Castles Report

I have to start off by congratulating Clevedon on their fantastic win of the entire competition in this their 30th anniversary year and the Welsh Castles Relay’s 25th anniversary year. Well done Clevedon.

As stated before, this year was the events 25th Anniversary and in some ways it felt like one big party. This year things were more international than ever with the Spanish team, Interval M 2000, joining Dutch regulars Haarlem Globetrotters. The Spaniards were tremendously enthusiastic about the whole thing, creating a real buzz that carried through the entire weekend and Jerry was pleased as it gave him a chance to practice his Spanish!

Read more (sorry it’s a bit long)….

The weather was glorious – for holiday makers – bathing us in bright shine across the weekend. It was, however, a little too hot for running – as we all found out to our peril but despite the heat there were still a few course records sets – so some obviously coped better than others. This years event went off without major incident but there were a few cases of sun burn!

Now down to business.

The weekend started at around 5am on Saturday morning with the long drive to Caernarfon Castle through the Llanberis Pass – lovely view. We arrived in plenty of time for the pre-race briefing at 9:15 as we pulled in to port at ten past nine – I told them it would only take just over four hours to get there – perfect timing. Chris Herbert, Clive Tucker and Graham Grew didn’t look too shaken by my driving as they scrambled for the escape hatch as soon as we came to a stop in the leisure centre car park!

Chris took to the coastal path at 10:30 on Leg 1 (9.1 miles) and the start of our 220 mile voyage of discovery across Wales. This years event didn’t start with the usual lap around the castle instead the Spaniards, together with hosts Les Croupiers, led the race off with a gentle jog down to the foot bridge across the river before the race got under way in earnest. The party had begun and Chris obviously got into the party spirit, arriving in Penygroes five minutes ahead of his self imposed target time.

Dave Mortimer, a permanent fixture of the Bristol team, took on Leg 2 (10.7 miles) down into Criccieth. With things warming up we were glad to see him arrive safely at the finish. Hopefully Dave recovered from his run quickly so he could get on and enjoy the rest of the weekend break with his wife.

Graham Crump, also taking time out from his holiday, joined us for most of the day. We rewarded his dedication to duty by letting him run Leg 3 (12.1 miles) across to Maentwrog, the first of the mountain stages. He really begged us to let him run this one so who were we to turn him down. Suffice to say he survived – but only just!

We met up with the team minibus at the end of Graham’s Leg – that is Maentwrog as opposed to running Graham over. On board were Mark Dickinson, Jerry Hogan, Dave Bedwell, Dave Taylor, Terry Townsend and new boy Mike Taylor. At this point the race is really underway as the friendly banter begins in earnest.

Leg 4 (9.4 miles) over to Harlech saw the return to action of Dave Taylor. I didn’t get chance to speak to Dave after his run but he seemed to be going well when we passed him in support car one. He finished well up the field but I just know he’ll be out there over the coming weeks and months, putting in the training, ready for a crack at one of the mountain stages next year!

Tim Horn’s ‘Dolly’ was to make her appearance on Leg 5 (9.6 miles), the coastal run across to Barmouth. The Castles Relay wouldn’t be quite the same without seeing the svelte curves of her red and white body and it made Chris’ day when he found out he’d been chosen to look after her! I guess I should point out that Dolly is Tim’s Citroen 2CV. Chris claimed he enjoyed the driving experience – but that was after we had prised his locked grip from the steering wheel.

Brett Sadler ran Leg 6 (10.7 miles) to Dolgellau. It starts in the picture postcard seaside town of Barmouth. While eagerly eyeing the assorted ice creams available for purchase, Brett, like a true professional, put aside all thought of actually sampling their delights. He had a good run but unfortunately a niggling hamstring injury came back to haunt him. Despite that he forced himself through the pain barrier to finish 11th overall on the stage.

