Round Norfolk Relay Race Report

Posted by Simon Webb on 25 September 2022

197 miles. 17 stages. 22nd place out of 53 teams. 26 hours 36 seconds. 1 memorable weekend. Stragglers Round Norfolk Relay in numbers, but numbers only tell a fraction of the story.

Round Norfolk is unlike other weekend relays we enter, in that it is a baton carrying race. Instead of having everyone start together and the field split within the first few miles fastest runners never to be seen again, teams are set off over a number of hours, with the aim of bunching up around the course and, in theory, finishing within an hour of each other on Sunday morning. First runners left Kings Lynn at 5:30 am, with the predicted fastest team at 1pm. Half the field were running by 7:30, meaning Stragglers set off midway through the pack.

The calm, bright sunny morning at race HQ gave little indication of the tough conditions the Saturday runners would have to contend with. We experienced first-hand why wind farms form a line out to sea, for Kevin Price was the first of several to battle the elements as he powered through 16.32 miles, passing the many floral tributes to the Queen at the gates of Sandringham, out along the beautiful Norfolk coastline, and mingling with a local parkrun in the final mile. His supportive teammates sheltered from the chilly wind in a great café at the Hunstanton changeover point. Nick Little was next off, his supportive teammates making hard work of helping him negotiate course diversions. In truth we’d have been better leaving him too it as his was another excellent run over 13.75 miles.

Nicole Hambling overcame hamstring concerns and getting lost in some woods to hand the baton over to Helen Davies. Leg 4 is another challenging off-road stage of 11 miles, still on the coast it’s not easy for team support, but Helen’s pre-race research proved valuable as the baton was handed to 20-appearance man Phil Davies with our team close to expected arrival time. Phil’s vast RNR experience shone through as he too rose to the challenge of off-road and fierce winds, mostly resisting the temptation to admire local birdlife. Other members of the team could not resist the pasties while waiting for Phil in Cromer.

Still in one piece after Comrades three weeks earlier, Dean Morley secured our highest place across the weekend of 7th on leg 6. Marathon preparation for Kelly Page rewarded us with a strong performance on leg 7, by now we had made up ground on several clubs who’d started earlier which gave exciting competition on stages which can be quite lonely with the handicap start meaning participants are still widespread.

During daylight hours cyclists support many runners. Stuart Hambling covered the first few stages by bike and put his running shoes on for leg 8. Supported by Helen on the bike he worked through the field picking off five other teams, creating great morale amongst Stragglers as nightfall approached. By now we’ve been joined by Andy Howarth to provide non-running support overnight. For the next few stages, all runners must be accompanied by a vehicle and without people such as Andy, this trip simply could not happen.

Norfolk Relay by night is a special experience. It’s why those of us who love this event keep coming back for more. It sees the longest stages as the course leaves the coast, following the Norfolk/Suffolk border for mile after mile of excellent quality road running. The buzz at each changeover is electric, with teams passing through at increasing regularity. Malcolm Davies was the first to head off into the dark, with added excitement of roadworks and bridge construction in Great Yarmouth to negotiate. At 7pm, so part way through Malcolm’s stage, the bike is withdrawn, and Andy and Pedro begin the first of several shifts tracking runners, alternating through the night with the team minibus.

Next up is Dave Sayers on leg 10, one of many heroes of the weekend for he drove up from Kingston on Saturday afternoon to complete 18 miles, returning in the early hours to join a Sunday morning paintballing trip with a kids’ rugby team. There was a fair degree of pessimism among the night crew about what pace they would run. Both Malcolm and Dave outperformed pre-race expectation, as did Ian Hawkes on leg 11. Ian crossed the midnight threshold stepping up to a distance further than his current comfort zone and by now, we’re ahead of expected arrival time.

Each of the weekend relays we enter has it’s ‘name up in lights’ stage. Lullingstone to Tattsfield in Green Belt, Drovers in Welsh Castles. Add to this the 12th stage of Norfolk Relay, 19.6 miles setting off around 1am. Neil Carrington joined this particular hall of fame with a fantastic run.

Leg 13, a wonderful half marathon that wiggles through Thetford Forest in the early hours of Sunday morning, is my favourite part of the relay. There was extra excitement for me this year as I had needed to reach out to members of the Norfolk Relay Facebook group to recruit a guide runner. A superstar called Rosie from a Cambridge club volunteered. For various reasons our attempt at a practise run never happened, meaning the first time we met was less than 10 minutes before Neil put the now very sticky baton in my hand. An experienced guide, it turned out Rosie was faster than I’d realised which made for an exhilarating, if painful, run. By the time the baton reached Ramona at the gates of the Feltwell Airbase we were further ahead of schedule.

While Ramona was having an ever-reliable run, there was drama within the team bus. The realisation that Stuart may not make the 6:45 am time for a bike to take over from Andy’s car, meant that moments after saying she couldn’t imagine running at this time, Helen was preparing to get back on her bike. Meanwhile some miscommunication with Pedro (I think some of us dozed off) and Ramona was on him with baton in hand sooner than he expected. The fun didn’t stop there with concern Rachel Simpson’s transport from the hotel may not arrive in time, we were preparing to use our emergency substitute. The look on Andy Howarth’s face when we told him he might need to put his running kit on, confirmed this was not the news he’d been hoping to hear.

Pedro ran well being the last runner out not to have had any sleep. Having arrived with plenty of time to spare and accusing us (mostly me) of trying to pull some sort of new runner initiation prank on her, Rachel too ran a great leg. It remained for Richard Baggot to carry the baton home and, despite running an extra mile somewhere, he finished high up the field. With the welcoming prospect of another full English in Kings Lynn and we were done. A top half finish a very creditable performance.

Round Norfolk Relay is an adventure as much as a race. It challenges us in ways other events do not. It relies on teamwork and great spirit, both of which we had in spades this year. There is already enthusiasm to return in 2023.

The team: Kevin Price, Nick Little, Nicole Hambling, Helen Davies, Phil Davies, Dean Morley, Kelly Page, Stuart Hambling, Malcolm Davies, Dave Sayers, Ian Hawkes, Neil Carrington, Simon Webb (with Rosie Lindsay), Ramona Thevenet, Pedro Das Gupta, Rachel Simpson and Richard Baggot.

Cyclists: Stuart Hambling and Helen Davies.

First class driving support: Andy Howarth.

 

Explore more, here are the full results from the Round Norfolk Relay and this Youtube video follows one team (not us) around the full course.

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