A Bit Of Race History
In The Beginning.........
July 1995 saw the running of the first Green Belt Relay. A two hundred mile road race around London’s green belt.
The Welsh Castles & Round Norfolk Relays were already well established, and with Stragglers taking part in both these relays each year, we thought, why not organise one of our own, around London? An idea brought about by the building of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, over the Thames Estuary. This would allow the event to be a complete loop. Unknown to us, it would prove impossible to get permission to run across the bridge. However, undeterred, it was decided to press ahead with the event, finishing one leg north of the bridge, and starting the next just south of the bridge. The task now was to find a safe, scenic and direct route along which to run, and to find runners game enough to compete.
The first of these took over a year to complete. Many hours were spent studying maps and having to drive, cycle, run and walk the selected route. Often a whole day’s work was lost because: a road was reached that was too busy to cross; a pedestrian tunnel under a motorway had been closed, or a suitable changeover point could not be found. What soon became obvious was that roads in general were built to bring people in and out of London and not around it (M25 is an exception). The final result was a tough and testing course on road, towpath, bridleway and cross country.
The second task was now to get teams to compete. This proved much easier than the first. In total six teams took part, all coming from the South London Area. Teams were made up of people of all ages, sexes and standards. The Relay started on the Thames Towpath at Elmbridge Leisure Centre, heading first west then north and east around London.
At the end of the Day One, after eleven hours of running and over one hundred miles covered, only thirty three seconds divided the first two teams. These two teams, Ranelagh Harriers and Straggler’s "A", would widen the gap to the rest of the field on Day Two, and turn the event into a two horse race. The final result was a win for Ranelagh by forty minutes, in a time of twenty one hours and fifty nine minutes.
A word of praise to all those who took part. There were very few marshals, no lead cars or bikes, only some arrows, a map and a brief set of instructions as a guide, yet no-one got severely lost. I remember walking up to London Marathon Winners, Hugh Jones, of Ranelagh Harriers, in the Rose and Crown Pub car park in Sandridge, in the pouring rain. I asked him if he had read his instructions and was happy with the route. There was no front vehicle, and he would probably be leading. This didn’t seem to affect him. He ran the eleven and a quarter miles in fifty seven minutes, and came back the next day and produced a similar performance. This typified the spirit of the event. The relay was treated the same by everyone: to be enjoyed and to run as well as they possibly could for the benefit of their team.
Many years on, we hope to have approaching forty teams taking part. Yet I know that everyone will run with the same friendship, competitiveness and good spirit that took place during the first and each subsequent GBR.
From 1995 to 2005 the route consisted of 20 stages totalling 206 to 214 miles. Since 2006 the route has been extended to just under 220 miles and 22 stages. These changes are done mainly to improve the route and make it safer for runners. They have often taken place as a consequence of the feedback provided by the runners. Over 80% of the route is now off-road, the other 20% is on quiet country lanes or river roads.
The only main change to the route since 2006 was in 2012, where stages 2 and 3 had to be diverted due to Jubilee and Olympic Games preparations. For 2014 we'll divert stage 2 away from the Windsor Horse Show, meaning that stages 1 to 3 are almost entirely along the Thames Path. We try not to mess around with the course too much but sometimes we have to.
Overall times: The record for the current course is held by Serpentine with a time of 21 hours, 28 minutes, 40 seconds. This was set in 2011, over a course of just over 219 miles, with an average pace of 5:53/mile. Ooof. Serpentine have dominated the event in recent years, with three consecutive victories from 2010 - 2012, and never being outside the top 2 since 2004.
The overall record over the old course was held by Ranelagh Harriers (21 hours 10 minutes and 15 seconds) set in 2000 over a course of 211.9 miles (avg. pace 5.59/mile). This was over 11 minutes faster than that previously held by Reading Road Runners, set in 1999 over a course of 211.1 miles (avg. pace 6.06/mile). Ranelagh Harriers also won the event in 2002, and only in 6 minutes slower than their record. This was Ranelagh Harriers third success in the race, their other being the first one in 1995.
Near misses: Poole Runners were, at the time of Ranelagh's old record, the only other club to win the race twice, and on both occasions were very unlucky not to set records. In 1998 they were unlucky to have to use a substitute runner for leg 18 and incurred a 10 minute penalty in accordance with the rules. This was Mike Hoey second run of the day and third in the race. It was a great effort and a shame a penalty was incurred. This meant that Reading Road Runners took first place that year by 1 minute and 40 seconds. In Reading's three other attempts they finished second each time.
Once more it is only bad luck that prevents Poole Runners from holding a record. In 1997 they came close to it, and had it not been for John Boyes running an extra mile on leg 18 they would surely have taken it (incidentally John came from behind to win the leg in the last mile and put things right the following year by knocking 3 minutes off Ian Johnson's (Stragglers) course record for this leg. In the 1998 event it is likely that they would have bettered it but John Boyes again went off-course and ran an extra 3 miles on leg 5 (he had won this leg the previous year).
