The 2013 North Downs Relay was held on the 6th of July and GO earned second place, as in the previous two years (following a string of wins in the years before that).
It is 9:30am when the race begins simultaneously in Dover and Farnham, each first leg runner carrying the hopes of their team towards the open doors of the refreshing Vigo Inn which is at the midpoint of the North Downs Way in sunny Kent. It is particularly hot this Saturday morning, as all of the last few years’ British summers seem to have arrived at last, delayed but eager to confirm their warmest wishes. This will take its toll on our GOpher band, who will arrive with great thirst at the Vigo Inn after eight Legs of effort, in slightly over eight Hours of time.
On the Eastern Front our first half goes like a dream. Justin Mills, who nearly always joins the GO team for this event (despite being an orienteer of a Different Club) not only wins his Leg 2, put also co-opts his brother Dan to win Leg 3, and friend Alastair to win Leg 1 for GO. No doubt swept along by this euphoric start, Nick Green follows this with a fourth Leg win to place GO firmly in the lead at 3 hours, 53 minutes, 46 seconds against Canterbury Harriers 4h14m46s, 21 minutes behind, and SLOW’s 4h48m39s 55 minutes behind us.
On the Western Front we have no less auspicious a start, with a couple of non-orienteers who run regularly with the GO Haslemere group on Tuesday evenings putting us into a 5 minute lead over SLOW (who are themselves half an hour up on Canterbury) after two Legs. Emma on the first Leg to Puttenham gives Paul Couldridge of SLOW a run for his money, which he just manages to win by 40 seconds; then Charlie pulls us into the lead by Newlands Corner, where Pete (“I only want a short Leg”) Nicholls takes on one of the longer Legs that the race has to offer. When he hands over to Jenny Who Must Be Obeyed at Stepping Stones we have just slipped narrowly into second place behind SLOW.
But this is a race of many halves, and us GOphers have just had ours. The last four Legs of each half of the race in the blistering sun do not suit our warm furry natures; we would rather be tucked up in our burrows until the cool of the evening. At the Eastern End, Chris Kiddier takes on Leg 5 to “The Dirty Habit” at Hollingbourne where Nick Green is enjoying a well-earned pint after his previous Leg win, and from where Keith Tonkin assails the Big One (aka Leg 6), which unfortunately defeats him. This Leg is over 10 miles, crosses far too many contours for a fine July day, and Keith only said he’d do it at the last minute, so this is no surprise. As a consequence however, his assault on the next Leg, which is a gentle 5 mile downhill saunter, also founders. So GO picks up the “cut-off” times for both of these legs, leaving us trailing Canterbury by nearly 50 minutes (SLOW only 14 minutes ahead of us).
Meanwhile, some disquiet on the Western Front on the Leg from Stepping Stones to Reigate Hill. SLOW’s Peter Foulkes collapses a few hundred yards before the finish and paramedics are called. I am told he was under observation in hospital for a week, but is OK now. He was actually SLOW’s second runner on that Leg, which their first runner won (everyone else got the cut-off time). SLOW (Karen Jones) also beat us (Mark Smith) on the next leg and Kath Nicholls on the leg after that and me on the penultimate western Leg – but all three of us hung on in there with respectable times so we lost less than 15 minutes on all three of these legs.
So it’s 4:36pm when the last leg from the west starts, which is me, “fresh” from the previous leg, but with the other runners out of sight as I don’t get there till 4:38pm, having not managed to keep up with SLOW (each leg starts when the winner of the previous leg arrives). I pause, I drink, I “run” … but after a mile or so I know that I will take a long time doing this leg, and I won’t beat the cut-off time (anyone exceeding the cut-off time is awarded the cut-off time for their Leg). So when Paul Whiston drives by and offers me a lift to the Vigo Inn I know what to do! I get to the Vigo Inn before any of the other runners on the final legs.
At about the same time (4:45pm) the last leg from the east starts. Another double-leg runner, but what a difference a delay makes! Heading for the Vigo Inn, Nick (“Dirty Habit”) Green steams up the rolling English road of Leg 8 towards his next pint, pulling us back ahead of SLOW by the end of the East Half of the race.
Overall (after applying some time penalties to CH for only having one lady runner instead of at least 4, and to GO and SLOW for having a runner doing a second leg non-consecutively) we all got podium positions:
Gold: SLOW 18h 52m 10s
Silver: GO 19h 52m 10s
Bronze: CH 20h 40m 2s
Below are some of the mugs won by the Leg winners (these are for GO Leg wins at the East End)