Early in the year an announcement is made in my running club’s weekly newsletter: Entries have now opened for this year’s Welsh Castles Relay. If you would like to help put together a team for this event, please get in touch.
The Welsh Castles Relay is a bit of a legend at the club. It’s a 2-day long, 200 mile relay race that travels from Bangor in the North to Cardiff in the South during 20 separate races. Teams wishing to compete must devise their own logistical plan to transport their runners along the route, arrange accommodation, take part in marshaling duties, set up water stations, and provide the cheering and support needed by runners along the way. It’s no mean feat for those taking part, and an even bigger task for those who volunteer to organise it!
The event has been running (boom boom) since 1982 and is hosted by the Les Croupiers running club of Cardiff. In its early years it was a proper, baton-wielding relay race that set off in the middle of the night, but within a couple of years it had grown in popularity and the club were forced to adopt its current ‘staged’ format. This means that the event comprises of 20 fairly separate road races, each starting at intervals across the two days. The stages overlap to create a near seamless trail down the length of Wales (with the exception of just one race that, due to an inconveniently located bypass, begins 1.5 miles away from the end of the previous leg), some flat, most bumpy, and some up and over the mountains.
I jumped at the chance to take part this year after reluctantly pulling out last year, when persistent ITB problems and a bad case of The Lazies took me out of training. After the initial excitement of making the team though, I kind of forgot all about it. My half marathon training consumed pretty much all of my running related thoughts and June seemed so far away… It was a bit of a shock last month then when I realised I had only a couple of weeks to get race ready and track down a tent!
But, while I had been distracted by half marathons, work and 90210 repeats on E4, there was a team of fellow Chasers who were working tirelessly to organise our team. In the weeks preceding the race my inbox was inundated with handbooks, spreadsheets and picnic proposals. All I had to do was turn up at the car rental office in Kilburn on Friday lunchtime and ride in a dented people carrier, fondly christened The Party Bus, to Bangor.
Welsh Castles Relay 2013 in numbers
205 miles long
20 individually staged races that pass within 2 miles of…
2 mottes and baileys
Team Chasers 2013 in numbers
19 runners (unfortunately our 20th runner had an accident on Friday morning and was unable to come)
3 impeccably organised team captains
1 case of food poisoning (Pre-race. The patient still ran. That was one brave Chaser…)
Though the discovery that this relay race does not involve batons or hand taps did at first make me a little sad (so it’s just 20 races, some of which I won’t even get to see?), in reality it was more exciting than I could have imagined.
The logistical wizardry of our team captains dictated which cars we spent each day in and allowed us to seamlessly drop runners off at the start of their stage, cheer them as they set off, drive along the race route where we would inevitably find another race in full swing, cheer on all of the runners we pass, park up and hand out cups of water, find a designated finish line, park up and cheer the finishers, find our team mate, feed them water/lucozade/bananas, drive another runner to their start line, cheer the runners we pass along the way, park up and hand out cups of water if time allows…
Get the idea?
It was a hectic weekend of cheering, travelling, map reading and camping – my 9.1 mile race seems paltry in comparison!
High points of the weekend
Regular readers know how much I love taking part in club events because I love the cheering, camaraderie and flag waving they involve. Well this was like one of those club events – multiplied by 20!
But we didn’t just cheer on our own runners. We cheered on every runner we saw. We hung out of the car windows and screamed out every god damn name printed on every god damn vest that we drove past. No club name on the vest? No problem. We’ll still tell you that you look good, that you look strong, that you are awesome, that you’re nearly finished, and that you can totally take the runner in front of you. The cheering and the supporting was by far the best part of the weekend and I reckon we gave the best cheers of the weekend. Whoop, Chasers!
The mountain runner that wanted more mountain:
Most people who run a race up a mountain are relieved to reach the finish, but not our Marathon Boy, Tim. He took on the toughest mountain leg of the entire event from Builth Wells to Drovers Arms, casually referred to as ‘Drovers’, which is normally 10.5 miles of relentless upward climbing. Marshals at the race start declared that the course may be ‘a bit’ short, but they couldn’t be sure. That must have been a relief for all those runners!
By the time we got to him at the top of the mountain Tim was fully recovered, but rather than talk about how tough the race had been or how tired he was, he told us that he was annoyed he didn’t know the finish line was quite so short – because he could have taken the runners in front of him! What a champ.
As we bundled into the car to drive on to our next stop we discovered the reason the race was shortened – a rave on the top of the mountain. The music had been set up so that the noise was surprisingly well contained within the party perimeters and even the local police were leaving them to it! Now, while I don’t condone spending 2 days caning Class As or heavy drinking in the midday heat, you’ve got to hand it to those kids – a mountain top rave is a pretty fun idea.
I’ve had very little time for socialising over the last year, and so this weekend was a bit of a shock to the system! The weekend was spent hanging out with old running buddies and getting to know other team mates better, and I loved every minute of it.
The patience and planning:
The logisitics of this event are incredible. They kind of have to be experienced to be truly appreciated – I certainly didn’t realise how mad it would be until I was doing it and I did very little! The captains spent months planning it, the drivers demonstrated the patience of saints and followed their instructions, the map readers stayed calm in the face of unexpected bypasses – seriously, it was incredible. I took one brief stint as a map reader and totally flunked it. To all you organisers, drivers and directors – you are awesome. And as for Les Croupiers, the hosts of the entire event – you are either completely mad or secret geniuses.
The photos from the 2012 event were very soggy looking, but this year’s couldn’t have been any better. Bright sunshine and clear skies made for an excellent cheering environment, great views, warm nights in the tent and high spirits. Unfortunately not everyone enjoys running in the heat, and a few of us suffered, but with British summers being as brief as they are none of us complained out loud.
I thought that we were prepared, with car boots full of bottled water and cups, but that was until we saw other teams lining the road with buckets of cold water and sponges. I can’t speak for anyone else, but those sponges were just heavenly during my race. I thoroughly dislike running in hot, humid weather and was racing during the midday heat. After running nearly 4 miles along a cycle path where no cars and thus no pop-up water station could gain access to us I was relieved to find myself on the residential streets of Merthyr, which were lined with teams offering me cold sponges. I’ve never poured water over my head during a race before, but it was so, so good… The naughty voice in my head who had been whispering “adopt a run/walk strategy… adopt a run/walk strategy…” was washed away and I was collected by my teammates in a not-too-shoddy 76 minutes.
Being the biggest cheerers in Cardiff:
Not kidding. When our final runner came down the finishing straight we cheered so loudly people were asking who we were!
After returning to London on the Sunday evening we all had a bit of a comedown. Emails pinged back and forth all week as we shared photographs and memories. When people have asked about the weekend, all I’ve really been able to respond is ‘awesome’. Being totally immersed in the sport for a weekend was really surreal and I only realised quite how surreal when I got home! But it was also really inspiring, because I got to watch runners that are normally miles ahead of me. Unfortunately though I discovered that those super speedy runners don’t drink any magic potions in the morning or take any shortcuts – they have just trained very bloody hard and are very good.
Huge thanks to Marathon Boy and Girl, Tim and Kayleigh, for their excellent photos from the weekend. As well as being a great runner and photographer, Tim is an excellent illustrator and currently spreading his freelance wings. If you like his pics you should check out his other work at Illustrateshire.