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Race Reports [Reports Index]

Round Norfolk Relay
Saturday 20th September 2008
Rachel Roberts

RNR 2008 Report - Cambridge & Ely Ladies’ Team

It all began with what I thought was a low-key conversation with Rod during RNR 2007. He mentioned that the race never attracted many ladies’ teams. I idly inquired whether it was possible to enter a ladies’ team drawing runners from two or more clubs, vaguely imagining a combined team from my two clubs – Cambridge & Coleridge and Ely Runners. Apparently, it was possible, but the team would have to run in the Casual Class, where they’d be competing directly with men’s and mixed teams for the prizes. I thought no more of it.

I thought no more, that is, until I received an email from Rod sometime last December, saying that RNR 2008 would include a new separate prize category for ladies’ teams in the Casual Class. How instrumental that conversation was in bringing about this new category, I don’t know, but I felt a certain obligation to support it if I could. Also, it seemed important to take this opportunity to enable the (Ely) women to have a team of their own in this unique event: previously, the only real option for most of us had been to fill a gap in a casual class team, often where we knew none of the other runners, which in some ways defeated the purpose of running as part of a team.

So, I set about investigating whether the two clubs would actually agree to this joint venture. The answer apparently was “yes”.

Theoretically, we were aiming for equal numbers of runners from C&C and ER, though I thought there would probably be more from C&C, since it’s the bigger club. In the end, though, the team consisted of 10 runners from ER, 6 from C&C and one whose loyalties are firmly divided between the two clubs! This was partly because so many Cambridge ladies were ruled out by injury, but also because the response from the Ely ladies was so positive: about one-third of the Ely ladies were involved, with more keen to run but side-lined either by injury or by prior commitments.

The RNR encapsulates all the good things about running: the challenge of pitting yourself against the terrain, the elements and often against yourself, when you find you’re running alone, with no one close behind or just ahead to push or pull you along; inspiring scenery; team spirit; competition and camaraderie. Each runner experiences some or all of these elements on their stage. For the support crew, there are also the additional challenges posed by the logistics, the need to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and, of course, a long haul without sleep (and also food, at times!).

There was a point in the early hours of Sunday morning when Fiona and I turned to each other and said, emphatically, “NEVER AGAIN!” What we hadn’t anticipated was how quickly we’d forget the pain (though not the lessons we’d learnt) and how soon all we’d be able to recall was the incredible buzz we got from being involved with such an enthusiastic, willing and inspiring team of runners and helpers.

It’s an unenviable task to have to pick out highlights from the 28 hours we were out on the course, as everyone made a huge contribution to our success. So I won’t. Instead, I want to say a little about each person’s contribution:

Stage 1 – King’s Lynn to Hunstanton
Claire L was the model of calm before the start of her leg, whilst I was running around like a headless chicken. She maintained that serenity throughout a tough run (16 miles over challenging terrain) and finished looking just as strong as she had early on in her run.

Stage 2 – Hunstanton to Burnham Overy
Not only was this stage largely off-road, but the temperature was rising steadily throughout, so by about half-way in, conditions were pretty uncomfortable. Hayley was obviously finding it very tough towards the end, but kept battling really impressively right to the finish.

Stage 3 – Burnham Overy to Wells
Mary G had been very nervous beforehand and didn’t have the luxury of having a support cyclist or driver with her to help out with the navigation. So it was great to see her steaming in at the end of her stage and, deservedly, feeling really pleased with how it had gone.

Stage 4 – Wells to Salthouse
There were no surprises from Natalle. As usual, she put in an excellent performance and made it all look effortless, even the testing off-road section at the start of the stage.

Stage 5 – Salthouse to Cromer
Claire I ran a storming leg. I’ve seen grown men on their knees at the end of this one, but she ended with a mighty sprint finish and had made easy work of both the shingle and the “undulations”!

Stage 6 – Cromer to Mundesley
Having successfully negotiated what amounts to a cliff heading up to the golf course at Cromer, Samantha then ran a well-paced stage, putting up with a support cyclist who was preoccupied most of the time, worrying about a) would we ever find Rebecca, who’d started the stage on the bike but then been diverted off the course by an over-zealous marshal on Cromer prom and b) how to time the stage when both stopwatches and her phone were currently in Eric’s van, somewhere else between Cromer and Mundesley.

