With two teams in this years Castles Relay the next 40 days will have a write up to celebrate the success of our team.
First up on Stage 1 for the Open Team was Keith James. A nice early stage was the only way we could ensure that we could keep him sober for long enough to run. Despite his threats to run in the vets team all year with fellow pensioner Simon Lewis, Keef qualified solidly for a place in the open team.
Was supposed to be splitting the driving with Daniel Thrift, but after a solid white knuckle ride up to caernarfon on friday evening, the rest of the team were more than happy to let keith indulge after his run and leave the driving duties to the far more relaxed style of others.
Keith delivered the goods in his race, following up on his solid stage 1 last year and finishing the same stage 4 minutes quicker to indicate the solid progression and development that is mirrored throughout the squad. A brilliant performance in a leg where many teams start off with a strong runner, meaning a deceptively quick field. Keith managed an 11th placed finish, 4th Vet and was one of our very few runners who managed a personal victory over eventual winners Sale Harriers which probably indicates the strength of the overall field on stage 1.
If running were a multi discipline sport, with beer consumption the second discipline, not many could live with our Keith as he also excelled with the latter and there was even a reveal of the famous tattoo, which is always a highlight of any castles weekend.
Camping isnt really Keith’s thing, so keith ditches the tent and sleeps in a bivi bag on the grass on the saturday night which I can only assume is so that he can be closer to nature.. or maybe he is just too tiddled to care! Oddly, he is also too proud to sleep on the leisure centre floor on a Friday and instead opts for a luxury premier inn with simon (they only had doubles and it wasnt a request apparently).
Newtown watch out Keith will be back in 2020.
Stage 1 – Vets Team – *Castles Debut*
Set the scene, 3 days before the stage :-
“Any chance you could do a tough uphill 10 mile run 170 miles away in 3 days time?”
Most people might have met this with a less polite response, but Bethan Ford was ready to go the extra mile for the team. Awesome!
You could sense the nerves at the start
“As long as I hit the cut off”
“As long as I don’t finish last”
And she absolutely smashed it out of the park, almost 5 minutes inside the cut off time (on a net uphill course, which is more impressive as the cut offs do not take into account gradient).
Not only that but Bethan finished in front of plenty other runners including our rivals in the Aberdare Vets team ? a solid start for our first ever runner in a castles vets team!
Stage 2 – Open Team – *Castles Debut*
With a decent start to the race, it was over to the fastest man in Shear Design, James Spencer, to take over for the Open Team.
Sleeping on a leisure centre floor on the friday night was not ideal preparation for the new kid on the block, however, it was almost a five star experience compared to what Billy Hayton had whipped up for him for Saturday nights camping experience (pictures will be attached to Billys post on thursday). It’s safe to say that James is unlikely to believe Billy when he assures him that he has “got it all sorted”. There are rumours that this was a backlash reaction by Billy for once again being pushed down to second fastest in the office. This is no way to treat your boss, Billy.
Recently back from a crazy weekend in Prague and off the back of next to no training after the marathon, James managed to pull out a top class run and get a big 3rd placed finish on his stage. Was well in the running for the teams first stage win of the race since 2017, and finished just 42 seconds behind the an extremely talented runner from eventual winners Sale Harriers. James managed to beat both of our main welsh rivals, Aberdare and Les Croupiers, with over a massive 3 minute gain over the latter, who hadn’t been beaten by a welsh squad in this race since 2005.
A very credible effort made on the drinking front also, mind you, I’m not sure if this was optional with the quality of the accommodation to which he had to return.
With another year under the belt, this novice racer is only going to get better. Exciting times ahead!
Stage 2 – Vets Team
“Custard Guts” “Lardy Jamie Vardy” “4 finger Nick” or as some of you may know him, Nick Denny.
The only person who plays the weight yoyo game better than me, this time he was on leaner, faster mode. Always a huge fan of this race and one of the driving forces behind us going back in the castles 5 years ago and also a large factor in us entering a vets team for the first time.
With his milk float at the ready and his more organised than him son, Nick played a huge part in ensuring that everyone was in the right place at the right time.
