After a 2 year gap due to Covid, the 2022 Green Belt Relay was confirmed for the weekend of the 14th & 15th of May. For those not familiar, the event is – in a nutshell – a 22-stage running relay race, covering 220 miles of the Green Belt around the outside of London, held over 2 consecutive days.
Brilliantly organised by the Stragglers, the route starts at Hampton Court Palace on the Saturday, going clockwise around outer London, before finishing at Bushy Park Sports Centre, on the Sunday. Running through Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey, the scenic course follows footpaths, towpaths and minor roads, with some 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.
3 teams led Ranelagh’s charge this year: Men’s A, Men’s B and the Women’s Team, with representation from all training groups across the club. Team captains, Claire Fowler, Suzy Whatmough and James Whistler, undertook the mammoth task of organising, re-organising, assigning, cajoling, chasing and reminding the 33 entrants about EVERYTHING from as early on as March.
The run up to the event saw some measure of drama: last-minute team changes due to injury, concerns about the right type of driving licences, frantic recces into deepest darkest Essex and discussion around the entertainment options for Saturday night. In the end, it all came together – stages were allocated, cakes were baked, bags were packed, menu choices selected (following the threat of a vegan margarita pizza for non-compliance), rooms allotted, drivers assigned, and pickup times settled. The Ranelagh Harriers GBR 2022 teams were ready to go.
4 minivans met at 7.45am in Hampton Court, cheering the first stage runners as they set off. The nature of the event meant that this was the first and last time all 3 teams were together; and the collective roar of – COME ON RANELAGH! – was truly something to behold. As the runners departed, the minivans set off in their respective directions (despite Bus A’s false starts), dropping runners at their designated stages and picking up finishers as assigned.
It was a lovely morning, balmy and warm but by the time Stage 6 commenced, the sun was high, making it tough going for those out on course. By the last two stages, the day had cooled somewhat but the heat continued to prove challenging for those running. Those who’d finished their stages (and weren’t driving) however, were able to take full advantage of the beer garden weather as they waited for finishers to come in. The club camaraderie and collective support was evident at every stage.
Eventually the minivans trickled into the overnight base camp that was the oh-so-glamourous Basildon Festival Hall Travelodge (locally known as Bas-Vegas). Despite the hi-jinks of the day – Nick Twomey’s heel exploding, the disappointment of no cacti at Great Kingshill, Neil Rae’s shorts of dubious character, Bus D missing their marshalling spot, several getting (very) lost in their respective stages, Bus D almost late for Stage 11, frantic rushes at the end to find respective bags and rooms – everyone made it to base camp in one piece.
Many carbs and alcoholic sustenance were consumed that evening as everyone revelled in the completion of Day 1, and birthday felicitations were sung to Nick Twomey. Despite the promise of karaoke, the more prudent took to their beds, while the less (or at least those who didn’t have an early start, namely Bus C & Bus D) watched the Eurovision Song Contest in their rooms, sharing helpful comments via the group WhatsApp chat.
Day 2 dawned bright and early, especially for Bus A & Bus B, and after some last minute dashes to Bas-Vegas McDonald’s for coffee and breakfast, the teams were ready to go again.
Thankfully the weather was more conducive to running, a marked difference from the day before. However, this was scant consolation for everyone running on tired legs, especially when it started to rain heavily at Stage 14, making the going treacherous for some. The group WhatsApp showcased a variety of photos attesting to Day 2’s hi-jinks: Alex Ring’s disintegrating shoe, Claire Fowler’s missing shoe, Simon Martin’s need for first aid, Narissa Vox’s angry game face, and Cordy Parker’s novel solution to navigation.
Hopes were high for the Men’s A team taking a podium place and their strong start on Day 1 – especially from Ross MacDonald, Gareth Williams, Nick Twomey, Ted Mockett, David Ready, Eirin McDaid, Jonny Smith & James Whistler who placed 1st or 2nd in their stages – meant that they finished Day 1 as the fastest men’s team, only 2nd behind Thames Hare & Hounds’ mixed team overall, with a time difference of 27’32.
The chase was on for 1st place overall! Sadly, Nick Twomey’s exploding heel meant that James Riley had the honour of running TWO legs on the same day, so he was given the first and last stage, to maximise recovery. Eirin McDaid, David Ready, Ted Mockett, James Whistler and Gareth Williams continued the charge, placing 1st or 2nd in their respective stages, but THH were running hard, fast and strong and by the end of Stage 18, the time difference had built to 43’24, with only 4 stages left to make any gains.
