranelagh won the first running of the GBR in 1995, then the Men’s team won twice again in 2000 & 2002. And that’s it. Since then, the women have triumphed a few times but no GBR overall winner. And last year Thames Hare & Hounds beat our Men’s A team by 27 minutes, after a closely fought chase in the last stages.

11 stages on Day 1. By the end of Stage 6, strong performances saw The Rapids only 13:02 behind THH. By Stage 9, this had reduced to 5:11, and by Stage 10, it was a mere 2:09! A cracking Stage 11 win by GBR debutant Tom Cameron saw The Rapids end the day with a stonking 8:37 lead over THH. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and man, what a gauntlet that was.

Yet that was not all – after some incredible and inspiring performances all round, The Rebelles finished Day 1 in 2nd place, 13:41 ahead of Dulwich Runners Lasses. The women’s team were never planning to be competitive, given the strong showing of THH’s women; yet the outstanding runs by debutants Natalie Haarer and Sarah Palmer, as well as team captain Suzy Whatmough, plus many others, meant this was fast becoming a possibility.

So, it was indeed a joyous bunch of Ranelights that trickled into BasVegas (aka Basildon Festival Hall Travelodge), to come together for a well-earned meal and to go over the day’s escapades. Despite the promise of mobile karaoke at the Phoenix Club, the lure of the Eurovision Song Contest, and the glamour of a rhinestone cladded pair of sunglasses, most took to their beds not long after, in anticipation of the early morning start.

The carpark of BazVegas saw some sloth like activity at 6.30am, with the occupants of Gav’s Wheels drawing the short straw and having to take off at 7am to reach their marshal stops. Soon after, the remaining Ranelights drooped down in a valiant attempt to organise themselves. After some bag-juggling, consultation of the uber-Google Sheet and frantic WhatsApp messaging to get people out of bed (plus some shouting from Narissa), our teams were back on the road again, buoyed by McDonald’s coffee & breakfast McMuffins.

Day 2 of GBR is a difficult one to define; everyone was shattered, running on tired legs, yet raring to go, fuelled by coffee, jelly babies and later, for some, by beer. Those in Phoenix Club had the bonus of disco lights & a karaoke sing-along; Pete Vox setting the bar VERY HIGH for future GBR minibuses.

As the stages counted downwards to the end, the anticipation and nerves started to rise commensurately upwards. Only The Rapids were officially racing but nonetheless, EVERYONE gave it their all and raced their hearts out in their respective stages. Whether they were in the standings or not, ALL the teams were focussed on always doing their utmost.

For The Rapids, Day 2 was a case of ‘how much time can we build over THH’; eager to avoid the agony of last year’s chase. And boy, did they do us all proud. By the time Stage 22 started, THH were a whopping 32:03 BEHIND us, and it was fitting that team captain Jimmy Whistler run the glory leg, to bring The Rapids – and Ranelagh Harriers – home for a Green Belt Relay win. Ranelagh’s first win in over 21 years!

The Rebelles were also quietly powering ahead. Being a mixed ability team, the weekend’s focus was primarily on having fun, eating cake and supporting each other. But even more outstanding runs from Natalie, Sarah and Suzy kept The Rebelles in the game for 2nd place. Ever close behind was Dulwich Runners Lasses, and at the end of Stage 19, the gap stood at 14 minutes.

By Stage 20, this was down to 4:31 and by the end of Stage 21, Dulwich had overtaken The Rebelles to take 2nd place by 36 SECONDS! It was all to play for in the final stage and co-team captain Clare Fowler gave it her all. And what an all that was. Clare ran her heart out, smiling beautifully through an honour guard of Ranelaghs, to take the well-deserved stage win, and pulling The Rebelles back into 2nd place by 24 SECONDS!

The finish at Bushy Park Sports Centre saw many a tired, but jubilant Ranelagh face, coupled with exhilaration at completing the 2023 GBR and utter delight (plus your author’s tears of joy) at the amazing results. The entire weekend was a joyous testament to everyone’s collective efforts and the incredible support from all involved.

Shout out to the team captains – Claire, Suzy & Jimmy – as well as to all the utterly brilliant drivers, especially Gavin Hillhouse & Pete Vox. Thank you too to Kathy Henry, Alex Ring, Claire Warner, Steve & Sonia Rowland and Clive Naish for coming out to cheer & support.

The last word of this amazing weekend must go to Hadi Khatamizadeh who (for once) said it rather aptly: ‘This is not a running club. This is a family’.

💙 GBR 2023 Runners 💛
💙 Stage 1 | James Whistler, Wiebke Kortum & Ed Perry | 12.7 miles Hampton Court Palace to Staines
💛 Stage 2 | Nick Twomey, Natalie Haarer & Vaughan Ramsey | 9.42 miles Staines to Boveney Church
💙 Stage 3 | Ted Mockett, Sarah Palmer & Jarryd Hillhouse | 11.2 miles Boveney to Little Marlow
💛 Stage 4 | Gareth Williams, Nic Douglas, Liam Joyce | 11.2 miles Little Marlow to Great Kingshill
💙 Stage 5 | Ross MacDonald, Clare Fowler & Paula Maguire | 11.5 miles Great Kingshill to Chipperfield
💛 Stage 6 | Eirin McDaid, Narissa Vox & Mike Morris | 8.5 miles Chipperfield to St Albans
💙 Stage 7 | Marc Leyshon, Suzy Whatmough & Andrew Mclauchlan | 11.6 miles St Albans to Letty Green
💛 Stage 8 | Jonny Smith, Rachel Revert & Phil Andrews | 10.7 miles Letty’s Green to Dobb’s Weir
💙 Stage 9 | David Ready, Ann Kearey & James Russell | 10.2 miles Dobb’s Weir to High Beach
💛 Stage 10 | Mark Herbert, Aoife Kilpatrick & Hadi Khatamizadeh | 9 miles High Beach to Toot Hill
💙 Stage 11 | Tom Cameron, Rebecca Bissell & James Ritchie | 7.5 miles Toot Hill to Blackmore
💛 Stage 12 | Nick Towmey, Ann Kearey & Jarryd Hillhouse | 10.75 miles Blackmore to Thorndon Park
💙 Stage 13 | Ted Mockett, Natalie Haarer & Paula Maguire | 6.6 miles Thorndon Park to Cranham
💛 Stage 14 | Gareth Williams, Rebecca Bissell & Hadi Khatamizadeh | 8.2 miles Cranham to Davy Down
💙 Stage 15 | Mark Herbert, Sarah Palmer & Vaughan Ramsey | 9.4 miles Stone Lodge to Lullingstone
💛 Stage 16 | David Ready, Suzy Whatmough & Liam Joyce | 13.1 miles Lullingstone to Tatsfield
💙 Stage 17 | Ross MacDonald, Wiebke Kortum & James Russell | 10.5 miles Tatsfield to Merstham
💛 Stage 18 | Marc Leyshon, Nic Douglas & James Ritchie | 9.7 miles Merstham to Burford Bridge
💙 Stage 19 | Jonny Smith, Aoife Kilpatrick & Andrew Mclauchlan | 8.4 miles Burford Bridge to West Hanger
💛 Stage 20 | Tom Cameron, Narissa Vox & Mike Morris | 6 miles West Hanger to Ripley
💙 Stage 21 | Eirin McDaid, Rachel Revett & Phil Andrews | 8.4 miles Ripley to Walton Beach
💛 Stage 22 | James Whistler, Clare Fowler & Ed Perry | 6.42 miles Walton Beach to Hawker Centre

💙 Stage results:
💛 Leaderboards:








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