A solid run from our large waisted friend, who managed to finish 5th in the veterans team category (less than 4 minutes behind the category winner) with another crucial victory over our Aberdare Vets rivals. Certainly a step back in the right direction, and hopefully a kick start to rediscover some of his old form which cant be too far away.
A somewhat confusing pub performance, including some midnight parenting lessons from Newtowns finest glass collector.
Stage 3 – Open Team
Next up and on the first mountains stage was admin catastrophe himself Billy Hayton.
I would of thought that at 26 years of age, this absolute baller would have finally sorted himself out enough to go a few hours with some sort of organisational skill, but the wait goes on for another year.
With Billy it is just a case of waiting for him to proudly announce to the world the next item he has lost.
Keys, watch, wallet, shoes, vest, coat, heart rate strap, phone, the list goes on, if billy owns it, at some point Billy has lost it.
He managed to bring a tent with about half the footprint of his blow up airbed, which was pretty snug across him and James Spencer for their nights sleep, as their feet hung into the night air.
Billy managed a solid 6:45 paced effort to finish 8th on stage 3, after running in a strong pack for the first 9 flat miles. Things were looking good until he hit the hills and by the time the photo was taken, he had even managed to drop all of the drinks off his imaginary tray. He managed to beat the competition from Les Croups to firmly keep us in the race for top Welsh club.
The hardest training man in the club, Billy constantly smashes out huge amounts of miles and is finally reaping the rewards for his efforts.
Stage 3 – Vets Team
First up on the mountains for the vets team was one of the the clubs longer standing members Rhodri Evans.
We managed to have him surgically removed from Nick Denny long enough to prove that they arent really joined at the hip and do occasionally go separate ways.
Recently discovering some of his better form, rhod had a solid run on a tough stage with a 9 miles of flat to wear you down before a steep hill climb to the finish.
Rhod was 6th in the vets category, managing yet another victory over our neighbours from one valley up, and also had a close fought battle with the veteran runner from Les Croupiers who always have an embarrassment of riches in the vets team department.
As ever, rhod also managed a good showing on the beverages following his run, and was one of the last standing as night drew in on Newtown.
Stage 4 – Open Team
After a 3 week trip to Canada, Philip J Williams had requested to run in the vets team as he wouldn’t be able to train as much as he would have liked in the build up. With some late drop outs, he took one for the team and stepped up into the open team at short notice. Team player!
The clubs gentle giant dug really deep on the same stage as he had run the year before and managed to finish just 45 seconds down on the time he had managed the year before! Pretty good considering how well he ran in 2018 and the fact that he hadn’t trained as much as he had liked!
He was also 5th vet on the stage, impressive giving the first two finishers were both vets!
Phil also did a share of the driving duties, and managed a good shift in the pubs of Newtown!
Stage 4 – Vets Team – *Castles Debut*
Next up for the vets team was castles debutant Liz May. Quickly becoming one of the strongest ladies at the club, there must be something in the water at the May household, as both her and husband Steve are coming on leaps and bounds with their running.
This photo is a brilliant representation of Liz who always wears a smile on her face and is a hugely popular character at the club training sessions.
Liz managed a brilliant 3rd Vet Lady placing in her stage, as well as 5th in the Vets team category and a 3 minute victory over her aberdare vet rival!
More effort is needed next year with regards to drinking, it’s important to remember, the running is only 50% of the event, yellow card.
Stage 5 – Open Team – *Castles Debut*
Up next for the open team was castles newbie Daniel Thrift. We really are fortunate to have picked up this gem from local club, Caerphilly Runners. I know it was a big decision to move across given his loyalty, but it’s one that has paid dividends and he is surely one of the fastest improving runners in the club at the moment. Every time he runs, he seems to run a PB!
Anyway, we decided to throw him in at the deep end, driving the bus with a pissed up Ceri-anne Davies and Keith James from day dot, with the pressure of dropping runners off to their stages and not messing up. Talk about baptism of fire. He delivered on all fronts and it was certainly a popular opinion that he had gone massively out of his way to accommodate the team and we certainly couldn’t have made this weekend work without him. ?