Stage 7 – Mundesley to Lessingham
It was lovely to see Jo’s return to racing following the birth of Amalia. She’s another runner who made it look so easy, as she finished several minutes ahead of her predicted time.

Stage 8 – Lessingham to Horsey
Mary J had a stiff sea-breeze to contend with on this leg. Not the easiest conditions, but she ran with great determination to the end.

Stage 9 – Horsey to Great Yarmouth
Eleven-plus miles is a long way to run on your own, but Mandy settled into a comfortable rhythm and maintained an even pace throughout her stage, and still looked strong and fresh at the end – I must learn the secret!

Stage 10 – Great Yarmouth to Geldeston
Fiona only knew she was doing this stage the night before. She’d only covered 12 miles in training beforehand, but bravely agreed to step up to 15 miles following Bex’s injury. It turned out to be a very impressive run, at a good pace and with no hint of fading as she went beyond the mileage she’d covered in training.

Stage 11 – Geldeston to Scole
Kim’s excellent running over this 19-mile leg deservedly earned her the female stage-winner’s prize – despite having extra time added on to her running time because of her support vehicle being caught in a bit of a traffic jam at the Geldeston changeover!

Stage 12 – Scole to Thetford
Following a 6-week lay-off because of a stress-fracture in her foot, it was amazing that Emma could even think about going through with her plan to run this 19.6 mile stage. This was a typically brave run from Emma, in which she had to battle the cold, the hills and cramp, and she still managed to clock an impressive time.

Stage 13 – Thetford to Feltwell
Lisa approached her run with characteristic cheerfulness, even though it was gone three o’clock in the morning by the time she set off and the temperature had dipped to only a few degrees above freezing. Seeing her finish so strongly gave me a big boost as I set off on Stage 14.

Stage 14 – Feltwell to Wissington
Huge thanks are due here to Fiona, who kept me going when first stitch and then cramp in both calves meant forward progress wasn’t always an option! I also have to mention the Ryston Runners support crew for their words of encouragement – for me, they summed up the spirit of the RNR perfectly.

Stage 15 – Wissington to Downham Market
Hannah had a great run here, even-paced and flowing, and deserves to feel proud of the fact that she finished inside her original target time, despite having run her first half-marathon the weekend before and having been unable to run since then because of blisters.

Stage 17 – Stowbridge to King’s Lynn
Jalanie was a late substitute on this stage, having come into the team because of Bex’s injury. She’d actually been out injured herself for quite some time previously, so hadn’t had the ideal preparation for this tough stage but, nevertheless, ran with great determination and produced a strong finish to bring the team home comfortably inside the 10.30 cut-off on the Sunday morning.

Our final placing (44th out of 48 teams) actually belies the success of the team. We were one of only two all-female teams in the event this year - a significant achievement in its own right - and were awarded the trophy for 1st Casual Class Ladies Team. And, as I mentioned before, Kim won the stage winner’s prize for stage 11.

But there were other successes it’s not possible to measure, such as the growth in confidence that comes from tackling a challenging run head-on or the strength of our team spirit, even though the runners were drawn from two different clubs.

Oh, and of course we won the Wooden Spoon for the most wayward time estimate!

Finally, a few words of thanks:

To Fiona (C&C), for all her help before, during and after the event – it wouldn’t have happened without her!

To Eric (ER), for being an absolute trooper. His cheerfulness and willingness to help were invaluable – nothing was ever too much trouble.

To Andy (C&C), for, amongst other things, being willing to share the boys’ toys with us, for helping me make sense of all the logistics and providing last-minute IT support, and to Andy and Carmel for helping out with our recovery driving before their team had even got on the road.

To Alan (ER), for his advice and especially for his help with planning cycle support for stages 1-5.

To Emma (ER), for keeping me buoyed up when I was beginning to doubt it would ever come off, and also for the first aid kit and the loan of her bike.

To Mel (ER), for helping out with the recovery driving.

To Rebecca M (ER), for helping out with the support cycling.

To Adam (C&C), for helping with our support cycling before going on to run a 19-mile leg for the men’s team.

To Jalanie (C&C), for stepping into the breach at the last minute.

To Mike (C&C), for the loan of his bike carrier.

To all the C&Cers who came to the finish on the Sunday morning to see both teams come in.

And last, but not least, to Rod, for his encouragement to enter the team in the first place and also for his support during the race (but NOT for his early-morning photography antics!).

9 October, 2008

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