10 Jun Welsh Castles Relay…the full story!
Cath Barker flies the Blue and Yellow flag, as she skips down the finish line to massive cheers from her clubmates gathered in Bute Park, Cardiff, rounding off a fantastic roller coaster of a weekend. What a great photo, taken by Abyd Quin Aziz. Here’s the stage-by-stage report, with all its ups and downs (lots of ups!)
However first we had to get to our Newtown HQ, which this year was a superbly-appointed barn in a beautiful location. On the way there the traditional stopover for pre-race “feeding” at the Laughing Dog in Howey…this was brilliantly organized by Beth Apglyn, who fortunately had all our menu choices saved on her phone! Great food (wow what a cheesecake!), excellent company and a super start to the weekend.
Organizing the logistics of a weekend away like this takes meticulous attention to detail, and Ben Butler-Madden had prepared a “no-stone-unturned” schedule to get everyone into the right place at the right time. So on Saturday morning we were all up at the crack of sparrows to head north to Caernarfon, stopping off at Porthmadog for essential supplies…here’s the stage-by-stage account.
Stage 1: Caernarfon Castle to Penygroes (9.1 miles)
First off was Simon “Cyril” Grant, who confided he was slightly nervous as this was his first race effort since picking up a knee injury from a cycling accident. Perhaps far more nerve-racking was his responsibility in taking on the job of “Lobbing Panda”, a Club ceremony now traditional on Castles Leg 1. Not only did he nail this role to perfection, he also had a strong race, finishing 41st overall in 70:41.
Stage 2: Penygroes to Criccieth Castle (10.7 miles)
This leg was expertly negotiated by Kit Lambert, who had a really strong run topped off with a fast sprint to a very soggy finish line. Top work rewarded with joint 42nd place in a time of 74:47. The Panda stayed in the minibus….
Stage 3: Criccieth Castle to Maentwrog (12.3 miles)
The heavens really started to open for this leg, but luckily we had a top-notch, waterproof Dragon to deal with such conditions. Ben Butler-Madden powered around the course in 68:12, finishing a highly-commendable 5th, just 1 tiny second behind the 4th placer. Amazing running by our Team Captain….
Stage 4: Maentwrog to Harlech Castle (9.5 miles)
There’s quite a good story attached to this next leg, which is not surprising as it was being run by Tim Cummings, who won’t mind me saying “likes a good yarn”! Tim is one of the few (the only?) Club members to have won a coveted Yellow Winners’ tee shirt at Castles, and he did this on the very same leg as a 17 year old running for Barry and Vale back in the days of black and white telly. He didn’t repeat that performance on Saturday, but put two fingers up at the doubters on the bus who thought he might struggle, with a very solid 47th overall in a time of 70:58. Run strong boy run!!
Stage 5: Harlech Castle to Barmouth
Beth Apglyn had the honour of connecting these two castles, covering the ground remarkably efficiently to finish 42nd overall in a time of 71:08, and in the process nabbing two of those all-important Strava “Queen of the Mountains” top-10 rankings! As Beth herself commented, it made all that recent hill training worthwhile…..
Stage 6: Barmouth to Dolgellau (9.1 miles)
One of our hugely-experienced runners was on this leg, Mr Christopher Nellins, and as usual he smashed it, finishing 35th in 67:33 for a course following a rather wet and muddy Cycle Route 4. Testimony to this are the before and after photos below. Chris thus earned his nap, before taking on more minibus driving duties the next day…..(thanks also to Cam Large for some great driving shifts over the weekend)
Stage 7: Dolgellau to Dinas Mawddwy (10.1 miles)
Mike Morgan likes a bit of banter, and his post-race conversation was all about “how s%i* I felt” and “ooh that hurt” and “nearly climbed on the bus”….but he actually ran really well, knocking off 6 minutes from his best time on this very tough leg. Be smug Mike, great running for 31st in a time of 72:45.
Stage 8: Dinas Mawddwy to Foel (10.8 miles)
Another tough leg, yet beautifully matched to the talent of our next ‘contender’…a very focused-looking Gary Brown, totally in the zone. Gary produced one of his best-ever performances to finish 4th in 62:40, just a couple of minutes behind the winner.
Stage 9: Foel to Llanfair Caereinion (8.5 miles)
Time for Simon Williamson to get out of his ‘chair’ and do a bit of racing. A painful experience with lots of grimacing and focusing on the runners in front (he didn’t want to be left “behind”…) but he made it to the finish in just about one piece, very grateful for the team support en route. 39th overall in 62:27 was actually a pretty reasonable result….
Stage 10: Llanfair Caereinion to Newtown (13.1 miles)
The honour of finishing Day 1 for the Club went to one of our recent new recruits, the ever-smiling and positive-thinking Andy Pearce. Baptism of fire time; this was a hilly Half Marathon won in a very speedy 70 minutes by Daniel Bodman from Aberdare, with Andy putting in a creditable 88:38 for 29th place. As ever, that evening Andy was already planning to go faster next year….