Dan smashed his stage with an impressive 5th placed finish. We wont go too hard on him for being beaten by our main rivals on his stage. He averaged a pace quicker than his 10k PB for almost 10 miles, and you cant ask for much more than for someone to deliver a PB equivalent performance on the day. Top marks!
Also, worth a mention that his aberdare rival was welsh international Jo Reardon, who is one of the top distance talents in wales, so there certainly is no shame in being beaten there!
Good effort on the wetherspoons front too. Commendable!
Stage 5 – Vets Team
We knew that Hefin Gruffydd was serious about the race as he had ditched club steady run options to get involved with some hard core speed work sessions. He had a big effort from Bethan Ford to follow up in north wales too.
Our resident welsh speaker had a brilliant run and managed another veterans victory over rivals aberdare. Cant ask for more than that!
He has since been spotted in some welsh language festivals, presumably after some beers, so let’s hope we get to see some of the drinking form in the 2020 race!
Stage 6 – Open Team – *Castles Debut* – **Stage Winner**
After a brief detour via Llanover, Gwent, Ewan Short eventually managed to find his way to the start line of his stage in Barmouth. He arrived in plenty of time with his BFF Juan Rodriguez Delgado and got about checking out the delights of Wales #1 dated tourist destination, including the locals not so politically correct views on Brexit.
The start line had been moved to make the stage 1.5 shorter which would surely play in to the hands of our ex-1500m specialist?
A difficult stage to get out and support but we crossed the 70p toll bridge and waited to see the stage unfold around 3 miles from the end of the stage.
It was great to see Ewan storming behind the lead cyclist and then we waited for the rest of the field. And we waited. Given, how poor his navigation skills were, we were worried perhaps that he had gone the wrong way?
But it wasnt to be and the rest of the field were there… ewan had provided a masterclass in front running and taken a big stage win to move us firmly up the leaderboard in to the upper echelons. As he ran past there was a brief scream of “How far to go?”, which we are learning to grow used to from our casio clad clubmate.
In fact it’s a wonder he manages to get any words out with his unique running style with facial expressions that look like a fish out of water. A face like that can only be the result of some serious hard work!
The figures in terms of the races we were in were good here, almost 3 minutes quicker than Les Croups, almost 5 minutes quicker than sale and over 5 minutes quicker than Aberdare!
Was part of the late night group in wetherspoons and has properly bought into the castles ethos. This was the longest distance ewan had ever raced over and theres rumours of a half marathon debut this autumn. We will make a distance athlete out of him yet, that is if he is still alive, last known location was lost near Lisbon. Please point him in the right direction if you see him.
Stage 6 – Vets Team – *Castles Debut*
Up next in the vets team was another one of our members who is improving at a rate of knots, Iestyn Henson. There is definitely a good chance that come christmas, there will be a nomination or two for most improved runner of the year.
A definite beneficiary of having the extra vets team in, it would have been a scandal for a runner running as well as Iestyn to not take part in the castles relay.
After his test run with organising the Rack Raid team, it was time for manager turned runner to try his hand at the competing element. It was an excellent run from Iestyn and probably one of the stand out vets performances. Finishing a very respectable 26th overall and 2nd in the Vets team category is an indication of just how strong the vets within the club are.
Iestyn managed a 7 minute victory over his aberdare vets team rival. Next year, an overnight stay for the second discipline is required!
Stage 7 – Open Team
Mountain goat, John Howells was next up on the second mountain stage of the day. It was the perfect setting for our hill loving hero who would have been impartial to the beautiful almost Mediterranean temperatures that were quickly descending upon north Wales.
After a brilliant nights sleep on the floor of a leisure centre in Caernarfon, john was tasked with racing probably the greatest ever distance runner to come out of aberdare, former 2:18 marathon runner Richie Gardiner who has countless stage wins in the castles relays over the years.
It was probably the most impressive and tightly fought battle between the two rival clubs, and a hugely impressive 12 second victory for John over Richie to secure 3rd place overall on the stage! Theres certainly not many people out there that can boast a victory over Richie as part of their running CV. John also managed to get over a 7 minute advantage over our other main rivals and played a key part in securing our place as Wales’ fastest team.
A solid effort of drinking especially back in ponty on the saturday night! — with John Howells.
