I’d heard fantastic things about this team relay event, and I remember Alister saying that the 2011 event was a very friendly affair bathed in sunshine. So when Will Horsley emailed around to organise teams, I was keen to pull on the Striders vest and have a go. Alister was less sure this year, however, as he knew he was likely to have wonky legs after the London Marathon the Sunday before. As it turns out, however, he was fresh as a daisy, so we got signed up and arranged to share lifts.
Wednesday morning dawned grey and wet and cold. No sign of last year’s sunshine. As the day pressed on it got wetter and wetter, and it looked ominously like we’d be running in the torrential rain and splodgy mud we’d encountered at the club handicap the week before. Ah, well, at least we knew what we were letting ourselves in for and had trained for the conditions! As last year, there were a number of Striders turning out to represent the club for the first time, so there were no thoughts of pulling out of the event, just a general foreboding as the clouds darkened and the rain got heavier as I drove Alister, Anna and Adam (also now known as Smiley-Dan) down to Sedgefield. It’s a good job Will had emailed the teams around beforehand – I think there’d have been a lot of no shows (me included!) if he hadn’t organised us all so efficiently!
The car park was full on arrival – of both cars and water – and we sploshed across towards the cafe to find Will, our teams and our numbers. I was teamed with Greta, Anna and new member Alex Probert, but didn’t manage to find Greta and our numbers at first. To be honest, I was struggling to see anyone as the rain really was pelting down. Alister, Anna and Adam headed off to the start and I tried to find Alex and Pippa who had turned up on my recommendation, and was so caught up with feeling guilty that I’d dragged them out in the rain that I lost track of time and realised there was no-one left at the cafe and that the start was in a couple of minutes time. I splashed over to a soggy-looking marshal and got directions to the start, and ran towards the large monument that was to give us a bit of shelter. I barely had time to find Greta and realise that I was the first leg runner before I heard the final call for the start. I struggled to pin my number on and wrestled myself out of my now-drenched hoody to get to the start line just in time. I saw James Garland making his way towards the front of the pack and I joined Claire Readey and Louise Miller in a huddle further back, and joined in the pre-race discussion about what the hell we were thinking of to be out in this rain without waterproofs, umbrellas, wellingtons and/or wetsuits.
Once underway, the going underfoot wasn’t as appalling as I’d expected. The route is very similar to one lap of the Sedgefield parkrun course that shares the venue and, had I been able to see anything past the enormous raindrops that were pelting me from all angles, I would have enjoyed the view of the beautiful Hardwick Hall and the ornamental grounds and lake. As it was, I squinted and blinked through the wall of water that was attacking me just enough to follow the route and avoid a number of duck-hazards and other varieties of waterfowl who were busy setting up home in the fresh puddles. The grass sections were squelchy but less muddy than I’d expected, but there was a good smattering of swamp-like mud on the path on the way back to the finish. I caught sight of Dave Shipman and Carolyn Bray up ahead of me, and decided to have a go at catching Dave but he must have sensed me coming and broke me on the slippery slope up to the finishing area. I slid about and bounced off the potholes and molehills, while Dave skipped up like a mountain goat and I lost him on the final corner. Still, I was buoyed by the loud support from the third and fourth leg team runners huddling for warmth in the monument above the route and managed a sprint finish to hand over to Greta, who set off at an impressive pace. It was only a 3k leg, but I was pretty pleased with it (although I might have gone faster had I not spent so much time zig-zagging around the puddles and mud!).
As the second leg runners sped off, I reclaimed my hoody and joined the cheering crew. It must have been bitterly cold for those standing waiting for third and fourth legs, and, although I was a bit miffed to see the rain easing off as the third leg runners heading out, I think I got the best of it with a first leg run and was less cold than some of the others. It was fantastic to see such a huge number of Striders and great to feel a part of the teams as everyone cheered for everyone else. Particular well-dones for new member Sarah Tulip who only joined us for the first time time on club handicap night (in the rain), and must have wondered what on earth she was doing turning out in torrential rain for the second time in two weeks, and to Alex Probert and Pippa who pulled on the purple and green for their first team event. Congratulations also to Victoria Stott who came along in case we were short of runners and still decided to have a run artound, despite the weather, accompanying Sue Jennings on her leg.
It was a good event to be a part of. But can someone book the sunshine for next year, please?