Saturday 28 May 2011

2011 Hilly Hundred Relay

Last weekend saw the Evesham Vale Running Club's (unlikelly) attempt to retain our Hilly Hundred "B-Race" trophy.  The Hilly Hundred is a 10x~10mile relay race around the Northern Cotswolds.  Unlike 2010, we managed to get enough volunteers to field two teams.  The "A" team's goal was to achieve a credible top-5 challenge, and the "B" team's goal was to run hard and enjoy the fun of a really enjoyable event.

After the 2010 event, Nic and I decided we would give our team's captain a break and organize the club's entry.  As a bonus, Robert Hale (the captain for the previous two years) was freed up to race in the B team.  Well, I call it a bonus, because he had claimed that it looked like fun.  So, with Nic acting as crew chief for the A team, and Mitch - the club's most experienced ultra man - crewing the B team, we gathered in Stratford-upon-Avon at 4:45AM for the start of a long day.

4:59AM, and raring to go!

It felt quite surreal getting to the line for the 5AM start, knowing I wouldn't be taking the baton until a little after noon.  The race was about to start, and I didn't even have my running shoes on!  It just didn't feel quite right.

The morning was dry (heavy rain stopped at around 3AM), cool, and fairly calm, although by 6:00, the wind became pretty fierce.  We cheered the runners out of Stratford and drove down the course, stopping periodically to encourage our runners.  After most hand-overs, we returned to drop the finisher to the start of their leg where their car was parked.  Then, Nic zipped along the country lanes to catch the next runner so we could cheer them on and do it all over again.  We didn't manage to catch up to everyone before they finished, but Nic certainly enjoyed the challenge!

Early sunshine over the lavender fields at Snowshill

As my leg approached, we took a break from crewing, spelled by the Day family (the two sisters ran in succession, supported by their parents).  It was great to have a break from the car to get warmed up and ready to run.  By the time I started, we were 60 miles into the race, about 6 minutes ahead of the host club, and well in the lead of those teams starting at 5:00.  Because there are two starts for the B-Race (5:00 & 6:00), we had no idea how we were doing against the later starters.  But, I knew that we would be fighting for third or fourth overall unless something dramatic happened again this year.  So, ignoring the comfort of the lead, I ran at what seemed an unsustainable effort level compared to the past few months of racing. 

What is it about competition that makes a slow trail runner want to take the baton on the run?

I tried to keep my heart rate at around 165 (below 90%).  But, I felt I was going too slowly, so went with by "feel" and kept it at around 170, until I took off the strap at 7 miles and passed it to Nic - I was breathing too hard to put up with the constriction.  I finished my leg barely able to stand, as had all the others, and was happy that I'd left everything on the road. 

Luckily, there were some bollards at the end to help keep me upright!
While Nic popped off to buy some chocolate, I took what felt like hours to take off my shoes and put on some warm clothes.  Then we popped back out onto the course to continue our duties as crew and cheerleaders.

The sun came out in force to warm things up, which was very convenient as I ducked behind a hedge to put on my compression tights - not really the sort of activity to be done on the main road!  Nic put the top down on the car and we continued to shout encouragement, provide drinks, and generally keep our runners buoyed up as the fatigue set in. 

A sunny day in paradise - if you're not running into the wind!

Our final racer crossed the line in second, having been caught in the end by the A-Race winners from Kenilworth AC (who set out 2 hours after us!).  Amazingly, he finished exactly on the estimated finish time of 17:30.  All of the runners who had either exceeded or trailed the guestimate I made to help everyone get to their leg on time had somehow balanced out within less than 60 seconds over the 12.5 hours.  We then began the agonizing wait to see how many B-Race teams from the 6AM start finished before 18:30.  If it was fewer than three, we would have our "podium" place. 

All the while, I was getting updates of our B team, who were struggling a bit with the conditions.  Because they would be taking more time anyway, more of the runners were having to face the ever-increasing wind and sunshine.  Although they were a little behind schedule, they were managing very well.  Only Robert managed to miss a turn (there were also a few lost runners from other teams, so we may stop making fun of him by January).

The wait for the other teams to finish was a lot of fun.  The atmosphere at the finish line, as more competitors arrived to cheer in their runner, was lively and excited.  We made sure that our hosts had good takings from the bar, and I checked and rechecked until 18:30 to see where things lay. 

In the end, the A team came in a very respectable third, and the B team finished without serious incident and with a few smiles amongst the grimaces of pain.  I vowed never to be in charge of getting 20 runners through this race again.  It was an exhausting day.  The problem is that I spent most of the day full of pride and admiration in all of the competitors - and it's a pretty tough feeling to beat.  It was one of the most enjoyable days out I've had in a long time.  So, I'm fairly certain that my vow won't last for very long at all.

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