Ladies: In the ladies event Serpentine were the first winners and have won nine times overall. They held the ladies' course record over the old course, running 211.6 miles in 25 hours 2 minutes and 13 seconds in 2005, and hold the current record of 26 hours 5 minutes and 49 seconds for the post-2006 course, set in 2012.
Ranelagh Harriers and Poole Runners have both won the ladies' event on two occasions. In other years the prize was taken by Dulwich, Ranelagh, and in 2002 the ladies record fell to South London Harriers in a time of 25 hours, 25 minutes and 10 seconds beating the previous best (set by Dulwich Ladies) by over 42 minutes, an amazing achievement and one hour and 40 minutes faster than any other ladies team that year.
Pub Teams: In 2003 the race was won by a pub team. Sunday Night Shandies, captained by Jim Desmond of Stragglers. The same year also saw Ranelagh Old Dogs smash the vets course record by 28 minutes and 20 seconds, in an unbelievable time of 22 hours 51 minutes and 25 seconds. Jim Desmond was successful once again with BPTT.Net in 2006.
Overseas teams: In 2003 we also had our first overseas team take part. Wissahickon Wanderers came all the way from Philadelphia (USA) and finished a credible 19th overall in 27 h 52 m 46 s. In 2004 Flanders Running Club, from Belgium, won the overall prize in a time of 22 h 12 m 17 s. What makes their win even more amazing is that their runner on stage 3 went wrong and ran 5 miles extra, their average age was 46 and they won by almost an hour.
Close Finishes Arguably the best match-up in the race history came in 1996. Possibly the two best runners in the race that year came up against each other on both days on the longest two stages. In both days Ian Johnson of the Stragglers beat Robin Kindersley of Serpentine by one second on sprint finishes.
There have also be dead-heats at the end of individual stages, none more notable than in the last stage of the 1998 race. Terry Cutler (Poole) and Simon Brazil (Stragglers) had battled it out for 12.3 miles yet were inseparable as they approached the crowds at the finish. In an act reminiscent of to Inge Simonson and Dick Beardsley in the first London Marathon they decided to cross the line together and share the victory.
Wins With Different Clubs
Only one male, Mark Caldecourt, has won with four different clubs, Stragglers in 1996, Poole Runners in 1998, Sunday Night Shandies in 2003 and BPTT.net in 2006. Ian Edwards has been in the winning team three times. Twice with Poole Runners in 1997 & 1998, and with Sunday Night Shandies in 2003.
In the ladies event, Sue Ashley has won legs with Ranelagh Harriers in 1995, with Epsom & Ewell Harriers in 1999 & 2000, and with South London Harriers in 2002.
Only one person has run in every GBR - Tim Wood (Stragglers). Alan Pemberton races in each race up to 2012, and is now the race marshal officer. Tony Hopkins (26.2 & West 4) ran every event up until 2009 which he missed due to injury.
Two ladies deserves a special mention. Sue Ashley (Epsom, Ranelagh & South London Harriers) has missed two years, but frequently ran multiple stages in a day and in total has completed as many legs as anyone else. Hilary Walker (Serpentine), and holder of many world ultra records, keeps running for lots of teams and sometimes has done it so much that our Results Service gets totally confused.
Last year there were about eight hundred arrows put around the course. This was supplemented by four sacks of sawdust and marshals at over 100 points. This is only possible with help from all the teams taking part and the dedicated helpers from the Stragglers.
Sean Davis, the race founder, knows the course from start to finish, but still got lost in
We have a dedicated team for marking, starting earlier in the week and then staying barely ahead of the race.
We have always looked forward to seeing teams from overseas taking part in the relay. In previous years, we had Wissahickon Wanderers from Philadelphia,
Permission to Run the GBR
To run the race we need permission from Hampton Court Palace, the National Trust (at four different points), BoxHill, Ranmore Common, Hughenden Manor and The River Wey Navigation,
The main reason permission is given, is because the event raises money for charity. This year the main race charity will be The Children's Trust, based at Tadworth. Overall the relay encourages clubs / individuals taking part to collect monies for their own charities. For future years we would like to encourage charities, corporate, schools, college and others to take part and raise money for their own charities and causes. In 1997 a group of teachers from Winston Churchill School in Woking ran and managed to raise almost £7,000 for charity and for disable lifts, for their school. Two years ago the efforts of mainly one girl from Serpentine raised £800 for charities, and between 2004 and 2009 a team of Olsgbosco Runners (some in fancy dress) raised over £10,000 for The John Bosco Children's Project. It's amazing what individuals can do, if the really put their minds to it.