'Real Relay' runners set to overtake Olympic torch

Tony Phoenix-Morrison (right) completed his leg with a fridge on his back - with Stuart Henderson who ran the stage before him
Image caption Tony Phoenix-Morrison completed his leg with a fridge on his back

A group of amateur runners following the route of the Olympic torch look set to overtake it later on - but unlike the official relay, they are running every step of the way.

One has attracted global celebrities and sports stars, and has been followed mile-by-mile on TV and at the roadside by millions of people. The other is lucky to get a solitary figure on a street corner cheering it on.

But the differences between the official Olympic torch relay and the amateur Real Relay do not end there.

While the official flame is stopped in its tracks every night, the Real Relay continues 24 hours a day as part of its non-stop journey around the British Isles. And later it will move in front of its official counterpart in Dover.

"The Real Relay was conceived when we saw that the Olympic torch was spending a lot of time in the back of a van," says Kate Treleaven, one of the organisers.

"We sensed a missed opportunity and set out to recruit real grassroots runners from around the British Isles to run all the way around the Olympic torch route."

Instead of the golden Olympic torch carried on the official route, runners carry a metre-long baton which has a GPS tracker inside so people can follow the runners' progress.

There are 672 stages of 10-to-12 miles in the relay, which started at Land's End in Cornwall on 28 May - 10 days behind the official one - and concludes at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, five days ahead of the torch relay.

By the time it reaches London more than 2,000 runners will have taken part, covering 7,377 miles on foot, over 55 days and nights.

'No razzmatazz'

The Real Relay has had little publicity but word of mouth has seen it take off, Ms Treleaven says. She believes the tradition of a stripped-back relay without any "road support crew, sponsors and razzmatazz" is what appeals.

Unlike the Olympic torch, which caught a train up Snowdon, the Real Relay ran up the biggest mountain in Wales, along with the other three highest peaks in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland.

Runners are told where to begin and end their leg, but plan their own route which must take in each community listed on the Olympic torch route.

But is it in competition with the official torch relay?

Ms Treleaven says it is not an "anti-Olympic torch uprising" but a chance for those not involved to feel "a little bit closer to it".

And unlike the torch relay, the challenge is raising money for the charity CHICKS, which provides free, week-long respite breaks for disadvantaged children. Each runner donates £10 to the charity and the organisers believe they will raise well over £10,000 in total.

Barbara Shuttleworth, 54, ran the Real Relay's 400th stage through Manchester on a Saturday night, taking in Salford's Media City, Old Trafford and Moss Side.

'Just extraordinary'

The leg ended on the "Curry Mile" in the centre of Rusholme, where restaurant-goers cheered on Mrs Shuttleworth, who ran with her husband Duncan, among others.

"They were very good-natured but it was pretty surreal," says Mrs Shuttleworth, who runs an accountancy business.

Image caption Team Golden Cap's leg took in the highest point of the south coast of England, on the South West Coast Path

She adds: "I love the torch relay and I love running but I'm not going to be part of the official relay. This was something so unique and personal to the Olympics that I could actually take part in."

Jill Kear, 47, who ran from Cardiff to Barry Island, says: "It was just a thrill really that in this Olympics I, as a humble person who has never really achieved much, could be part of something so big."

Meanwhile, Tony Phoenix-Morrison, 48, ran from Blackhall Rocks to Billingham via Hartlepool with a fridge strapped to his back. He took the unusual decision because he had found it increasingly difficult to get sponsorship.

The company director from South Tyneside says he got a few funny looks but it was well worth it.

"When you take the baton and you know all the people who have carried it and all the kind of runs they've had - good or bad and short or long - that feeling of us getting together to make this happen was just extraordinary," says Mr Phoenix-Morrison, who has completed several races with the 40kg appliance. Next month he is to run the course of the Great North Run every day for 30 days, fridge included.

Image caption Emma Kelty and Ian Corless on the summit of Mount Snowdon

The Real Relay is on course to overtake the Olympic torch in Dover at about 17:30 BST on Wednesday, and should reach the Olympic Stadium on 22 July.

"When we started the Real Relay 10 days behind the official torch we always hoped we would catch it up," says Ms Treleaven.

"To overtake the torch in Dover and to run past the same crowds who will be cheering on the official torchbearers will be an incredible moment. But for us the real excitement comes in knowing that the Real Relay is going to make it all the way to London.

"After 55 days on the road it will be an immense and inspirational achievement that reflects the unique spirit of Britain's runners."

Finish line

The organisers had contacted the Olympics committee to ask if the relay could end with a lap of the stadium in the Olympic Park, like the official one, but London 2012 said this would not be possible.

A spokeswoman said: "It is wonderful that the Olympic Torch Relay has inspired so many runners to get together in this way and we would like to congratulate everybody who has taken part.

"Unfortunately, we are unable to offer the Olympic Stadium as a finishing point as we have a full rehearsal programme under way there for the opening ceremony but we do have some ideas for other finish locations that might work for the organisers."

Ms Treleaven says wherever it ends the relay has been memorable.

"Even those who have run at half past two in the morning in torrential rain through city centres full of drunks have said what a wonderful experience it has been to be part of the Real Relay," she says.

"Everyone has enjoyed playing a small part in something so much bigger which is, in its own way, making a little slice of history."

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