Early on Saturday morning everything was in place for another fabulous GBR weekend. Two buses, smiling runners, both stage one runners keen to get going, everything packed carefully into two bags. Cathy was so efficient she even packed two tins of cake – one for each bus. Even better than all of this was the fact that the weather seemed to be behaving itself – neither cold or hot and amazingly, not wet! So the race got off to a pretty perfect start – Phil J and I even found a secret luxury toilet!
As soon as the race began we were off. It was into the odd bus for me, to Thames Valley Athletic Centre. Pesky Olympic time trail rehearsal got in the way at the start of stage 1, and some Jubilee jamboree prevented us from going to Windsor. So a few route changes were in place. We stopped in Eton on the way – people wanted coffee and loos, and Sandra P wanted a closer look at the scholars of ‘Slough Comp’. Here we had an early contender for strangest quote of the weekend. We were eating Sandra P’s homemade hot cross buns, when Phil A mused that he hadn’t had any this year, due to spending Easter in Camden!?
We arrived at the start of stage 3 where we met a brace of Chris’s – C and R. Chris’s C and B were running this stage – Chris B was all fired up to win it, and it later turned out he should have done, but a navigational error saw him finish in 4th place. They’re like buses these Chris’s – moments after we’d sent two of them on their way along came Chris O, finishing stage 2 in 3rd place. Nearly as exciting was the fact that the sun came out at this point! I helped out the timekeepers by giving out the stage winners t shirts (closest I ever get to one) and then a bit later along came Tamsin with a sprint finish and a smile.
We then headed off to Great Kingshill for a complicated switch over of bus personnel. En route we saw some of the race, including Chris C following a lady wearing very small shorts. I had to educate my fellow travellers as to the meaning of the phrase ‘pace booty’, but Chris C certainly seemed familiar with the concept!
Marie, Iain and Sandra F had all arrived safely at stage 5. Once we’d figured out who was going where we set off to find our marshalling spot. It was nice and easy with very little traffic, but we still found it a struggle to count up to 36 so we’d know when everyone had gone by. Marie and Iain both seemed happy enough when they went past.
Back on the road to St Albans and time for some pre-race faffing for me and Sandra F, as we were up next. I was feeling rather nervous and Sandra suffered from some pre-race… er… issues. Seven of them in fact! I plied her with drugs and off we went, 12 miles to Letty Green with my dad popping up here and there to offer support. Unfortunately I would say this was my least favourite stage of GBR so far. The first 5 miles were along a disused railway – boring! The next part seemed to involve a lot of main roads. Then we went into some woods which was more interesting – but then we got lost. I don’t know what the locals thought of it – me, Sandra, a nun and a woman in a yellow tutu, standing around discussing the map and eating sweeties. We were soon back on track thanks to an arrow that had fallen off a tree. The nun found his/her second wind in the last mile, leaving me to finish in the honourable position of last. That was fine, but what was annoying was that my run time was good, but on the results it looks like I was rubbish, because that of course includes my ‘standing around looking at the map’ time! Ah well.
Onto bus 2 and off to High Beach. Or is it High Beech? Who knows. We sent Mark and Ally on their merry way, collected Tony and Phil J and then it was marshalling time again. Now as a club we really seem to have drawn the short straw with this particular marshalling assignment. Not that it’s difficult, just a road to cross. However, the crucial thing is that it’s a mile before the end of the last stage of the day. So while we’re stood around freezing our bits off, all the other teams are in the sodding pub! It was pretty cold but I’d managed to take my own advice for a change and had lots of warm clothes. After some divine intervention that just saved us from losing a nun, we also headed to Blackmore, the pub and dinner. I was very much looking forward to eating my dinner in The Leather Bottle having failed to do so in 2010 when I felt so ill. It was delicious!
Every year we organise GBR to what feels like the finest detail, but we always seem to fall apart on the same thing – how the hell do we get from dinner to the hotel, and where on earth is it anyway?! Somehow Satnav never solves the problem either… as ever I unhelpfully went to sleep at this point and we soon arrived at the Campanile. This was booked on the basis that I stayed there in 2007 and couldn’t remember it – I decided if it was that awful I would have! Well it was fine (it had showers and beds – what more do you want?!) except the woman on Reception was like a bulldog chewing a wasp. In all fairness we weren’t adding a great deal to the ambience of the place, but just give us some rooms please we’re exhausted! Eventually we all made it to our rooms – Sandra F was not happy that this involved more arrows to follow!
Sunday rolled around seemingly about 5 minutes after we went to bed. It was cold, but amazingly still not raining. We all went to Blackmore first, a journey that took half the time than it did the night before. Today the buses were not odd and even and I found this most confusing. I got in a bus and went to Thorndon Park, where it seemed to be my turn to run again. My legs felt pretty ok and I enjoyed this one a hundred times more than the day before. Apart from anything else it all seemed to be downhill! Lots of woods, mud, nettles and interesting footpaths. Towards the end I began to wonder if I might squeeze in under an hour (it was 6.9 miles). Despite 2 stiles, 2 kissing gates and a double track railway line in the final mile, I just managed it!
Back in the bus (no, hang on a minute, this was the other bus) and we went to Davy Down to collect Tom and Tony. I think we went to Tatsfield next, I’m looking at the little yellow book but it’s not helping. I need odd and even buses! Anyway, I know we had some food in Tatsfield, and I helped move a car that was parked by the village green where we weren’t allowed to park. On the dashboard was their little yellow book, open to the page that said do not park on the village green at Tatsfield… (While all of this was going on, Marie was busy winning stage 15, our only win of the weekend). We dropped off Ben who seemed to be suffering more pre-race nerves than me if that’s possible. We then went to marshal a very exciting corner. It was on a very steep hill, the runners were going down and round an extremely sharp bend with loose gravel underfoot. Just to add to the fun, several hundred cyclists (there was an organised event) were going up the hill! With the help of a random old man (not you, Phil J) we managed to get everyone through safely and even gave out water and jelly babies.
Next we sampled the new Olympic standard road surface on the zigzag up to Box Hill. A few things went wrong here! 1. No time for cake. Tragic. 2. People with expensive cars shouldn’t park them on corners where minibuses need to turn round. Oops. Luckily any damage was invisible to the naked eye. 3. Sandra P appeared… and we realised we’d forgotten to collect her at Tatsfield! She was most gracious about it but I felt really guilty. However there was no time to worry about it as we had to go straight back down again to marshal a very tricky spot at the bottom of the zigzag. We were stopping buses and all sorts. Once that was done, and I was reassured that no one else was stranded anywhere, we headed to Ripley, where we found Mike, Lee and Michelle. Sandra F and Mike set off and we went to see Mark finish… but we were too late. Or he was too speedy. Tamsin finished smiling again. Then before we knew it, time to head for the finish. It goes soooo fast. (I haven’t even had time to tell you about Sandra P’s bra delivered by Porsche courier, but that’s another story…). On the way to the Hawker Centre I reassured Ted that he had found the right place for stage 22. Can you see Walton Bridge? Yes. Lots of weirdos in lycra? Yes. Then you’re in the right place!
Ted and Chris O both finished well at Hawker, bringing to an end another successful Ranelagh weekend at GBR. After the prizegiving I went home and deleted 230 emails about GBR. Much as I have enjoyed it, I am officially retiring from team captain duties. Someone else can do it! I’m just running next year. I’m happy to give top tips though – make sure everyone in the team has a different name! No one called Chris is allowed!