It was a wet day in July when Coops10 launched a deceptively simple-sounding idea into the forums - given that many forumites had never met, wouldn’t it be a great idea if we all met up for a r*ce involving teams of three running a marathon relay? Nine miles seemed do-able for most runners and, having perused the racing calendar, the Luton Marathon Relay in December sounded ideal. Luton is renowned for its balmy tropical airs and luscious Decembers so the weather wouldn’t be a problem and anyway, we’d had such a rubbish summer, what could December possibly throw at us?
The buzz quickly went round the forums, and runners flocked to the banner of the Laughing Cow. Teams were quickly formed by longstanding threads such as The Runner’s Arms, the Waggoners, Good Flicks and Shades, and by the time of the race there were more than 15 teams in place, ready and raring to go, as well as a number of full marathoners (including MicknPhil). More than 50 forumites were expected to race.
Of course, the race was not going to interfere too much with the deadly serious business of Having a Jolly Good Time. Now, at last, many forumites would meet face-to-face the people with whom they had been happily trading wisecracks and abuse over the preceding months. Many questions would be answered: Were people as tall as they appeared on the forum? Did their avatar give any clue as to the true beauty and gorgeousness of the person themselves? In fact, would we have to ditch previously-held ideas of age, hair colour and, in one or two cases, gender? (The answers to the above are no, no, and yes, by the way). Beers were to be sunk – in moderation of course – the night before the race and a big shindig was planned in the Leicester Arms by the Luton Travelodge. Possibly a few more drinks might slip down on the Sunday, we’d see how it went.
A major weather event
It has to be said, the weather reports didn’t look promising, with heavy rain and 40mph winds forecast. But still, we were all confident that on the day itself, the sun would shine, birds would sing, and squirrels would chatter happily in the trees as our brave runners trotted by on this glorious December day - in Luton!
The day dawned at Blaze Towers and I rose, changed and, pausing only to wave a paw to next door’s Red Setter (aka Dave the Dog), set off for Luton from leafy Warwickshire. It was raining. Oh yes, and it was windy. Both. And very.
Arriving at the Lea Manor Recreation Centre it became immediately apparent that Luton was in the grip of a Major Weather Event, and the authorities had chosen to use Lea Manor as an emergency housing centre for weather-distressed refugees. There were thousands of people inside, in varying states of disarray and undress. Some of them looked like runners. Chief amongst the throng were our forumites, who seemed very chilled about the absolutely appalling weather outside (RW breeds 'em tough!). Admittedly forum sang-froid started to dissipate when the occasional wind-lashed person would appear, scoured and dripping wet, from "a walk to the car park over the road". I was in a major wibble about doing two legs of the relay anyway, without running in Hurricane Katrina conditions, but the die was cast and anyway we could always blame Coops - it was his idea!
As for the race itself - the route was quite mixed, with some nice countryside sections and some back-of-the-housing-estate bits, as well as long stretches by the side of an A-road and some fairly undulating undulations.
Drenched, battered and shaken
At 10.00am the buzzer went and it became evident that the first leg runners had really drawn the short straw. The wind was howling in from all angles – so strong that you really felt you were making no progress whatsoever in some stretches. The wind had a vicious sense of humour, saving his worst for uphill stretches and/or places where the route took a corner, so that one minute you were coasting along nicely and the next you turned a corner and ... Wham! you hit a wall of freezing water travelling at 45mph.
So, Leg One was tough, and the runners came in drenched, battered and shaken by the Luton Hurricane. The runners in the second leg were given the false dawn of a break in the weather before the tempest struck again. I was doing this leg and felt sure I saw Judy Garland being sucked up into a tornado as a squirrel went by on a windsurfer. It was 'orrible to the power of 10, but the runners kept running. The speed cameras on the A-road glared mockingly at us as we plodded by in the tempest, and the village road signs admonishing us to 'Slow Down' were also somewhat wide of the mark. It were hell! Hell and high water!
By and by, the third leg of the relay commenced. The third leg had the most beneficent weather, but that wasn’t saying very much at all - the weather was extreme to the max. While the relay was taking place the marathon runners were still grinding it out over a course of three laps, and maximum respect is due to those who completed the course in such atrocious conditions. The marshals were a particularly pleasing feature of this race, with lots of smiles and shouts of encouragement, which, given they had probably been stood outside in gale force freezing rain for several hours, was quite an achievement.
Well, we counted them all out and we counted them back in again. It does appear that the RW Forum Pests came top out of all the forum teams listed on the original thread, in a creditable 90th place (passing swiftly over the fact that the RW Towers team came in 68th), with the other teams appearing scattered through the results.
As for me, running 17 miles was new and proof that I can think about a full marathon next year, so it was a top result in difficult conditions.
Post-race pints and presentations
Once out of the rain the teams swapped war stories on "The Day We Outfaced The Luton Hurricane", before retiring to the Travelodge for a shower and the chance to slip into something more comfortable for the festivities ahead. Unsurprisingly, the weather had drastically improved by this stage, and a short toddle was all it took to get to the pub.
The gathering was a chance to circulate, press the flesh and also gave an opportunity for a few special presentations. Coops10 was presented with a cow-pattern posing pouch in honour of his sterling efforts in organising a top forum gathering. It was generally agreed that his pouch looked very nice, particularly when in situ, and a steady stream of ladies fingering his pouch had a prominent effect on Coops’ general demeanour (read that in any way you like!).
Birthdays were also celebrated. We all sang to Tickled Pink (strange looks from the locals) and presented kittenkat with a birthday cake for her birthday the following Tuesday (though somebody got the age wrong...).
The evening continued, with lots of laughing and joking, until eventually last orders were called and it was up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire. Which was a timely end to the day, as well as being factually correct, because Luton, as we know, is in Bedfordshire.
Will the forum ever meet up again in such diabolical weather conditions? Watch the skies... and keep your eyes open for the Laughing Cow!