Can amateurs' 'Real Relay' steal the Olympic show?
Armed with their own torch, runners hope to eclipse official 'celebrity tour' this week
It may not have enjoyed cheering crowds and celebrity cameos, but a rather different relay has been pursuing the Olympic torch and is set to catch it up.
The Real Relay, which is run entirely on foot 24 hours a day, was hastily set up in Devon by an endurance-running enthusiast, Andrew Barker. He was disappointed to see, after the Olympic torch relay set off from Land's End, that for much of the journey the flame would travel in a van between towns.
Ten days later, with the help of staff at his endurance-running company, Mr Barker and his wife Charlotte had found enough people to run 10-mile legs each to set off from Land's End at midnight on 28 May and be sure it would make it out of Cornwall.
"We only had about 20 people when we started it," said Kate Treleaven, who is involved in managing the project. "We know a lot of runners in the South West, where we're based, but we did have a few problems in parts of Wales and in Northern Ireland."
Would-be runners can sign up to run a leg on the Real Relay's website. To do so requires making a £10 donation to Chicks, a charity that provides countryside respite breaks to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Inside the baton is a tracker, and its progress can be monitored on the website. Runners have a specific start and finish point and places they must pass, but it is up to them to plan their exact route and to communicate with the runners before and after them to arrange where to hand over the baton. Not all the stages have been uploaded yet but, in typical 2012 style, when they are there, it is something of a mad rush to get them. "We know when we're going to overtake the other one – on 18 July," Ms Treleaven said. "The torch gets to Dover at 6.30pm, and it will go on a boat in to the Channel. Our Real Relay will run through the town and carry on, and then we'll be in front."
Epic stages have been to the summits of the highest peaks in the four home countries, Mount Snowdon, Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Slieve Donard. The journey has certainly had its moments. Christopher Walker faced the difficult task of carrying it through Barnsley town centre at 2am on a Saturday morning. "There were quite a few people still about and it looked like they'd been drinking," he said. "But there were cheers and shouts of 'You've missed it mate, the torch came through last week' and other words of encouragement."
On Tyneside a man carried it 14 miles with a fridge strapped to his back. "Running with a fridge on his back is just his thing," Ms Treleaven said.
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