‘Keeping it together’ A crew members view of the RNR

Chris Harrison details the Open Team's Round Norfolk Relay 2017

“We have it easy” – said just about every runner that participated in the RNR for the Open team this year.  “We just have to rock up on time, do our run and we are done”.

Almost true, there is still a big part to play but yes doing the all nighter on the support crew is a buzz but demands hard work and a fair bit of caffeine too.  This was my first experience of being up all night in a minibus on the RNR and there was me thinking we’d have time for some quality photos, have some laughs between checkpoints and basically eat and drink.

How wrong I was.

The stages during the daytime were certainly easier as no van support was required, we had a bit of time to compose ourselves and work out logistics a bit further, we weren’t quite the well oiled machine we needed to be early on but did a damn good job to not let this impact the runners – just one major error and that was getting our timings wrong to ensure a runner got their water at the right time – sorry Paul Martin, please forgive us.

The early stages were not helped for us by strong headwinds and we lose a little time, no need to worry though as it’s a long way to go yet.  I then get the privilege of running stage 3 myself and set a new 5 mile PB in the process, that’s nearly a minute back on the time and stage 4 is underway.

As the dark fell we became trapped in a circle of needing to get supplies from one vehicle to another as the minibus would now not stop, lesson learnt there, we had some dramas but kept it together to keep the rota in place to share the driving and balance getting the next runner ready.  Even a few Dukes of Hazard style change overs were in order at times!  One nice problem we faced on the Open team was, depending on the stage, we couldn’t keep up because the runners were so bloody quick it left us little time in between stages to be ready and comfortable. 

After one changeover myself and timekeeper Aston took a few minutes before setting off only to get a phone call.

“Have you guys left yet?”

“What’s the rush?” I replied.

“Dan Middleton is steaming along!”

Oh blimey, sure enough I had to maximise every bit of power from James’ car as we took longer than realised to catch them up and overtake….panic over.  These boys are quick, Aston feeds me and passes drinks as he keeps a solid eye on the stopwatches, the guy has taken to timekeeping brilliantly, so much he’s now got Excel on his phone for recording the times!  Doesn’t stop James have a stress on though for change overs; and where is that black folder with all the paperwork?

The time just disappears as you move yourself from one point to the next, I don’t even recall passing through parts of the county and I’m turning up at the next checkpoint in what is sometimes frankly the middle of nowhere.  Starting later is quite surreal at times, you pass through at least 7 stages before you start getting anywhere near catching anyone, such is the impact of the staggered start.  You start to wonder if anyone else is taking part!

Then the excitement builds, another solid stage, another stunning time by someone, we’ve clawed back more minutes.  The chase is on, we are catching and the number of flashing orange lights gives you a surge, the adrenaline is pumping through your veins, it may be 1 in the morning but we are going from strength to strength and oddly enough I’m not actually that tired.  Still It’s the first time since my late night drinking days that I’ve ordered a Big Mac and a strong coffee at some ungodly hour in the morning however.

Arriving at stage 10, we get Simon ready and I go to find Colin.  He’s fast asleep in the back of the car, if anyone can go immediately into a powernap, its Colin.

Tap tap on the window…

“Your turn on the bike Colin”

“What again….?”

The face of sleepy man crawls out and jumps on the bike.  Doesn’t look that happy….

In between all this, the phones are pinging away on the Whatsapp chat.  Please let there be a signal…..

“How are we doing?”

“I’m at my checkpoint”

“I’m now going to bed”  - Yeah rub it in you lucky git.

“Great work everyone, keep pushing”

“We are 2 miles to the changeover”

It goes on with barely time for some of us to thank the runners properly, as we are off again leaving them lying on the floor in exhaustion.*

*Disclaimer, we did make sure they were ok before leaving, honest.

We are into the early hours and we are now working in a slick fashion, the vans a mess but we’ll worry about that later.  That bloody orange light is not working again either.

Then we have a moment of misfortune, we’ve got an injury and unable to finish the stage.  Things are silent for a bit but knowing that the wellbeing of the runner is most important.  We do what we can and get to the next checkpoint.  We press on.

The guys dig deep for the remaining stages and we are passing team after team, Ash handles this brilliantly as over 7 miles he must have passed 14 teams, everything is getting compressed now as we push on to show our time to finish with style.  The sun is coming up as the mist slowly clears, its still bloody cold and I’ve done a double stint on bike support, my bum really hurts on this awful seat, the guys tease me with a doughnut from the van.  My feet and hands are cold, everyone is tiring and I really need a shower.

Someone please hand me one of those cans of cheap Red Bull…..Myles cheekily sneaks in 30-40 minutes sleep and once awake he is eating again.

2 stages to go and Neil is off, its full daylight now and the checkpoints are bustling with activity as the teams get closer together.  Here we get to meet other club members from the other teams, exchange a few stories, find out their progress before heading off again.  We wait at the stage 17 changeover and hear that Neil he is less the half a mile away…..blimey he put the hammer down.

James takes over and for the run in, 2 bikes support him, we still have encouragement to keep the motivation up.  The off road part means the runner is quicker than the cyclists!  In an attempt to open the gate quickly (because he was too far ahead of us!) James bangs his ribs and then struggles to breathe properly, he pushes on keeps the pace and hits the town centre, nearly home.  Then cramp, he stretches and we keep him motivated all the way to the finish thereon.

Back in to Lynnsport and we head over to the line as James heads in down the track, its 9:45 in the morning and we’ve done it.

Team breakfast is in order as we tuck in to a decent full English, as we reflect on the night. Ok we didn’t get what we set out for but its been pretty successful all in all with ups and downs; but despite what you have to put yourself through it was a brilliant experience.

Roll on 2018!