Stage 7 – Vets Team
After coming so close to death in last years race there was some nervousness about how hard we would see Kristian Walters would push himself on a tough mountains stage in this years event.
We still have a moment when we pass “the spot” on the taff trail. After eventually getting Kris in the right car to get to the start of his stage, he set about one of the most brutal climbs of the race out of Dolgellau.
Officially part of the Friday night team, Kris had a storming run to finish 26th overall, and 2nd in the Vets Team race, just 72 seconds behind the category winner. Kris also fared well against both of our welsh veteran rivals and managed to claw back 4 and a half minutes on Les Croups and 20 minutes faster than his aberdare rival.
A great figure to have at the club sessions too even if I do put him to shame when we all get our tops off. — with Kristian Walters.
Stage 8 – Open Team – *Castles Debut*
After a great opener from his father Keith James, the pressure was on Symon Murphy to deliver another knock out performance. After a short warm up and doing his hair before the run, Sid was all ready at the stage that starts at a pub at around 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. When you consider he had been on the bus from 8:30am on a warm june day and everyone around him was already half cut, it must have been hard to resist the temptation to get on it in Dinas Mawddy.
Another who prefers to go off grid with his training with no strava miles and therefore no evidence that he has ever run before?
Stage 8 is regarded by many as the toughest stage outside the mountain stages and Sid managed a brilliant 3rd placed finish against a strong line up, missing out on a second team stage win by less than 2 minutes.
He managed to make over 3 minutes on his Les Croupiers rival and over 5 minutes on his aberdare rival! Impressive stuff.
A good performance on the drinking front and came well prepared for camping.
Stage 8 – Vets Team – *Castles Debut*
Theres not many out there who would back up running a crazy ultra event less than one week later with a castles stage. But that’s what we have with the incredible Fiona Davies. Not only that, but as if that wasnt enough she did Cosmeston Relays midweek! There is literally no stopping her.
She is one of the top ladies in the UK in her age category and she keeps pulling out these amazing achievements as if there is nothing to them! I know we arent really a triathlon club, but I dont know of any other club member who has qualified for Kona, which just indicates the level at which she operates! Awesome! I think most people regard fiona as one of the most inspirational women in the club, as well as one of the fastest!
On the day, despite the ultra that clearly would have a lasting effect, fiona managed to finish well within the stage cut off time on one of the tougher stages of the race and even managed a victory over the PBB vets team rival!
Stage 9 – Open Team – *Castles Debut*
Another firm favourite in the most improved runners of the year race is the fast improving Daniel Phillips.
Joining a club has certainly helped our Alistair brownlee lookalike uncovered his true aerobic potential. It’s a wonder he manages to get any training in at all with his beekeeping and crashing into bmw drivers.
Dan managed to deliver when the pressure was on to qualify for the open team, recording a fine last minute qualifier in the newport 10k when the chips were down. He can regularly be found pushing the limits in the big club sessions and there is certainly more to come from him.
He managed to carry his solid qualification form into the race and registered a solid 6th placed finish and managed a 1 second sprint finish victory over his aberdare rival demonstrating his understanding of club ethics and also his commitment to the cause!
Dan wasnt a million miles away from running faster than his 10k PB in this race, a fantastic effort when you consider the undulations of mid wales.
Unfortunately we lost dan back to his bees overnight, and we may never be able to change the season of the race, but at some point a demonstration of putting away the amber nectar of a golden variety will be required.
Stage 9 – Vets Team – *Castles Debut*
Next up for the vets team was Maad Khalil, who has become a consistent runner over the past couple of years. An M55 competitor, he pulls out consistently good performances that make his highly competitive in his age group, who qualified with a solid run in Llanelli Half earlier in the year!
It’s fun to watch the constant competition that maad has with club president Andy Davies, but at the moment its firmly advantage Khalil (time to pull your finger out mr president).
On the day it was a brilliant performance from Maad who managed to average just outside 7:30/miles through the undulations of mid Wales. A tremendous effort well inside the pace of the half marathon qualifier, showing that theres something magical about relays that just helps get that extra little bit of pace! 8th in the Vets category placings
A noticeable absence from the evening, which we can forgive him for this year, but we hope to see recreations of the scenes of Berlin ’17 (You had to be there!)
