Peterborough Green Wheel Relay – Sunday 16th June 2019

After a few years of deliberating Grantham Running Club finally managed to enter a team into the Peterborough Green Wheel Relay – probably the most popular relay race in the region if you don’t include the 24 hour races or their ilk.

I was very much looking forward to  it having spent many years running or supporting the Cotswold Hilly 100 Relay Race which Kenilworth Runners made a highlight of their year and had come to dominate when I was a member. A mix of running and logistics means that not necessarily the quickest team will win (although they usually will). The pressures of ensuring everyone is present for their leg and runs the correct course means that surprises can happen.

The build up was not without its controversy. With only one (male) team entered I was keen to have the strongest possible set of runners taking part – I saw little point in giving up one of my infrequent spare weekends over the summer just to make up the numbers. Others within the club disagreed however, requesting it should be on a first come, first served, basis. In the end we put out a pretty strong team, probably as good as it could have been with the runners available and willing to take part.

My weekend wasn’t completely free of work, it being the Le Mans 24 Hour weekend. For this reason I requested I’d take the opening leg of seven – one of the longer legs at 8.4 miles. The plan was then for team captain Chris Limmer to drive me back to the start at the athletics track in Peterborough for me to ride out to the start of leg 4 where Chris was due to run and I would support him along the way (It is encouraged that runners have a support cyclist on each leg – but it was compulsory for legs four and six). Because of the cycling I was due to do and the tight timescale logistically I opted to race in my triathlon suit with a GRC vest stuck over the top.

A club taking the Green Wheel Relay so seriousy they bought the t-shirts!

Rather than all teams go off at once, the departure times were staggered based on predicted overall finishing times to try and ensure that teams finished at approximately the same time in the afternoon. I went off at 10:15am with two other teams. I think the first groups had gone off not long after 8am and the last groups (Mostly Helpston Harriers and their crack squad of teams) were due off at 11am. Kicking off with a lap of the track I soon pulled well clear of the other two runners and headed off alone out of the stadium for what was going to be a mostly very lonely 50 minutes or so of running.

A group starting off ahead of when I did.

The route was signposted and marked, in places well, in other places not so. I was taking no chances and had mapped out my leg to follow on my Garmin. The benefits of this were apparent when we came to a sharp left turn heading onto the River Nene where I saw a slower group heading straight on having missed the signs. Luckily they were able to hear me shouting ‘You’re going the wrong way!’

Green Wheel Relay direction markers. A better one.

With the wind blowing from the south luckily the two miles along the exposed river were no worse than a crosswind. When we made another sharp left turn off the river I was fortunate to have the wind mostly on my back for the remainder of the run up to Eye. The Garmin navigation was working well, however I’d had it set to auto zoom in and out which was proving problematic. I nearly always have it set zoomed right in to 200ft so as to make when to turn quite obvious. Garmin though had other ideas and would frequently zoom out to 0.5 mile which made such decisions far trickier.

Off the canal path I was briefly on a footpath before a tricky junction and onto a quiet fen land style road, where again I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t faced with a headwind. My map page didn’t have HR so I was running to feel, I did know I was running reasonably well, averaging 5:50 or so per mile and feeling fairly comfortable.

Coming off the road onto a grassy footpath surrounded by crops I spotted my first runner since the opening stages of the run in the distance. Unfortunately coming to a ditch and a crucial turn they were a little too far in the distance to see where they had headed. As feared my Garmin map had zoomed out and, seeing no signs whatsoever, I opted to take a left before crossing the ditch. After around 20 seconds and spotting a footpath heading off over the other side of the water I realised I had turned crucially a few yards too early. Unable to cross without turning back I headed around and retraced my steps before taking the correct path. The whole mishap cost probably around 45 seconds.

Back on the correct path it was a case of making up for lost time as I turned right on to the main road into Eye, turning off the high street and handing over to Sam Jepson-Rivers for his less than half the distance of leg 1 leg 2. My time of 49:10 was the fourth fastest of the day, but four minutes slower than the slowest of the Helpston runners.

