John O’Groats to Lands End

John O’Groats and Land’s End have been the start/finish of countless endurance events over the years. North-South or vice versa¬†(LEJOG) the shortest distance remains the same at about 874 miles, however there is no officially recognised route to follow. This allows would be JOGLERS the freedom to choose the most appropriate roads but it also entails a lot of homework at the preparation stage. Our route was established following a request for help in Runner’s World. Just a handful of readers responded with directions, maps and reports from earlier attempts, which were pieced together and updated to give what we considered to be the easiest and most direct route. This was marked onto 4 miles/inch maps which were photocopied in sections to produce a manual, aptly named teach yourself to JOGLE.

In retrospect our route was not necessarily the safest or most scenic. On several roads, notably the A9 and A30, we were faced with the prospect of running long stretches of dual carriageway, with 70mph traffic less than two feet away. Depending on the weather, we were either buffeted by the wind, blasted by grit or soaked by spray. These roads made no provision for pedestrians let alone runners and are best avoided, unless a serious attempt at breaking the record is in mind.

What we hadn’t taken into account was that improvements constantly change the position and classification of roads. At that time the A74 was being upgraded to motorway status, and in several sections major diversions were in place forcing us to abandon our planned route on more than one occasion.

The team was formed a good six months before the run took place. With no qualifying standards or restrictions other than the ability to take a week’s holiday away from the family, the squad consisted of ten regular runners of varying abilities and ranging in age from 21 to 62. A support crew of two were also signed up to prepare meals, look after us and generally keep things going. The team was then divided into early and late shifts. Each shift had a 12 seat minibus and bike for emergencies. The buses served as transport for the runners and carried all belongings and equipment. Space was limited but it did avoid the need for additional support vehicles. The shifts had daily targets to achieve and were responsible for setting down and picking up their own runners.

The itinerary used was dictated by three factors; the size of the team, the number of miles each individual could run each day and the average pace. Our ten man team, were all capable of comfortably running 15 miles a day at a combined average pace of 8 minute miles. The daily target was set at 135 miles to allow for the unexpected and keep to a 5:30am to 10:30pm timetable. With the travel plan fixed, accommodation was booked according to each day’s predicted finishing point. To keep costs down we stayed at Youth Hostels, with the exception of a small hotel for the final night’s celebrations. If you’ve never tried them, Hostels are basic, but clean and comfortable. All provide showers and cooking facilities, some also serve meals and offer washing and drying facilities. They represent excellent value and are conveniently situated for the run.

It had been agreed that each leg of the relay would be no longer than 5 miles in order to maintain the pace. In view of some of the conditions encountered this was a good decision, but entailed 200 changeovers. The 8 hour shifts were hectic and often chaotic. All five members were constantly active; either running, riding the lead bike, driving the minibus, recovering from the last leg or preparing for the next. Every 30 minutes or so the changeover took place causing everyone to swap places. Operating the system in the cramped and rapidly deteriorating conditions of the bus whilst becoming increasingly tired inevitably provoked the odd disagreement, but a combination of adrenaline and team spirit pulled us through.

Running in the height of Summer risked the threat of dehydration. Not only was it necessary to drink plenty of water before running, but it was also essential to continue drinking throughout the day. As each runner required at least 4 pints of water a day, each bus was equipped with a 5 gallon barrel which was refilled every night. Most remained fully hydrated, the only draw back being the constant need to stop whenever we spotted a bush. Our support crew did a magnificent job keeping us supplied with enormous plates of pasta at the end of the day. Eating during the running shift proved much more difficult and involved snacking between runs. Favourites included Mars bars and bananas as failure to maintain energy reserves throughout the day resulted in a noticeable drop off in performance on the later runs.

Lack of sleep and the mental fatigue it brought on were probably the most demanding aspects of the run. Physically the run was not as tough as anticipated. Most of the team were regularly logging 40 – 60 miles per week before the event, which proved adequate preparation. A little more hill work may have been beneficial as we encountered the odd monster on the way. We were fortunate enough not to pick up any serious injuries, although one runner did discover that mistakenly using someone else’s size 9 shoes is not a good idea when you have size 11 feet.

Only once did we actually lose all contact with a runner. He was eventually retrieved after a frantic 90 minutes, and it served to emphasize the necessity of a contingency plan. Back in those days mobile phones were still an expensive novelty and even if we had one, large tracts of the country didn’t have network coverage – today’s JOGLERS don’t know how lucky they are! The only other misadventure was a fumbled changeover. The baton ended up in the gutter and rolled down what appeared to be the only drain between Inverness and Stirling. Having no alternative, we were forced to open up the drain and fish out the baton by dangling one of the team down the hole by his ankles.

The experience was a great adventure which most enjoyed and only a few endured. It tested friendships but eventually brought us closer together. We will remember it for the rest of our lives, but would we do it again? To have run it once represents the fulfillment of an ambition, running it again could add nothing more.

As far as we know, the record for a relay team is held by Vauxhall Motors AC; 76 hours, 58 minutes 29 seconds. This means an average pace of less than 5 minute 20 sec miles! (source; 1994 Guinness Book of Records). If you know different, tell us.

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