Saturday, 20 June 2015

Leg 548 from Pakefield to Hopton - Recce of things most easterly

During the first week in June I was on holiday so I decided to recce our stage on the Suffolk coast. As my fellow relay runners weren’t available, I commandeered the long-suffering other half to accompany me to cycle the route.

First things first, we checked the handover point. Yep, a nice wide verge near the water tower, enough room for us and the “camera crew”. Must remind my friend and support crew, Angela, to practise night–time shots! Now decisions: my inclination would always be to get as close to the sea as possible and I could follow a track from here straight to the beach. But it will be dark and also add a bit to the route so I think we will follow the road for a bit and then take a side road to the lower promenade so we can run right past my beach hut (no 59), where I have spent many happy hours watching the waves. We won’t be able to see much at night but we’ll smell the sea and feel the (hopefully warm) breeze.

The beach was beautiful today. The Pakefield end has formed into dunes in recent years and some beautiful flowers had sprung up amongst them. The Jolly Sailors looked inviting right on the edge of the cliff but we resisted the temptation.

I did have a dip in the sea though, a refreshing 14ยบC.  Rather enjoyed but I promise Toto and I will not go skinny dipping on route to Hopton!

Running (or cycling) past all the colourful beach huts, past the Claremont Pier and on towards the South Pier is pure pleasure.  Unfortunately the sea wall near the South Pier was damaged in last year’s tidal surge. It is now getting fixed, and I'm hoping all the barriers will be gone by August but even if they aren't we'll be able to run along the prom all the way to the harbour and past the most easterly pub in Britain, the Fisherman's Wharf on the South Pier. 

The bascule bridge over the water to the north side of Lowestoft is a pain in the neck for drivers in Lowestoft and apparently, Mr Cameron has promised a 3rd crossing by 2020.  We will see...

Today we crossed the bridge without a delay, and it should not be a problem for us on the day unless someone decides that essential maintenance work needs to be done on 4th August.  Hope not, as a detour via Oulton Broad would add several miles to the route!

So over the bridge and through the rather uninspiring industrial area of North Lowestoft. Up till the 50s it was the Beach Village, where thousands of people lived and worked, mainly living off the sea one way or another. We pass the most easterly church in Britain, and follow the route of the Lowestoft Scores Race, Britain’s most easterly hill race. It is the first race I ever ran -  a tough 4.75 miles along the sea wall and up and down steep slopes, including 409 steps, between the beach and the High Street.

Now we arrived at the most easterly point in Britain, the Ness Point, where a giant wind turbine, known as Gulliver, was overlooking my other half trying to cough up a fly he just swallowed! It will be a slight detour off the route but we really want to go there.

From here we cycled along the sea wall for a mile or so. It was very windy, as it always seems to be here, and it reminded me how helpful it was to place myself behind a large bloke in the Scores races to get through this section. As the wind in Lowestoft blows against you regardless of what direction you are travelling, I decided it would be too bleak to run here at night so for the Relay we will backtrack from Ness Point and run along the road.

The rest of the route is pretty straightforward, through Gunton and Corton passing several caravan parks and holiday villages. After Corton there will be another couple of miles on a quiet, lonely and, I imagine, very dark road so we will definitely need our head torches to see our way to Hopton. But we were cycling today and had plenty of time, so we stopped for a drink in Corton and again in Hopton, where I received Casey last year, before heading back to Pakefield.

We are really looking forward to running this section. The British coast is an amazing thing in all its variety and I can’t wait to see everyone else’s photos of their routes.  Almost as good as being there!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Looking back: Leg 549 from Hopton to South Beach Parade, Great Yarmouth

Hi. I am Sirkka and I am running stage 548 in this year's fantastic Great British Relay. I first saw the posts for the relay in 2013 and thought what a brilliant idea it was. But I was just coming back from injury and didn't think I would be fit enough to run. So I was delighted when it did actually happen last year and I was able to run stage 549 with my friends Cheryl and Stuart, and the photo is of us just after handing over in Great Yarmouth. We all really enjoyed following the progress of Casey and the run itself.

As soon as this year's relay was announced we were ready to sign up again and this time I was able to grab the stage that goes through the streets and the close to the beach where I first started running when I used to live in Lowestoft. In fact we are going to run right past my beach hut!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

How NOT to recce your running route

With the GB relay now kicking off in July, I thought I'd fill a gap in the proceedings with some tips for anyone planning to recce their route in the next few weeks. These are based on my own experiences of a recce for a relay race along the Cotswold Way last Thursday. As you'll gather, it didn't quite go according to plan...

