A whittled wooden baton with a cheeky grin unites more than 400 runners and forum members around the UK. Barry the Baton has travelled almost 4,500 miles along the coast of England, Wales and Scotland as part of an epic coastal relay organised by runnersworld.co.uk forumites.
The idea was the brainchild of forumite Stu just ten months ago. Inspired by Eddie Izzard's feat of 43 marathons in 51 days last year, Stu initially thought of attempting the coastal distance alone. "I soon realised a relay was a better idea. Aided with half a bottle of red, I asked on the Runner's World forum whether it was possible - and the idea went from strength to strength."
Quickly a team ethos grew with runners of all ages and abilities willing to take part - from Scottish schoolchildren to runners in their seventies. After five months of planning, a dedicated community called Coasters GB was born. Barry started off on his first relay leg in Blackpool on 9th May 2010. Stu remembers his nerves the day the relay began. "I nearly had a breakdown when I headed for the start," he explains. When he spotted friendly faces waiting in Coasters GB T-shirts, the mission started in earnest.
It would be 170 days before Barry the Baton returned to Blackpool. There were more than a few hairy moments along the way as runners tried to run as close to the coast as possible. Stories abound of Coasters getting lost, dashing across golf courses and encounters with dogs mistaking the baton as a biscuit. And as the weeks rolled on Barry became something of a fashion icon, sporting a tartan scarf on the Scottish leg and gradually building up his own wardrobe of T-shirts. Coasters were glued to the baton's progress thanks to regular updates on the forum and twitter, courtesy of Runnaholic who gave Barry a voice modelled on her 15-year-old son.
After taking part in the relay, Coasters GB feel real pride in their achievement. "It's the kind of thing you will be telling people about for years to come, " explains SJPC14, who organised the relay between Blackpool and Gretna. Stu has also been amazed at the scope and success of the project. "What we have done is pretty special and unique. And the community spirit that evolved out of the need to get Barry the baton around the coast has been phenomenal, " he explains.
Perhaps more amazing than the miles covered and number of runners are the friendships that have been formed both on and off forum. "Strangers have become friends. Everyone looks out for each other, not just during this relay helping out whenever someone's stuck and need to change their schedule, but also at other events. It's like one big family now, " explains Runnaholic.
The close-knit Coasters GB community and the epic distance covered are testimony to what our forumites have achieved. Don't forget to check out some of the pictures taken along the way in our gallery and watch this space to find out the new adventures in store for Barry the Baton.