Llamas, bulls and batons … BAC’s team of 17 take on the Round Norfolk Relay

Damien Pitts writes …

A team of 17 Biggleswade Athletic Club runners, along with a group of dedicated supporters and back-up crew, headed to the east to take part in the annual Round Norfolk Relay last weekend. This was the 14th year for the club taking part in the 17-stage, multi-distance and varied terrain race around the Norfolk border, which covers over 197 miles.

With dozens of teams from around the country, the relay begins on the Saturday morning at Kings Lynn, goes along the Norfolk coast line to Great Yarmouth and then heads inland, all the way back around to Kings Lynn, where the relay finishes on the Sunday morning after several overnight stages. After torrential rain, headwinds and mud last year, competitors were relieved to find kinder conditions to contend with.

Ian Grimwood prepares for stage one
Ian Grimwood awaits the big 6am start

BAC’s treasurer Ian Grimwood was left doing maths of a different kind, calculating how early he needed to get up to be fully fuelled and ready for stage one’s 6am start. With wife Juliet taking the final stage, they bookended the race stoically. Ian’s 16.32 mile leg took in sunrise and fine early-morning scenery on the way to Hunstanton, where he handed over to Charlie Arnold.

Charlie’s stage offered a wide variety of underfoot challenges, with sand, mud, grass, tarmac, wooden sleepers and corn fields all playing a part. Yet he battled brilliantly on the 13.75 miles to the hamlet of Burnham Overy Staithe, finishing a superb five minutes quicker than planned. His time was 22nd best of those in attendance, with the 21 ahead of him – and a great many behind him – being substantially younger than his 62 years.

There he handed over to Deb Bryant, whose shorter stage of 5.76 miles was offset by the fact that a huge chunk took place on leg-sapping sand en route to Wells-next-the-Sea. In spite of this her time of 47:13 was extremely strong – 27th best overall – but she was extremely glad to see the stage four changeover, where she handed the baton over to Chris Watson.

Andrew Hedley has run stage four for the last few years and is famed for his love of the llamas visible on the route, but although he was disappointed not to run the stage this time around, he was happy that Chris got to see them. For his part, Chris put in a superb performance on the 11.14 miles to Cley, ending with the eighth-best time overall.

Stage five was Andrew’s llama-free destiny this year, notoriously the most challenging of all the stages, as it starts with a few miles of a shingle beach and then throws in a few monstrous hills towards the end for good measure. In spite of his, he manfully withstood everything the 10.81 miles to Cromer, and still managed a smile at the end.

There he met Gary Baldwin, who took the baton for the 7.9 miles of stage six towards Mundersley. He narrowly missed making it into the top half of the stage standings, but his efforts made up some valuable time for the team.

Gary Baldwin on stage 6
Gary Baldwin chauffered along stage six by Deb Bryant

In Mundersley BAC turned to the substitutes bench, as club chairman, team captain and timekeeper Damien Pitts was called into action for stage seven to Lessingham. With teams having to supply stage time estimates before the race, and prizes handed out for adhering closely to these (and a wooden spoon handed out to the team with the most inaccurate estimate), reserve runners cannot veer too wildly from those already submitted. Happily, this proved an opportunity to make up some time, and Damien controlled his pace to make up over five minutes for the team.

It has been a few years since the team has made it to Horsey Mill in the daylight hours, so everyone was taking the opportunity to take in the views, before cheering on Robin Wynde, who arrived to hand over the baton to Neil Harvey. Robin really enjoyed the stage, a touch over 7.5 miles, and both made up over four minutes while wishing there had been an extra half to play with so he could have caught the next runner.

Neil started his leg off in the daylight but finished in Belton in the dark. Although he had slowed over the stage, he was happy with his efforts over the 16.6 miles and thoroughly enjoyed the stage.

Famed navigator Nick Haworth took on stage 10 from Belton to Earsham. Prior to running the stage, he dropped his car off at the end of the 18.13 stage and got a lift back to the start. In theory the stage is a nice straight road, but somehow Nick he managed to guide Charlie to Lowestoft, over 11 miles out of the way, and indeed out of Norfolk altogether. Charlie even said that Nick was pointing out things that he passes on his stage, on the way to Lowersoft, which is even more worrying!!

Happily, once he had baton in hand Nick had slightly better bearings, and his 15th place on the stage made up five minutes for the team, before he passed on the baton to Paul Cooke to run to Scole. There, Paul’s superb run over the 12.45 miles was good enough for ninth place overall on the stage.

John Stott took on the 19.67-mile stage 12 last year, and was back on duty for the relay’s longest stage once again. The straight, long drag from Scole to Thetford is a real challenge, yet John managed to be four minutes quicker this year than last year to finish just outside two and a half hours.

Frank McLoughlin took on stage 13 again this year, just over half-marathon distance from Thetford to Feltwell, and he broke the two-hour barrier for the stage supported on a bike by Neil Harvey, who cut an interesting figure on two wheels thanks to his choice of headwear that looked more suited to an ice-hockey match than a cycle ride.

Vicky Berry took on a new stage this year, running the 7.27 miles from Feltwell to Wissington. Normally daylight appears on this stage, but this year it was saved for stage 15 for Julian Brunt, his first time at the relay. Although the start and finish of the 10.59-mile leg towards Downham Market are not the most scenic, there are some lovely views on the route.

Ian Skerratt on stage 17
Supersub Ian Skerratt on stage 17, aided by Robin Wynde

For the penultimate stage, the shortest of the race, Ian Skerratt was another fresh from the reserves, called up to the team two days before the relay. In spite of this he ate up the 5.49 miles superbly, and made up a couple of minutes on expected time too.

Juliet Grimwood on a bull-free final stage
Juliet Grimwood on a bull-free final stage

The final 11.73 miles were then in Juliet’s hands, along with fears of bulls in one of the fields she had to traverse between Stowbridge and the finish back at Kings Lynn. Mercifully, they had moved on, leaving her free to enjoy her run. Overall the team finished in 27 hours and 53 minutes, just over 11 minutes slower than their predicted time for the event. This placed them 49th overall, with 60 teams finishing the full race.

Full results and stage breakdowns can be found on the official site here

Stage

Mileage

Runner

Time (hrs:mins:secs)

1

16.81

Ian Grimwood

02:43:18

2

14.06

Charlie Arnold

01:44:22

3

5.76

Deb Bryant

00:47:13

4

11.14

Chris Watson

01:20:19

5

10.81

Andrew Hedley

01:55:23

6

7.90

Gary Baldwin

01:04:42

7

9.24

Damien Pitts

01:14:39

8

7.52

Robin Wynde

01:04:16

9

16.60

Neil Harvey

02:23:42

10

18.13

Nick Haworth

02:04:56

11

12.45

Paul Cooke

01:23:32

12

19.67

John Stott

02:30:35

13

13.25

Frank McLoughlin

01:59:44

14

7.27

Vicky Berry

01:06:37

15

10.59

Julian Brunt

01:43:38

16

5.49

Ian Skerratt

00:47:14

17

11.73

Juliet Grimwood

02:00:33

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