The tortoise and the hare


They grabbed the baton and were off so fast they made a sonic boom, at least I think that’s what it was. “By gum, they’re speedy, that’s the last we’ll see of them in this race,” I said to my partner. “They’ll be on their way home to bed by the time we finish.” How wrong I was.

It was the 25th annual Leeds Country Way relay, a race of six legs, taking in the countrified boundaries of our fair city. Teams of 12 run each of the legs, averaging just over 11 miles, in pairs. It being a relay, there’s a baton to pass on, so much pride is at stake to get the baton from start to finish. I’d done the sums, for us to do that, the whole team would have to average eight-minute miles. I’ve never run an eight-minute mile in my life, so the chances of us ever seeing the baton, let alone getting it to the next pair of sub-eight-minuters were negligible.

To cater for those suffering baton bereftness, and to make sure no-one was benighted, each leg had a mass start if the baton didn’t arrive in time. The speedy pair were a good 10 minutes ahead of us as we left the beautiful Golden Acre Park. My partner and I were happy to enjoy the glorious Yorkshire countryside, snacking on home-made marzipan and raisin balls, happy to not have the responsibility of carrying a baton.

We were six or seven miles into our run, having conquered a couple of steep Yorkshire hills when we heard fast furious footsteps behind punctuated with language as ripe as the blackberries on the hedgerows. It was none other than the Speedy Pair, as I’ll call them. They’d had a navigational mishap and were now moving even faster, we wished them well as they disappeared into the distance. “That’s the last we’ll see of them,” we said to each other. How wrong we were.

Our ten miles ended on a steep uphill, our fabulous teammates had waited for us, encouraging us, knowing we were definitely bringing up the rear. As we arrived at the checkpoint, I expected them to pack up and go, off-loading the left-over flapjacks and other goodies. But no. There was another team still out there, it was the Speedy Pair.

We looked behind, no sign of them. Then, over the hill, coming from the opposite direction, they appeared, all speed and swearing, we heard them before we saw them, baton in hand, crestfallen.

We tried not to look too pleased that we’d beaten the pair who we knew from our other competitive races. When I say knew, I recognised them from behind as they sprinted off every time.

They confessed they’d done nearly 15 miles and had gone wrong a few times, but were going to run back, probably not the same way they came, to pick up their car from Golden Acre.

We took pity and offered them a lift, I’ve been the victim of my own creative navigation many times. They were clearly gutted and didn’t have the heart to run back, as well as having had no clue what to do with the redundant baton. I suspected their team captain would have a few suggestions.

In the car we discovered the reason for their multiple mishaps. It was the first time they had run the route, and the instructions, which are, let’s say, short and sweet, were not clear to them. And of course, it’s hard to read at speed.

We shrugged our shoulders, we’d run the route and knew where to go and where not go. They may have been the speedy hares, but the tortoises won out in the end.

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