Welsh Castles 2010
The Welsh Castles Relay, organised by Les Croupiers running club, is a 200 mile relay race from Caernarfon in North Wales, to Cardiff in the South. Around 60 clubs take part each year, each having to field 20 athletes (one for each stage) and a full support crew. At any stage, click here to be taken to the photo gallery of the event.
Planning for this race began on the bus on the way home from last year's event, such was the fun we had running through Wales fuelled by flapjack! Everyone was keen to return and see if we could improve on last year's position of 9th. By now, mythical stories of dragons and misty Welsh mountains had swirled round Crossford Bridge with abundance, so the team was once again over subscribed. We needed 20 runners to complete the 20 stages of the race over 2 days, but just as importantly, we needed an able support crew whose tasks ranged from getting the runners to the start of each leg, not forgetting to pick them up at the end, giving water to any of the runners on the course, cheering loudly and managing the flapjack supplies throughout the weekend. On top of this we had our bus driver extraordinaire, Chris 'is it down here?' Heys, and his trusty map-reading co-pilot Naomi 'I think it was down there' Grant.
The team this year had some new additions and last minute changes due to injury, but luckily, due to the popularity of the race we always had plenty of reserves to choose from who were all on the bus and along for the ride.
Our first runner was Andy Walling, our Welsh-speaking local, who won the vets category of leg 1, coming 3rd overall. Elton Davies was next, another new addition to the team, with 12th place. Then came the first 'Mountain' stage of the day, a tough 12.3 mile leg that was tackled by Simon Mills. We stopped to support at Tremadog (absolute coincidence that there was a fish and chip shop there) and Simon came into sight first together with the red and white vest of Simon Bruton from our local rivals Salford Harriers. The 2 Simons looked comfortably matched, but it was our own Dr Mills who pulled away in the latter stages to win by nearly 2 minutes in 1:05:59 - Sale Harriers were now top of the mountain leader board and Simon was a King!
Our first lady of the day was Jo Street who had been a valuable member of our support crew last year and was keen to do herself proud as a runner this year. She came through our support station as 1st lady, but she had company in the form of a Serpentine lady who was so close to our Jo that we thought she might actually jump on Jo's back to hitch a ride at one point. Jo went on to finish as 3rd lady and exceeded Dave Rodgers' predicted time by nearly 2 minutes! A feisty but controlled run from Miss Street - well done.
Leg 5 was where we had marshalling duties so we got everyone in place and then waited for super-sub Jerry Smith to come through which he did in a creditable 21st place. We were unable to get the minibus down to leg 6, which was run by Phil Scowcroft, as it was all on trails. But Phil 'The Muscle' had a blinding run and finished 7th overall, exceeding his predicted time and firmly cementing his credentials as a valued member of the Crossford Gang.
After a quick ice cream break, it was onwards and literally upwards to the second mountain stage of leg 7. This was the scene of Mr Darcy's vomiting incident the year before and although Gareth Matthews was secretly looking forward to it, he didn't let on to anyone how excited he was to be tackling such a challenging stage. Thames Hare and Hounds attacked this stage with diligent aggression and bagged a new stage record, taken from their own team that was set the previous year, but Gareth looked like he enjoyed his first Castles experience and brought us home in 16th.
Up next on leg 8 was Mike Kilmartin. Keen to finish his run and get back to the cottages to watch the football, Mike hurried through in 4th. Jenny Flanagan added some much needed glamour to the proceedings on leg 9 and again showing Mr Rodgers not to underestimate the girls by smashing her predicted time by nearly 3 minutes!
The final leg of the day was another mountain leg and we had high hopes for our man Gareth Raven who had won mountain leg 3 the previous year. Unfortunately the Raven-ator was pipped by Serpentine's Nick Torry by just 39 seconds over the 13.3 miles - Raven still having the recent 2:19 London Marathon is his legs.
Day 1 finished and the convoy hurried over to our luxury farm cottages just outside Newtown for a hearty dinner and a depressing England world cup football match. We were joined by 2 stragglers, our dearly loved cyclist friends from Manchester Triathlon Club (Ian Jones and Mike Ogden) who had biked the route, leapfrogging us for most of the day but still having time to sneak in a couple of early pints in Newtown before we arrived (where their cycling outfits caused a commotion in the pub toilets by all accounts).
As the sun rose over Newtown, two of our intrepid runners were gobbling down some 5am porridge while everyone else continued to snooze (reports that Mills and Kilmartin were just sneaking back from Newtown at this time are unconfirmed). Jason Bowers and Tim Rainey headed out for the early legs 11 and 12. Jobs done, so back for breakfast. The minibus was loaded up again, the suspension a little relieved to only have half the amount of flapjack on board this time, and off we set to support Paul Barrett on leg 13. PB had opted for a nice easy flat leg this year, after last year's heroic stand-in for leg 14 and only missed placing in the top 10 by one spot.
Just before 10am, and all attention was on the legendary leg 14. This is the toughest leg of the entire race with 11 miles of evil mountains to climb, just up and up and up. Our hero of the hour was Paul 'The Machine' Green who stormed up it, winning the stage and the admiration of all around him. Nearly halfway through the second day and it was Steffan North's turn to experience the Welsh Castles Relay up close and personal. He tackled the 13 mile leg 15 brilliantly and was only pipped by those pesky Serpies inside the last mile.
Mike Ashby's turn next and he'd been moved to a mountain leg at the last minute due to team changes. He tackled his leg with gusto, and it was good practise for his Iron Man event a month later. Mike placed 8th. It was back to the girls again next, with Hayley Cavill completing leg 17 and Jan Nicholls on leg 18 both having great runs. Support was at fever pitch now with the minibus crew in a well practiced routine of setting up our new flag, taping the banner to the back of the bus and Jo Street (a.k.a. The Mega Jo) giving it her all on our lovely shiny megaphone. Poor Mills and Kilmartin were beginning to wish they hadn't had those last pints the night before as the noise levels in the bus increased with every stage!
Nearing the end of our epic adventure it was left to Carl Cleghorn to run leg 19 and Rob Flannery on the glory leg into the grounds of Cardiff Castle. At this stage of the race the legs seem to be longer, which makes logistics much more complicated as everyone also wants to get to the Castle in time to see the finish. It is a race of runners versus minibuses which the runners usually win. Upon arriving at Cardiff Castle Gaz Raven decided to do what we'd been asking him to do all weekend and finally put the red furry dragon outfit on and had a cheeky run down the finishing straight behind Rob Flannery, much to the delight of the watching crowd. It is not confirmed whether Gaz as the Dragon was faster than the Neath Harriers Gorilla who had the same idea - a mascot's race for leg 21 next year perhaps?
2 days of running and supporting finally drew to a close, but not before we'd picked up prizes for 2 Kings of the Mountains (Simon Mills and Paul Green) and one Monarch of the Mountains for Gaz Raven. Overall we were 7th team, a 2 place improvement on last year and 3rd in the Mountain competition. Once again, the weekend was an incredible success, the result of a lot of hard work, planning, great running, inspirational performances and teamwork. Despite the challenging logistics, we would dearly love to enter 2 teams next year, a men's and a ladies, so please make yourselves known if you'd like to take part as either runner or support crew.
Posted 02/01/2012 22:13