As a first day of heroic running was almost at an end it was time for our fearless leader to step up to the challenge of the gruelling 13 mile mountain stage into Newtown.
It’s fair to say for 4ft 6, Paul Graham has certainly achieved some fantastic times in recent years and what he lacked in an adolescent growth spurt he makes up for in confidence…
“I honestly think I could get the course record”. “I can’t wait to smash Bodman”. “It will be class to win that stage”… A number of the quotes uttered by our Nobel Captain.
By the time we caught Paul around 4 miles into the race he was sitting in what appeared to be a chase pair, making their way back to 1st place. We couldn’t be more wrong… Our little round bundle of joy has blown his beans and was holding on for dear life.
8 lonely miles later he dragged himself across the line with his tail between his legs. No course record, no stage win and valuable time lost against our valleys rivals. Fortunately his solid team picking skills meant there was plenty of time for his performance to eat into.
To make matter worse, however poor his running performance was. His night on the dancing juice was just as average. 4/10… must try harder.
If it wasn’t for his brilliant organisation and doing a cracking job of bringing the club together for such a great weekend I would have him dropped. Cheers Paul.
Stage 10 – Vets Team
On the dusk stage for the vets team was Andrew Baker. Its great to see andy back running so well again. One of the pillars of the club that has been with the club for as long as anyone can remember.
On the stage, Andy managed a brilliant 1:30 run on a hilly half marathon, which is seriously impressive stuff especially with the huge amount of climbing in the first 5k. It’s easy to see why this is one of the mountain stages. It would suggest that on a flat half marathon there is certainly a 1:25 on the cards at the moment!
Andy was 5th in the Vets category, managing to beat his aberdare rival by 13 minutes, almost a whole minute a mile, to put us even more firmly in the driving seat of the castles veterans showdown.
There is a strong case for Andy being one of the top performers in the bars of Newtown also. Part of the generation who would often finish a club night with a pint in the cricket club, his reappearance (with the introduction of a vets team) certainly helped to rekindle an all around better effort from all team members on the drinking front.
Stage 11 – Open Team – *Monarch Of the Mountain*
On dawn patrol for the open team was super veteran Simon Lewis. It’s the most thankless leg as you start at 7am as everyone emerges hung over and bleary eyed. Our taxi driver from Merhyr was up at the crack of dawn ready to show them youngsters how to climb a hill.
It’s a tough stage as combined with the early start it is a relentless climb, constantly rising away from Newtown and the memories of a boisterous night away.
Simon has improved yet again over the past year with some particularly strong performances including a sub 33 10k and a dominant victory at the Merthyr Half Marathon. At 61 or 62 he shows that age is just a number.
He ran really well on his stage, even if he did grumble about his performance afterwards! It’s so unusual for Simon to have a moan that we all just laughed it off as a one off.
He finished a brilliant 3rd place and crucially was first veteran on the stage, meaning that he picked up a coveted Monarch of The Mountain award (eventually). He was over 4 minutes ahead of the second placed veteran, a dominant victory. He also managed a victory over his Les Croupiers rival by over 3 minutes!
A few small drinks for Simon but he is off the hook with such an early start! Not sure what the Premier Inn was about on Friday night though!?! Next year, timing permitted we hope to see our super lightweight on the shandies, although we may need to take some boxing gloves too if this year was anything to go by. Also, would be good to have Darren Bishop there to stop his lover boy pining over him all weekend. — with Simon Lewis.
Stage 11 – Vets Team – *Castles Debut*
On the early morning mountain stage for the vets team was yet another candidate for most improved runner of the year Uncle Jim Murray.
It was a baptism of fire to be put straight into a 7am mountain stage on the first castles race you take part in, but Jim absolutely smashed it.
Jim managed a very impressive 5th in the vets team category, amongst a strong field of runners, which you always get for the mountain stages. He even managed to beat the Les Croupiers Vets team runner, part of the team that would eventually go on to win the race! Great stuff!
Uncle Jimmy is certainly a popular figure at the club sessions, regularly in fierce battles in the reps and has even made some appearances on his discreet vespa at the additional Wednesday runs.
