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Free – but far from easy!

The first ever 'Virtual' National Road Relay Championships, as previewed in last week's runABC news, are set to be the longest event in the illustrious history of the England Road Running Association (ERRA) annual relays, with competitors still running and submitting times until 12:00pm on Thursday (9 April)!

As at 9:00am on Tuesday morning (7 April) the leading teams in the 12-stage 5K 'race' were Hercules Wimbledon men (3:12:54) and Herne Hill Harriers women (3:49:52) but there are a few top teams still to declare, so it's all to play for. The fastest individuals to date were Grant Sheldon (Cambuslang, 13:38) and Lucy Reid (Tonbridge, 16:19).

So how on earth did the concept of a virtual relay that takes five days to complete come about? The answer lies with the extraordinary vision and commitment of one man – James McCrae, or James 'McCrazy', as some in the sport have dubbed him! The civil servant works a full day then spends his evening hours answering hundreds of emails, checking results and cleaning data to make this astonishing event happen.

McCrae is a Hallamshire Harrier who might have been competing in the real thing himself, with credentials that include 800m in 1:52.55; 1500m in 3:47.81 and 15:13.88 for 5000m. He had heard about a mini virtual 12-stage relay held between Belgrave Harriers and Herne Hill Harriers and wondered if the idea could be extended. Within a matter of days, with fantastic support from the team behind the ground-breaking England Athletics Opentrack system the virtual national relay had gone from concept to reality.

Inevitably, there have been a few road bumps along the way that have caused some runners to miss the opportunity. Anticipating a few hundred entries at most, McCrae was swamped with more than 5,000 and there was a server issue due to the pressure put on the bespoke system. The closing time for the free to enter event had to be advanced by 12 hours in order to get everything set in time for the start of the race on Saturday afternoon.

Some astonishing facts emerged before the first 5K times had even been uploaded. The National Road Relay often attracts the best athletes but this year's virtual event can boast entries from 65 athletes who have represented GB and 21 winners of national titles. There are 29 men with PBs better than 14-minutes and an equal number of women quicker than 16:30.

We will carry a full report of the event once all the results have been submitted and approved.

Click here to watch the race unfold and you can listen to a half hour interview with James McCrae here

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