A fantastic weekend at the Welsh Castle’s Relay

Captain Phil Robertson writes-

On the weekend of 10th and 11th June Wirral AC’s senior distance running team travelled to Wales to once again compete in the legendary Welsh Castles Relay. The event, which is a huge highlight of the endurance running calendar, sees 66 teams running the 200+ miles from Caernarfon to Cardiff in 20 stages covering the stunning Welsh landscape.

The first day of this year’s event was ‘blessed’ with classic Welsh weather, which saw Will Ferguson lead the team away from Cardiff castle in pouring rain and with those following the race knowing the were in for a very soggy day.

Team manager Nick Wilson took up the challenge on leg 2 putting in a very strong run, storming through the field in the face of driving wind and rain. I won’t put his exact words to describe the weather in this report, but it was less than complimentary!

Leg 3 saw the first of the mountain stages and a castles debut from Chris Morgan. Hopefully the huge hill and pouring rain won’t put him off from making a return. Leg 4 saw Wirral take on marshalling duties and Dave Norman put in a fine performance to finish a minute quicker than he did on the same leg last year. Bonus points for spreading the Wirral message to onlookers in the car park afterwards.

Another debutant in the shape of Michael Hudson-Davies carried on the team’s progress on leg 5. The unique atmosphere of the race meant that despite being soaked through Michael had a big smile on his face throughout the race despite being soaked through. Safe to say the castles has another fan.

Pete Fraser was next up on leg 6 continuing his recent good form with another strong run. Another mountain stage faced Kelvin Dickenson with the day’s weather (did I mention it rained a lot) meaning he was basically running up a river for the first half of the race and plummeting down a mountain with sponges on his feet for the second.

Leg 8 saw the return of Castles stalwart Alan Woods who despite his ‘limited’ training regime came in 5th, our highest finish of the first day. The castles allows for mixed teams and our first female athlete, Penny Thorn, ran on leg 9. Penny put in a really good race, coming past a number of runners on the horribly steep finish to her leg.

The last leg of the day fell to another castles ever present, Mark Hulmston. Arguably the toughest of the 6 mountain stages Mark showed all of his characteristic grit and determination to put in a great performance and ensure we ended the day on a high. As the convoy of runners arrived at the campsite in Newtown the sun finally came out and we pitched our tents ready to go again the next day.

The second day starts with a mountain leg at 7 o’clock in the morning with team captain Phil Robertson given the ‘honour’ of taking this on (apologies for writing about myself in the third person). Despite reservations over the time of the leg and the distance and the hills Phil soon found himself in a battle for the lead with a runner from Aberdare Harriers. After sitting in for 9 miles a strong kick with 3 miles to go saw a large gap open up and a first stage victory claimed. Having won a few races before I can honestly say that this felt the most special, the castles is a uniquely brilliant event and to win a mountain stage felt amazing.

It looked like Dave Brockway was going to make it two stage wins in a row on leg 12, but a very strong last 2 miles from the athlete from South Wales Police meant he had to settle for second. Still a very good performance from the ever improving Dave.

Leg 13 saw the first of the Kearneys take to the stage with Ronan setting the bar for the rest of the family. The day’s second mountain stage saw Steve Spence tackle the long climb up into the Brecon Beacons. Steve put in another fine performance to secure a top 20 finish on the stage. Caz Hall followed up and then Sarah Kearney tackled the final mountain stage of the competition. Sarah was just run out of the first lady position to come home third and well up in the overall stage.

Tony Devoy put in a strong run on leg 17 before Emily Kearney continued her form from the States with a very good run, only beaten to first women by a lady who finished fourth in the overall stage, very unlucky to end up on the same leg.

Leg 19 saw the final Kearney of the day and a castles debut for Arran who got the better of many more experienced athletes to come home a very impressive third place. The honour of finishing off the event fell to Simon Fox who after only coming home from holiday the day before put in a good performance, holding off a number of fast finishing athletes in the crowds outside Cardiff castle.

I’m sure I’m safe in saying that a fantastic weekend was had by all who participated and we came away with 9th overall, a fantastic result which puts the icing on the cake. Well done and thank you to everyone that took part.

Before I finish this report I’d like to say a few special thank yous: to Mark Morris for organising accommodation at the beginning and end of the event and for moving cars around whenever required. Will and Kate Ferguson for staying to help Marshall on leg 4. Mark Hulmston and Alan Woods for marshalling, driving cars and always being available for selection and travelling the whole way with the team. Finally and most of all to Nick Wilson for the incredible amount of time he has put into organising the team, couldn’t have happened without you!

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