Weary Soles Relay
By Chris Dimmock
With bright sunshine and early morning birdsong streaming through the bedroom window I awoke to the day of reckoning for the inaugural Weary Soles Relay. Being only slightly paranoid I checked the route for my leg online before leaving the safety of the home wi-fi zone. To my only very slight horror Google found two versions of leg 5, the one I had recced and one I hadn’t. With one eye on the clock I set about the map with the un-recced route and checked for the changes. Satisfied I could see the differences I got my gear together and overcoming localised transport issues, yomped across town to meet with the other members of the team at Tiddenfoot.
Leighton Fun Runners Tam and Verity were set up in the Waterside car park when I arrived and first order of the day was to check the route issue. As I was confirming that it was only leg 5 that had been changed and that I understood the changes the other members of the team were assembling. I was joining a group of Andy’s (and Adam and Sam’s) colleagues from AVDC who were inspired to take part after enjoying themselves so much running around MK last week!. It was though pointed out at various times of the day that rather than working with Andy it was more a case of working in the same building as him whilst he dreams up ways to beast them all round the track or local roads and trails, not to mention a rounders match. No wait was that “Don’t mention the rounders match!”? (Too late!- ed.) Anyway Gareth, Kay, Helen, Jenny and I posed for the team photo and Kay set off on Leg 1.
A route many LBAC members will be familiar with Kay set off to the old railway line bridge where she joined the canal tow path and headed towards Slapton. Leaving the canal at Slapton it was a short section of tarmac, crossing Horton road and then the footpath under the railway and across the fields to the climb up to Mentmore. At the changeover point by the Stag, Gareth had spotted some flaws in the handovers we had witnessed of the teams we were chasing down and in the spirit of sport indicated that if ours could be as slick as a F1 pit stop valuable minutes could be shaved off our time. Kay finished looking strong in a time of 57:00 for the 5.4 mile leg and a Mercedes like handover sent Jenny on her way.
Leg 2 took Jenny from the Stag down the hill towards Cheddington and then onto the footpath around Mentmore golf course to Crafton stud and past the windmill to Wingrave. A whistle stop tour of Wingrave preceded the hills and fields past Lower Wingbury Farm to bring her to the playing fields of Wing and smartly into the changeover point at the Sports and Social club. A second slick handover ended her 6.5 mile leg in a highly respectable 63:00. By now the consensus of opinion was that it was slightly over warm for running but still pleasant for spectating and with fluids on board and fuelled by fig rolls Helen set off.
Leg 3 saw Helen covering some ground familiar to LBAC members heading across the bypass to appear out of the tree line and briefly onto Derwent Road for a supportive cheer from the rest of us before turning left and down the hill to cross the bypass for a second time. From here it was down to the Lodge to cross Soulbury road and then up hill and through Soulbury. Passing the support crew on Soulbury green Helen departed the village on Dean Farm lane down past Dean Farm to cross the bypass for a final time. Another short section of tarmac brought her round the corner to the Dolphin in Stoke Hammond and cheers of excitement from the rest of the team and stop the clock on her 6.5m leg in an impressive 53:38. Cheers at least from all of the team that weren’t frantically trying to get changed after taking time out for a comfort break and a fuelling banana! Once Gareth had donned his running attire, finished his meal, and grabbed our baton he was off at a fair sprint in hot pursuit of the teams still ahead.
Leg 4 took Gareth (who actually ran the Campbell Park CCCL for us is 2014 – ed) out of Stoke Hammond along Bragenham Side and out past Paper Mill farm. Then a long steady climb up into Great Brickhill to the school and by way of the footpaths behind to join the Greensands ridge by Rammamere farm. Staying on the Greensands ridge route over the A5 through the corn fields and into the woods, past Jobs Farm. Out onto Woburn road up a sharp incline and onto the fire station (leg 2 into 3). Leaving GSRR shortly after getting into Woburn Park to head along the tracks, past Paris House and uphill to the scout camp in Milton Bryan. After studying the map again and again I was sure I had the changes fixed in mind and nervously waited at the changeover point. Gareth was first out of the woods, his time of 65:00 for the 8.1m leg seeing him pass the other teams and after a clean handover I was on my way.
Leg 5 led me out of the scout camp past the church and a small loop of footpath and corn field to cross London road by Milton Lodge. Through the single gate and onto easy running along Battlesden Avenue. A short section of tarmac after an altercation with the nettles at Battlesden park and a right turn onto well marked footpaths through cornfields to a sharp incline finishing at a gate (with nettles) into a field occupied by sheep. At least it was only sheep on the recce last week, Saturday they were joined by some 100 bullocks. Time to stray from the prescribed footpath and head between the two groups of beasts for the safety of the fence line. Leaving the field of now awake and inquisitive bullocks for the following runners I dodged the A5 traffic and followed the footpath that would bring me out at the church in Hockliffe.
Navigating this tricky section I found the hidden gate just past the village green and was on my way across the fields again. Through a gate, through a field over a footbridge, another gate and whoa! Another field but where do I go? With my mind blank and no visible path in front of me I scrabbled to retrieve my sweat soaked instructions from my shorts pocket. Speed reading to the part where I get lost was losing me precious time but then the words (read by Alec Guiness in my head of course), “cross the footbridge and head diagonal across the field…” issued from the page. I was off ploughing through the corn and cursing. Crossing Leighton road and hopping over a gate into a track I was coming to the change in route. Using the force to save time a right turn took me past the fishing ponds and onto the Eggington road. From here it was simply a matter of climbing the hill past the windmill and dropping down into Stanbridge gathering speed for the glory finish at the Five Bells. Breaking the tape as first home in 51:48 for my 5.8m leg was on the whole very satisfying.
Once the remaining teams were home it was off to the Cross Keys in Tottenhoe (The Five Bells having the audacity to have a private function on), for drinks and medals, well drinks at least!
Once Tam had worked the age and gender graded results out we came a healthy 2nd with just 15 points separating us from victory. So with thoughts of those seconds lost in change overs, nettles, avoiding livestock and route memorising we parted pledging to nail it next time!
The event was well thought out by LFR with good parking at each changeover point (and a pub at most), and 5 legs makes it easy to use one vehicle for the entire day. As we all know running round Leighton is rarely going to produce a flat course but then that means that each leg of an event such as this is challenging with stunning views and high rewards for all those running and supporting alike.