Welsh castles relay 2012, 14 seconds and 30 years apart

2012-06-12, Comments

WCR stage 19 profile

Last year I ran a mountain stage through heavy rain and into the wind. This year I ran a flat stage, well, flat for Wales, and — despite news reports of flooding and dams bursting — the weather was just fine: overcast, a light wind, not too hot. We gathered in Navigation Park, Abercynon, just off the A470. For “park” read “industrial estate”. After waiting a few minutes after the scheduled start time of 14:25 for the Turner Broadcasting runner to (not) appear, we were off.

Stage 19 of 2012 Welsh castles relay

The route climbed over the A470 and curved around to point south. After the usual initial shakeout the race settled down and I could see 7 runners ahead of me; within distance, but ahead. After a brief diversion through the Rhydfelin Housing estate we hit the Taff Trail. I’d been here before, on a bike. It’s a disused railway line, straight, level and shaded by trees. Cow parsley and nettles towered in the muddy verges. Insects hovered in the humid air. I was running alongside a Sarn Helen runner and could see two runners ahead. Then one pulled up. Over the course of a couple of steady miles we hauled in and passed the other. I looked back — mistake — and saw a Vale Royal AC runner approaching fast.

Leaving the Taff Trail we doubled back on to the Old Nantgarw road, a country lane heading sharply upwards. Ifan had warned me about this and now the marshalls at the bottom of the climb warned me again. About a mile uphill, it does get easier, look out for cars.

This was my chance. I’d lost sight of the runner ahead of me but I used the slope to push ahead of Sarn Helen and Vale Royal. Dig in, don’t look back. Hills suit my legs. A couple of off-road motorbikes bowled down the hill. More marshalls stood at the turn on to Groeswen Road. I’d drunk enough water but grabbed a sponge and wrung it over my head.

The climb sets the stage finish up, that’s how Ifan had described it, and he should know: he won this stage last year. It’s all downhill, lots of turns, all the way to Caerphilly. As the road swerved and tilted I saw the castle, a crumbled pile of stones, far away, further than I’d hoped. Now I looked back — no sign of anyone. I lengthened my stride, letting gravity swing my tired legs.

Swansea Harriers were marshalling the finish of the stage so I got some welcome support on the run in. You’re going well, said Gary. How far now? I asked Kevin. About a mile.

A mile! As good as a miss. Vale Royal had me in sight, blue and yellow squares. Luckily it was a short mile. I turned a corner and suddenly there were flags and people. Is that the finish? I sprinted for the line. My time was 01:12:08, 4:09 behind the stage winner. 12 seconds later Vale Royal appeared and another 27 seconds behind him, Sarn Helen. I came 5th, the first runner from a veterans team, but the runners ahead of me were veterans running in the open category. Anyone over 35 counts as a veteran, which makes no sense in endurance events: Haile Gebrselassie knocked 27 seconds off his own world marathon record at the age of 35.

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I didn’t hang around in Caerphilly. I wanted to catch the finish of the next stage — leg 20, the final stage — which was scheduled to arrive in Cardiff at 16:00. The car was where Ifan had said it would be. I put my foot down. Djokovic and Nadal slugged it out on the radio. But a car is no match for a runner approachng the capital and by the time I’d negotiated roundabouts, traffic lights and ticket machines the race was done.

Studying the results later I discovered the first two home were separated by 14 seconds and 30 years! With Paul Hammond’s permission, here’s the culmination of 20+ hours of racing over 20 stages and two days. Andrew Greenleaf pips the veteran — who, at twice the younger runner’s age, truly is a veteran — Andrew Greenleaf in black pips Martin Rees in white to the line.

The castles relay offers lots of prizes in lots of categories. The grounds of Cardiff castle are a fine venue for an extended awards ceremony. I drank sweet tea from a thermos flask and munched garibaldis and shook my legs to stop them seizing up. My team, Swansea Harriers veterans, came second in their category, some way behind the Les Croupiers vets. We were monarchs of the mountains, collected first veterans team in a couple of mountain stages, and Matthew Gurmin won stage 17.

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My thanks to Paul Hammond for allowing me to reproduce here some of his superb photos of the event. The versions here are low resolution copies. The originals are on Paul Hammond’s Flickr site. I also want to thank Gary Irving for his immense effort getting the team organised.