Wednesday, 10 July 2013

One hell of a relay: Ipswich-Harwich-Blair Witch!

Important to get a feel of your baton before you start !

I FIND it helps to focus the mind, not to mention the legs and lungs, if you divide the running year into seasons.

Therefore I have declared the next couple of months as the 2013 Relay Season. Hoist up thy batons and run!   

Like many a runner, we at the small-but-perfectly-formed Tiptree Road Runners like to spend the summery weather outside of our comfort zones. This year that means pitting our wits against the bigger boys and girls in team relay events.

We have four relays over the next 12 weeks and we’ll be in there with the best of them, exchanging slippery batons, soiled wristbands, or simply touching hands, whatever the race officials require.

Relay-running is as old as the hills, and probably started when messengers passed on news during wartime in ancient lands. Nowadays we have no messages to pass on, we just do it for the hell of it.

First of the quartet is this Sunday’s Ekiden event in the well-kept 60 acres of an Ipswich college. The Japanese invented Ekiden running, the first one a grueling three-day affair in 1917. This week in Ipswich things will be a little easier, with teams of six tackling a mere 26.2 miles around the college fields.  

It promises to be a notable occasion as our big red club gazebo will be making its public debut!  With our upright banners flapping alongside, it should make an impressive sight.  Upgrading to this level of equipment shows we mean business. 

Flying your flags like this makes it easier to gather your flock together before an event in order to talk tactics, distribute numbers and supply safety pins to the forgetful.  And if it gets hot or wet, you can dive under a gazebo for shelter. The luxuries we modern runners enjoy know no bounds.

More physically demanding than Ekiden will be the Thunder Run relay in Derbyshire later this month. This jamboree lasts 24 hours, including eight hours navigating paths, woods and fields in a rugged country park after nightfall. Imagine ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in running kit and you’ve got the idea. In Catton Park nobody hears you scream.

Here our 16 runners can each expect to run three separate 10km laps during the 24 hours . Not too demanding for a marathoner, but in my case that’s a week’s mileage in one day. I may hide a bike in the woods for use during my third lap. Three hard 10ks in 24 hours? I didn’t even do that sort of thing when I was young, fit and foolish.

After the Thunder Run is done, we’ll need a change from running round in circles. So what could be better than point-to-point action in God’s Own County?  The first day of September heralds the ten-stage Essex Way Relay, a rural journey of 83 miles from Epping to Harwich.

You benefit from prevailing winds behind you on this jaunt, and there’s always the thought of the chip shop near the finish line if you need extra motivation. Of course you can get fish and chips in Harwich any old time, you don’t have to run there for the privilege. But they slip down better if you’ve earned them.

A fraction shorter than the epic Essex Way is a brand new event this year, the Saltmarsh 75, which from all accounts might prove a lot harder than its inland opposite number. It winds along the 75 miles of mostly wild and lonely coastline under the control of Maldon District Council. If you thought the start at Burnham-on-Crouch was a thinly-populated backwater, wait till you see the finish at Salcott-cum-Virley! Media types who think Essex is nothing but fake tans, stilletos and nail-bars should come and see this one.    

The late Jim Peters, arguably Essex’s greatest-ever runner, would be baffled by the way the county is represented in the TOWIE show, but would definitely approve of our 2013 relay-running scene. He loved a good relay did Jim, and, were he in action today would have been a solo entrant for the Saltmarsh 75 and perhaps the Essex Way too.

Jim was in the news only last week and I was pleased to play a part. The old running track in Mayesbrook Park, Dagenham - where Jim trained and competed in the 1950s -  was officially re-named ‘The Jim Peters Stadium’ complete with a new Olympic standard track in the shadow of the impressive Sport House complex. Borough Archivist Tahlia Coombs had pushed for Jim to be recognised in this way and as author of his 2011 biography ‘Plimsolls On, Eyeballs Out’, I was invited along to take part in the ceremony.

Good job a spin round the new track wasn’t on the agenda, as your Clapped-Out Runner currently has an achilles tendon of the strained variety.  It’s an injury that has ruled me out of the Ekiden, but wasn’t too severe to prevent me limping to the microphone in Mayesbrook Park to tell the youth of today (700 of them) a bit about old Jim Peters and his exploits of 60 years ago.

* Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each, in addition to paperback format.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively: