Greensand Ridge Relay

By Andy Inchley

Amy always takes the micky out of me by telling everyone that the GSRR is my favourite day of the year! This may be stretching the truth for her own amusement, but it isn’t too far wrong – I would certainly say that it’s probably my favourite running event of the year.

For those that don’t know, it is a 34 mile, six leg, self-navigated trail relay from one side of Bedfordshire to the other starting at Tiddenfoot Lake and finishing in the village of Northill. There are usually 40-45 teams and 10-15 individuals taking part, competing for a range of different trophies.

The reasons I like it are that it is competitive in a very friendly atmosphere, it is cross-country without the cold and wet (usually), we always have a great turn-out and it finishes at the pub!!

We first took part in this event – which organised by the South Midlands Orienteering Club – in 2004 and over the years the event has grown as has our level of participation. This year we had a fantastic six teams taking part competing for three of the four team trophies; fastest team, fastest women’s team and the overall handicap winners for first across the finish line. Unfortunately we didn’t have a mixed team this time around, but you can’t have everything.

Teams start at predetermined times based on the age and gender of their team members with an aim of trying to beat the 5pm finish time. So for example, a V65 female has 70 minutes to complete leg 1 in under her handicap where a senior man only has 40. All in all, the older your team is the earlier you start! Consequently, we had one team going off third of the 44 teams, a couple near the middle and three right at the back.

According to my own estimates, I reckoned that the two teams starting last would probably be the first LBAC teams to finish, but with the “Mountain Buzzards” having a 10-minute head start and a strong team it would be very close with the “Long-Legged Buzzards”. I was also confident that both our men’s and women’s teams would be challenging for the fastest teams, but you can never be sure who else might turn up.

All six teams got off from Tiddenfoot without issue and Liz Miller’s time of 58:16 for the leg set a new F65 course record and meant that the “Lizard Buzzards” were already 11 minutes ahead of the handicap. Despite a dodgy knee, Ian G got past Charlie while Jordan had a serious battle with Ross Langley from Tring as they started together and finished just a few seconds apart.

Erin, Ross & Jordan - start

Ross and Jordan were barely split for the whole of leg 1

Lots of people think that because leg 2 is the shortest it is also the easiest, but in reality it is often the muddiest part of the course, quite undulating and has a couple of road crossings to consider so is certainly not the easy option. The key battle on this leg was for Tom, who had a five second gap to the Tring runner, while all of the other LBAC teams were up ahead and battling through a particularly muddy wooded section. Tom ran a strong leg and was second quickest on the day to hand over to Glen with a small lead.

Sam had finished but David & Warren were awaiting departure

Sam had finished but David & Warren were awaiting departure

Leg 3 is the longest leg at 9 miles and all six of our runners beat their handicap. Most spectacularly, Dad/Richard was nearly 16 minutes ahead of the allowance for V70’s in setting a new course record for the leg. This is particularly good as most of the times were well down on previous years due to the under foot conditions. After a late swap around, Jo ended up running the leg for the women’s team with Pete accompanying her as a warm-up for his own leg later.

By this stage, it was already clear that there were just two teams realistically in the hunt for the fastest team and that was us and Tring, the problem was that their leg 3 runner was Luke Delderfield who ran 2:33 in the London marathon and thrives over cross-country. Glen’s small lead was quickly eradicated by Luke, but he did very well to just be 1:30 down at the finish at Millbrook. Although I didn’t know Tring’s remaining runners, I did know they weren’t of the standard of Ross and Luke so there was hope for us.

With the Lizard Buzzards still in 4th overall there was a substantial gap back to the Mountain Buzzards – represented by Tim on leg 3 who was 11 minutes under his handicap – in 23rd who were now just two minutes ahead of our team, with Jo and the ladies in between. At the halfway stage the “Common Buzzards” were 10 minutes further back and the “Rough-Legged Buzzards” a further four behind, but still picking teams off.

The tricky thing for the ladies team was that they had no idea whether how their competition was getting on so all they could do was run as fast as possible and hope. Late substitute Maria, set off up the hill on leg 4 looking to avoid the usual leg 4 problem of going the wrong way!!

