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The Magnificent Six – A tale of the Wessex Ridgeway 2009

Guy Thompson reports…

(A title that is only a little more original for the fact that we couldn’t have a seventh runner! After running my first leg, I was wishing that particular rule didn’t really count.)

Ian (WACer nearest the camera) ready for the start
from Tollard Royal

Our team (Ian Buckingham, me, Phil Burgess, Daryl Davies, Andy Porter, Steve Guy) turned up to a quiet little corner of Dorset near Tollard Royal, nice and early, for the start of the 12 leg, 60 mile relay race along this well known local ridgeway. It helped to take our minds off what we were about to do by trying to find/beg/borrow pins enough to tag on our numbers, pick up meal tickets and share a word or two with others. But the starting gun came soon enough and Ian was off! We had to drive in a similar direction to the runners to begin with, who weaved on and off roads and tracks, so we were able to see them all at a couple of early viewing spots on our drive to the first change-over point. I remember the weather being ok for that first 15 minutes. But by the time we concentrated on getting to Iwerne Courtney, the heavens opened.

The runners came down the last hill of this first leg looking like drowned rats (perhaps not fleeing a sinking ship or looking fearful, but looking equally determined!). On top of the ridge, with gusting winds and heavy rain, Ian had had a tough time to push on through that. And running against top runners of opposing teams. What a start!

I was having to run at this upcoming change-over and am possibly the most fair-weather-seeking runner you’ll find. But being a road runner, rather than x-country fan, I’d already accepted the worst – the more than slim possibility of pain….hmm, make that lots of pain, let alone rain - and threw myself down the road.

Well, the psychology of fearing the worst must have been helpful. Come the last hill, after running fairly hard and wheezing for breath yet still running on with eyes now near glazing over, I passed three folk walking together having given in to the pain. Though I knew that shame well (the hill beat me before on my running of The Stickler), I had sworn not to be bowed down low once again. Grrrrr! Though it did help a great deal to this rat that the skies had dried up almost immediately after Ian had handed me the baton! The sun would peek out now and raise all our spirits.

I made it to the end of my leg and passed on the baton to Phil, who had let us use his car as our ‘half-team’ mobile home come transport. After recovering sufficiently to get out of wet clothes, down a bottle of squash and eat tracker bars enough to leave crumbs for half the local wildlife to live off, it was time to be at the next change-over to see Phil come in and Daryl hare off in his element, up for the challenge!

Driving around the country lanes of little-seen parts of Dorset is actually a very pleasant part of the day. But you’ve always got in the back of your mind that we really need to get to the next change-over in time when it’s your half of the team changing over! So this next drive was pleasantly relaxing now that we (our car’s trio) had all run our first legs and, though the wind was strong for the runners, the sun had shown itself fully by now and we had time to relax before running again. For Daryl, it was a lot less relaxing I’m sure!

We kept as a group, both cars of our team’s triplets meeting at each change-over and cheering each other on. We had lost touch with the leaders, who had already passed through even before either of our cars had arrived, and the field was settling down into positions so we now saw familiar faces from near-placed teams and could now judge we were in a battle for 4th/5th place with Marlborough, watching the team of four Avon Valley runners do brave battle with the hills in third place.

The next few legs flew by and all too soon I was sitting in Phil’s car as we parked up at my next leg start, dreading having to cause my calves to do yet more work! I’m pretty religious about warming up for a run (usually riding my bike for a half hour or so when not so constrained) but not so much as a few short strides this time – not from lack of time but from a wish to postpone the torturing of my poor legs!

Ian came running along a shallow incline along a valley floor through the tall green grass of a huge curving field not too unlike somebody out of Monty Python’s Holy Grail - so far away as to not appear to be making much ground…. and then all at once….argh!! Off I go!

I lumbered in to the change-over with Daryl shouting well done! We had taken 4th place from Marlborough. I felt tired, but not so tired as to miss passing someone. Turned out he’d got himself a bit lost and their 3 minute lead was now a 30 second deficit without me having realised!

Phil ran on, determined as ever. We got to the next change-over without mishap and waited patiently. This was a long leg and a rapid drive there had left us plenty of time for suspense to build. A great part of this relay race along 60 odd miles of Dorset’s ridgeline is that it’s long enough to build up that tension! Would we come in 4th, would it be 5th?! What would happen to the other teams around us?

This was perhaps the image of the day. Phil running at real pace, steaming along the road with blood all over his leg and arm. Like some runner out of Gallipoli! He’d taken a wrong turn (our turn this time to even things up with Marlborough) and Phil had had an altercation with some barbed wired in his efforts to correct his course! Phil had run a proud leg to make up time and we were still right in there with Marlborough only 30 seconds in front! The game was afoot! And Daryl shot off after the runner who was still in sight.

We only just made the next change-over in time to see Daryl holding the margin steady against a very powerful runner. They both clearly enjoyed running so close to each other over a whole leg, with great spirit in both our teams’ enjoyment of the fight now brewing up for 4th! This was now the business end of the race and we were right in there!

We stood about in the layby that was the next change-over point, peering anxiously round the bend to know who would appear first. And as fate would have it, Andy came pounding down the last stretch with neck aflame from the exertion and determination…… without sign of a chasing runner! Awesome!! Andy had flown along this penultimate leg, hunting down the pretender to our rightful spot in the order of merit! Grrr! Getting down to the glory section of our battle …. Andy had not only overtaken Marlborough but made over a four minute lead on him. Muhahaha!

A slick final changeover from Andy at Coney’s Castle, as Steve heads for the finish line

Steve. Not much been said yet of this man. He had run a first leg that wasn’t too wet but had faced the full onslaught of a very wild wind along a very unprotected and long section of ridgeline. Yet his reserves of endurance shone through. He had played down his ability while we waited for sight of Andy at the final change-over. But we knew! He ran a storming sub 50 last leg which buried, nay crushed any hopes Marlborough might have entertained despite the lead made by Andy, who in turn had been set in position by a pressurising Daryl, a blood letting Phil, guy smiley and our rock (or baton wielding knight of some long lost round table) that was Ian. Our Magnificent Six.

(Perhaps we might make it Seven next time – a full time driver in a mini-van so as to be that bit less original.)

Guy Thompson


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