Our newest recruit, Mike Taylor was thrown in at the deep end. He thought he was in for a nice scenic run through the Welsh countryside. Little did he know what Clive T had planned for him in the form on Leg 7 (9.75 miles) down to Dinas Mawddwy – or should that be up and then down to Dinas Mawddwy? For the record Leg 7 is the second of the mountain stages. From the gun you start the climb and it doesn’t let up for a couple of miles. The hardest part, in my humble opinion, comes after you reach the high point with a wickedly steep descent which really hits you hard. Happily Mike arrived safely at the finish although reports suggest he was ‘rather tired’ and Clive was worried that he may have put him off for life but later Mike was overheard muttering those immortal words ‘I want to do that one [leg 7] again’.

Dave Bedwell was our Leg 8 (11.2 miles) man running across to Foel. Dave had a good run , coming home ahead of all the other Vet team runners, in 14th place in what appeared to be a strong field. I’m not sure Dave is used to such long races as he’s most often seen prowling the track but his commitment to duty is second to none.

Leg 9 (8.6 miles) saw the appearance of Castles regular, Ant Wiltshire. I don’t know how much arm twisting Clive had to do to get him out but he’s been ready to come to our rescue on many an occasion. Again, he got through to the finish in Llanfair Caereinion, safely handing over the flag to Mark on leg 10.

Mark Dickinson took to the final leg of the day, Leg 10 (13.3 miles) into Newtown like a fish to, well, dry land! When it said mountain stage on the tin – it really meant it. The heat of the day was still stifling but Mark dutifully stuck to the task in hand as 13.3 miles later he appeared, smiling and jovial at the finish – well ok not that jovial nor in fact was he smiling but he survived and that’s what really matters. He also mentioned something about about spotting someone way ahead who looked suspiciously like Dave Austin running for GWR and complained bitterly that he hadn’t slowed down to let him though! Mark has run a different leg each year and eventually hopes to run every leg. I’m guessing he’s glad he’s got one of the hardest and longest Castles’ legs out of the way. Clive has threatened to give him Drovers next year – he’s got to run it sometime and you can’t turn back the clock (sorry Mark!).

As the sun sank below the horizon at the end of day one we were all but out of the title race after finishing the day 97 minutes off the pace set by Swansea Vets. Second place was also way out there with Southwest Vets 54 minutes ahead. In fact we finished the day in last place in the vets race and 36th overall – go Bristol – we were on fire – well more like somebody should have set us on fire to put us out of our misery! In spite of the bleak looking result moral within the team was still high and we were enjoying soaking up the unique atmosphere of the Castles Relay.

As is usual on such occasions we ended down at the local hostelry for late night drinking after, of course, the timed honoured ceremony of the sacred tent erection. Down at the local we bumped into Clevedon, also following the time honoured tradition. We ended up playing pool and Tim Horn showed us the fruits of his misspent youth – that’s his pool playing, thank you very much. Later, after Tim had swept us all off the table, Les Croupier Vets Leg 10 runner threw down the challenge. Just as the match kicked off he disappeared to re-appear a few moments later with his own cue – we’d been hustled!

We eventually hit the sack around midnight at the end of a very very long day.

Jerry was up early (not really his choice because I took the tent down around him since I had an even earlier start) and ready for Leg 11 (12.3 miles) from Newtown t
o Llanbadarn Fynydd (try pronouncing that after a few drinks). We were all hoping he could jump start are assault on the teams ahead of us and Jerry didn’t disappoint, finishing in 11th place and the first of the Vet teams on the fourth of the mountain stages. As is customary at the finish of this leg we partook of the sacred bacon roll and ate it swiftly in homage to those poor soles setting out on Leg 12.

Up next for us was Paul Shannon, taking on Leg 12 (11.2 miles) towards Crossgates. Although this one is considered a downhill stage it’s still hard work with a little sting in the tail. He did us proud, finishing in 16th place overall and keeping it tight with the teams ahead of us.

Paul handed over to Sian, who warning of recent illness, stuck to the task like a trooper on Leg 13 (10.6 miles) down into Builth Wells. With a couple of miles to go she was lying in third place in the Vet races and first woman. By the end She’d reeled them all in with a master class in perfect pacing to win the Stage and coming home 1st of the Vet teams in 12th place overall.

