Hampton Court Palace, Surrey
May 20-21, 2006
No. of finishers
The Green Belt Relay is not "Classic" in the sense of time-honoured - this year was its 11th edition - but it is a classic concept, carrying on from where the venerable London-Brighton 12-stage race left off (although this is stretched over two days).
It is a relay race for teams of 11 runners, who each run one stage on consecutive days in a clockwise circuit of London, at a radius of about 25 miles from the city centre. Starting at Hampton Court and finishing near Teddington Lock, nearly all the route is outside the M25, and it is practically continuous except for the eastern river crossing over the QE2 Bridge in Dartford.
The London-Brighton relay (and just this year the individual event as well) was driven off the A23 by traffic, long before the invention of risk assessments. The Green Belt's answer to the dilemma is to go as far away from traffic as ingenuity allows.
In the early days I ran a couple of stages alongside some very busy roads, but the race organiser Sean Davis has gradually adjusted the route so that now each stage threads its way through woods and fields, kissing gates and stiles. This has had a side effect of increasing the distance: before this year the race used to be only 20 stages, for teams of 10.
The field is limited to about 30 teams in several categories, coming from all over the south of England but mainly from within London. Each leg begins as a race in its own right, all runners starting off together, usually just before the first runner completes the previous stage. It has to be that way, so that eleven stages can be crammed into 12 hours of running - most of the stage records are over one hour. The shortest stage is 6.9 miles, the longest double that.
Stragglers, the organising club, send out detailed instructions in a course manual and the same information is posted on the website: www.greenbeltrelay.org.uk. It is a mine of information about the race, but also about the geography and history of the places it passes through.
The stage maps are themselves minor masterpieces of terse instruction: "Over stile and right along lane. As road veers right take footpath straight on..." Runners are urged to reconnoitre the stages beforehand, and this extends the event from being a one-off race to a more long-term recreational pursuit.
Anyone living within 50 miles of London would find it useful to check the GBR website and select one of the 22 well-chosen and carefully described routes. Any one of them offers a novel training run on forgiving surfaces, away from traffic and through some of the finest scenery that the South-East has to offer.
Almost all of the stages will have at least one view to offer that is worthy of a "Rave Run" photo. With 22 stages to choose from, this could be stretched out into a year's worth of long runs. It gives an entirely new perspective to the slogan: "I will run a year".