Sunday 23 May 2010

Hilly Hundred Road Relay

The latter half of May brings one of my favourite races, Hilly Hundred Road Relay.  This is a fairly informal fling put together by the Stratford-upon-Avon Athletic Club, bringing roughly 10 local clubs out to celebrate the beauty of our local area by running us up and down the minor roads in 10-person teams.  Each leg is around 10 miles.   The unfortunate, or masochistic, take the two most difficult legs from the valley up onto the escarpment.  Most of the remaining 8 legs are allocated by the preferred race start time (some like the 5am leg, some prefer to race in the afternoon).  I am a little wacky - I like the two downhill legs.  These feature some pretty steep drops - the kind with signs warning drivers to drop their gearing.  Since I'm snail-like up a hill, I opt to metaphorically (well, usually metaphorically), throw my hands in the air and shout "Wheeeeeeeeeeee!" as I sprint like a madman.

For last year's race, the weather was foul - 25mph winds, cold, with driving rain.  Well, that was my leg.  For the start and finish there was some nice sunshine - the vagaries of the hills.  This year, it's the hottest day of the year so far (25C in the shade, which is hot for us this early in the year).  So, at each changeover point, the smell of sunscreen and menthol combine for a heady mix that says "Summer Running".

What makes this race such a treat, though, is that it blends the camaraderie of a team event with the solitude of a long training run.  After about leg 2, the challenge is all in your head.  You may have a few other runners nearby, or you may run the full leg with no one in sight.  But, all the way through you know you're in a race.  You know that putting another 30 seconds into the person in front or behind is another 30 seconds your later teammates won't have to chase down.  If you keep that thought in mind, each little hill and challenge pushes you to the handover point.  If you lose it, then the solitude can be worse than any hill, squall, or beating sun.

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