So then we all legged it back to our weekend base for a delicious veggie pasta meal prepared by Sarah Patnett, Shirley Howman and Nigel Williams…much appreciated by a ravenous crew. Should also acknowledge at this point great support duties and driving by Nigel Adams, Cathy Pearce and Sarah’s friend Jim; really made a massive difference to the logistics this year, thank you guys! The evening continued with lots of urbane conversation and sampling of fine wines….except for Clem Clement, who would be lining up to race at 7am the next morning….
Stage 11: Newtown to Llanbadarn Fynydd (10.8 miles)
It was great to have Clem along for the weekend, ex-Chairman and owner of an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Welsh Castles. Except this leg, as it was new for this year. A recent charity walk along the Great Highland Way had nearly scuppered his legs, but fortunately for us there were no problems on Sunday as Clem powered to 48th spot in a time of 79:37. Perhaps more taxing for Clem was his journey back to Scotland…train/buses from Merthyr to Bristol Airport to catch a flight to Glasgow!
Stage 12: Llanbadarn Fynydd to Crossgates (11.2 miles)
So that was it for the ‘full weekend crew’…we now handed over to an elite reinforcement squad of one-dayers, traveling up from the south. First off for us was Kevin Chalke, who produced a cracking run to finish 11th in 70:52. Probably on any other leg he would have been fastest Vet runner, but Stage 11 had three Vets in the top 10!
Stage 13: Crossgates to Builth Wells (10.6 miles)
Colin Caesar was next off for us, and produced his usual solid performance to cover the course in 71:57 for 23rd place. Luckily he didn’t sample any of Gary’s Breakfast Bap Special before he lined up on the start line…..
Stage 14: Builth Wells to Drover’s Arms (10.8 miles)
This is perhaps the most iconic stage of the race, with a sadistic, cruel climb up on to exposed moorland and a horrible little kick up in the final mile. Ian Southwell, another of our debutantes, took to the task manfully with precision, picking off runners who had gone off too fast on the flattish start. Great running by Ian, finishing 18th in 70:17.
Stage 15: Epynt Visitor Centre to Brecon (12.8 miles)
As the Club minibus crawled up to the Drover’s Arms, Ben was conducting an intense phone and messaging session with Sarah and David Brown who were making their way to the start of Stage 15 and were lost! Ben had to track their car position on his own phone’s Google Maps app…not an easy task with the signal dropping out every now and then! Fortunately they made it with 10 minutes to spare in the end, and Dave went on to produce a really good (adrenaline-powered?) run for 27th place in a time of 85:39. Another first time Castles runner delivering the goods, well done that man!
Stage 16: Brecon Canal Basin to Torpantau (12.5 miles)
Another tough, unforgiving mountain stage, gamely taken on by Dave Mathews, who although a bit short on hillwork managed a creditable 53rd place in a time of 102:05. This was actually 35th in the Open Category, and certainly matched what others had been accomplishing over the weekend. Here’s a great photo taken by local photographer Robert Gale…you can see many more at his Flickr Account here.
Stage 17: Taf Fechan Railway Station to Cyfarthfa Castle (8.7 miles)
Frank Atherton was up next, and produced his usual trusted, reliable performance to finish 35th in 60:58. Here’s a grab of him finishing transferred from a video on Nigel’s phone!
Stage 18: Rhyd-y-Car Centre to Navigation Park (9.1 miles)
Louise Hunt got a late call up and confessed to being slightly nervous before the start of this leg…but you wouldn’t have guessed it, looking at the attached photos, where she is making a proper attempt at grabbing the coveted “P&D Smiliest Runner Award”! She ran her usual even-paced race to finish a fine 42nd in 70:48.
Stage 19: Navigation Park to Nantgawr (7.7 miles)
One of my favourite photos of the weekend next, snapped by Shirley and recording a frenetic sprint to the line by Cath Tailby. What a racer! Cath didn’t quite catch her prey, but nonetheless finished a creditable 31st in a time of 56:58.
Stage 20: Caerphilly Castle to Cardiff Castle (10.1 miles)
And so we’re back to our brilliant flag bearer at the top of this report….Cath Barker truly stepped up to the mark to smash her projected time of 72 minutes with a tremendous 69:57 and 43rd place….what a fantastic way to end the end the day, with the Club finishing a highest-ever 26th overall and 22nd in the Open Category. To put this in the context of recent years, we were 50th in 2017, and 38th in 2018, wonderful progress and just reward for some dedicated training and precision planning by the Castles Squad.
A memorable weekend of which we should all be proud….thank you to the team who ran their hearts out, with brilliant backup from the support crew and other members who joined us at the finish in Cardiff.
The Full Results can be found here.