I actually didn’t know I was going to be running in the Simplyhealth Great Team Relay until about a week before, when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to join a team of four. I’d never actually heard of the race beforehand, and the fact that it’s about 15 minutes from my flat was another big plus point. The other major factor in wanting to do it was that, as a fairly consistent racer, I tend to only do events of 10k or more. The Simplyhealth Great Team Relay is a 20k race split between four people. It’s very rare that I ever actually get the chance to test my 5k time so I was pretty keen to give it a go. Oh yeah, I’d also never been inside the Olympic Stadium, so I was pretty stoked about that as well.
Based on the fact that I’d done little research on the event itself, I did kind of think it was all going to be on the track, which in hindsight was a bit daft considering there were about 2,000 people doing it. Instead the race starts and ends in the stadium with the majority of the course around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
As events go, heading into the Olympic Stadium was fairly impressive. The format of the race utilised the space well, with spectators and runners sat around the seating as the first wave runners took their place at the start. The format was relatively simple. The first runners from each team lined up at the start before heading out, each holding a baton. The second runner then waits in the transition areas (about 200m of the track) until the baton is passed over.
The fact that each runner had at least three spectators with them (the other runners) meant the atmosphere was pretty damn impressive. The constant waves of people coming through to pass on their batons causing a sort of consistent maelstrom of applauding and excitement. It was pretty impressive. Add to that the fact that most people there were either elated that they’d just finished the race or excited/nervous about their wave coming up, meant for a pretty electric atmosphere.
Personally, I was actually pretty nervous. When I normally race it’s over a longer distance. I know it’s going to be tough every time, but there’s something about shorter distance races that strike fear in the heart of a runner. I think it stems largely from the fact that from the first second of a 5k or a one mile race your know you’ve got to pretty much give it everything you’ve got. You don’t have the luxury of pacing or spending a kilometre or two gauging your strategy; you basically just have to go for it. It’s daunting feeling when you know you’ve got about 20 minutes of pain ahead of you. The feeling is exacerbated when you have three other people running with you and the overall team time is reliant on your performance. It’s a lot of pressure. Especially when you’re running with fast people.
The upshot of this is that it makes the whole thing seem more important. What is essentially a 20 minute race turns into something significantly more weighty. You have people relying on you, you have people cheering you on and you have a stadium of other runners watching you on a big screen as you come in. It suddenly becomes a big event, and subsequently a big achievement.
I ran second in our team and I found it really hard. My PB on a 5k is about 19.30. I did that on a very flat course in November and I gave it everything I had. I remember leaning against a tree at the end trying to get my breath back. It was horrible. The QEOP is far from a PB course, especially in the heat. It’s windy (as in twists around a lot), it undulates and mentally it’s painful as you weave back and forth around the stadium. I found it really hard.
I finished my section with 20 minutes 46 seconds. A time I was okay with. I wanted a sub 20 but to be honest I didn’t have a chance. The rest of the team did a damn fine job, with Kieran bringing it home with a ridiculously fast 18.39. We finished with a 1:24:46, which included a 2:11 transition (the changeover bit between the start and the finish). The field was immensely impressive so we didn’t have a chance at the top spots – the winning team all ended up with sub 17.30 each. Yeah, fast.
I’ve done a few events at stadiums before and the majority have been badly planned attempts at utilising an athletic setting. Most were queue-heavy, late starting races that tenuously utilised the space to poor effect. The Simplyhealth Great Team Relay actually did it well. Not too many people, the venue was cleverly used and the organisation went like clockwork. The fact that you do it with a group of friends makes it work especially well.
The event costs £120 for a team of 4, so £30 each, with fundraising encouraged. Which, when you compare it to some of the bigger events out there, isn’t too bad at all, considering the location. There’s a goody bag as well, which is pretty good. My only issue (and it’s an issue with many of the bigger events), is the additional cost of race photos associated with the event, which come at £9 per photo or bulk pack from £20.
We even got to dick about on the last bit of remaining track from the Olympics (apparently, according to one of the ladies wandering around. No idea if that’s actually the case).
Simplyhealth is title partner of the Great Run Series and is supporting runners every step of the way by helping people make the most of life through better everyday health. (For more training advice, please visit www.greatrun.org/training-simplyhealth)