Welsh Castles Relay
Conquering a castle is a huge challenge…or so they say. It takes strength, guile, courage and plenty of strategic planning. This is the antithesis of Sale Harriers who met The Welsh Castles challenge last weekend, with passion, a deafening battle cry…and a whole lot of flapjack.
For the first time Sale entered both a male and female team and, after several months of planning, plenty of arguments over team selection, and the painstaking logistics planning, the dragons were ready to take on the Welsh Castles Relay, which constituted to a 210 mile, two day expedition split into a twenty leg relay, covering the length of Wales from Caernarfon to Cardiff.
Both teams performed really well, with the men coming in third - yes, that's right, THIRD - and the women's team also notching up a notable performance, digging in deep to take fourth spot against the five female only teams. But! How did they do individually, how many stage wins did they scoope and how many yellow jerseys did they pick up for either winning a leg or coming first vet…?
The relay kicked off in glorious sunshine in the grounds of the imposing Caernarfon Castle with runners frrom each team heading to Penygroes. First up,GB physio Andy Walling and Audrey Gresty. Andy glided round in 4th, taking the vets prize (yet again) and Audrey Gresty powering home in 55th. Leg 2- Penygroes to Criccieth saw Lee Kaufman and Belinda Hammond step up to the plate with Lee finishing 6th and Belinda finishing 48th in 01h 23m .
The race moved swiftly on to Criccieth and the first mountain stage to Maentwrog. Despite suffering from a stitch Colin Gell grinded out a 12th position and Helen Regan powered up the hills to come 51st. With the first mountain stage out of the way, the bar on leg 4- Maentwrog to Harlech Castle- was raised by both teams with Tim Kennedy bringing the men's team home in second. However, he was definitely overheard claiming to be able to win his leg, so we'll be expecting better next year Tim! Catherine Jones sharpened her infamous blade arms and performed brilliantly coming in at 39th.
Leg 5- Harlech Castle to Barmouth- one of the most picturesque legs along the coast, was conquered by Jerry Smith and Alison Pye, 22nd and 33rd respectively. The relay then turned in land and headed towards Dolgellau with Elton Davies and Carla Ousey in the driving seat. They both notched out solid performances, with Elton coming in 7th place in a time of 1h:07m and Carla finishing in 1h:26m. Up next, another mountain stage, and not one for the faint hearted. Leg 7, between Dolgellau to Dinas Mawddwy has a rather nasty mountain in the way. However it didn't seem to be a problem for the likes of Harrier Dragon's Mike Killmartin and Jan Nicholls. Heads down and feet pounding, they both performed admirably coming in at 7th and 54th. Leg 8- Dinas Mawddwy to Foel- was consummately executed by Lee Woods and Helen Armitage. Another 7th place for the men and a strong 10.8 miles from Helen saw her come in at just over 1hr 18m.
Onto leg 18 and an impressive start from Calum Rowlinson who was leading the field until a painful groin injury meant he was forced to drop down a few places. However, he still had a very impressive performance, coming in at 58m.43s and 18th. By her own admission Naomi Grant hadn't been able to put in as much training as she would have liked, but nevertheless completed her leg.
Day one finished with Leg 10- Llanfair Caereinion to Newtown- also known as the 14 mile slog. Neither Gaz Matthews nor Jenny Clink were fazed by the distance or the hills and finished 13th and 56th respectively.
With day one done, the team headed for their overnight accommodation for a well earned rest (and double portions of lasagne) before continuing the journey to Cardiff.
The dragons awoke to less than perfect conditions. The sunny weather which had accompanied them on day one, exchanged for driving rain, strong winds and a serious drop in temperate. But did that put them off. Well maybe a little bit, but not for long!
The early risers were Mike Ashby and Linda Rowlinson who's braved the 7am cold windy start to grind out an 11 mile slog up hill. Newtown to Llanbadarn Fynydd was the route and both gave strong performances. 13th place for Mike with Linda powering home in just over 1h.37s. Then came the first of the top ten performances of the day from Phil Scrowcroft who, despite sleeping for only an hour the night before in freezing temperature managed to knock out SECOND position. He was teamed with Kirsty Donkersley who had a good run and finished the leg in 55th position.
Leg 13- Crossgates to Builth Wells is a relatively easy leg (according to Lee Woods) which witnessed Paul Barrett fly home in 4th position and Castles debutant Gabby Evans in 55th. Onwards, and most definitely upwards. Leg 14- Builth Wells to Drovers Arms- is not for the faint hearted and in the driving rain very few people would put their hands up demanding this one. But two courageous dragons took on the challenge and completed it in style, Paul Green coming SECOND and Sian Holland in 55th place.
After the up hill comes the down, between the Red Kite Centre to Brecon. Gary Rowlinson came third and first vet so earned himself an infamous Yellow Jersey. Helena Murphy was 45th in just over 01h:38m. Brecon to Beacons Reservoir, leg 16, witnessed two more yellow jerseys for the teams with Mike Hatch second place and first vet and Hayley Cavill securing the ladies only stage victory. Leg 17- Beacons Reservoir to Merthyr- saw a particularly strong run from Lauren Davies who came in at 28th for Sale, and Carl Cleghorn who blasted home in 20th position.
With Cardiff Castle in sight, Andy Blair turned out for the men's teams and churned out another SECOND place performance. Katie Reece looked strong for the ladies completing the 9.1 miles in just over 1h.13m. Abercynon to Caerphilly Castle is leg 19 and was executed well by Carl Barber and Phillippa Jefferies - 13th and 51st respectively - and the glory leg, which finished in the grounds of Cardiff Castle, was wrapped up with 118 (Paul Rowley) in 11th and Joanne Street bringing it home for the ladies in just under 1h.18m.
For the men, a 3rd place position demonstrates their strength in depth, especially in light of competing against teams such as Serpentine and Les Croups. Team manager, Dave Rodgers insists with the inclusion of several high profile athletes, winning this competition is a realistic possibility. The ladies were pleased to have achieved a female only entry and with a 4th place position (out of the 5 ladies teams) are confident they can build on that and come back stronger next year. For a start, they'll have their latest signing Jess Riley eager to win a yellow jersey!
Praise must go to those who didn't run but who are equally as crucial to the success of the Sale Harriers Welsh Castles teams. The drivers who tirelessly transported the athletes around, including Bill Fox, Chris Heys, Tim Rainey and Mike Wharton, and the support teams who provided valuable water, claps and cheers. Thanks too to logistical gurus Sian Holland, Paul Barrett and Catherine Jones. How they manage to get 50 excited Harriers into such slick working order is beyond us all.
Provisional date for next year- 11th/12th June 2012
Welsh Castles Report Paul Barrett and Hayley Cavill
Posted 15/01/2012 12:56