London to Cardiff Relays
6th July 2013

It’s the longest point to point non stop relay in the UK. Running from Twickenham Stadium in London to the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. The idea is to try and run 160 miles in 24 hours, in a team of 12. So we did.

Our team were what you called unsupported; with 10 runners, the two girls doubling up for safety which gave us 9 runners in total. So we ran drove and navigated for over 24 hours from London to Cardiff – hell why not?

Even now there are plenty of people out there who think runners are a little nuts. ‘Why do you do that?’ they say. Or, ‘What’s the point?’ Or, ‘Aren’t you getting a little old for that?’ Or the classic, ‘Isn’t that going to hurt your knees?’ Just ignore these people. Or if you want to bother at all, tell them you love to run, you will always run, you get a huge amount out of it, and they would, too, if they gave it a chance – Kara Goucher

Like with most things the idea was born in a pub and the first race was with 2 teams and the event has grown since.

I joined the team after fellow running club member Sue post on facebook asking for team members, it sounded like good entertainment for the weekend divergently challenging; running under the aptly entitled North South United.

On a very hot swealtering afternoon the teams gathered at Twickenham Stadium from 6pm right up to 10pm setting off half an hour apart. 12 teams in total. Some supported team t shirts we were just alovely mixed bunch from the north and south united together. Go team North South United; all united in a common goal: to keep running.

Teamwork: Simply stated, it is less me and more we. – Author Unknown

Our extra man Craig had come along for the ride due to injury so there we were 11 sweaty runners on one of the hottest days of the year cramed into a minibus, the unknown eccentricities of the team lurking in the future 24 plus hours. It goes to show that running can be so simple and bring the unknown together for a gargantuan and somewhat demanding task over a full turn of the clock.

We had ample time previously to study the route maps so should have known our routes inside out. Whilst chatting; the two girls myself and Sue made the safe decision to run all our legs together, this would mean running somewhere in the region of 40-50 miles over 24ish hours. It would be slower maybe but safe especially as we both had night runs on towpaths and busy main roads.

The race comprised of 3 team laps interlaced with 24 individual legs passing on the GPS batten until the team reached Cardiff Millenium Stadium. Mad? Of course! The first team lap started around Twickenham stadium, the second a 2 miler around a lake in Swindon and a 1 mile team leg ‘lap of honour’ around Cardiff Millenium stadium to finish. The rest of it was wedged somewhere inbetween.

Mini bus in tact and race at the ready our gun went off and we pounded Twickenham stadium in around 7.20 minute miling, reaching the first checkpoint where the GPS was logged. Off went our first runner to navigate to a well known office building near the A4 in West London. We all jumped in the minibus and followed the first runner to the next checkpoint to handover and let our next runner loose through the streets of London. Follow this pattern for 26.13 hours and there you have a fantastic team and a brilliant way to spend a Friday evening and a full Saturday. Even on friday night people supported vests and shorts the hot air penetrated through the big smoke persperating in big balls of sweat within minutes.

Checkpoint 3 was at a supermarket, was it Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s? There were that many checkpoints at Supermarket carparks that I lost track – every little helps though? Unfortantly our runner made it to the checkpoint before we did due to our inability to cross the canal. This fluffal lost us some valuable time and so did the stupidity of my poor navigational skills as me and Sue headed off in the wrong direction for a few minutes before another runner came whizzing past us heading the opposite way. A quick u turn and we were chasing him down on the towpath the right way this time!.

This was a flat section but the sun had set and we had to dodge the chav’s and other conspicious doods hanging about on a canal at 10.30pm on a Friday night whilst our head torches guided us down the path avoiding any falls into the canal. I am so glad I had Sue by my side for company. Sue set the pace as I breathed like an Elephant with triple dose of Asthma. Whether it was because it was the evening, dark or flat I am not sure but I felt I had no energy where Sue was bounding along, what a savour and this was only our first leg, we had another near on 40 miles to do yet!

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths – Arnold Schwarzenegger

My so called decent map reading was put to the challenge yet again. I had it in my head that we just followed the canal, so we did. It’s a straight line yes? Err.. no… map read! We apparently ended up in the Isles of Scilly – so our GPS said. When nothing goes right… go left. Once we realised the error of our ways another U turn and we were back on track heading towards another supermarket carpark. So here we were in the interminably dull town of Slough at way past midnight after around 10 miles – woopse!

Running isn’t a sport for pretty boys… It’s about the sweat in your hair and the blisters on your feet. Its the frozen spit on your chin and the nausea in your gut. It’s about throbbing calves and cramps at midnight that are strong enough to wake the dead. – Author Uknown

We quickly handed over the GPS and let our next runner loose through the streets of Slough. Would he ever return? Would he get eaten up by David Brent? Hopefully not but just enough time to give myself and Sue a break to recover and throw a bit of food and drink down us. Then we were back again at another supermarket carpark ready to run again. By this time it was nearly 1am in the morning but we were still running in shorts and t-shirt, the clammy night air was still lingering across Slough.

We had decided to take a slightly different route to the suggested ‘woods’ route and keep to the main roads where our minibus would wait for us at intervals to carry audience support in the form of waving and cheering.

Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises – Goodnight Moon

Our head torches bobbed up and down in the darkness as we ticked off the miles. Little did we know that we had about 6 miles of constant uphill to Henley on Thames, so much so that some of the sharper inclines required a power walk. Slowy the energy began seeping away, only our shadows to keep us company, even the shadows were sweating in the 2am hot night heat. Staying awake for such a long time, navigating and running at night afraid of getting lost was part of the whole challenge, the running was just the little light at the end of the tunnel.

After nearly 12 miles we arrived to the delightful village of Henley on Thames. We crossed the bridge with such incredible class with our swanky posh upscale and refined runing style as you do darling in Henley. We passed a few pissed up Hooray Henrys and Henriettas to be greated by the whole village covered in those English upper class twits, oiking about outside the pubs. Our minds however were on the checkpoint flag. The team waited anxiously for us to complete the section. It was 2.50am we had just run nearly 12 miles in the dark – result = exhausted but happy.

We collapsed into the minibus as our next runner went off into the darkness for their 3 mile leg to the next checkpoint. The next few hours consistered of refueling and sleeping whilst our team continued the legs. Chocolate milk is not the best thing to drink at 3am neither is a hand full of cashunuts but some refueling had to be done as did a little bit of sleeping before our next stint of around 24 miles the same day.

Whilst we were sleeping some of the team were out on the Ridgeway doing their stints. I woke up around 5am to a beautifully misty sunrise across the ridgeway land somewhere, only I know. Jamie master Northern orgnaiser of the race was out in the field somewhere only he knew.

After 2 hours sleep off the back of 23 miles it is difficult to know what to eat, I was craving a cup of tea but alas nothing out here so a bagel and some water and orange juice was the nature of the game. My bowels were playing games with me too and the only option were bushes. But all part of the fun my friends.

Rise up and tackle the day with enthusiasm – Author Unknown

Other teams were waiting in the carpark curled up in their mini buses or wandering around in orange jumpers that we had been given at the start of the race in our little goodie bags. Hell they kept us warm in the cool morning mist.

Eventually Jamie came in sight very tired after having done what he thought was a 7 miler turning out to be 11 miles, just behind another team who went the wrong way. Jamie passed the GPS onto our next runner and off he went to run a stunning leg of just over 1.45 for 12 miles. Fanastic. Meanwhile the minibus made its way to the White Horse carpark, where once again other teams waited in anticipation for their runners to come in.

It was getting hot already and it was only 8am. The sun was already burning There was no doubt it was going to be another shorts and vest day with ample water. The boys had come so organised that we had trays of bottled water, what stars!

Our next stop in a little village allowed us to stock up on drink and have a well earned cup of tea thanks to the little pub – result, I felt human again. Hurrah!

Soon we were to do our mid way lap of the lake in Swindon – 2 miles and 10 runners so off we trotted. Most picturesque, full of joggers including show off people running with a buggy.

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much – Author Unknown

Soon we were off again meandering around the pretty villages where it was time again for myself and Sue to set off for around a 7 miler. And with true tradition we got lost within the first mile around housing estate paths and headed to the wrong church – blame the passer by who told us there was a church that a way.

However we soon got back on track to some nice tracks and paths and ran and ran and ran in the swealtering heat. Through a quintensently english village with a pub, a post box and a little garage and its obligatory church and carefully mowed lawns and token horse rider. However horse rider was very helpful and for once my map reading skills came to head as I suggested to take the Bridleway where the horse was going, which looked like overgrown fields rather than a proper path. This is what the map said and we were sticking to the map. It was indeed correct. Result with just enough time for a wee stop.

There are no standards and no possible victories except the joy you are living while dancing your run. You are not running for some future reward-the real reward is now! – Fred Rohe

Back on the country roads we only had a couple of miles to go, the sun was beating down and we were both rather hot by now but we kept on going and going and going, encouraging each other, chatting and crossing off the names of the farms as we gripped the map in one hand and water in the other, we were not going to get lost! NO! no no!

And then we saw our team big cheers went up as we approached the minibus and handed over our GPS somewhat exhausted but just enough time to refuel beore our next stint a stinky hot stint it would be.

Team work divides the task and muliples the success – Author Unknown

The next checkpoint involved hanging about at a leisure centre which to our disapointment only had food in a vending machine. I hung tight promising myself a lovely egg sandwich after our next leg of over 10 miles in the sweatering heat.

Will run for egg sandwiches

And after a very quick breather myself and Sue and we were off again for another 11 miler. The exposed country lanes and the distance was immediatly taking its toll on us both. Our legs felt like iron, each step felt like running a half marathon. I had to stop giving up in the swealtering exposed heat as the sun burned down onto us. Mental fortitude at this point was more important than physical endurance. We passed through a gorgeous village where I was almost tempted to get some more water but alas I had no coinage on me so bang went that idea.

The route was slightly uphill all the way, a gradual and at times somewhat painful incline to really hammer those 35 mile plus legs. It was tough to say the least and double tough to say the most.