1. When choosing your recce partner, be sure to choose someone who is just as useless as you are at map-reading. This way, you'll both be as clueless as each other when it comes to deciding which way to go and you won't get into any arguments.

2. Print out the map and detailed route description and carry it in your hand. Don't look at it too often though - you might trip if you don't keep your eyes fixed on the path ahead at all times.

3. At the start, instead of going in the direction indicated by the route on the map, go in completely the opposite direction.

4. Talk nineteen-to-the-dozen from the word go, thus missing every possible opportunity to identify a deviation from the planned route.

5. For goodness sake, don't take a compass. That extra 38g will really weigh you down!

6. Those three directions in a row that didn't match up with reality? Don't worry about them. The entire landscape could easily have changed since your map was drawn. Even if you think the elevation seems to be a lot more difficult than the profile suggested, it's probably just because the hills have grown over the years.

7. If you suspect you might have gone the wrong way, don't mention it for at least 15 minutes. You don't want to put a dampener on things.

8. You can confirm your position on the map by matching up fairly generic features like "hedges" and "grass" with those in the route descriptions. It doesn't matter if none of the other, more specific features match up - you probably just missed those whilst you were talking. And if you pass major landmarks, like castles and ancient monuments, that aren't mentioned in the route description, that doesn't matter either. Just assume that the route planner was an uncultured idiot who wasn't interested in that sort of stuff.

9. Carry only enough water for the distance you had planned to run. Again, it will only weigh you down and if you get a bit thirsty you can always beg for a share of the last few drops of your running partner's water. For the same reasons, you don't want to carry a fully charged mobile phone.

10. Only check your position using a GPS-enabled device when you find yourself in the direst of circumstances e.g. when you have already run 10km away from the car you left at the start, in the opposite direction to the car you left at the end, and have no other way of getting home before dark except to run back to the start over the same monstrous hills that have been sucking the soul out of you for the last hour and a quarter.

11. Do, of course, do the opposite of all of these things.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Five of the most epic unclaimed GB relay legs

To say the GB Relay covers some scenic routes is an understatement. Being a coastal relay, it takes in some of the most dramatic and stunning landscapes you'll get to gaze at on our little island. So to whet your appetite, we thought we'd do a quick round-up of the most epic relay legs still unclaimed (as of today, 18th May). Which means if you get in quick enough, it could be you running these routes: Loch Ness, the South West coastal path... take your pick.

Stage 126 Lochend to Drumnadrochit Lewiston MON 08/06 03:52 UNCLAIMED

A 14k bimble along the banks of Loch Ness to Drumnadrochit, as the Sun rises.

Claim it

Stage 187 Dumfries to Caerlaverock Castle THU 11/06 14:21 UNCLAIMED

Another 14k stage. This one's more of a mid-afternoon mosey, ending up at one of Scotland's finest medieval fortresses.

An absolute belter of a 10k trip, you pick up the baton in the iconic Welsh town with the really long name and run across the Menai Bridge to follow the Menai Strait towards Caernarfon.

Passing through the Cornish port of Looe, this gorgeous southwest coast stage will be challenging for a 12k but so worth it.

And finally, if you thought it couldn't get any better, how about this meander by St Michael's Mount? 11k to Marazion... where you could finish with some refreshments in the beer garden at the Fire Engine Inn.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Looking back: Blue sky moments

In the run up to this year's big event we're looking back at last year's relay and reliving some of our epic journeys. We continue with this post from Alison Cameron in Evanton, Scotland, who saved the day on more than one occasion... She tells some of the story behind the main photo we used for our blog - Ed.

Taking part in the GB Relay 2014 last year was great fun, I’d recommend it to anyone. It started off with myself taking on one stage, from the village where I live: Evanton – Invergordon on the 5th June. That initial signing up led on to what can only be called a mammoth running extravaganza, roping in my other half William to take on the stage before me from Culbokie to Evanton! Time passed and a fair few of the northerly stages were not filling up. So still having some contacts from when I took part in the Real Relay in 2012 and Barry the Baton’s Coasters Relay in 2010, I duly sent out quite a lot of emails to try and entice some more running chums into the cause, word spread and the stages started to fill.

However, there were still some gaps, so as it turned out William managed to persuade me that between the two of us we could bridge these gaps. That’s just what we did, taking up the slack between Helmsdale and Laidhay Croft in the wee small hours of the 6th June. It was very peaceful running at night in the summer and the weather was kind.

