A couple of weekends ago, I took part in the Round Norfolk Relay as part of the Ealing Eagles‘ team. It’s a 198 mile relay race in 17 stages of different lengths, which starts and ends in King’s Lynn and goes around the border of Norfolk, with a baton being passed from one runner to the next. Each team submits the time they expect it will take them to do all 17 stages and then is given a start time on the Saturday morning that will ensure all 60 teams end between 9:15am and 10am on the Sunday morning. It’s a tough physical challenge, but also a logistical nightmare making sure each runner is in the right place at the right time to start their stage, that a cyclist is supporting them, and during the night stages that a vehicle with a flashing beacon is behind each runner.
I’d offered to be a support cyclist or to drive a van for the weekend, not thinking that I would be fast enough to make the team, but was delighted when I was given a place. Jonny and I stayed in Norfolk for a week in the summer so I was able to do a recce of my stage which helped. I was the oldest runner on the team, and the slowest so was a little bit apprehensive, but it was such a brilliant weekend. We were given a start time of 10am and our predicted time made us the tenth fastest team. Our team’s organisation was exceptional with a ten-page full colour schedule making sure we all knew exactly which of the three vans we needed to be in at each stage, and who was doing what.
The five early stages are really tough and follow the multi-terrain North Norfolk coast path from King’s Lynn to Cromer, with runners having to navigate sand, shingle, board walks, lots of beachgoers and even the sea. The next four stages are on the road along the coast to Belton and it’s dark by the time you get there. Then come four long stages covering 62 miles in darkness where the teams start to catch up with each other, and the final four stages run across the fens ending back in King’s Lynn.
My stage was a nice simple one – stage 7 from Mundesley to Lessingham, just over nine miles and downhill overall. I set off far too fast with Dom as my support cyclist who was wonderfully encouraging. The sun was setting to my right, the moon was showing through pink tinged clouds to my left, and apparently there were baby deer in the fields – magical!
I was then cycle support for Jon’s stage around midnight – 12 miles from Earsham to Scole along a main road. Jon was like a metronome, steadily overtaking seven teams in total. I need to practice manoeuvring water bottles while cycling, but I just about managed to hand him water when he needed it without crashing into him.
I was really taken with how much effort people put into their running, with most of our team collapsing on the floor exhausted at their end of their stage. It made me realise that I definitely don’t give it my all when I run! I’d underestimated my pace when I gave my expected time – through lack of experience, lack of confidence and not wanting to let people down. I was pleased to be able to run it faster on the day, and hopefully that wasn’t too annoying for the people who had given more realistic and more challenging targets.
It was a fantastic weekend and we finished in tenth place so delivered on our expectations. I’m already wondering what stage I’d choose for next year.