With barely a chance to catch my breath I jumped into Chris’ Mini and he drove us back to my car which was parked up back at the athletics track. He then headed off to the start of leg 4, I unloaded my race bike from the back of my car, took off the vest and replaced it with the compulsory hi-vis bib and headed off by bicycle to leg 4.

As I had mapped everything from my car to the end of leg 4 and back to my car onto my Garmin Edge this was a relatively straight forward affair. Well it was until the looming clouds in the distance became ever more imposing and, with around five miles still remaining to get to leg 4, the heavens opened with a thunderstorm of near biblical proportions. Not particularly well attired for such weather I struggled to stay warm as I cycled as best I could on the increasingly flooded paths and roads, trying to make out the way on my Garmin increasingly hard to read with all the raindrops on the screen.

I made it to the start of leg 4 with what I estimated around 10 minutes to spare. Soaked and cold but present and ready to cycle with Chris leg 4. There was just one issue – no sign of Chris! I did find Sam J-R who had driven on having completed leg 2 to pick up Peter Bonner, who was out on the course running leg 3. He hadn’t seen Chris. Between us we put out some distress signals via our Messenger group. After a couple of minutes came the bombshell from Chris that he had somehow got lost and wasn’t able to get to the start of leg 4 and would be heading home! Meanwhile we had Peter approaching us with no-one to hand over to!

At the time things were a little vague but it transpired Chris had opted to park up a few miles from the start of leg 4 and run there as a warm up. Somehow with all the rain and thunder he got himself lost and had ended up doing some form of circle back to his car. 

After a 1984 style two minutes of rage and confusion where Sam, Peter, some marshals and I, wondered what on earth was happening and what we could do, it was decided that Peter would continue running as best he could and Sam, having run around half of what Peter had, would take over later on in the leg when he had changed back into his running kit and caught us up in his car (Or maybe Peter’s – it had got quite complicated!). We weren’t totally convinced this was in the rules. We resigned ourselves to the possibility of being disqualified but reckoned that having made all the effort thus far and with three more runners waiting to complete their legs we should at least try our luck.

So Peter, having given 100% on his leg began again, lamenting the fact he had planned to race a 5K in the midweek and this was doing him no favours. I cycled for the most part just behind him or alongside him offering what encouragement I could.

A couple of miles into the leg and with some good fortune as it was the last opportunity to do so before we headed off on a footpath away from the main road, Sam arrived in the car ready to take over from Peter. The change-over was so swift it could have been rehearsed beforehand!

With Sam running as best he could I again did all I could to encourage, be it with liquid refreshment (It had by now stopped raining and with the sun shining become quite warm) or by sheltering him whenever we had a headwind. Understandably the novice runner tired significantly over the six or so extra miles he ran – the end of the leg never seemed to arrive as we wound ourselves into and through Ferry Meadows Park, but there was never any question of quitting.

Sam deep into his impromptu effort on leg 4.

Mercifully with around 200 meters left to run Peter popped out in front of us to let us know there was very little distance left to run. With one final sprint Sam handed over to Ian Williams who set off to make up for time lost in leg 4. Running late and with the Le Mans race about to finish I wasted no time in cycling back to the start practicing my rarely used cyclo-cross skills on the sometimes off-road cycle paths of Peterborough. Back at the car it was job done and the drive back home.

We ended up, despite all the drama, finishing a highly creditable third Men’s Senior team and fifth overall when a mixed sex Helpston team (Six men and one woman apparently…) and an ‘open’ team were taken into account. To date we haven’t been disqualified for our possible rule transgressions. Having thoroughly enjoyed the experience, despite everything, I very much hope the club can put forward at least one team in 2021 and beyond and perhaps, one day, target victory!

Race Report – Summer Solstice 10K, Long Bennington, Friday 23rd June 2017

The old adage that tends to run fairly true is that it takes a mile per day to fully recover from a running race. Given that I’d just a week from the Notts 10 Mile Race to the Summer Solstice 10K, the odds were always going to be against me. It could be said I didn’t help matters by running an 18 flat parkrun the following morning after the Holme Pierrepont race, followed by a 38 mile tempo bike ride in the heat of a very warm afternoon, a 64 mile bike ride the next day, spinning, elliptical trainer and running two and from the gym on a Monday, a 10 mile TT on the Tuesday (a course PB) and a 14 1/2 mile run on the Wednesday.

