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2003 London Green Belt
Relay: We Did It!

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality of the Wissahickon Wanderers emerged in the 2003 Green Belt Relay around London on May 10 and 11.

The performance turned in by the five regular Wanderers in the 211-mile race can only be described as brave..... but pathetic. However, the running of the five new Wanderer recruits during the race was absolutely stunning. The finished product was a 19th place finish in a very strong field of 23.

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Wanderers' Rock Steady, Simon Newman and British Bulldog prepare final logistics just prior to the start of the Green Belt Relay. Does it look like this job is in competent hands?

The race consisted of 20 legs ranging from seven to 14 miles over varied terrain including country roads, forest paths, canal and river towpaths, and pilgrimage trails. Anyone who believes that southern England is essentially flat should think again. The many hills encountered on the course could only be described as punishing. With each team made up of 10 runners, competitors ran single legs on both Saturday and Sunday.

Considering the difficulties encountered, even completing all 20 legs of the race should be chalked up as a Wanderers victory. The Wanderer squad was depleted by a series of injuries. When the British Bulldog David Brough came down with a pulled calf muscle two weeks prior to the race, the situation appeared desperate. With the Wanderers one runner short, it was beginning to look like a suicide mission.

However, the first good omen appeared on Wayne Hamilton’s flight from Chicago to London. Midway through the flight, his neighboring passenger reached up into the baggage compartment, where there were 12 boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. It turned out that the Crusher’s fellow passenger was a Krispy Kreme executive traveling to London on business (look for the Krispy Kreme concession opening soon at Harrod’s department store on your next trip to England).

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Richard Xerri won glory for the Wanderers with his brilliant third place finish on the last leg

Luck suddenly began to turn for the Wanderers. Upon arrival in London, they discovered that a final replacement, Richard Xerri, had been recruited. Showing up in his bicycling kit while out on a long ride to volunteer for the Green Belt, Richard was like a dream come true for the Wanderers.

The Wanderers line-up was as follows: Crusher, Rock Steady, Axel, Simon Newman, Space Ghost (Tad Sperry), and newcomers Richard Xerri, Francois Barou, Ralph Herrgott, Martin Hintze and Mike Farmery, all from London. Mike had been visiting Santa Barbara, California, this past December on business at the same time that Rock Steady and Snake Bite were running their Peace Pipe Marathon. Mike made the mistake of asking directions from the pair during a water stop, and things went all downhill from there until Mike found himself running in the Green Belt for the Wanderers.

Twenty-three teams lined up at the start of the race at Hampton Court along the banks of the River Thames. The quality of competition was very high, and included former London Marathon winner Hugh Jones who by the way won both the fifth and 14th legs. Slow pokes in the field were very hard to find.

The Wanderer veterans performed their work in the nether regions of the competition finishing in an assortment of last , second to last and third to places although Simon Newman did climb to fifth to last in the 10th leg.

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Wanderer Down! Axel gets medical attention for blisters after his 11.2 mile leg. His performance despite the blisters attests to the valor of the Wanderer runners.

The new Wanderers on the other hand sparkled. Richard Xerri ran third on the final leg to accompany his eigth place finish on the demanding leg five, when he got lost and conceded a few minutes. Mike Farmery also had some navigation problems on the second leg but still finished fourth, and returned the next day to place ninth on Leg 18. Francois Barou grabbed 8th place on the 13.1 mile leg 7 traveling at seven minutes a mile and then repeated the performance the next day with another 8th place finish on the run up to the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge in Dartford. This time he ran at a 6:50 minute a mile pace.

Ralph Herrgott excelled finishing 15th on the sixth stage into St. Albans and then returned the next day to run 12th in the 9.2 mile 13th stage. Martin Hintze drew the demanding 4th leg through the Chiltern Hills and battled to 13th place. He followed this performance with another hills run, this time through the South Downs of Surrey, on the 10.4 mile 17th stage, in which he came 15th.

But it was Crusher Wayne Hamilton who once more drew the toughest assignment when he was given the murderous 14th leg. The course description written in typical English understatement reads as follows. “The climb up the side of the wood is a good one, but don’t think it finishes where you enter the wood. The steepest bit is yet to come.”

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Mike Farmery, right, set a blistering early pace on Leg Two along the Thames River.

Last year, Wayne earned the name Crusher by his dramatic conquest of Mt. Smokey in the Cabot Trail Relay on Cape Breton. But this year, the Crusher was crushed by Leg 14.

“The course went upbut never came down,” Crusher recounted afterwards. “By the end of the race, I was walking and I was just about to sit down. Then I saw David (Brough) who told me the finish was only 200 yards away. But I did not believe him.”

Considering this is the third straight race where Crusher has been assigned a different, and much tougher leg than requested, don’t be surprised to see him show up at the next Wanderers’ relay accompanied by his lawyer.

Meanwhile, it was a delight to see Simon Newman back in action. Simon who had been a Wanderer stalwart during the club’s formative period had been knocked out by injuries for almost two years. He looked strong on both the 10th and 15th legs.

Space Ghost Tad Sperry showed his experience in the first leg pacing himself nicely and producing a strong finishing kick on the long 13-mile first stage. With the same patience, he waited in the pack and then passed runners at the end of Stage 16 up Box Hill on the North Downs.

Axel also made his return to Wanderers competition. Although training was suspect, courage was not. Axel finished despite suffering gruesome blisters.

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Wanderer fixture Simon Newman gets ready for his first race in more than two years. He's also keeping a close watch on the Dulwich Runners-Ladies who battled the Wanderers for all 20 legs before finally succumbing by a mere 20 minutes.

As difficult as running the hilly course was, perhaps a tougher task was actually driving the course in the support vehicles. Traveling the windy English roads sometimes in heavy traffic and delivering and picking up runners on tight timetables could only be described as chaotic. Luckily the Wanderers were in the hands of the crack navigational team of Space Ghost and Simon Newman who were then supported by another logistics ace in British Bulldog on Day Two.

Watching Simon at the wheel with Space Ghost in charge of navigation was a thing of beauty. Even then a few pickup points and marshalling duties were missed.

Telecommunications was also of vital importance in the race. Communications between runners and support vehicles and between the vehicles themselves was absolutely key. Unfortunately, these telecommunication skills were sorely exposed over the course of the Green Belt. These duties had been handed over to Rock Steady operating with the Bulldog’s cell phone. Through some creative dialing, Rock not only managed to get Bulldog’s phone turned off, but also got his service cancelled so that the main support vehicle was virtually operating blind during the second day of the competition.

No description of the Green Belt Relay can be completed without a huge thank you to the Stragglers Running Club for organizing the event. The work involved was prodigious, and the atmosphere was positively supportive. The Wanderers were even treated with respect. It was a delight to see the English running clubs running hard during the races but enjoying themselves so much immediately afterwards.

Oh, by the way, the race was won by the Sunday Night Shandies in 21 hours and 21 minutes followed by the West 4 Harriers-Wombats who trailed by an hour and 18 minutes. Third were the Ranelagh Old Dogs a further 12 minutes back.

The Wanderers were locked in a see-saw struggle throughout the competition with the Dulwich Runners-Ladies team with the Wanderers prevailing in 19th place by 20 minutes in a total elapsed time of 27 hours and 52 minutes. The Wanderers finished 24 minutes behind the Silver Fern Harriers of New Zealand.

The prestigious toilet bowl seat awarded to the last place team was won by the Ranelagh Bloodhounds in a time of 32 hours and 56 minutes.

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