Even through the woods we were chasing the shade trying to avoid all the sunsweapt paths as much as we could, jelly babies becoming my best friend, keeping me going through this engruleing 11 miler.

As long as we have the road, the ramblings and each other to look forward to, it’s all going to be all right. Bring it on, life — we’re laced up and ready. – Nancy Townsley

We eventually reached a busy road which lead onto an overgrown bridleway. There was no alternative but to walk as the grass was as high as our heads at times, carefully treading down on the overgrown weeds.

Eventually we approached the next village and a wave from our team told us we were nearly there. Our kind team had meanwhile bought us egg sandwiches each and opened ample bottles of water for us. There’s teamwork foryou at its best, thank you guys you did a fine job of looking after us ladies!

Even when our heart aches, we summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on; we finish the race. – President Barack Obama

So we had run around 42 miles (not 42Km but 42 miles) and we felt tired. We still had one potential leg to go. However there were rumours that we could get leapfrogged if we did not make the cut off points of certain locations.A couple of other teams had not made the cut off points and had already been leapfrogged to the next leg but we were so determind not to be leapfrogged.

So a few ammendments were made to the team legs and we decided to forego our 7 miler leg and instead we would just run the last 2 miles of it whilst Aaron would do a back to back and hand over to us on a random roundabout somewhere out of the blue.

Whilst we were waiting for Aaron to emerge at the roundabout, one of the other teams came whizzing by,and then another, then Aaron appeared. Myself and Sue were at the ready but unfortantly Sue’s foot was causing her some issues and after a few steps she decided to forego the 2 miles leaving me to chase the minibus to the checkpoint flag. Sue made her way back to the minibus and I was left chasing the other two girls who had just passed our minibus.

Something then just triggered off in my brain. I took my foot off the break and off I went. I can not describe how fuelled I was. Having run 43 miles over the past 18 hours or so my legs surely should have said no yet my mind was powered up to catch the girl infront of me and within 2 minutes I sailed passed her with a massive grin on my face just as our minibus was passing with massive cheers and waves. I only wish Sue had been running with me at the time to complete this our last leg.

It’s about getting out the door and running when the rest of the world is only dreaming about having the passion that you need to live each and every day with. It’s about being on a lonely road and running like a champion even when there’s not a single soul in sight to cheer you on. Running is all about having the desire to train and persevere until every fiber in your legs, mind, and heart is turned to steel.And when you’ve finally forged hard enough, you will have become the best runner you can be. And that’s all that you can ask for – Paul Maurer

I could see another girl a good 400m in front of me, running down the dual carriadge way and round the roundabouts. Something in my head told me I had to catch her, I was on a mission, a mission impossible after 43 miles – hell no I was gonna get her, girl. I could feel nothing in my legs my mind was focused as I got nearer and nearer and then just as two of our team came to cheer me on I threw over my sunglasses and sprinted past her to the next checkpoint with a fantastic cheer not just from our team but from all the supporters as well. How on earth I did that only my crazy mind will know – just under 2 miles, when I looked at the garmin it came in at 7.24 minute miling. I was running so hard that tears ran down my leg Ok and breath.

I can’t believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary. – Lou Holtz

Off went our next runner, only 2 more legs to go, we were nearly there and hadn’t been leapfrogged. We waited in anticipation at the penultimate checkpoint. It was getting dark by now and a couple of the other teams were just in front of us, we were oblvious to whether they had been leapfrogged or not. Our runner came in and handed over for the last leg before our lap of honour.

The minibus made its way into Cardiff. We piled out just outside the millenium stadium and waited for our last runner to meet us. Cardiff was enjoying a good drink or two, to my amusment passer bys with too much red wine down them asked us what we were all doing, 30 plus runners in oranage jumpers crowded around a “checkpoint” flag. “We’ve just run from London to Cardiff” we perked up – the expressions on their faces was priceless!

Our runner emerged surrounded by massive cheers, we GPS’ed in and off we went to do our lap of honour. We decided to walk it as we were that exhausted that it really didn’t matter, it was nearly 11pm as we entered the somewhat empty stadium apart from the tanoy announcing our entrance, big cheers went up along with our arms. What a massive fantastic achievement, we did it: London to Cardiff in a team of 10 runners in 26 hrs and 13 minutes. Team Noth South United!

No matter where we live, what we do, how fast we are, what our dreams are, what we are running from, or where our miles lead – we are a running family. We mark miles, we ache, we try, we fail, we triumph and we endure. – Kristin Armstrong

Huge thanks to the team: Jamie, Aaron, Craig, James, Mark, Sue, Andrew, Michael, Chris, Craig for making that 26 hours and 13 minutes an amazing experience, especially the drivers and those that put so much effort into organising such a great team. Huge thanks to Sue for putting up with me for 43 miles – how did you do it? All I did was to turn up and run, some of these guys spent 7 months planning, gathering a team, putting together maps and bringing everyone together. You all did an amazing job.

Would I do it again? Do you even need to ask?

Results

Time: 26 hours and 13 minutes
Position: 6th out of 12

More information

London to Cardiff

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