Run of the Mill

Lytham St Annes Road Runners
Welsh Castles 2017 Special Report

February 2018

In advance of this year's Welsh Castles, here is a special ROTM in which the team captain, Dave Dunn, reports on the events of last year's race. A great weekend was enjoyed despite some horrendous weather.

If Dave's report has whetted your appetite and you think that you would like to be part of 2018's team then please let me know. so that I can add you to the list. The team will be selected in early March once we receive confirmation of our place.

Richard (Editor & Welsh Castles Captain).
Lytham St Annes RRC Welsh Castles Team 2017
Who said 13 was unlucky?
Friday 9th June 2017 saw the Lytham St Anne’s Road Runners team set off for Caernarfon to compete in their 13th Welsh Castles Relays. This is the annual event that sees teams from all over England, Wales and Europe, getting together for a weekend to face the challenge of running the 210 miles or so from Caernarfon to Cardiff. The 20-stage route takes in some of the most wonderful scenery that Wales has to offer. This year 66 teams were taking part.

As usual Terry and his car full of early-birds had set off in the morning and arrived at Caernafon before lunchtime. They then get to chill out, relax and enjoy themselves in the afternoon. I’ve seen the selfies, it looks lovely! The rest of the team, most of whom actually need to work for a living, travel down later, either in the team minibus or in the ‘late car’, that this year was kindly driven by Nigel Simpkin.  

The minibus’ progress to Caernafon was delayed firstly by a major traffic jam on the M6 and then by a detour through Warrington to pick-up Andy and Ian. The bus being late meant that by the time we got to our usual services stop, the place had closed. Unable to use its facilities meant most of the men disappearing behind some nearby bushes and the ladies legging it desperately to a nearby garage only to be reprimanded by a grumpy attendant for talking in the shop. Croeso y Cymru! (Welcome to Wales!).

Once back in the bus we managed to make good time. On arrival in Caernarfon beds were allocated at our usual accommodation, ‘Totters’ bunkhouse, and we made our favourite Italian restaurant only 35 minutes late. The late arrival of Steve and Emily, direct from Austria, completed the LSARR gathering for what would turn out to be a record breaking year at the ‘Castles’. Once some of the team had finished rehydrating themselves in the local pubs and with the Totters’ bunks now full of bodies, everyone settled down to get their customary 3 to 4 hours sleep thanks to ‘bumps in the night’ and those pesky seagulls!
Rehydrating in Caernarfon
This year we welcomed two new runners into our Welsh Castles family, namely Michelle Hook and Olivia Johnson Allan, and the return of some more familiar faces such as Willie Richmond, Roy “The Bugler” Stevens and Andy Draper.
Saturday morning saw some bright and breezy runners up early for breakfast, also some not so bright and breezy runners.  Steve and Emily were off doing their pre-breakfast run (that’s how to get a yellow winners t-shirt folks!) and Richard and I went to the pre-race briefing. After this I completed some final ‘Captains jobs’ before making my way to the castle car park to join the rest of the team.
The weather forecast for Saturday had been very poor but proved entirely accurate as at 10am, the race got underway in wet and dull conditions. As is now the custom, all teams are led off from Caernarfon Castle in a restrained manner by a guest team, which this year was ‘Interval Madrid’, thankfully without ‘el Torro’, their mascot.  Once across the bridge, their runner, accompanied by his newly acquired 65 friends can release the brakes and start the racing in earnest.
Willie Richmond leaving Caernarfon Castle
Willie Richmond led away the LSARR team in the wet Welsh weather and the van sped off to get to the first of the many support stops over the next two days.
Supporting your team mate as they run their stage is an important part of the ‘Castles’. However, after pulling in at our first support spot, we all looked out as the rain hammering onto the van and nobody moved. We couldn’t stay in the van long though as Willie would soon be emerging from the tree-lined track and would need our encouragement. We therefore braved the elements and headed down towards the course to add our support to that of the other teams that we found there. After a few minutes of cheering all the runners, I was pleasantly surprised by how upbeat we all seemed to be!
Andy, Alan, Ian and Neil waiting for Willie

Having given Willie a typical Lytham roar, we were back in the van and off to the finish of stage 1 at Penygroes. 