I was planning to rest up on the Thursday, especially with work, but I unexpectedly finished early and so had the opportunity to take part in a Witham Wheelers Chaingang ride. Having perhaps misinterpreted a recent article written by Lisa Dobriskey I decided to live for the moment. Chances to ride the chaingang are few and far between – I do enjoy them. Plus the weather for Friday was hardly looking conducive to racing – a strong wind looked set to destroy chances of a quick time.

That wind was very much present on the ride. I’d planned to spend much of the ride somewhere near the back conserving energy, getting a free ride wherever possible. But within minutes I found myself taking turns at the front, pulling 400+ watts, straining every sinew in my body to keep going. It was fun, exhilarating, somewhat exhausting, I sat up as the group exploded on the main climb of the ride, convincing myself that riding at a mere 4 watts per kg for the remainder of the ride was resting.

Thankfully when I awoke on race day morning the legs didn’t feel too bad – that’s the great thing about cycling, you can push quite hard and the legs generally feel not too bad the next day – certainly better than if you have run. As is typical for me on Solstice day, it would be spent working on a Grand Prix – this time the Azerbaijan GP, and it would be touch and go if I would make it to the start in time. In 2016 I made it with 10 minutes to spare and paid the penalty with stitch at 5k. Luckily this year I was more or less done and dusted by 6:30 pm, and with it being just a 20 minute drive from Grantham to Long Bennington, I had a, comparatively speaking, luxurious 40 minutes to prepare for the race.

I parked up around 1/2 mile from the race village, the warm up would be jogging to collect my race number and chip, returning to the car to dispose take on a final race drink, then jog back to the village to have a final toilet break. On arriving at the village I was greeted by old Kenilworth Runners friends and legends of the sport Pauline and Tom Dable, who are approaching 70 years young and had were taking part in their ninth race in twelve days! I had the time to have a quick chat before I had to make my apologies and prepare for the race. There was a little drama when I lost one of my safety pins for the race number and struggled to source another, but generally I was relatively happy with my preparation. I opted again to go with the Hoka Clifton 2s rather than the Nike Frees with the Achilles feeling a touch sore and with the calf issue at Lincoln still in my mind.

I didn’t have time to enjoy the warm up routine given by none other than my spinning instructor, but there appeared to be plenty doing so. With my chairman of Grantham Running Club hat on, I had reason to be very proud of the efforts made by those in our club to make this a pretty outstanding club run race.

Rebecca Smith hosts the pre-race warm up at the 2017 Long Bennington Summer Solstice. Picture c/o Jamie Garcia

I headed to the start line and made my way towards the front. I had a quick scan for familiar faces – I’d already seen Ben Livesey warming up so I knew the unlikely prospect of victory was out of the question. He though faced stiff competition from another previous winner Shane Robinson, who would indeed go on to win in a swift 31:47. The other familiar face was Greg Southern, a Sleaford based runner who I’ve had the pleasure of being beaten by at pretty much every parkrun I’ve taken part in at Belton House this past year or so.

The field lines up a the start of the the 2017 Long Bennington Summer Solstice. Picture c/o Gordon Geach

Staring out at the gentle rise on the bridge that takes us over the A1 and on the road out of Long Bennington, the unmistakable breeze on my face confirmed that the wind direction was the same as the night before. This meant it would be a head / cross wind for the first 6 km of the race before becoming a favourable tail wind, especially for the final mile and half. At dead on 7:30 pm the starting horn was blasted by club mate Mark and we were off!

Ben Livesey (#1429) leads at the start of the the 2017 Long Bennington Summer Solstice. I’m tucked in just behind race winner Shane Robinson. Picture C/O Gordon Geach

As I’ve tended to more than other races, perhaps because it is my local race, I went out hard, quickly finding myself a spot in the top ten. A look at the Garmin 30 or so seconds in and the shock discovery that I was knocking out sub 5 minute mile pace, made me try and ease off a touch but I found myself in a small group and I was keen to try and stay on the back of it – particularly as we were running in to the wind and I didn’t want to be exposed to it. The legs felt a touch heavy after the cycling the night before but, not too bad. At least I didn’t have the hamstring issues that plagued me in the previous two Solstices. Apart from the grumbling right Achilles, I was feeling in fine fettle – the calf issues of a few weeks ago seemingly fixed.

