LAST year it was a runaway victory, this year a thrilling close-fought battle as Roadrunners retained their Ridgeway Relay title. Ladies captain SAM WHALLEY, one of the architects of both successes, gives a blow-by-blow account of how the drama unfolded…
THE Ridgeway Relay is, for me at least, one of the best days to be a Reading Roadrunner. It’s the day when, for as many years as I am aware, we have had around 40 members running the length of the Ridgeway National Trail, with a couple of deviations along the way to avoid dangerous road crossings, or to finish at a more practical venue for a prize-giving than Overton Hill.
We knew a year ago that there would be a date clash with the ever popular Endure 24 event, so I was delighted to find 40 willing participants for this year’s race. (Note: there is no clash next year, so do bear this in mind before you sign up to run for 24 hours, solo, around Wasing Park, or even Comrades, or just a marathon every other week.)
Having run in the Ridgeway Relay for the past three years, I was slightly miffed at having to attend a wedding on the very same weekend (shh, don’t tell the bride), and my involvement was limited to putting the teams together with Grant Hopkins, nagging people for their predicted times, and then letting everyone know when they needed to be at the start of their leg.
Some runners requested certain legs that they knew, ran all the time, or were on their doorstep. Others fancied the challenge of particular legs they had heard about.
We set up a WhatsApp group for each team, and this enabled us to share locations, updates and stories throughout the day. With chairman Phil Reay following the teams in person, from start to finish, there was no shortage of information, and it was a really exciting event to be a part of, even without the running bit.
When I woke up in North Devon on Sunday morning, my phone was already well awake. The race had started, and there was a picture of a very chilly looking foursome on Ivinghoe Beacon.
At that moment, I felt really chuffed that everyone had got up at the crack of dawn to drive all the way there, to run for us. That’s commitment, and we are really grateful. Enough of the soppyness, though, with it having rained a lot during last week, much focus was on the footwear — were we to go with road or trail shoes?
The answer was that it really depended on which leg you were running, with each one being so different: some with stretches of road, others with steep ups and downs, muddy tracks, chalky sections….. the list goes on. Of course, if you have done your homework and completed a recce, you know what to expect. (I’m looking at you, Sarah Dooley.)
Having broken the course record with a storming run last year, the A team, albeit made up of different members this year, had a trophy to defend, and we may just have given that team a disproportionate amount of attention.
At each checkpoint the questions were, What position did they come in at? How much of a gap was there in front and behind? And who did they have left to run? If we were to try to be competitive across all three categories, we would ideally have a team manager following each team throughout the day. Any volunteers?
At the end of leg 1, which was 11 miles, the A team was third, vets 28th, ladies 33rd and Bs 34th, out of 42 teams. Ask Dan Coleman why he might have been held up for a few minutes. Not my place to divulge.
Swindon Shin Splints had a five-minute lead, with a talented Tonbridge runner on their first leg (second-claim Swindon). This is completely legit — a runner doesn’t actually have to be a member of a club to run this race. St Albans Striders were in second, but didn’t seem to feature throughout the rest of the day.
Leg 2 is one of the shorter legs, at six miles, and seems often to be run by women. Not necessarily in this club though, and it was Mark Apsey (A), Ben Fasham (B), Miriam Coleman (ladies) and Susan Knight (vets) who took over, with the As coming in second, Bs 23rd, vets 26th and ladies 36th. Swindon were still in the lead. Mark (above) was the second-fastest runner overall on this leg.
For Leg 3, it was the first of the two required women for the A team, Laura Peatey (below), with Derek Cheng for the Bs, Gary Tuttle (one of the two allowed men) for the ladies, and Tom Harrison for the vets. In this race a vet is over 50; I don’t know how many of the teams had an over 80 raring to go!
Leg 4 is the only other short leg in the race, at 5.4 miles, and this was requested by men’s captain Grant Hopkins for the As, Clinton Montague for the Bs, Sophie Hoskins for the ladies and Julie Rainbow for the vets. The uphill finish for this leg is brutal, and the As finished in fourth, Bs 22nd, ladies 26th and vets 36th. Vale of Aylesbury were now in the lead. Grant was the seventh-fastest runner overall on this leg.