The bus just got there just in time to be able to see Willie as he crossed over the small bridge that leads to the welcome sight of the finish line. He crossed in 44
th position in 1:12:20.
Stage 2, to Criccieth, saw Terry Hellings, in a rare departure from his usual Stage 3 (a stage Terry has run 9 times previously), taking on the challenge.

The minibus managed to catch up with him at a cattle market about halfway along the stage. He must have wondered what all the noise was as he approached the cattle market and the sheds there burst into life. We had decided to take advantage of the cover that they provided from the rain. However, the sheds had an additional benefit of giving out a very loud echo that sounded great and made us wonder why we haven’t supported from there in the past.
Terry ran his usual reliable race, no dramas, no upsets, all down to meticulous planning and finished in 30th position. I offered him the cover of my umbrella at the end however he quickly suggested that this was probably pointless has he had spent the previous 77 minutes getting soaked! 

Joe Greenwood was next to enjoy the Welsh rain with a 12.3 mile run to Maentwrog. The first 8 or so miles are fairly flat followed by an incredibly steep 3 mile climb at the end. This would help him remember the hills from Stage 14 that he’d run the previous year.
Joe starting at Criccieth
Joe is a very strong runner on the climbs though and ran a great race to finish in a fantastic 7th position in 1:13:28, smashing the Lytham Stage record by 11 minutes! Whilst walking to greet Joe, I met an ex-Lytham runner Stuart Robinson now of Salford Harriers. He seemed very buoyant which I suppose he would be having finished second. It wasn’t until later that I heard that he had led most of the way only to be overtaken in the latter stages, but there had been no hint of disappointment which might have been his way of acknowledging a deserved winner?
Over the weekend we were to notice that Roy Stevens has set the dress standards for future LSARRC Castles, always immaculate with the smartest and cleanest waterproofs I’ve ever seen and not a hair out of place. Oh, and we all got to learn how to play his Bugle! 

His welcome return to the Welsh Castles was rewarded with a nice flattish run to Harlech Castle in stage 4, albeit still in very wet and windy conditions. He looked to enjoy his run and the support he received along the way. His sprint finish brought him back in 54th position and despite his maturing years still ran the 5th fastest Lytham time on this stage in our 13 years of competing. At the end, he jumped in the minibus and we sped off to try and support one of our debutant ‘Castlers’, Michelle, on her way to Barmouth.
There is a Castles perception that “It is always sunny in Barmouth”. This is something that Emily stated several years ago, after observing that whatever the weather leading up to Barmouth, it would always be sunny once we got to the seaside. This year we were all looking forward to this.  Maybe it was Alan who jinxed it by saying “look it’s clearing up” or maybe Andy had done it by taking off his waterproofs? Well, whoever fault it was, Emily’s ‘Barmouth’ prediction did not materialize this year. However, we did get the addition of a gale force wind at the coast to go with all the rain.

Michelle made light of the horrendous conditions and ran an amazing race coming home as 3rd lady and 19th overall. Next year maybe we can look forward to a winner’s yellow t-shirt? She ran so well that the minibus barely managed to catch her.
Michelle racing towards Barmouth
Stage 6 to Dolgellau, is an unsupported stage and so this usually gives the team time to enjoy the sun and ice cream in Barmouth whilst just having time to beat our runner, who this year was Richard, to the finish in Dolgellau.  However, this time for some reason nobody seemed bothered about an ice cream. 
My main memory of Barmouth this year was seeing a poor blue-lipped Roy Stevens shivering whilst waiting to get his stuff from Terry’s car, as fully wrapped-up Terry was chatting to some of the team members oblivious that our one and only doctor was very close himself to needing medical attention! 

