​Peter Palmer Junior Team Relays 2023

Credit: Will Heap

Last Updated: Sun 15 Oct 2023

One of the premier junior relay events of 2023 took place at Stowe Park, Buckinghamshire, in the early hours of Sunday 10 September. SO had a full team (hooray!) with a mix of very experienced and novice relay runners.

The SO team arrived in small groups at the event base in the early evening of the day before. Part of the tradition of the event is that all teams prepare for the early morning start by taking over a large hall and sleeping on the floor. Some of the other club teams participated in a football tournament, though our SO team (quite sensibly) preferred to minimise the chance of injury and save their energies for the running during the main event.

The organisers had booked a mobile fish and chip caterer to provide some food for the evening, and they seem to do a roaring trade. Most of the SO team took advantage of this traditional British fast food offering prior to making a reccy of the relay assembly area. We checked out the layout of the: map issue; run-in; changeover area; and run-out. It was quite dark by the time we finished this, but still managed to sight the start control on a gate at the end of a long, mown, ride. Our final action at assembly on the Saturday night was to plant our SO flag to be ready as a mustering point for the following morning. It was then a long walk back along the glow stick marked route to the hall.

The atmosphere in the hall was full of nervous excitement with the anticipation of the race that was to start in a few hours time. Groups of young people throughout the hall were playing games. Some of the older participants were just hanging out together: remaking acquaintances with friends and competition rivals from clubs in other parts of the country whom they hadn’t seen for the months over the summer holidays. The SO team embarked upon a game of Orienteering Dobble (a symbol matching game with an orienteering theme). We then had a game of Uno, after which it was time to double check that all the kit for the morning was to hand (Will checking that everyone had the compulsory whistle), prior to turning in for some sleep. Lights out in the hall was at 10:30.

Our first leg runner was Tommy, on his swan-song for the SO Junior team, and out to make his mark on this event. Tommy arranged to get up in good time to make sure that he was fully set and mentally prepared ready for the mass start (in the dark) at 05:00. Ben was second leg and chose to be at the assembly area to watch the start. The grand plan had been to wake at 04:30 and make our way to the start. There was, however, a general shuffling about in the hall (initiated by a host of watch borne alarms) from 04:00, as the first leg runners roused and got themselves ready – impossible to continue sleeping: race day had begun!

Photographer: Will Heap

I arrived at the assembly with Ben and Emma, just in time to get a good spot to watch the mass start of the main relay (a second “Daybreak Bowl” class mass started in the early morning light at 06:00). It was very exciting watching them all blast up the run-out with headlamps on full blaze. Tommy led the charge and was first past the start flag – a great start for SO from our most experienced runner.

The competition area next to the changeover was a large expanse of rough open grassland lined by forest and with the odd large lone tree. This gave a good spectator vantage point, and we could see single and small groups of headlamps shining from time to time across the other side of the area. Ben moved into the changeover pen about twenty minutes after the start, and it was then a nervous wait to see who would appear up the run first. Just under half an hour after the start, there was a roar from the spectators as the first runner was spotted on their final leg. It wasn’t Tommy, but then he wasn’t very far behind (a great run for Tommy on his 5.2km Red course, all in the dark) – Ben went out (also in the dark) in 2nd place.

Ben had estimated that he would take 35-40 minutes to complete his 5.2km red course – changeover should be around ten past six. We were expecting it to be getting light by then, but not sure how light (dependant upon cloud cover etc.). The decision was made that Katarina would take a headlamp: it should be possible to make out some features in the more open areas, but a lamp would be needed to read the map, and possibly to see where she was going in the more forested parts. Our first Peter Palmer Relay novice entered the changeover waiting area in anticipation of (old hand) Ben appearing five to ten minutes later.

Photographer: Will Heap

By now the sky was lightening as the pre-cursor to sunrise proper and we were starting to be able to see across the rough grassland next to the relay changeover area. The last legs of the courses traversed this area and we started to see runners (and not just the track of their headlamps) on the concluding part of their courses. Ben was spotted running hard through the long grass to his penultimate control, and then on to the common last control on the mown ride that went past the spectators to the changeover.

Photographer: Will Heap

Katarina moved forward and was focused on the handover, which was smoothly delivered by Ben: off she went on her 4.5km Light Green course. The sun popped up over the horizon about twenty minutes later and bright orange rays started to illuminate the scene. It was a lovely clear start to the day, and a magical part of the relay where the last gloom of the night turned into the rapidly brightening daytime. Emma was the fourth leg runner and had been at the relay Assembly from the start of the race – not wishing to miss any of the excitement. It was almost her turn to embark on a 3.8km Orange course. No headlamp needed for running by this stage of the race, she made final preparations for entry into the changeover area.

Photographer: Will Heap

Photographer: Will Heap

It looked like Katarina had had a good run, and she sprinted up the run in just after ten to seven to hand over to Emma. Emma (another PPJTR veteran) set off quickly and purposefully on her course. Emma was expected to be quite quick, so the 5th leg runners (Zoe, Maya, and Kai) assembled in the waiting pen – eyes peeled down towards the last few controls and the run-in. An unusual feature of this relay is that the 5th (Yellow) leg can have between one and three runners out at the same time. It is recognised in the rules that the yellow leg would often have relatively inexperienced runners, so there is an option to include more than one to maximise the chance of getting a clean (no mis-punch) run. The runners can run independently, or as a team, with the first yellow leg runner back triggering the handover to the final leg runner.

It was great to see the concentration on the faces of the trio, especially after Emma had been spotted bounding over the rough grassland towards her penultimate control. Kai held up his hand ready for the changeover, as Emma powered up the run-in. Changeover was swift, with the trio heading up towards the start control and Emma turning sharp right towards download (and confirmation of a swift and clean run): job well done!

The 2.3km Yellow leg was expected to be completed very quickly and James went straight through map issue and into the changeover waiting pen. The intrepid trio were soon spotted (still together, though independently navigating) nearing the finish, and James moved forward to the handover line. A quick sprint, and Yellow was done, and Green started: last leg runner was out!

Photographer: Will Heap

Photographer: Will Heap

James’s final 7.1km Green leg was the longest, and most technical of the event (albeit in clear daylight). Many of the other clubs’ teams would field a M18 for this physical leg, but M16 James bravely took on the challenge. The rest of the team, their race done for the day, took advantage of the fruit and pastries (laid on as breakfast by the organiser), whilst watching out for their final leg runner.

Shortly before the prizegiving, James was spotted on the final approach to the finish. The rest of the team went to the start of the run-in and joined James as he ran past. It was great to see the whole team join James in the run-in and emphasised that it had been a full team effort.

The SO team this year was relatively inexperienced, but had no mis-punches, all relatively clean runs, and great team spirit. We finished in 8th place, which was a respectable position, given the team make-up. We will miss Tommy from future years PPJTR events, as he will be too old to compete in this particular race, but he has been a great role model and we now have several new “old hands” from this years race to select from for the future. Good luck to Tommy in his future orienteering ventures and well done to the rest of the team. Final thanks need to go to Will Heap who organised the team and co-ordinated much of the SO effort.

Peter Chapman

Photographer: Will Heap

Categorized under: Juniors