What has 800 legs, keeps running all night, and carries a big stick?

June 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Well it’s the real relay, of course.

Edges again

Like many people, I was mildly disappointed (I wouldn’t put it at any more than that) when the official Olympic torch relay went past large parts of Cornwall and Devon in a big van.

And like many people, I just thought “tut” and carried on with what I was doing in a very British way.

Some other people though, local race organisers Endurancelife, had the slightly wildly ambitious idea of sparking off a real relay. As they put it themselves, it’s:

an exciting attempt to follow the entire route of the official Olympic Torch around Britain in one continuous non-stop journey, running every step of the way. Starting out from Land’s End at midnight on Monday 28 May, ten days behind the official Olympic Torch, the Real Relay will involve hundreds of runners from across Great Britain running through the day and night on an 8,000 mile mission to reach London in time for the Olympic Games opening ceremony. We’re calling on runners from all over Great Britain to join the relay by signing up to run one or more of the stages (below) and help us achieve one of the greatest Olympic endeavours of all time”.

One of the nicest things about is that it’s all a bit relay 2.0. The success of the relay relies on the enthusiasm of individuals keeping it together, individuals who have never met, volunteering to go and play with strangers in the dark, with just some email and Facebook glue keeping the edges tucked in.

My own leg was embarrassingly convenient. Becki dropped me at Kenton on her way to school with the children, and as we drove through Starcross we passed the-runner-I-now-know-to-be William carrying The Baton.

A couple of minutes later I was off running through Powderham woods with a strikingly large and slightly sweaty stick, musing on how only 33 hours before it had been at Land’s End.

I also had time to muse on the fact that the baton has written on it “never never never give up”, which is not a bad sort of philosophy. Stop for a wee, yes, and look at the view. But never give up. I also like the fact that it’s an echo of one variable statesman, that in the circumstances reminds me of another one.

Anyway, I like a good saying. Where was I? Stopping to take pictures on the way to Exeter, that’s where I was. A warm morning turning into a hot day. I happily slowly plodded along the river path past people with dogs and bikes who didn’t know that me and the stick were part of something bigger, while I didn’t know about the bits of them that were parts of something bigger, but our circles overlapped as we drifted past.

And some of the connection to the baton still stays when you have passed it on, and you are following its steady progress up-country, and 1,200  (so far) miles later you can still think that all the time, day or night, a happy stranger is still running with it. I wonder if it mingles with each runner (an)atomically, in a Third Policeman sort of way.

Back at the plot, have I ever mentioned that I can’t run fast and think at the same time? (In fact have I ever mentioned that I can’t run fast?)

I had started with a comfortable 80 minutes to complete my eight miles, but the detour to the river had added more miles while the stops for photos had added less minutes. As I crossed the swing bridges into Exeter, I woke up and realised that my meandering drift of a run now meant that I had twenty-five minutes left to complete a little over thirty-minutes-worth of running in.

I had previously toyed with the idea of impressing Coach Maurice by putting in some 400m intervals during the final 3.5 miles, seeing as I hadn’t done my previous track session. Now though, if I was going to avoid being late to hand the baton to Tracy, I was going to have to do a pretty solid threshold run all the way in.

The unthinkable thought of being late was big enough to push all the other stuff out of my head, and twenty-four fuzz-filled minutes later I met Tracy outside Exeter Cathedral.

Ten days before, the official Olympic torch relay had been for a big do outside the cathedral, but I missed it because I was falling off my bike at the Keswick Tri (another story for later).

It’s nice that the real relay doesn’t need to be negative about the official relay to make its mark – each brings people together in different ways. After all, if it wasn’t for the fallibility of the official relay, the real relay wouldn’t be there and a lot of us would have missed out. As would the brilliant charity Chicks that it’s raising money for, and some children who need a break.

I’ll tell you one thing that our (it belongs to everybody who likes it) real relay lacks though, and that’s an awful lot of runners to get it across the wilds of Ireland and Scotland. Spread the word, dear reader, spread the word…

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