Despite my unconventional route to Dolgellau (every year I seem to miss the correct turn), the bus managed to get there before Richard. As we were stood on the track waiting for the green vest to appear in the distance I found myself being worried about the possibility of a now fully dressed and warmed up Roy Stevens having his pristine waterproof leggings ruined by the splashes from an adjacent muddy puddle.  It wasn’t too long before we noticed the long socks and green vest of Richard and with Roy’s bugle calling him home, he put in some extra effort to overtake the runner from Vale Royal that he had been chasing.
Stage 7 to Dinas Mawddwy, arguably the most scenic stage of day one, was tackled by Joanna Goorney. In her own words this was “the last difficult one” that she had left to do in her attempt to never do the same stage twice.

The route features a 6.5 mile climb followed by a rapid 4 mile descent.  As usual Joanna ran really well and took the Ladies record for this stage at its full proper distance (this stage has varied in length four times in the thirteen years that we’ve been going due to various roadworks and bridge repairs).  Finishing as the 4th Lady on such a difficult stage was an excellent achievement.

Mel Köth braved Stage 8 to Foel, an ex-mountain stage. However, having run mountain stages 11 and 7 in previously years, the hills were never going to be a problem for her.

She gave her customary solid performance and finished to the chorus of bells and ‘dampened’ whistles along the road to Foel in 39
th position, 7th Lady.
Willie, Terry, Olivia, Nigel and Chris before Stage 9
Olivia Johnson Allen was our runner for Stage 9, another Welsh Castles debutant.  She was understandably quite nervous in the couple of hours prior to her stage, having been warned of the short but steep climb to the finish.  Any trepidation she might have been feeling about that finish was not apparent though during her run as she raced towards it. 

She seemed to enjoy the support along the route and managed to smile throughout. Her impressive hill finish was well appreciated by the rowdy Lytham supporters at the top.  It is always rewarding for the Captain to see a runners’ relief and excitement at the end of a stage, especially when it is the runner’s first Welsh Castle’s experience.
Chris McCarthy lined up at the end of a long and wet day for the final stage of Saturday, the grueling half marathon that finishes at Newtown. As the bus travelled along the route passing runner after runner, it was obvious that Chris must have been having a very good run.

We were starting to worry that we would not get to see him before the cycle track at the 11.8 mile point. This is the point where the course leaves the road and you then don’t get to see your runner again until the finish. However, we then saw the familiar green vest in the distance. By the time we got to him he would have definitely known it was us, the bus was going crazy with horns, bells and whistles all being blown or clanged!
After leaving Chris, we sped into Newtown to try to get to the finish before he did. 

Chris’ 10
th place on arguably the most difficult stage of the weekend, shows how much improvement he has made over the past year. He was 2 seconds per mile faster than last year, on a longer and much more difficult course. The only person who probably was not celebrating as much was Andy Draper who, for the second consecutive year had lost a Lytham stage record to Chris!
"Bryn" our 21st team member
Having bought the necessary provisions from Newtown it was time to head for our new bunkhouse in a very remote area in mid-Wales, near Rhyader.  Maybe it was only me, but I took some satisfaction in the fact the day had been overcast and raining as it would have severely hampered the Welshpool airshow. The airshow was the reason why we’d been unable to stay at our regular Saturday accommodation this year.

After dinner, we were entertained with some soothing piano music from our resident pianist, Al Elstone. It then came to finding beds for everybody, which is always a fun job after a long day.  Having already ridiculed Tom for stealing Roy’s bed on Friday night, I now had to turf Steve Hargreaves out of his. He didn’t seem to mind though as it meant he could take the spare bed in the ladies’ dorm!
Michella, Als and Olivia
Sunday morning came with the rain of the previous day having been replaced by some wonderful sunshine. Terry had set off early, with Tom, Greg and Ian, to manage the stage 11, 7am drop-off, whilst Steve ensured that Emily got to her stage 12 start in good time. Everybody else enjoyed a bit of a lie-in. 

Once we were all packed up and back in the bus, Joanna navigated Richard back to the race route from the bunkhouse. Within the bus the team were buoyant, regaling the stories of the previous night. The footsie between Nigel and Neil, the extortionate cost of the pasta bolognaises, Nigel’s snoring, all the usual banter. 

