This event was a new format created to celebrate SOC’s 50th birthday. Based on the harvester relay in reverse, teams of six ran sequentially with the first couple of legs in the light and the later legs getting progressively darker as the dusk faded to night. Teams had a maximum allowed handicap and had to have at least two women. The first and last legs were suitable for juniors, meaning there were some quite varied teams overall.
The location was Fleming Park with an urban element in the surrounding town of Eastleigh.
I arrived to an overcast sky and light drizzle, but the hall we were based in for the evening was bright with plenty of space. Teams were busy sorting out bib numbers, deciding on shoes, and making sure their first runners were ready to go. My club, WSX, had two teams – both eager to beat the other one.
After a briefing by the organiser, we all headed outside to watch the start.
Leg 1 – 4km
The first runners from the nine teams assembled on the start line. The starter is ready, the tape is dropped, and……. everyone is standing still! The first control is only 75m away and straight ahead on the other side of a deep stream, but how to get there? Emma from WSX Hex is the first to work it out and charges north towards the bridge, the others soon follow, and the race is on.
The course is gaffled to keep the runners alert, but none of them are caught out. Everyone else makes their way over to the spectator control. People are perched atop the bank staring like meerkats into the distance trying to spot their runners. The approach is down a hill at the far end of the park with a long straight run towards the spectator control. Emma from WSX Hex is still in the lead; a few minutes later a stream of runners comes passing by and back out for another loop.
Wessex Hex come into the changeover with nearly a 4-minute lead over SLOW A in second. SOC B, SLOW BG and WIM follow a little after all within a minute of each other. Wessex We Six and SOC A come in 9 and 10 minutes down with SN snails and WIM/WSX making up places 8 and 9.
Leg 2 – 5km
My leg. The team captain is worried that we are down further than expected and tells me I must run hard – but when is the instruction any different? I open my map after being tagged by the incoming runner and quickly set off towards the same bridge as the first leg runners. The first thing I notice is the frequency of controls. With 25 controls and only 200m between each on average, there is no time to switch off. Constant planning ahead was required to maintain the flow. The course heads south out the park into the nearby streets. The urban section was short but involved several changes of direction and plenty of small connecting alleyways. I manage to overtake two runners, so far so good.
Back into the park and I realise my fist mistake – the footwear. My running shoes had been fine on the pavements and well-kept grass, but muddier parts of the park were a hinderance. Carrying on, out and back through the underpass, then heading into the spectator control where there was plenty of support before heading up to the top of the park.
Climbing up the hill I spot the leg two runner from Wessex Hex coming out of a control, the gap is closing. The lack of focus causes me to run too far and overshoot my control. I head back but mix up two pylons on the map and overshoot in the opposite direction, running to 21 instead of 19 – two minutes wasted – disaster! I reset and complete the few remaining legs cleanly, trying to make up as much as I can.
I come into the finish having moved WSX We Six up four places to 2nd and cut the deficit from 9 minutes to 4. Behind me, SOC B narrowly overtake SLOW A, SOC A make up time to edge ahead of SLOW BG, while WIM, SN Snails and WIM/WSX maintain their positions but fall further behind the leading team. The top four are only spaced by 10 minutes and the top seven by 16.
Leg 3 – 7km
The light is fading now and headtorches are required to read the map, if not to see the terrain. The third leg took the runners south-east away from Fleming Park down to Lakeside Country Park. A few longer legs in this section in contrast to the earlier runners. Terrain across the parkland was varied with one runner describing the section between the lakes as swamp-like. After the visit to the country park, the leg headed back to the same urban section used in leg two. Here, the Wessex Hex runner took a turn up the wrong road while heading for control 16 and wasted time having to backtrack. The WSX We Six runner, who had been slowly closing the whole time, drew level and overtook with a better route choice to the following control. The leg finished with a loop round the main park via the spectator control.
The two WSX teams had switched positions and at the changeover WSX We Six now had a 5-minute lead. A minute further back were SOC B, still 3rd but now challenging for 2nd. SLOW A held 4th, WIM fell back to 7th, and SOC A held their 40 second lead over SLOW BG, now in positions 4th and 5th.
Leg 4 – 5km
The second of the 5km legs was the same course as the first, but now in darkness instead of light. There was a lot of guesswork over which distant lights were runners coming into the spectator control. Several ‘runners’ observed not to be making much progress in the distance turned out to be street lights!
WSX We Six extended their lead over 2nd placed WSX Hex to 10 minutes, SOC B dropped from 3rd place to 5th, SLOW A improved from 4th to 3rd but were now 20 minutes off the lead. SLOW BG finally overtook SOC A to move up to 4th, and SN Snails overtook WIM for 7th, but both dropped further back.
Leg 5 – 7km
The second long leg and a repeat of leg 3. By this point WSX We Six appeared to have a commanding lead, but our captain was concerned that the SLOW A runner looked very quick. While the lead over WSX Hex continued to build, the SLOW A Runner was starting to close the gap. We were eagerly timing the splits at the spectator control to try and work out the size of the lead.
SLOW A closed the full 10-minute gap to WSX Hex and came in to the final changeover in 2nd place 25 seconds ahead, both teams 15 minutes behind the lead. Further down the field, SOC A unfortunately mis-punched and were disqualified, SOC B narrowly retook the place from SLOW BG, now in 4th and 5th but both falling further behind the lead, and WIM put in a very strong leg to close 20 minutes on SN Snails to move into 6th.
Leg 6 – 4km
At the start of the final leg the three teams in the medal positions were well clear of the rest of the field and there was a clear battle for 2nd. WSX We Six still had a 15-minute lead but the other final leg runners were faster – would it be enough?
To keep the event from running on for too long, the final leg runners from the rest of the teams were set off in a mass start a few minutes after 2nd and 3rd.
We had an anxious wait at the spectator control. Our runner came through still in the lead, but what would the gap be? The SLOW A runner comes through next, clearly ahead of WSX Hex and it appears the battle for 2nd and 3rd is settled. The gap is now 9 minutes, SLOW A have closed 6 out the 15 but we’re over halfway now – there should be enough left, just. Everyone is waiting by the run-in control looking out for lights coming up the rise from the south. A runner approaches! No, it’s a leg 5 runner. A second light, false alarm again as another leg 5 runner finishes. A third light, how quickly is it moving? Has it all been lost on the final stretch? No, it’s Julie for WSX We Six bringing the team home in 1st place.
SLOW A finish in 2nd, 4:09 behind, and WSX Hex finish 3rd, 7:47 behind. SLOW BG retake 4th from SOC B and SN Snails retake the place from WIM. Unfortunately, SOC B and WIM both mispunched on the final leg, leaving SN Snails in 5th and WIM/WSX in 6th.
The top three teams were awarded medals and Easter Eggs as prizes with a trophy for the winning team. Silva had also kindly supported the event by donating several headtorches and rucksacks as spot prizes for the organiser to award.
I would like to thank the organiser and all the other members of SOC who helped to put an enjoyable and well-run event. The times at the top end were close with 2nd and 3rd only 1.8% and 2.5% behind the winning time, although some consideration may need to be given to how to balance teams which can’t get near the handicap limit. It would have been nice to see a few more entries but hopefully it will grow if it continues in the future.
(Right-click on image below to view the graph in full size.)