Race Report By Iain Hobson
On the 16th & 17th of June Buckley Runners took part for the second time in the Welsh Castles Relay race. The Welsh Castles Relay is a team event consisting of 20 stages spread over a weekend running most of the length of Wales which passes within 2 miles of 22 castles. Each stage must be completed by a different runner with 10 stages on the Saturday from Caernarvon to Newtown, and a further 10 stages on Sunday picking up from Newtown down to Cardiff. Competitors must be able to run a 9-minute mile pace including those stages over hilly ground to avoid the stage cut off times. Unlike a true relay the team does not need to pass a baton to one another, as whilst the start of the next stage is often very close to the end of the previous it often starts before the previous stage has fully completed. Overall 67 teams took part in this year’s event with several local rivals also involved including West Cheshire, Abergele, Eryri, and Wirral. Over the weekend this meant that 1340 runners were involved however each stage race was small with a field of 67 battling it out. All stage times are added up and the team with the lowest aggregate time wins overall – last year Buckley finished a very respectable 15th of 66 teams.
With a start time of 1000 on the Saturday an early start was required from Buckley with the team being led by Dave Wootton driving one of the two mini-buses and club captain Chris Callahan driving the other. After an initial windup from Chris that one of the minibuses wouldn’t start we were on our way making good time to arrive in Caernarvon at 0830 with time to soak up the pre-race atmosphere along with lots of the other clubs.
|Stage – From / To||Distance
|Stage 1 – Caernarfon Castle to Penygroes||9.1|
|Stage 2 – Penygroes to Criccieth Castle||10.7|
|Stage 3 – Criccieth Castle to Maentwrog||12.3|
|Stage 4 – Maentwrog to Harlech Castle||9.5|
|Stage 5 – Harlech Castle to Barmouth||9.6|
|Stage 6 – Barmouth to Dolgellau||10.7|
|Stage 7 – Dolgellau to Dinas Mawddwy||10.1|
|Stage 8 – Dinas Mawddwy to Foel||10.8|
|Stage 9 – Foel to Llanfair Caereinion||8.5|
|Stage 10 – Llanfair Caereinion to Newtown||13.1|
|Stage 11 – Newtown to Llanbadarn Fynydd||12.3|
|Stage 12 – Llanbadarn Fynydd to Crossgates||11.2|
|Stage 13 – Crossgates to Builth Wells||10.6|
|Stage 14 – Builth Wells to Drovers Arms||10. 8|
|Stage 15 – Epynt Visitor Centre to Brecon||12.8|
|Stage 16 – Brecon Canal Basin to Torpantau||12.5|
|Stage 17 – Torpantau to Cyfarthfa Castle||8.7|
|Stage 18 – Rhyd-y-Car Centre to Quakers Yard||7.6|
|Stage 19 – Navigation Park to Nantgarw||7.7|
|Stage 20 – Caerphilly Castle to Cardiff Castle||10.1|
Ceri Cook kicked off proceedings for Buckley for the Caernarfon Castle to Penygroes leg (9.1m) in what would turn out to be the weather for the whole weekend – baking sun. Once we’d cheered Ceri off the day then turned into a carefully choreographed set of drop offs and pick-ups with the two mini buses needing to meet one runner at stage end whilst taking the opportunity to drop the next runner off. Runners need to be at their stages 20 minutes before stage start to ensure that they are registered – if the runner misses the stage then they are not able to run, and the team gets the stage cut off time plus 15 minutes. Day 1 progressed smoothly with the people who weren’t running able to make stops on route for most runner’s stages to offer some support and encouragement along the way as well as water. It wasn’t long before the door of the minibus was open as we drove, and the team were yelling encouragement not only at our own runners but also for the other clubs as we passed – this was supplemented by judicious use of an airhorn by Nick Armstrong and some Buckley blue cowbells much to the amusement of some. The day got progressively hotter and by Stage 4 it was at least mid 20’s which made the running tougher. There was a small mishap at the end of Stage 5 where we failed to pickup Chris Myles however White Rock Runners helped by getting him to the next stage where he re-joined the team and we carried on to the next Stages.
Each team is required to marshal part of one or more stages and Buckley’s was for part of stage 7 from Dogellau to Dinas Mawddwy. To make this more manageable whilst still getting our runners to and from the right location volunteers from the club had come down to help and take the pressure off marshalling and running – a big thanks to Rob Mackey, Marcus Reid, Stu Jones, Jack Thomas and Bernie Jones for helping on the day. There were two hilly stages on day 1 with Gareth covering Stage 7 and Elliot completing the day on Stage 10 in Newtown (elevation gains of 437m and 338m over respectively 9 and 13 miles).