We joined the course part way along stage 11, to Llanbadarn Fynydd, and went in search of Tom.  As is always the case with Tom, even though the bus comes up from behind making as much noise as possible, he always looks surprised to see us!

Anyway, surprised or not, Tom stormed the 12.3 miles in 1:21:41. This is the second fastest Lytham time ever on this stage, only beaten by Steve Hargreaves’ fantastic effort last year. Tom finished in an impressive 21st position.
Stage 12 to Crossgates, saw the first Hargreaves’ appearance for 2017. Emily looked confident on the start line at Llanbadarn Fynydd, maybe with the thought of yet another winner’s yellow jersey in her mind.  You can always count on Emily to give you the biggest smile when you catch her up in the bus. This may be partly due to us embarrassing her in front of her fellow runners as we do tend to make quite a lot of noise when passing her.
I think we were even noisier this year as we knew that she was the first lady and that unless something drastically went wrong, nobody was going to catch her. 

Well, nothing did go wrong and Emily collected yet another yellow winner’s t-shirt and her 8th LSARRC Ladies Stage Record.
Joe and Neil testing out some new club kit
Ian Tate took on the 10.6 miles of Stage 13 to Builth Wells. The bus caught him early in his run and he looked to be going well. To add to the encouragement, our bus mascot and the team’s 21st member “Bryn”, started to give ‘high 5s’ from the bus window. I’m sure that there will be a rule against it in 2018 but it seemed to be appreciated.

Ian seemed determined throughout his run and managed to give a double-armed wave to his team-mates at most of his drink stops. He still managed Lytham’s 5th fastest time over this stage after crossing the line at Builth Wells in 1:18:05.
Stage 14 heading up to the Drovers Arms
Stage 14 to Drover’s Arms. That expression can cause shivers down many a spine, but not Andy Draper’s as this was the third time he’d taken on the Castles’ showpiece and arguably most difficult stage.  As the bus drove the route going past more and more runners it was obvious that Andy was well up the field.  By the time we caught him up he was about 5 miles into his run and looking very relaxed and confident.

Andy is a superb judge of pace and gauged his effort up the tough climb brilliantly to finish in 9th position in his fastest ever time for this stage. He was a full 4 minutes faster than he achieved back in 2014. It must’ve been a remarkable run, so no wonder he was smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat when I did catch up with him later in the day.

Steve Hargreaves lined up along the road just down from the Drovers Arms for the start of Stage 15 to Brecon. He was hoping to add yet another yellow jersey to the ironing pile of the Hargreaves household.

As usual, Steve didn’t disappoint and ran a fantastic race, finishing as the first veteran, 3rd overall, and claiming his 3rd winner’s yellow jersey. His time of 1:13:18 over the 12.8 mile course was a new LSARRC stage record, knocking almost 5 minutes from the previous one.

Poor Andy losing his second record of the weekend!
Steve and Emily, our golden couple
On the drive to his start at stage 16 to Beacons Reservoir, Neil was remarkably calm, and obviously confident.  My stories of being worried about this one for years before I ran it, back in 2004, did not faze him, not that I was trying to. I was basically telling him that despite it being an 8.5 mile climb followed by a quarter of a mile on the level or slightly downhill at the top, it was a lovely run and probably the best of the official mountain stages.

Neil stormed up his mountain as we expected him to and came in a very respectable 24th place in the typical competitive field for a mountain stage. His time of 1 hour and 27 seconds was Lytham’s second fastest time ever on the stage which is a great result.

Up next on Stage 17 from the Beacons Reservoir to Cyfartha Castle, was Als Everest in her third Welsh Castles. She was looking strong when the bus caught her up to offer its support and she carried on to have a great run to the finish line, set in a picturesque park, in 1:12:11 for 49th.