I went through the first mile in 5:28. This was seven seconds slower than in 2016, but the wind was not a factor then. It was at around a mile that Greg Southern pulled out of my slipstream, moved to the front of a now just three strong group, and pushed on the pace. My experience of Greg at Belton House parkrun is that he is a master pacer and follows a strategy I like to employ, start of relatively steady, then gradually build up the pace with the aim of finishing faster than you started. Reckoning that he was on a similar campaign in this race, I made a concerted effort to go with his acceleration. Over the next mile or so he would put in a number of these small accelerations and each time I stuck with him. The second mile was a 5:34, again slower in 2016, but the wind was a real factor as we turned left at the end of the road and headed towards Staunton, facing a full head wind.

Marshal support at the 2017 Long Bennington Summer Solstice. Picture c/o SJ Willis.

Perhaps inspired by the vociferous local support in the form of two marshals with their handmade placards, (I misread SJ’s #DBS (Don’t Be S**t! for #DRS – which I took to be a Formula One inspired encouragement to overtake on the straight that followed) , I stuck as best I could onto the coattails of Martin Troop, who had passed Greg, who by now was struggling and quite quickly dropped back by around 10-15 seconds. It transpired that Greg had actually gone for a high risk go out hard and hang on strategy which was now beginning to see him unravel.

I went through the third mile in 5:36 and the official 5K marker in just outside 17 minutes. This was slower than I went though in 2015 and 2016, but this felt by far the hardest effort of the three. I did though breath a sigh of relief as I passed the sport where I abruptly stopped with stitch in 2016, pressing on as best I could as I slowly lost the slipstream of Martin.

The end of the headwind would normally be celebrated, but at this race it means the only real climb of the race at Staunton has to be made. I got up it as best I could, taking a gulp of water on the summit, appreciating the warm smattering of applause from those enjoying a pint at the pub on the top of the hill, wishing I could be there rather than racing at that very moment in time!  The fourth mile was a relatively pedestrian 5:46. I was really struggling now, the legs felt heavy, breathing laboured (Not helped by a bit of hay fever) the will to keep going severely tested. Only Greg evidently slowly closing back on me gave me the inspiration to keep going, the prospect of a rare victory over him spurring something inside me.

The fifth mile was horrible – 5:49, admitted slightly uphill, but with a tail wind supporting us (albeit tempered by tree cover) it really should have been much quicker. The final full mile of the race, taking us back into Long Bennington was just a case of gritting teeth and running as hard as possible. It wasn’t pretty, Greg kept closing, I kept wanting to ease up, but didn’t. The sixth mile split popped up just as we took the final turn onto the finishing straight, I’d rallied to some extent with a 5:31 – helped greatly this time by the full force of the tail wind.

Coming into tihe finish, totally shattered! Picture c/o Graeme Reynolds.

The sprint to the finish was a tortuous affair, wheezing away and legs not wanting to know. I began to feel quite dizzy as I approached the line, crossing it in exactly 35 minutes. I had though managed to stay five seconds clear of Greg, earning myself seventh overall. It took a little longer than usual to recover from my efforts, but a minute or two later I was cheering home the first of my club mates, all of whom had run far better, relatively speaking, than I had.

After a few minutes behind the finish line I went to collect my post race commemorative cider and glass, and went to watch some more runners finish before receiving some post race massage on my Achilles from my man David McKee, catching up again with Pauline and Tom, and taking home a decidedly cold, dejected, pained, Chris Limmer, who had spent far longer on his feet than he should have following surgery.

I came away from the race pretty dissatisfied with my efforts. I felt I’d paced the race badly, going out a bit too hard and paying the consequences in the second half of the race. It’s not the way I like to race. It was also pretty obvious that the chaingang ride of the night before probably wasn’t the best preparation ever. Within minutes of finishing I’d already decided of activating the back up plan of targeting the Holme Pierrepont 10K in six days time, where I would race the way I like to – attack from the back!