Once Elliot was in the team retired to the local school fields to set up camp along with many other Castles teams. Tim Hargreaves had brought the Buckley Hotel (BR gazebo) to sleep in for some although this was probably more the bargain end of the accommodation compared to Tim Joy’s yurt and Gareth Morris’s camper van. After a pub dinner and some beer, we returned to the school to be entertained by “Callyoake” – a display of singing from the club captain (this was to be repeated on Sunday as well – who knew he had such hidden talents). Those of us running Sunday called it a night decidedly earlier that those who’d already completed their stage and retreated to our tents to prepare for Day 2.
It was an early start on Day 2 with the first leg kicking off at 7am from Newtown and every leg after this starting just under an hour after the previous. This meant that there was less time to stop and support on route although the team continued to cheer the runners on from the buses as we passed. Simon Roberts started the first of the day’s three mountain stages with 12mile/ 395m run to Llanbadarn Fynydd and the team wound its way towards the Brecons. Once again temperatures were high making for tough running conditions, however the homemade flapjacks from Joy and Ann kept everyone’s energy levels high along with the numerous sponges and bottles handed out by marshals and other teams to the runners on each stage. Everything was running smoothly until we got to Stage 16. Starting in Brecon and running to the other side of Pen y Fan at Torpantau this stage had originally been around 9 miles but a late change due to another leg shortening meant it was extended to 12 miles – unfortunately for Dave Lemon who was running this leg he only found out when he was about 8 miles in expecting it to end shortly and then discovered he had 4 miles more to go all of which was uphill! Meanwhile whilst Dave was running the minibus to drop Ann off for Stage 17 (and Stage 16 pickup) was at the bottom of the valley 40 minutes away from Stage start with 40 minutes until the stage start. The announcement of this immediately subdued the atmosphere on the bus as missing the registration for Ann would mean she would not be able to compete in her leg. With Chris showing his rally driving skills (and the rest of the minibus deciding now was a suitable time to start wearing seatbelts) we raced through the back lanes climbing into the Brecons to make the start. Stop start progress squeezing minibus past cars on narrow lanes meant we really had no idea whether we were going to make it in time and then on the final hairpin near the top of the hill the bus lost momentum and refused to go any higher. Wheels spinning, we all piled out at high speed to reduce the weight and give it a push – for a short while it looked like we were going to be stuck on the side of the hill but Cally found grip and it lurched upwards as we all scrambled back in. Arriving at the top Ann literally joined the waiting runners and started seconds later as the marshals allowed her to run.
Whilst we recovered from this panic it then became apparent the side door had popped its slider at the top and we spent a further 20 mins trying to re-attach the door with whatever tools we could lay our hands on. Unfortunately, the day got more eventful – as the minibus dropping Eric for the next Stage left for drop off it got stuck in traffic on the narrow lanes – delayed this meant that the drama we’d had for Stage 17 ended up being replayed for Stage 18 but this time we were too late with Eric missing his stage. Despite this low the team ran the final two stages with Phil bringing in the last leg into Cardiff with a cracking atmosphere as once again all the teams congregated to cheer in their last runner and see the finish line. Seven of the Buckley runners finished within the top 16 places on their stage against tough competition – Chris Callaghan, Elliot Cox, Chris Myles, Tim Joy, Simon Roberts, Eddie Davies, and Phil Pumford.
Buckley Runners finished 25th overall (15th on mountain stages) with a total combined time of 25:07:39 (5 hours behind Sale Harriers overall winners)- full results can be found here.
|5||Chris Russell Myles||5th||58:03||9.6|
Once all the racing was done a post event beer was in order and we retired to a local pub to have a few beers before some of the team returned home in one buses. The rest of us stayed on in Cardiff to enjoy a night out discovering more of the town’s nightlife than had been found the previous year and once again being treated to karaoke by Chris.
For those of us returning Monday the adventure had not quite ended as halfway home the mini bus broke down and we spent an unexpected 5 hours in Hereford waiting for the AA and then a recovery truck – I’m pleased to say that we took the opportunity to visit one of the local hostelries while we waited as well as attacking the leftover wine on the bus.
All in all, a fantastic eventful running weekend, spectacular in its scenery, heart-warming for it camaraderie between teams, and a great way to get to know some of our club better. Roll on Castles 2019!