Goes to the same barber as Symon Murphy, Keith James and second fastest in the family Sam Howell-Jones!
We fully expect Uncle jim to carry on his huge progression and be challenging for a place in the open team in 2020!
Stage 12 – Open Team – *Castles Debut* – **Stage Winner**
Up next for Stage 12 was Andrew Hughes in for his second consecutive relay event after an impressive debut in the 12 stage relays.
I think it’s safe to say he managed to deliver a rollercoaster of emotions which summed up the weekend as a whole as we were permanently in a situation of rescuing an absolute disaster with pure brilliance.
I had delegated the starting duties for the stage to trusty side kick Daniel Thrift as I was out and about on stage 11 watering the runners. I cant say I was best pleased to be receiving a call 10 minutes before the start questioning the whereabouts of our man for stage 12.
Shit, what’s the contingency, have we got a reserve close by, can the vet change numbers and run in the open, what’s the solution. A quick call to Andy, and some rings that seemed to last an eternity. “I’m 3 minutes away” “The race starts in 5 minutes!”. Its safe to say that it was pretty touch and go! But he made it and the rest is history.
We knew andy was running well on the run up to this event, but I think its safe to say that noone was expecting this. Catching up from the race from behind we just had to keep driving and driving to eventually catch Andy who was even looking over his shoulder to see where everyone else had gone! He was literally in a different post code to every other runner. It really was a thing of beauty. Our small club from the valleys leading the way!
I dont think I’ve seen such a big winning margin in the race before, a whole 5 seconds more margin more even than Ewan Short! And certainly the biggest ever stage win in a black and white vest. 3:04 seconds ahead of second placed Sale. Over 5 minutes ahead of Les Croupiers and almost 7 and a half minutes ahead of aberdare. Some running. This was the moment that we were firmly in the race to finish 2nd for our highest ever finish.
Another runner that is improving with every run that he does and a move to the valleys will now hopefully see him have less excuses to avoid the piss up (although I certainly envied him having a bed to sleep in on Saturday night at some points on sunday morning). We are still waiting to see him at the club reps (yet another to beat Billy Hayton), hopefully he has a bloody alarm clock in his new pad! — with Andrew Hughes.
Stage 12 – Vets Team
Next up for the vets was Justin Mark Phillips in his first race back after a long term injury.
“Just go steady now, don’t want to break your new knee”. One brief, but clearly the new knee must have filled him with the youthful exuberance that got him flying along his stage.
He finished in second in the vets team stage at a pace around 6:30/miles (38 seconds away from the category winner), pretty impressive for the terrain, and even more impressive when you consider the substantial surgery he had been through shortly before. His top run put him 17th overall on the stage, which was the highest placed overall finish for our vets team and our combination of 1st and 17th made this the most successful stage of the weekend for us!
He managed big victories over his Les Croupiers and Aberdare Vets rivals (1:30 and 14:30 respectively).
It’s great to see Justin back running again, and theres no doubt we will soon see him back to his best ?
Stage 13 – Open Team
Steve Bartlett was the oldest member of our Open team for this year’s race (Simon Lewis can hardly believe it), but he certainly went about showing the rest of us how it was done. Steve had tackled Stage 13 in 2018 and it meant that he had nowhere to hide as a direct comparison could be made with the year before!
Our friendly postie had run well in the 12 stage earlier in the year so was clearly in great shape and was fresh with relay experience, despite Justin Mark Phillips claiming that he hasn’t done any training this year!?
Steve is fairly humble about his achievements but is a remarkable M50 runner and his 36:01 castles qualifier in the Cardiff Bay 10k makes him the 52nd fastest over 50 in the UK and the 3rd fastest in Wales!
Like a good wine, Steve managed to get better with age and finished a brilliant 5th place overall on the stage and was only 2 minutes down on the veteran winner on the stage. Crucially, he also managed big victories over his Les Croupiers and Aberdare rivals (48 seconds and 2:45 respectively). He also managed a 2 minute improvement on his time from 2018 over the same route, so maybe the lesson to learn here is to do less training like Steve?!?!