The Welsh Castles Relay is a 200-mile race from Caenarfon to Cardiff in 20 stages. I was in the women’s team for my running club, Ealing Eagles, and we also had a men’s team in the Open category. It was an amazing weekend which required meticulous planning and multiple spreadsheets to get 40 runners to their stages in time, pick up those who had finished and make sure everyone had plenty of encouragement along the way, particularly at the end of their stages. I was running on Sunday, so on Saturday I was in the cheer squad, navigating from one stage to the next, cheering runners on as we passed them on the roads, leaping out in laybys to hand out cups of water and shouting ourselves hoarse at the end of each stage.
I did stage 11, which is a 12.3 mile mountain stage first thing on Sunday morning from Newport to Llanbadarn Fynydd. It’s a steady incline of 1,000 feet over 8 miles and then a gradual descent. I’m not a fast runner but I usually place around the middle in a race so it was quite disconcerting to stand at the start line and wonder if I’d be able to keep ahead of anyone else. Sure enough, on ‘Go!’ everyone else raced off and I was right at the back with the tail car purring along right behind me. I had a mild panic at the thought of finishing last and letting the club down, but tried to settle into a steady rhythm. I knew that some Eagles would be cheering me on around mile six where we had stayed overnight, so my immediate aim was to not be last when I went past them.
It’s strange what goes through your mind when you’re running sometimes. One part of my brain was saying ‘I can do this’ while another part was saying ‘you are running up a hill into a wind – this is difficult’. I remembered George Hincapie in one Tour de France talking about how Lance Armstrong (and what a great sporting role model he turned out to be) had said to him ‘Do your race, George’, giving him the go ahead to leave his team leader behind. And so I tried to do my race, and not the race that I wished I was able to do, or the race I knew Jose, my fellow Eagle, was doing miles ahead of me. By the time I reached the Eagles at mile six, I was third from last, and at the finish I was fifth last and eighth out of the ten ladies teams. You always wonder how much faster you could have gone if you’d just pushed a bit more, but I knew that I’d put in a good effort and actually, I was pleased with that.
Our men’s team finished 17th out of 43 teams, and our women’s team finished 7th out of ten which we were delighted with. The team work, generosity and encouragement of the Eagles, both runners and those who worked hard to make it all happen over the weekend, shows what a fantastic club it is. It was great to be able to take part in such strong competition and I’d love to do it again next year.
But now for a wedding.