Welsh castles relay 2013, the Drovers Armsless leg

2013-06-13, Comments

WCR stage 14 profile

When I heard Matt Burns would represent Southville Running Club on the Drovers Arms leg of the Welsh Castles Relay, the race’s queen stage, I had to ask Gary, the Swansea Harriers team manager, if I could run it too. He warned me:

Stage 14 is a nightmare, the road zigzags up the mountain, not for the fainthearted!!

Zigzags and mountains don’t scare me. What does scare me is bright sunshine and that’s what we had on Sunday. I slathered on sunscreen and lurked in the shadows in sunglasses waiting for the stage to start.

Confusion at the briefing. An illegal rave at the top of the mountain: police had closed the road. We’ll finish the stage a mile early, the race official said. We’ll see what we can do. We’ll try and get you through.

Earlier, there’d been talk of a vintage car rally coming down the mountain at the same time as we we ran up it. No rally, apparently; instead, a rave. I guess anyone holding a 20 stage road race over a summer weekend has to think on their feet.

We were off. I settled into a steady pace. There’d be plenty of opportunity to burn energy later. The rolling route left Builth Wells on the A483 heading west, hills rising ominously to the south. Supporters offered wet sponges and water. Thanks!

At Garth we turned and ducked under the railway line and then the climb started. I was passing runners now. For the first time I could see Matt, not so far ahead of me. At the side of the road a sun-burned and dreadlocked girl huddled against the crash barrier.

Gary had warned me about the false summit. You get to the top and then you’ve another couple of miles to go. Except today we hadn’t and there, at the top of the first climb, suddenly, was the finish line. Oh.

WCR 2013

The views were spectacular. I felt uncomfortably fresh, especially considering I’d just run the best part of nine miles the last two which had been uphill. We set off to follow the next two stages of the race. Rob had the top of his BMW down. It took a few tense minutes to negotiate the road past the Drovers, reduced to a single lane by vehicles on the verges. Team vans were trying to head in both directions as the music throbbed and pulsed and ravers staggered around in the sunshone. Down the hill the police were methodically pulling over and questioning people.

Over a period of several minutes on the run into Brecon we overtook the stage 15 runners. Mark Roberts, one of Swansea’s finest, was near the front; ahead of him some seriously good athletes from Altringham, Port Talbot, Les Croupiers, Hare and Hounds tore up the road. On the way out of Brecon we passed by stage 16, the mountain stage I’d run in filthy weather two years earlier.

Swansea Harriers were 11th overall, 2nd in the vets category just 16 minutes behind Bath. It’s the fastest time we’ve completed the route in for some years. Thanks to Rob Falconer for providing a lift, the photo, and for putting in a storming run on stage 13. Thanks again to Gary Irving: as manager of a veterans’ team I think he accepts and expects a few injuries will upset his plans, but four people pulling out in the final week, that’s tough!