Written by Simon Webb, team co-organiser.
198 miles, 17 runners, just under 26 hours on the roads and trails of Norfolk to complete one test of endurance – physical, mental and at times emotional. This was the 35th staging of the Round Norfolk Relay and the 27th time a Stragglers team has participated.
This year, as is the case with these adventures – for adventure is what they are – there were highs as well as lows. The headline is that we came 29th out of 56 teams. A result which, with on paper a slightly slower team than the last couple of years, is extremely pleasing. If you think I’m being unkind, we can say for certain how squads compare from year to year, because part of the pre-race planning is to submit a time estimate for how long we think we will complete the course. This determines our start time in Kings Lynn on Saturday morning, with a handicap-style format that aims to have all teams, no matter their speed, finishing back in Lynn within 45 minutes of one another before 10am on the Sunday. To give you an idea of the spread, 14 clubs started at 5:30 am, the final runner wasn’t off until after mid-day! Stragglers, namely Neil Carrington with Stuart Hambling as bike support, were joined by six other clubs at 7am, very much mid-pack. The time predicting can be a bit throw-a-six-to-start, as we try to second guess how our runners will fair on distances ranging
from 5.5 to 19.6 miles, many on road but some on tricky terrain along the coast, with a few getting the baton in hand in the middle of the night. We have, in the past, been so far out that we’ve won the wooden spoon – there is an actual spoon with the list of shame engraved on it. Last year we were seconds out from being bang on and this time around were just 14 minutes and 2 seconds out.
With the sun emerging at the beginning of what would prove a hotter than expected day, Neil set off to cover 16.32 miles to Hunstanton. Meanwhile most of his teammates waited for him in the first of many cafés stops, in this one the breakfast is especially good. With RNR being a baton relay it’s different from Green Belt and Welsh Castles in that there are no fixed start times. This leaves everyone who isn’t running or about to be, predicting when baton-holding athletes will appear whilst reluctantly and heroically having to enjoy the plentiful refreshment stops, beaches and sea views to be found on the Norfolk coastline. There are much worse ways to spend a sunny Saturday.
Nick Little was next and was the first of a few in the early stages to have difficulty with navigation. The bike is unable to accompany runners for the whole time, and one of the challenges we as a non- local club face is that we are less able to recce the course. What’s important to stress here is that the aim of this game is to get the baton around the county boundary. Those who have a tougher time are particular heroes as they hold things together, ensuring the baton is passed to the next person with minimal damage – Nick was still 35th on his stage. Much respect to Neil, Nick, Malcolm Davies (an excellent 12th place), Ian Hawkes and Brigid Hibberd who all overcame the most challenging part of the race but did not leave us too far adrift.
As morning became afternoon Dave Griffiths is now running, making his 8th appearance in the Relay. With the temperature rising Dave, Malcolm, Ian and, for part of her stage, Brigid all had coastal paths to follow, with only minimal breeze from the sea to cool them down. Once on the road Brigid was strong, handing over to Phil Davies who was running in his 22nd RNR.
One of the standout performances of the weekend came from another first timer Patricia Ronksley on stage 8, a 7.52-mile road section. With an age-grading of 88.4%, Patricia was ranked second overall for the entire field and gained a mention in Athletics Weekly’s RNR report.
With nightfall comes the special experience only the Round Norfolk Relay offers and is why many of us go back time after time. Each changeover is a mini event hub in varyingly remote locations, most with refreshment stands to keep us fuelled and warm through the small hours. Runners must be followed by a vehicle with a flashing light on top, as we’re now on road around the southern boundary. With the handicap format meaning teams are bunching up the dark sky ahead is punctuated by flashing lights, meaning we can tell if/when we’re closing on others for miles at a time. For much of the race’s history cyclists have been stood down at sunset, but in recent years this has changed and now most runners are accompanied by a bike and car. Helen and Malcolm Davies improvised an overnight rota, alternating stages, putting in a huge shift from late Saturday afternoon
through to the finish in Kings Lynn on Sunday morning.
Through the evening and night the stages are longer. Kevin Price (16.6), Peter Colwill (18.13) and debutant Gareth Pritchard (12.45) all put in strong performances, but the most memorable run of the weekend came from Simon Brazil. Taking the baton from Gareth somewhere between 12:30 and 1am, he set off for a 19.67-mile section on almost entirely one straight road. Based on his London Marathon run and that he’d not done huge milage over the summer we predicted him a pace of 8:45 minutes per mile, but impressively his average was just a few seconds over 8. Roughly the same pace he would run the Ealing Half Marathon the following week. Not only was this his 16th RNR, but his 4th
time running this legendary stage. Simon is the only Straggler to compete in Green Belt, Welsh Castles, and Norfolk this year, which given his other work for the club either shows great commitment or proves he has nothing better to do.
Simon handed over to another debutant Emily Barrow, for one of the best parts of the race, winding through Thetford Forest during the early hours just ahead of daybreak. While Emily was making up further time the drama was happening back at the start of her stage (an industrial estate in Thetfordif you’re interested, quite the spot for a nocturnal gathering). It was here that we heard that the next leg had been cancelled following an overnight ram-raid on a village post office. Police had closed the road the relay would follow, leaving the organisers with, and I quote, “a few headaches”.
It also meant your Round Norfolk Relay correspondent is unable to go into great detail about how well he (I) ran, so you’ll just have to imagine that bit.
Having driven the baton to the next changeover, there was a sort of, ceremonial 6:30 am handing over between Emily and Richard Baggot, who set off along the A10 quicker than 6:30 minutes per mile earning him a 5th place finish (Richard is in a select group of Stragglers to have won RNR stages in the past). More impressive age grading from Ramona (82.8) and more time made up on stage 16, handing over to Stuart who, after a day on the bike on Saturday ran a storming leg into the finish, including a sprint around the running track in Kings Lynn. One final highlight is the rarity of a team photo at the finish with a complete team in it, as so often on these weekends people aren’t able to stay for the duration.
With the support needed by cyclists and the overnight driving, this more than any other event we do is a team effort in more ways than running. Stuart, Malcolm and Helen were brilliant on the bike, and we plan to increase this squad of cyclists in 2024. We had four vehicles out overnight, three did the full shift, with Phil, Kevin, Simon, Gareth, Stuart, Neil, and Ian all sharing the load. Nick was our star daytime minibus driver with further car support from Dave and Patricia, and Richard and Ramona.
If you wish to explore the full results you can do so here. If you fancy a step back in time you can find a list of previous Stragglers to take pa
rt in this great event here.
The dates are confirmed for 2024, 14-15 September and, believe it or not, early planning is already underway. Look out for a sign-up form in a
November Stragmail where you will be able to tell us which of Green Belt, Welsh Castles, and Round Norfolk you would like to do. Maybe like Simon Brazil this year you’ll do all three?