I received the baton, exchanged a few pleasantries, started my Garmin, and then raced off up the road. I had my cyclist to the right of me, the support vehicle behind, and despite the road being well lit by the headlights of the car, it felt very lonely as I started the 31.6km journey from Scole to Thetford.
Conditions were absolutely perfect. Very little breeze, a nice cool evening and the feedback I had on the course was that it was very runner friendly. No excuses at hand. I settled into my running and my immediate concern was that I had no idea what pace I was running. There were no distance markers on the course, and I couldn't see the screen of the Garmin, but luckily I'd set the watch to auto-lap so I had the beep to listen out for after I had passed each km. I could then consult my cyclist after each beep and I he would give me the cumulative time split from his watch that he had set at the start of the stage.
I was ticking along nicely and I checked my split for the first time at 4km. I was just under 14 minutes and that indicated sub 3:30/km pace which felt comfortable. There was nothing to see up-front but it felt surprisingly easy to stay focused - and the fact that it was so early in the morning didn't seem to be bothering me. In fact I was quite enjoying it.
Not much to report. The beep of the watch, check the time, maybe a few mouthfuls of water, a gel on the half hour, and then just as we were approaching 10km I could see my first flashing light up front. Slowly but surely I was getting closer. This seemed to really get me fired up and I think I upped the pace without even realising it. The protocol on overtaking was that the vehicle up front would move to the right allowing me and my cyclist through on the inside. I caught the runner, went straight past, and simple as that I had overtaken our main rivals - the Norwich Road Runners.
Through 10km in just over 35 minutes, and feeling good I pressed on. The course wasn't pancake flat, there were certainly long uphill drags, and some nice downhill stretches. I don't recall any short sharp hills and one thing I noticed was that it was very difficult to judge the gradient of the road in the dark. I'm note sure if that was good or not.
By 15km I was still running strongly. My splits were consistent. I think I passed another runner. I should just fill in a few details about the concept of the race. The start times for each team are staggered based on the team's estimate of the total time to complete the entire relay. In simple terms, the slow teams start first and the quick teams start last (we started some 5 hours after the early teams). In theory if the estimated times are accurate, all the teams should complete the race within a short space of time.
Through 16km and I had passed the halfway point of the stage. Detail is a bit lacking, very little chat between myself and the cyclist, another gel on the hour and just trying to keep it going. The kms were still ticking by nicely and at 20km I was still on track (low 70 minutes). I was confident I would run well up to the half marathon point but there was the doubt about the remaining 10km or so.
Around this point my cyclist was swapped. This was a bit eerie as he had to stop, as did the support vehicle. I was left running up the road by myself in the fading light of the headlights as someone else jumped on the bike, got their instructions, and then had to cycle hard to catch me again. It probably only took a couple of minutes but by the end of this I was almost running in total darkness. And then the light was restored when my support vehicle caught me again.
At 21km I was just under 1hr14 so I probably ran the half in 1:14:15 or so. I was planning on 1:15 so I'd put a little bit of time in the bank. I was still feeling okay, and knew I had more quick kms in the legs. Round numbers I had 10km to go and I was on the countdown.
The course at this point seemed tougher. This could be explained by tiredness but it just felt that long sections were all slightly uphill. I knew I'd probably slowed a little, but if I ran a poor km I'd try and bounce back with a quicker next km. I was lucky as just as it felt like I was hitting a bad patch, a flashing light would appear in the distance and that was the motivation to keep things going to run past another team.
At 25km I was still running well but it was getting tougher. The splits were slowing a little which I was expecting, but I had the encouragement of my cyclist who helped spur me on. The lights up front were becoming more frequent which was great to focus on and I knew by how easily I was passing out some runners that I was still running quickly.
I made a call on around 1hr 30 not to take my final gel as my stomach felt a little dodgy. I only had to keep this going for 20 minutes or so and I'd be done. Around this point I missed one of my beeps and that threw me a little as the km seemed to be taking an eternity. But that error was soon realised and almost without warning I had the shout from the car behind that I only had one mile to go.
I really tried to lift the pace at this point. There were some nasty drags in the last mile but was we approached a large roundabout I again caught 2 more teams and then ran as hard as I could up to the changeover area where I handed over the baton to our next runner.
Upon finishing I had to lay down on the grass for several minutes. I checked my watch and I had broken 1hr 52. My official time was 1:51:52 which worked out at 3:32/km pace. My Garmin had my pace a second a km quicker than that but it had measured the course slightly long.
I was escorted to another support vehicle where I put on some clothes and drank plenty of water. I then spent the remainder of the race in the car, leap-frogging to various points of the remaining stages (usually stage changeovers) to support the other runners. I should add that upon getting to the changeover area for stage 14 I was feeling very ill. I think the gels were sitting in my stomach and it wasn't long before I was having a good heave. Straight away I felt a good bit better and after drinking some coke I felt okay - I suppose as well as can be expected on a night with no sleep having run the guts of 20 miles.
Our team finished at 8:22am. It had taken our 17 runners 20h 22 to complete the 197.2 miles (average pace 3:51/km). We had a big group breakfast at 9am (full English) then it was time for the presentation at 11am.
Awards were made to the winners of each stage. I had posted the quickest time on stage 12 so it was nice to pick up a stage win (in total there were 58 teams competing). I had also broken the masters course record for that stage by almost 8 minutes (the senior record for the stage is 1:48:49 so I was way off that). Additional awards were made for the best junior, senior and masters performances of the day (based on age gradings). No joy for me but City of Norwich were certainly scooping lots of trophies (my run rated 8th out of of the 986 runners who took part in the RNR based on age grading).
Then on to the final awards - the winning teams. Our team was entered into the club class which was seen as the premier award within the RNR. A club team had to comprise of a mixture of female, male and masters runners (a minimum of 5 females and 5 masters out of 17 team members). This award was kept to the very end and our brilliant team performance was rewarded by winning this class - made all the more special by me being nominated to collect the trophy on stage on behalf of all of our team-mates. A little nerve racking as the trophy stood about 3 foot tall and I wasn't sure I would be able to lift it!
It turns out our team had posted the quickest time of the day by over 50 minutes beating all of the other race categories (open, masters and female). To beat the open teams was quite an achievement as these teams would be predominantly made up of senior males.
All in all a great experience. A truly unique event which I really enjoyed and I have to thank CoNAC for giving me the opportunity to run. I'm glad I ran well to warrant my selection and hopefully it won't be the last time! Thanks also to the support crew. The logistics behind this race are amazing - to get 17 team runners together is quite an achievement. Making sure they are at the start of their respective stages when the start time is fluid takes some doing. Well done RP and the crew, you did a great job. I think the runners have it easy - all they have to do is turn up and run!
The finish of the day went something like this. Home by 1:30pm. Lunch at 2pm. In pub by 3pm. Back from pub by 8pm and in bed by 9pm (still no sleep by this point). Job done.
I'll no doubt add bits and pieces to this post as I think of them over the next few days. I need to add my splits for a start. But for now that can wait...