Green Belt Relay 2019: a race report

Since I last wrote, I managed to run fairly consistently, but kept to shorter distances and slower paces because I didn’t want to aggravate the pain in my right knee (or, more specifically, the IT band). This seemed to work well. I got up to eight miles as my longest run the Sunday before last with no problems. Last week I did a couple of mid-week three-milers and felt pretty good. I was able to run a bit quicker with no pain at all.

But this weekend, I took part in the Green Belt Relay. I’ve done it a few times before. It’s a crazy event but always so much fun that I can’t say no to being involved. The course is about 220 miles around the Green Belt of London, made up of 22 stages. Each team has 11 runners who do one stage each on each day. 52 teams took part this time.

I was due to run stage 11 on day 1 (7.5 miles, fairly flat but with some complex navigation involved, and the last leg of the day) and then stage 17 on day 2 (10.5 miles, also tricky to navigate, and quite hilly).

Because I was doing the last leg on day 1, I spent all day sitting in a car, mainly chilling out, drinking, and eating. So that was good. All teams also have to take part in marshalling the event. On Saturday, I and a few others from my team had to direct runners across a busy road near the beginning of a stage (I can’t remember which one now!)

My day 1 run went okay. It was a late start – 6.50pm. After having been dry all day, it also started raining just as I was about to run. Runners are supposed to carry printed maps with them. I had had my maps in a plastic wallet, but for some reason I had taken them out of the wallet and left the wallet in the car, so when I came to run, the maps got soaked, stuck together, and were useless to me. Thankfully, I ran with another runner for a while who knew where she was going; and then when I slowed, I managed to keep her in my sights so I could see where the turns were ahead.

I started off quickly, feeling good, and ran downhill with a load of other runners. The smooth road turned into a field with very uneven ground underfoot. And then another field. And a kissing gate. And a farm. And another field, another gate, another farm, another field, and so on. At some point my knee decided it was not happy with all this uneven ground, and the pain kicked in. I slowed down. Thankfully the pain didn’t get worse, so I didn’t have to stop; but my leg felt weak and it was tough to keep running on that terrain.

I finished, though, and in a decent time. Not the time I had hoped for; but decent nonetheless. And then we bundled ourselves into various cars and went for dinner at Pizza Express in Basildon.

I was worried about doing my day 2 stage. One of my lovely team members offered to swap with me, so that she would do my difficult 10.5 miles, and I’d do an easier 6-mile stage. I was so tired and grateful that I accepted straight away; but then spent the rest of the weekend feeling guilty about this, especially as she had never taken part in the event before.

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After a much-needed sleep at a Travelodge, I felt better for day 2 (although still guilty, and still worried about whether I’d be able to run at all). I was involved in marshalling another point – one that our team had done before, where runners emerge from a hedge and we direct them up the road. It is a crazy start to a stage (as several runners of that leg remarked to me). We had fun marshalling that bit, anyway.

I was really pleased that my teammate, K, finished the stage I was supposed to do. She did a great time, and clubbed together with other runners en route so that they shared navigation problems together. K assured me that she really enjoyed it, and I hope she meant it!

My stage was quite late again – about 3.45pm. I spent a while before I ran lying on a picnic blanket and rolling on a ball. This definitely helped. I did a short practice jog and felt no pain. I also took some ibuprofen.

I’d actually run the same stage before, three years ago – and I had IT band pain then, but in the other leg. There was a big hill near the beginning that I didn’t remember from last time. I walked most of it. My knee started hurting a lot on the downhill so I walked a bit there as well. After that, although the pain was still there, the road became flatter. I was able to keep up a steady if fairly slow pace, and made sure to keep my stride short. I made it to the end, and beat my last time by about six minutes. Whoop.

I am now feeling rather broken, not just in my knee, but I also had a burning thigh pain which hasn’t gone away yet. I am so stiff and achy, and the mileage I did this weekend isn’t anywhere near as much as I was doing in marathon training!

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But I still enjoyed the weekend. I possibly enjoyed the marshalling parts more than anything else. The rest of my team did brilliantly. I think it was also a record-breaking year overall, with a mixed team winning for the first time, and many course records smashed. I’m already looking forward to next year, when hopefully I’ll have had time to get in some trail running and hills as training so that my body is actually ready for it.