On the Weekend of 10th and 11th of June, Buckley Runners tookat part in the Welsh Castles Relay Race.
For those not familiar with it, The Welsh Castles relay race is a two day, 20 stage race that starts in Caernarfon and finishes in Cardiff. During the weekend 20 runners from 66 teams each run a stage ranging from 7.7m to 13.1m, the overall distance covered is 206m. Each stage has a strict cut off time that is equivalent to running 9min\miles. The race is organised by the Les Croupiers Running Club from Cardiff.
There are 10 stages on each day, with Day 1 taking runners from Caernarfon to Newtown and Day 2 from Newtown to Cardiff. On the Friday night, there is space in Caernarfon Sports Centre for people to bed down and on Saturday night the fields at Newtown Sports Centre are open for people to camp on.
It is called the Welsh Castles race because the race route passes within 2 miles of 22 castles, the main ones being Caernarfon, Criccieth, Harlech, Caerphilly and Cardiff.
It is not a true relay (with a baton), but 20 individual mini races, each with 66 runners. The times for each stage are added up and the winning team is the fastest over the two days. A stage’s start and previous stage’s finish are very close to each other and each stage starts roughly around an hour after the previous.
Entry into the race is not guaranteed, while there are 4 categories (vets, female, open and companies), the hotly contested open category is the busiest and thankfully Buckley were accepted this year – The first time we have ever taken part.
The challenge of team selection and logistics began, we initially started with around 25 people interested in taking part and were able to then settle on our team of 20 with the others taking a reserve position. It is important to have reserves, the duration between race entry and race day is a few months and anything can happen in that time, meaning reserves would likely be called up.
Logistics was complicated, we had to use shared vehicles to help with minimise traffic over the weekend, this is due to there being around 1300+ people running over the course of the weekend, all making their way in a convoy of vehicles following the race. We had 20 people to drop off in various parts of Wales, picking up others on the way. On top of this we had to factor in marshalling duties (which all teams must undertake too).
We initially stated that everyone needed to attend for both days and then settled on runners for the respective stages. There are some very difficult stages, in particular the 6 mountain stages, which have some serious climbs.
Over the course of the weeks running up to race day, we lost seven of our original 20 and had to find reserves to take their place. Unfortunately this changed all of our original traffic plans too as a number of our reserves were unable to attend both days. We had to ensure that all possible runners are registered to race and they have signed all relevant forms two weeks in advance of the race, this was proving difficult with the number of late changes (mainly due to injury).
The race has a number of rules that are needed to ensure it runs smoothly and quite a few can result in time penalties for any teams not adhering to them.
We decided last minute to not stay the Friday night in Caernarfon, allowing runners to spend Friday in their own beds. Instead we headed to Caernarfon on the Saturday Morning for the 10am race start.
So we finally made it to race day with 20 runners (although many weren’t fully fit or were carrying injuries), the final team and stages were as follows:
Unfortunately the weather forecast for the weekend wasn’t great, high winds and heavy rain on Saturday, with an improving situation on Sunday.
So 16 of the team lined with excitement at Caernarfon, however everyone was also nervous, the pressure of wanting to do well for the team clearly taking it’s toll. Absent were Eric and Sam who were being dropped off at their stages, John who was being dropped off for his stage and Pete Gray, who was joining us in Newtown that evening.
With one Minibus dealing with our Saturday Marshalling points (all fortunately around Dolgellau) and three cars ready to go. First up was Gareth Morris with his 9 miles to Penygroes.
After all seeing him off, we got into our vehicles and started to make way to our respective drop off and pick up points, while trying to see and enjoy as much of the race as possible.
All the runners need to be in place at least 20 minutes before the start of their leg as the race doesn’t wait for them. Once there, they have to register themselves as the runner for that stage.
The Saturday was a hectic day, but was really good because we were able to stop and see many of the runners off and cheers them somewhere on route, what was even better was you would run into your other team members at varying points.
We finally ended up in Newtown after a very long day, by which point the weather has improved considerably, a few of us went and set up our tents before heading to the finish of stage 10. It was now around 7pm and was initially a very subdued end to a hectic day, we stood on a bridge awaiting Cally’s arrival, by which time the number of spectators had increased and there was a good buzz.
We very quickly ended up in the local Wetherspoons for drink and food, before heading back to the campsite, where Eddie showed his Blue Peter skills by turning water bottles into wine glass so we could consume his bottles of red wine.
At the end of Day 1, Buckley were in 18th position.
Day 2 started bright and early, with the race starting at 7am, we needed to beat the rush for the limited bathroom space at the Sports Centre and pack our tents up. The weather was thankfully a lot drier and less windy.
We were down on team numbers today and one car less, so there was lot more zipping around for us to do. Cally had gone home on Saturday night with Chris and Phil, John and Gareth had gone home after their stages, but we had been joined by Pete who had travelled down on Saturday night.
Before long, Simon was off and it all started again. Having spent Saturday ahead of the race, seeing off runners and then heading on to the next stages to see the next, Sunday morning was spent following the race a lot more. I felt the excitement of the race was more noticeable doing this, there is a large slow convoy of race vehicles going past the runners with cheering, shouting, horns blasting, cow bells ringing and vuvzelas blowing as minibuses with their side doors and open and flags waving go past.
The race itself does issue drinks other than one stage, clubs can stop and hand their runners drinks on route. What was good is the support along the way, many clubs stop mid stages and cheer on the runners, handing out water to everyone, not just their own runner, there were even people handing out wet sponges. This really helps, as you are mainly just running along main roads which would be otherwise quite dull if not for the rolling support.
Again it was great to run into the others on route or at the various stops and everything was going so well with everyone stopping to make the most of the race. However there were a couple of reminders on the importance of knowing where you are going and making sure you give yourself enough time to drop off your runner at their stage, which was difficult with us being newbies to the race. Firstly Simon and Pete got caught in race traffic and struggled to find the start of stage 15, thankfully they made it in time just. Then Dave got caught in traffic, stuck behind the race and was not going to make it to his stage (18), luckily I was ahead of the race and heading to my stage (19) when I got the call, this allowed us switch stages and not result in any missed stages or penalties.
After all this we finally made to the finish on Blackweir fields in Cardiff, where there was a great atmosphere. We all cheered in our final runner (Tim) and then watched the race awards and closure.
Everyone was a bit tired from such a long weekend and it was a shame that after such a great weekend we weren’t able to all be there, as there we no only 10 of us remaining after Tom, Steve, Simon and Pete had to go home after their stages.
The Buckley Team finished 15th from 66 teams, with an overall time of 23:14:59. There are 6 stages classed as mountain stages 3, 7, 10, 11, 14 and 16, Buckley came an incredible 9th in the Mountain leaderboard. So credit to John, Phil, Cally, Simon, Elliott and David for their incredible result there.
The Individual stage results are as follows:
|1||Gareth Robert Morris||20th||01:05:11||9.1|
|3||John Pritchard Taylor||23rd||01:19:53||12.3|
After the race Ian, Ceri, David and Elliot went home, leaving Tim, Myself, Dave, Eric, Richard and Eddie in Cardiff to enjoy a meal and a few beers in what was a very quiet Cardiff Sunday evening.
Overall an absolutely amazing experience, everyone in the team loved it, with many saying it is their best running experience. There was such great camaraderie not only within the Buckley Team but amongst all the teams and amazing support which just made the experience all the better.