The Welsh Castles Relay is a prestigious staggered relay held in June. Starting in the Caernarfon Castle and finishing in Cardiff, the 20-stage 211-mile relay is in its 35th year over 1,300 athletes compete in 66 teams from across the country and abroad.
This is the first time that my club has been accepted into the race so it was a great honour to be selected to run one of the stages despite being a member since just October 2016.
I helped support the Rack Raid relay race the weekend before so was familiar with the format and the fast pace of this type of event with stages starting on time and most before the previous stage has finished. So rather than being a relay like the 4x100m where a baton is passed onto the next run, each stage is run in isolation of the others and the times are cumulated with the quickest overall time winning.
With races where I’m racing alone I don’t get particularly nervous and even with club cross country races I don’t get nervous because whilst important, there are enough of us running so if I have a bad race it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. For this race, I was representing the club, alone.
This race was so different. I had done plenty of training so was ready for the race but I had some pretty epic pre-race nerves, particularly on the day.
Having run the entire course a month before and trained along much of it for the Brecon to Cardiff ultra, I knew exactly what to expect. I knew where the ups and downs where, the sections that were less interesting than others and key mile markers so I knew how far along I was without referring to my watch.
Compared to other stages, this had a lot less ascent and was predominantly a gradual incline throughout with a smattering of small hills thrown in to spice things up. The course was mainly on cycle tracks and pavements with only a few road crossings to contend with.
My stage started at 1425 and I awoke very early in the morning (probably a mixture of pre-race nerves and excitement) so had to figure out what to do with myself. I had been following each stage prior to mine with the first stage of the day leaving at 0700. My train would arrive almost 90 minutes before the starting time so I was one of the first there. Hanging around is not always ideal but it does allow you time to get mentally prepared for the race ahead.
The weather until my stage had been a bit mixed but setting out the sun had started to shine and the temperature had risen although thankfully not too much.
For the first two miles the route followed the Taff Trail before a climb up and over the A470 and onto the old Merthyr Road and by this point the field had pretty much sorted itself out. There were a few runners near me that I picked off but from that point onwards I was pretty much running alone. I kept my sights on a few runners in the distance but running at the same pace I never gained on them.
I did wonder if this affected how I ran as I find it’s always good running alongside runners of equal standards so that you can feed off each other and push each other further. Running alone means having to push yourself forward which can sometimes be a challenge.
I maintained a good pace for most of the stage and took advantage of the one downhill section around 3 miles in but my pace did wane in the final few miles. As I reached the 10K point I had scored a PB for that distance but I did question whether I was giving it 100%, even though I felt I was. I’m sure it’s common with most runners when reflecting on a race and wondering if you could have run just that little bit faster.
Counting the landmarks an bridges along the latter part of the stage I waited until the final bridge so that I could give it my all along the last few hundred metres. Thankfully spectators had spread out across this section which offered some much need encouragement.
It was such an honour representing the club for it’s first Welsh Castles Relay and overall we finished 14th out of 66 teams which was a huge achievement for us considering the quality of clubs that were running. And to top it off, we finished ahead of our local rivals!