Our favourite stage was to follow the next day on the 7th June where we ran along an undulating single track road between Achfary and Fiag Bridge. The sun shone brightly as we took turns to carry the little black box on its journey. This is one of my favourite photos of our time in the relay:

This is the handover to me, in the pink, just past Achfary. The one below is just after I’ve handed it to Will several miles further along on the same stage:

Later the same day we took on another two stages, a little closer to home this time from Alness to Dingwall and then Dingwall to Contin, running it between the two of us, a few miles each, taking turns. The weather however gradually turned to rain for the last bits from Dingwall to Contin.

All said and done we had a great time, made some new friends, received some delicious cakes and slept like logs that night after three epic running days.

All photos published in this blog post are property of Alison Cameron/William MacLennan

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Relay Recorders!

Hello to all potential Relay Recorders!

If you're here, it might just be that you're one of the hundreds of runners already signed up to run a leg of the Great British Relay next month. If so, you're going to be taking part in an epic event linking up the running community all over mainland Britain. It's that story - the story of people coming together to achieve a common goal - that we want to tell... and you can help us.

We want to give runners on as many legs as possible the chance to share their relay experiences. It could be that you have a funny story about what happened to you when you went to recce your leg. It could be that you have a single photo that sums up your relay run. We don't mind if you want to write 50 words or 500. But get in touch as soon as possible so that we can get you set up to write your post.

Last year, we saw so many great posts from runners on the community Facebook page. Posts about people driving half-way across the country, begging their bosses to let them take days off work, running back-to-back stages in remotest Scotland, or diverting planned routes around incoming tides - just to make sure the baton got to the next handover point. Posts about needing a wee. Posts about the right way to hold the baton. Posts about being glued to the GPS tracker as it inched its way slowly across our screens. This year, The Relay Record is giving runners the opportunity to tell these stories to a wider audience. We also hope that this community blog will act as a lasting memento of what was achieved for everyone who took part.

So how will it work? All you'll need to do is log in, write your post and press publish, and we'll make sure everything reads in "running order". But we do need to keep things secure, so you'll need to contact us to get your log in sorted. Do it now by emailing with the subject line "New contributor". If you have a Google account, use the email address associated with that account and we can get you started straight away. If not, no worries, we'll explain.

And by the way, you don't need to know anything about blogging! :)

We have a couple of new posts coming up from last year's runners in the next week or so. Then, it's over to the 2015 team!

- Ed.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Looking back: Leg 433 from West Bexington to Langton Herring (2014)

In the run up to this year's big event we'll be looking back at last year's relay and reliving some of our epic journeys. We start with this post from Neil Shoesmith in Dorset, first published at Running for the Pies - Ed.

24th June 2014

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!

All photos published in this blog post are the property of Neil Shoesmith

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A new lease of life

One thing that the Great British Relay 2014 gave me was a better appreciation of the beautiful countries we all live (and run) in here in the UK. My addiction to the GPS tracker while following our baton around the coast meant that for an entire month I was watching scenery like this unfold...

When it came to our own turn to carry the baton from Clevedon to Portishead, we were blessed with gorgeous weather and some stunning views.

We also got ourselves into some enjoyable scrapes navigating our way through a wood... And I nurtured a growing fondness for hills as we dragged ourselves up one of Portishead's finest.

(I swear most of that 178 metres of elevation was in one fairly short climb.)

The upshot of all this is that since the relay, I've realised what a boring way I was going about my regular runs. I don't know what I was thinking before, trundling around the same old routes every day. I began seeking out greener, more interesting and increasingly hillier trails. This culminated near the end of last year in devoting four days of my holiday to running off-road races in some spectacular landscape in Cyprus. One was a "soft" mountain run that involved 667m of climb in 11km... It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life!

In the last few months, following the recurrence of an old injury, I've really stepped up the off-road running. And I'm LOVING. IT. As it turns out, despite living in the city, I live in exactly the right part of the city to get out on to some proper hilly, muddy trails within a matter of minutes. I didn't even realise this before! Winter running so far has been an absolute pleasure.

Plus, not only is all this off-road running protecting my joints and toughening me up for cross country season, it's actually allowing me to run MORE - because I can recover faster. Amazing!

Anyway, we're gearing up here at The Relay Record for 2015's record attempt so expect a few more posts as we test out the community blogging system. Ta-ra for now.


Photo credits: Matt Burden