Leg 5 is 10.1 miles, but it has a lot of downhill to the river, and is notoriously muddy and overgrown. Still, it is popular with A teamer Chris Lucas (right) as it is the closest leg to his house. For the Bs it was Belinda Tull, for the ladies Liz Jones, and for the vets, David Fiddes.
At this point last year, the course-record-breaking year, the A team was already well in the lead, but the team remained composed. It was, however, time to pull out the big guns. The As finished in third, Bs 23rd, ladies 29th and vets 35th. Vale of Aylesbury were still in the lead, but Chris was the fastest runner overall on this leg.
Having recently realised that the race was actually on Sunday not Saturday, Rob Corney (below) was in the right place at the right time and ready to take over for the A team at leg 6, at 10.4 miles and including the climb back up from the river.
“He’ll never maintain that pace,” laughed the Aylesbury team as Rob set off through South Stoke village like a rocket. Ahem. Don’t they know who he is?
With Rupert Shute for the Bs, Chris Buley for the ladies, and Colin Cottell for the vets, things were getting exciting. Needless to say, the As finished first, putting Reading Roadrunners in the lead, with Rob the fastest runner overall on this leg, and even faster than his time last year. The Bs were 15th, ladies 21st and vets 31st. Rupert and Chris were eighth and ninth fastest respectively.
Leg 7 typically has a mass start for those teams whose runner has not arrived by 2pm, so all apart from our A team runner, Gemma Buley, were in this. For the Bs it was Bryan Curtayne, for the ladies, Claire Seymour and for the vets, Brian Kirsopp. At the end of the 9.1 miles, Vale of Aylesbury had given themselves back a four-minute lead, with our A team finishing second, Bs 13th, ladies 29th and vets 31st. Super Brian was the third fastest runner overall on this leg, and Gemma was 10th.
Leg 8 was my first experience of the Ridgeway. I like to call it the tourist leg, as it goes behind the White Horse at Uffington, and it is incredibly well signposted. I challenge anyone to get lost on this leg. Still, it is not easy, with chalky hills and narrow treads, and another brutal uphill finish.
Lance Nortcliff was up for the As, Angharad Shaw for the Bs, Belinda Drew for the ladies, and Peter Reilly for the vets. As they finished, Lance was still in second, but had had a storming run and closed the gap to two minutes, with the Bs 23rd, vets 27th and ladies 34th.
Lance was the fastest runner on overall on this leg, but I still reckon that wasn’t as hard as trying to get changed afterwards with a flimsy towel in a high wind.
As I arrived at leg 9, I saw the Aylesbury runner leading off, followed shortly by Mark Worringham for the A team, whose legs were definitely turning over a lot more quickly than those ahead of him. Indeed, Mark had (above)checked the Power of 10 profile of his opponent while waiting, and knew it was in the bag.
For the B team, it was Ben Whalley, en route from Devon, the ladies, Alice Carpenter, and the vets David Caswell, who had accidentally signed up during a post-Manchester Marathon celebratory drink. I forget nothing.
No surprise that the A team took the lead and finished this very tough 10.7 mile leg in first, with the Bs 15th, vets 24th and ladies 34th. Mark was the fastest runner overall on this leg, and Ben was third.
Alice incurred a five-minute penalty due to inadvertently taking a short cut, that I had inadvertently shown her as the correct way when we did a recce of the leg together. Oops. Fortunately the fate of the ladies’ team was not hanging on this fact, and I promise we will go back and do it properly.
While our supporters were hoping anchor man Matt Davies could hang on for 9.4 miles, Matt (left) had other ideas, increasing the lead to bring the team home to Marlborough Leisure Centre nine minutes ahead of second place. He had run the fifth-fastest time for that leg.
The trophy that Glynne Jones had come all the way back from family in Slough for, to unlock from the cabinet so it could be returned, was coming straight back to Palmer Park.
Meanwhile, there was another mass start for leg 10, at 5.30pm, and up were Ollie Watts for the Bs, Liz Johnson for the ladies and Pete Jewell for the vets. They finished in 15th, 32nd and 23rd respectively, with the ladies fourth Mostly Ladies team, and the vets second Vets team, only two minutes behind the winners. We definitely have the depth in this club to aim for more than one trophy!
Next year’s race will be on June 21st. Yes, it is always on Father’s Day, but what better way to spend it?
Pictures: Barry Cornelius, Phil Reay, David Fiddes.