But make gains they did and a fabulous run by Ted Mockett in Stage 19, including a gripping sprint finish, cut the time difference by a whopping 19’20. At Stage 20, James Whistler shaved a further 1’26, bringing the gap down to 22’38. With 2 more stages, could 1st overall be within grasp?
Sadly, it was not to be as THH powered on and our Men’s A Team had to settle with fastest men’s team, and 2nd overall, which was a truly admirable feat, given the impact of Nick Twomey’s injury. It was also a well-deserved improvement on Ranelagh’s 2019 GBR placing (2nd Men’s).
The finish at Bushy Park Sports Centre saw many a weary Ranelagh face, mitigated by jubilation and exhilaration at completing the 2022 GBR. Videos of the obligatory roly-poly finish were shared, along with much deserved drinks and food. Everyone was utterly exhausted but thrilled to be part of a wonderful weekend of running and when the Men’s A Team were called up to receive their accolade, the resounding cry of – COME ON RANELAGH – provided a fitting end to an utterly brilliant event.
Shout out to the Team Captains – Claire, Suzy & James – as well as all the bus drivers. Kudos to the individual winners and category winners and full (provisional) details can be found here: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2126163317558121&id=159741494200323
Well done to all the runners and all the supporters, especially Ellen Van Keulen & Fika – without each and every one of you, the weekend would definitely not been as fabulous as it was.
💙 GBR 2022 Runners 💛
💙 Stage 1 | Ross MacDonald, Clare Fowler & James Ritchie | 12.7 miles Hampton Court Palace to Staines
💛 Stage 2 | Gareth Williams, Wiebke Kortum & Mike Morris | 9.42 miles Staines to Boveney Church
💙 Stage 3 | Nick Twomey, Ann Kearey & Sam Slater | 11.2 miles Boveney to Little Marlow
💛 Stage 4 | James Riley, Suzy Whatmough & Vaughan Ramsey | 11.2 miles Little Marlow to Great Kingshill
💙 Stage 5 | Mark Herbert, Cordelia Parker & Neil Rae | 11.5 miles Great Kingshill to Chipperfield
💛 Stage 6 | Liam Joyce, Neha Rani & Hadi Khatamizadeh | 8.5 miles Chipperfield to St Albans
💙 Stage 7 | Ted Mockett, Claire Warner & Alex Ring | 11.6 miles St Albans to Letty Green
💛 Stage 8 | David Ready, Rachel Revert & Phil Andrews | 10.7 miles Letty’s Green to Dobb’s Weir
💙 Stage 9 | Eirin McDaid, Aoife Kilpatrick & Mike White | 10.2 miles Dobb’s Weir to High Beach
💛 Stage 10 | Jonny Smith, Paula Maguire & Simon Martin | 9 miles High Beach to Toot Hill
💙 Stage 11 | James Whistler, Narissa Vox & John Tovell | 7.5 miles Toot Hill to Blackmore
💛 Stage 12 | James Riley, Neha Rani & Mike Morris | 10.75 miles Blackmore to Thorndon Park
💙 Stage 13 | Liam Joyce, Narissa Vox & Simon Martin | 6.6 miles Thorndon Park to Cranham
💛 Stage 14 | Jonny Smith, Claire Warner & Vaughan Ramsay | 8.2 miles Cranham to Davy Down
💙 Stage 15 | Eirin McDaid, Ann Kearey & James Ritchie | 9.4 miles Stone Lodge to Lullingstone
💛 Stage 16 | Mark Herbert, Wiebke Kortum & Neil Rae | 13.1 miles Lullingstone to Tatsfield
💙 Stage 17 | David Ready, Cordelia Parker & Alex Ring | 10.5 miles Tatsfield to Mertsham
💛 Stage 18 | Ross MacDonald, Suzy Whatmough & Mike White | 9.7 miles Merstham to Burford Bridge
💙 Stage 19 | Ted Mockett, Aoife Kilpatrick & Phil Andrews | 8.4 miles Burford Bridge to West Hanger
💛 Stage 20 | James Whistler, Paula Maguire & Hadi Khatamizadeh | 6 miles West Hanger to Ripley
💙 Stage 21 | Gareth Williams, Clare Fowler & John Tovell | 8.4 miles Ripley to Walton Beach
💛 Stage 22 | James Riley, Rachel Revett & Sam Slater | 6.42 miles Walton Beach to Hawker Centre