As it turned out, all of our runners successfully navigated their way to the finish with Mark Haynes (another late sub.) holding 6th place for the Lizard Buzzards. However, Adam had run a blinder and picked off ten teams to get up to 13th in running the fastest leg 4 of the day for the Mountain Buzzards. Chris George had actually overtaken 13 teams but was a little slower than Adam so the gap between our two teams was 2:33 with two legs to go. The Tring representative had basically run the same time as Chris so I set off 1:24 down on them, but not being able to see him over the twisty first few miles.

Two days prior, when Laura had had to pull out, one of the conversations I had was with Pete Mackrell when I asked him to chaperone Jo around leg three. It was along the lines of him saying that he would do it, but not to blame him if we lost the race by a minute or two following his 9-mile warm-up. At that time I was confident this wouldn’t be an issue as we should win comfortably! Going into the penultimate leg with a fairly substantial deficit and asking Pete to pull it out of the bag was not part of the plan. Equally, I know how determined Pete is and so my focus was to give him a target. Ideally a small lead to keep hold of, but at the very least to be within spitting distance of Tring.

Once you leave the A6, leg 5 is actually quite pretty and very undulating but has a lot of gates that break your rhythm in the first half particularly. This is frustrating but I generally reckon I take these better than most, so as I started to pick off teams I hoped that I was gaining with each gate. I was surprised but pleased to see Laurie and Gemma around halfway which spurred me on and at around three miles, when I emerged into a field I saw both Tom from Tring and our Fiona 100m or so up ahead.

I just kept having Pete’s words going through my head and focused on closing the gap as we climbed through the field. A couple of minutes later and gasp of encouragement to Fi and I knew I could catch him, but my legs were starting to burn. I tucked in behind for a few hundred metres and tried to catch my breath, but could tell he was up for a battle – bugger! I pushed away with a mile to go, but never got more than a few seconds lead and handed over to Pete hoping nine seconds would be enough…….

Meanwhile Billy had already finished his version of leg 5 and there were mumblings that he may have extended the Mountain Buzzard’s lead. He didn’t wear a watch so it was all a little vague, but there was also talk from him of a village being missed! My expression got ever more quizzical, but with no facts to work from we headed for the finish after watching Fiona hand over to Kate.

As we pulled up in Northill, we were just able to jump out of the car and shout Pete home as he stormed down the finishing straight and I could see from Ross’ expression that Tring weren’t home yet, however, Ben Corfield was and the Mountain Buzzards had come home fourth in the overall handicap ahead of us in fifth.

Just 50 seconds after Pete finished Tring were home too and we all said well done on a great race. 34 miles of cross-country and just 50 seconds between the two fastest teams is pretty remarkable really. There was then a bit of gap before all the other teams came home in relatively quick succession with the Common Buzzards in 16th, Lizard Buzzards in 20th, Honey Buzzards (Ladies) in 24th and Rough-legged Buzzards in 27th.

Johnners bringing home the "Lizard Buzzards"

Johnners bringing home the “Lizard Buzzards”

Beers in hand awaiting the final teams

Beers in hand awaiting the final teams

A pretty strong contingent then wandered into the pub for a pint and a burger as the results were compiled. The pub is perfect for families with a huge garden to run around in and lots of play equipment too. Eventually the results were declared and to our delight the ladies team were the fastest team by 10 minutes and Kas had come through from leg 1 to collect the trophy. As we had hoped, the men’s team were the fastest by 1:18 after Pete ran the best final leg of the day so have now won three in a row. Additionally the Mountain Buzzard’s were the third fastest team on the day (with an asterisk next to Billy’s name) so were pretty pleased with themselves too.

Hugely well done to all those that took part in the day and made it enjoyable for all. I am sure we will be back out on the course next year and maybe we’ll target the two trophies we’ve only won once……….

Men's winning team

The fastest men’s team – just!

What have I learnt? Mainly that Pete can win it even if he has done nine miles first; but also that we have an increasingly strong women’s team and that we don’t get lost when there is a pub to get to!!