This was to be the tenth time that a Lytham lady has run this stage and so for Als to be the third fastest of all those is a great achievement.
Stage 18 to Abercynon, and it was my time to shine. Terry got me to my start in good time and I got myself changed and ready. Nearer the start time I did what I thought was a good warm up around the Rhyd-y-car retail park. The organisers advised us of a sponsored walk coming the opposite way along the track that we were using and then we set off. 
I started steadily which should have been comfortable, but within a couple of miles I realised that I was badly de-hydrated, such a basic mistake especially as I am always telling our runners to make sure they’re fully prepared/toileted/hydrated. I found myself looking longingly at the water bottles that the walkers were carrying.

The problem with stages that are not well supported is that water stations can be non-existent or, as I found, packing up before you can get to them.  I did eventually get to some people giving water out around the 6-mile point and I stopped to make sure that I took plenty on. 
From then on, my mental state was better although I was kicking myself for being too distracted during the day to ensure that I was prepared for my own race.

Eventually I heard a large cheer from my left and glanced over to see many of my team-mates ‘re-hydrating’ themselves in the pub about 800m from the finish. Realizing that my customary sprint finish was not there, I staggered to the line in Navigation Park.  I came home in 46th position which was disappointing but after having worked out my pace, I was a little happier as it was still about 15 secs per mile faster than I had expected.
Greg Oulton lined up at the start of Stage 19, to Nantgarw, having had only a couple of hours’ notice. Nigel was originally going to run but his ‘man flu’ had not improved so it was time to call in our ‘super-sub’!

I’m not sure whether this news was welcomed by Greg but fully prepared or not, he lined up on the start line at Navigation Park. The course follows a lonely disused railway for 7.7 miles until reaching Nantgarw.

Greg beat the cut-off time by 4 minutes, despite not running much in the previous months, and saved us from having to take a 15 minute time penalty for failing to enter a runner. So well done Greg!
As the team sped towards Cardiff in the bus, Alan Elstone was starting the final stage. This year the finish had moved further away from Cardiff Castle and we instead aimed for the ambulance station in Bute Park to await the arrival of Al. 

A good thing about the location of the finish this year was that you got to see a lot more of the runners before they finished. They could be seen for at least their last 400m as they ran along the side of the river and then through the park. This added to the atmosphere as the Les Croupiers commentator tried to get the crowd going for each finisher.
The first familiar face we saw was Karl Lee, formerly of Wesham, who came down in 40th place after running the wrong way at one point.  A bit later, with the park now caked in sun, we saw the green vest of Lytham coming around the path.

As he got towards the finish and the start of the ‘crowd funnel’, he started a Mexican wave with another team in green who fully obliged him. Whether he thought they were us, or whether they thought he was their runner I don’t know, but it gave a great atmospheric end to his race. He finished in 49th place in 1:13:42 and thus brought an end to Lytham’s Welsh Castles adventure for 2017.
A big thank you to all of this year’s runners. It was our fastest ever time for the event of 24:37:51 and we finished 29th of 66 (27th Open Category) and our best position ever within the King-of-the-Mountains (KoTM) competition, 10th. For a club that basically does most it’s running on the flat that is an unbelievable result, so a special thank you to the six of you who ran those mountain stages. 

Regardless of the miserable weather this year, I think that everybody enjoyed it and we look forward to being accepted again in 2018 and seeing you all again!

For those of you who attended the Welsh Castles Evening at Tiggis, you will know that I have resigned as Captain and handed over to my very capable deputy of 6 years, Richard Storey.

I have enjoyed every Welsh Castles I have done with Lytham and I just thought that it might be time to put a younger and possibly more enthusiastic person in charge before I get to the point of stagnating and ruining the fantastic experience for everyone.  Whether it’s a good idea to resign after my 13th year is one for the superstitious of you to debate. 

I hope that you will all support Richard and do your bit, there are lots of things to consider like driving, marshalling, finances, accommodation, transport, numbers, information folders, registration, food and drinks. That is a lot for one person to sort out so please get involved and help to continue to make the weekend a great success!
                                                                                                    Dave Dunn