Next up was Clive Bromhall running, what is considered the most prestigious (and hardest) of all the stages, the mighty Leg 14 (11 miles) mountain stage up to the Drovers Arms. The hills in the last three or four miles are the stuff of legend. So steep that at points cars have to drop to first gear to keep going – well mine did but maybe that’s because my car is rubbish. After 67 minutes Clive appeared over the hill – I should rephrase, Clive came into view, charging towards the finish, claiming a Vets stage win and 4th place overall and not far adrift from the first finisher. It has to be said that Clive asked for Drovers but afterwards clearly stated for the record – ‘Never again’.

Terry Townsend took on the awkward Leg 15 (12.4 miles) down into Brecon. This leg, supposedly one of the easier ones, is long and bucks up and down more times that the prize bull at a rodeo and by the start of the leg the sun was at its hottest making for an uncomfortable run but Terry did us proud and finished in the top half of the field in a respectable time. He wasn’t happy with his run but we sure as heck were.

Leg 16 (9 miles) up to the Beacons Reservoir and the last of the mountain stage saw Alec Woods take to the stage. As he looked to register he spotted Strouds Dan Robinson warming up, and with a wry smile uttered the words, “looks like I’m racing for second”. His Mystic Meg like prediction came true as he came home 2nd overall, behind Dan, but Vet stage winner and more importantly a long way clear of the 2nd placed Vet team. We were beginning to pick up momentum as we clawed back valuable time against the teams ahead of us. At this point we were beginning to close the gap to third. Would there be enough time to reduce the deficit? – only time would tell.

It was at this point we had the now infamous ‘bag incident’. Up to this point the schedule and logistics had gone, as what can only described, like clockwork. I was supposed to collect Alec’s keys before the start of his leg, drive to the end and then bring him back to his car afterwards. Alec’s wife and family had accompanied him so I wasn’t required. However, part of the plan was to collect Dave Gappers kit bag as he prepared to set off on Leg 17. Suffice to say we all forgot. By the time we realised the mistake it was too late. Fortunately Clevedon were on hand to hold on to his bag until we could collect it, so thanks go to Clevedon for that.

Dave had a cracker on Leg 17 (9.2 miles) down to Cyfarthfa-far-fa-far Castle, keeping the charge going. He blew away the opposition to finish in sixth place overall and easily first Vet team.

Dave handed over to Mike Adams for Leg 18 (9.1 miles) across to Abercynon. Mike ran a steady race and kept us in the hunt for second or third. At this point, any slip up would be fatal and consign us to fourth and disappointment. Mike didn’t let that happen as we kept the pressure on the teams ahead.

Next up was Terry Morgan on Leg 19 (10.4 miles) to Caerphilly Castle. It’s fair to say Terry was a little disappointed with his run but far from being a bad run it was Terry’s run that moved us into third spot in the Vets race. He finished in 21st overall and 2nd Vet team but most importantly he took invaluable minutes from both Southwest RR and Blackpool. Thanks to Terry’s fine run second place was now a real possibility and with Phil Parry bringing home the baton there was a chance we could get second.

Phil set off on Leg 20 (10.4 miles) to the finish in Cardiff Castle. When he set off he wouldn’t have known where we were lying in the race but the one thing you can guarantee with Phil is that he won’t take it easy. At the finish, the atmosphere was electric, we were all on tenterhooks, waiting, waiting, waiting. The crowd went wild as the first runner entered the castle – it wasn’t Phil. The second one was though, as he came bursting through to the finish just ahead of Clevedon’s runner, claiming another Vet stage win.

There was an anxious wait for the results but we were to find out that we had just missed out on second place by less than two minutes but claimed a podium spot in third and moved from 36th to 17th overall. It was a valiant effort by the team and to claw back 52 minutes against second place was a damn fine effort. In addition, our time this year was over 90 minutes quicker than last year so it’s fair to say that every single member of the team gave there all.

It wouldn’t be right to end without thanking Les Croupiers, the sponsors and all those who help put on such a great festival of running. And of course congratulations go to every runner, from every club, from every nation who took part and helped make it such a truly uplifting weekend (and thumbs up to GWR).