I'm running down a stream in the middle of Hampshire with someone else in hot pursuit. Am I trying the age-old trick of loosing the trackers in the water? No, I've taken a wrong turn during a relay race and, knowing that every second counts, I'm looking for a way out. When I practised the course I managed to run the whole way down the stream so I should have known better. Still it's only a "friendly" race!

It all started so well. 9:30 on May 7th saw teams of runners from across Hampshire warming up; i.e. either getting a cooked breakfast in the local teashop or chatting in the car park, in preparation for the annual Emsworth to Basingstoke charity relay race.

Run over a 70K course with 1300 metres of climbing on the way, the race is split into 18 legs of between 2K and 6K. Each runner runs on average 3 legs with everyone running the first leg as a warm up.

The exception to this are the runners destined to run the 2nd leg. This bunch run both legs 1 and 2, a total distance of 7.2K on a flat course that includes a bit of beach running, flat out. The two tips for this leg are 1; don't get lost and 2, get to the kissing gate before everyone else.

This year we had an overenthusiastic bunch as one of the drivers forgot himself in the adrenalin rush at the start and ran the first leg as well! One of the organisers had to drive him back to Emsworth to collect the team vehicle.

The course heads up through Rowlands Castle and then along the Sussex border path to Finchdean before becoming the Staunton Way through to Petersfield. It then follows the Hanger Way to Alton and then on to Basingstoke, finishing at the Down Grange running track.

Along the way it goes over the South Downs between Chalton and Buriton, the Shoulder of Mutton hill between Steep and Hawkley, the Selborne hangers.... ; I think you get the idea. Some of the legs are quite short but try running a 3K-track race straight after running two 5K cross-country races and see how you feel.

It can't be too bad as a number of runners ran the Alton 10 the next day . one of them running a sub 60!

So all you have to do is jump out of your battle bus, run your leg, get back in the bus at the end of your leg, rest, and repeat until at Basingstoke . easy! Did I forget to mention that there are no marshals (you try and find enough people for every twist and turn over a 70K route!) and some of the footpaths and bridleways have no signposts.

There are only two rules; the person currently running has to carry a baton, which he must give to the next person before collapsing in a heap on the ground. And if you get lost (sorry, I've been told to be realistic here), when you get lost, you mustn't gain an advantage by it. The latter is unlikely as most runners who get lost end up on the road following road signs instead of the usually more direct cross country route.

As all the teams get a map of the entire route the more canny amongst them can be found in the preceding weeks practicing the course . this somehow reduces the number of bodies strewn across the Hampshire countryside - but doesn't eliminate it completely.

The other thing to expect is to arrive at the end of your leg and find your next runner missing. This year it was one of the Victory teams at Steep (no names) having to hunt in the bushes where a pre-run pit stop was being taken. In previous years runners have had to run another leg when the bus hasn't appeared.

This year the star team decided that, as they were on paper quite a bit faster that all the rest that they would let one of their runners take the scenic route on the section between Steep and Hawkley. This diversion took 44 minutes for a supposed 5K stretch. One of the other teams. minibus found him, yes you guessed it, following the road signs!

This momentary lapse by Southampton gave Victory A the impetus to put all their efforts into staying out front. Southampton caught them up 12K from home with both runners running neck and neck for 6K before the last Southampton runner proved to much for Victory's anchor man.

The next four teams were swapping places all the way and in the end only 11 minutes separated them. It was very exciting watching all four teams waiting at the end of the penultimate leg at Hackwood Park to see whose runner was going to come out at the other end first. Victory mixed arrived first and managed to keep ahead of Basingstoke despite their runner closing the gap by the finish. Victory ladies then piped the Colemen for 5th spot.

Tadley runners, who decided to field a team at the last minute, came in 7th. They had not been over any of the course before the race and as a result kept getting lost. Their progress was usually relayed to the organisers by mobile. Despite finishing 1½ hours behind the Colemen they are determined to come back again next year.

The race this year, as will next year's, was run in aid of the Brittle Bone Society and was organised by Cyd Hill of Basingstoke & Mid Hants Athletics club; he even organised perfect running weather and a seemingly endless supply of rolls, tea and cakes at the finish.

Don Powell

Basingstoke & Mid Hants A.C.