Support team

Since those heady London Marathon days (#youdidn’texpectmetoholdoutforeversurely), and my self-imposed fast from anything running related, you should perhaps feel grateful that I am back on the running track this week.  I have safely negotiated the risk of outing myself as a ‘Love Island’ viewer and saved you from reading a vacuous and shallow ‘Love Island’ blog.  (I might be able to cut you a discount price on that bulk order of branded water bottles I ordered in, though.  Catch me at the end).

I will keep my sordid ‘Love Island’ secret to myself.

This dramatic break with blog fasting regarding all things running is really the fault of my running club.  Not only do they have the ability to coax you to the local school running track once a week – subjecting you to laps of an athletics track you thought you would only revisit if called to compete in the Parent Egg and Spoon race on Sports Day – they also have this uncanny knack of suggesting team events that you didn’t know existed and later producing a signed consent form as evidence that you did actually agree to enter the race back in December even if it was under the affluence of inkerhol at the Club’s Christmas party.

I see this as the running equivalent of being press ganged.  Fast forward to June and you find yourself in the middle of Wales for a weekend as part of the Club’s first ever all female team entry in the Welsh Castles Relay.

For context, it might be timely at this point to back-track a little for a brief review of my relay running stats:

  • Number of school relay teams selected for as a student: nil
  • Number of university relay teams selected for: nil
  • Number of relay teams selected for in the Abbey National Staff Sports Weekend (Loughborough 1993): nil
  • Number of  school relays selected for over the last 7 years in my school’s Leadership Team Category: 7
    (This latter stat is on account of the school requirement for there to be one female in every team and a shortened distance offered for the collective age of each relay team of teachers – for years I was the only female owning a pair of trainers and my main contribution to the race was the fact that I was 15 years older than any of my colleagues on the team. Let us not gripe; it was selection and it has improved my race stats considerably).

So, when my Club invited us to the local pub to discuss the mechanics of entering a 20- strong female squad to accompany the Club’s strong annual male team entry, it all seemed quite exciting.  Pub, drink, no running track and at that point, the event was still a long way off. I was flattered to have made the cut.

Things changed a little during the course of the evening; there were a lot of maps on view and a lot of printed data on each leg of the relay and suddenly there were names attached to each leg. It was starting to feel serious.  I am no geographer, but a quick glance at my allocated leg indicated that our lovely running coach had conveniently forgotten that marathon training involves avoiding any kind of incline.  I pretended I had forgotten my glasses and vowed to look at the route map later – much later.  Instead I enjoyed an evening with a drink in my hand, finding out which Club members were going up for the whole weekend, who was camping and who would be driving the minibuses.

And of course this is when you realise – again – what an amazing running Club I belong to.  Who needs ‘Love Island’ (and who does, anyway?) when you have runners who will happily organise spreadsheets, club entries, rent and drive mini buses, book accommodation (tents and/or Premier Inn) and not even get to run themselves over the weekend because they have sold their running soles (get me) to the gods of Logistics and Club Responsibility.

Then there are the runners themselves – elite athletes to bimblers like myself (ok, I’m the only bimbler) – all happy to run, marshall, advise, cheer and (if need be) take a day off work just to get to the start line in Caernarfon in time to see the first two Club runners off (one male, one female) on a very wet Saturday morning.

Then there is  the team kit.  Who doesn’t love a new hoodie and t shirt?  I come away from our Tuesday track session realising that as I had now taken ownership of said items – even if I was deflated to be offered X Large – I should now feel morally obliged to run the relay. It might even be time to look at my relay leg on Google Maps.  It also becomes evident on Tuesday that although we originally had 3 reserve runners when we were sitting cosily in the pub some weeks ago,  all of these reserves had now been pulled off the subs bench, were warming up and were even considering camping in a wet field on the Saturday night.

Now you already know my love of support at any running event,  but I really do need to say that the support at this event took it to a new level.  Everyone (well anyone who can run a few miles and who owns a decent pair of trainers) should have the opportunity to experience running through this most stunning Welsh countryside.  There are few places that spectators can safely gather along the route, so instead, all the minibuses and support cars from some 60 teams of club runners honk their horns, shake cow bells, wave flags and yell encouragement as they overtake you on their way to the next relay leg. I was not expecting this. So lovely. Tidy even.  I am so used to belligerent drivers honking for other reasons when I am out training that I ran 10+ miles with a ridiculous grin on my face, waving at every van that passed (sorry if you were just an unaffiliated van driver having to swerve around my bodacious running shorts).  Every club was so supportive of every other club that it was difficult to remember it was a competition (perhaps this is where I dropped the baton, but in reality I was never going to be Queen of my Mountain).

So I drove back home on the Saturday night, feeling snug in my Club race hoodie and finisher’s T- shirt (they gave me Large this time, so I must have shed some pounds during the race).  The race was worth every mile of the three hour return journey  and I was accompanied by a different club runner this time – equally as entertaining as my two passengers on the way up, I must say.   She is a hardier soul than I for she was already preparing to be up at the crack of dawn today to go back to marshall and greet the last runners back in at Caerphilly Castle on Sunday afternoon.

As one club member said, we may only be a small club – 120 members  – but we should all feel very smug that a third of us took part this weekend – and that is not to mention the support team.  On top of this, even I can admit that organising 20 women over any weekend is a challenge many would duck, even before you factor in the running element. Smashed it, Club organisers, we salute you!

I would have stayed over last night (do not judge me) and I would have been happy to test out my stamina for camping before risking canvas again in Kenya next month,  but then you can only  miss so many episodes of ‘Love Island’  and I have got some water bottle merchandise to shift.  Perhaps the Welsh Castles Relay organisers would consider reserving a Welsh villa for competitors next year?   I think club support could be strong; TV ratings alone would cover team entry and race merchandise.  Surely branded water bottles are the way to go?


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