Weekend Preview – 8-9th June 2024

This weekend includes a number of huge events with Welsh Castles Relay, Man vs Horse, Pembrokeshire 100, Swansea Half and a few parkruns besides.

Welsh Castles Relay

20 of our runners will take on the 209 mile Welsh Castles Relay which runs from Caernarfon Castle to Cardiff starting at 10am on Saturday morning, with the final leg starting from Caerphilly at 250pm on Sunday.

A brief history of our efforts to participate in Castles. It would have been first suggested 10 years ago when the club had less than 100 members. Over the years, we tried several times to see if there was enough members willing to commit to the weekend and the captaincy team met on multiple years to try and progress but we never managed to actually get to a stage of being confident that we had enough runners to apply for a place. In 2019, we managed to get ourselves a place in Rack Raid – essentially a 1 day version of Welsh Castles which was a big stepping stone towards having some experience in a big multi stage event and some of the logistics that entails. Due to the couple of years of no events covid, we felt that we probably needed another year of just being involved in Rack Raid (2022) before an all out attempt at getting a place in Welsh Castles. Last year, it finally happened. A huge effort by Dawn Hopkins, Nicky Bennett, Dai Kembo and several others resulted in our first actual application being accepted. We were finally in and I think for most of us, we assumed that meant the club would be doing Castles year after year from then on – but it doesn’t quite work like that…

Onto 2024 and 20 runners put their names forward and the application was put in only for us to discover, we weren’t selected. Bitterly disappointed we asked for more information and were told that with a reduction in the number of teams this year, we’d narrowly missed out. Fast forward a few weeks and with less than 2 weeks to go before the weekend of Welsh Castles, Dawn gets a call that a team have had to drop out and we were literally the next club in line. Cue dozens of WhatsApp’s, Facebook Messenger messages and phone calls and somehow over the next 24 hours we somehow managed to scramble enough runners together to accept the place. Of course, this was just the start and a huge thank you to Dawn, Nicky, Niki Puleio and Dai Kembo again who then had to sort out a minibus, accommodation and along with myself, try and slot runners into stages that were suitable for ability and dependent on which day(s) they were available. We got to version 4 and needed one of our reserves to come which was only finalised about 24 hours before the names had to be submitted (Friday 7th June). In the middle of all the chaos, we still managed a very successful day at Rack Raid last weekend!

So onto this years event.

Stage 1: Bethan Moor will start us off with a 9.1 mile stage with 449 feet of elevation at 10am tomorrow. Interesting it’ll mean Bethan has been our opening runner in both Rack Raid and Welsh Castles this year. With our team consisting of 20 male runners in 2023, Bethan will become the first female member to run at Welsh Castles for the club.

Stage 2: Rhodri Thomas returns to Welsh Castles having run leg 19 in our first outing last year. His stage is 10.7 miles with 371 feet of elevation.

Stage 3: Tom Mahoney makes his Welsh Castles debut and is taking on the first of 6 ‘mountain stages’ that are included in the 20 overall stages throughout the weekend. Tom is in great form having got PB’s at both Half and more recently in the full marathon distance. His stage is 12.3 miles with 945 feet of elevation.

Stage 4: Ben Batchelor returns for a second year having run stage 9 last year. His stage is 9.5 miles with 489 feet of elevation.

Stage 5: Jason Griffiths is by far the most experienced of our Welsh Castle runners having run this event multiple times before joining our club and was also on hand to lend some of his experience running stage 8 last year for the club. This years stage is 9.6 miles with 459 feet of elevation.

Stage 6: Martin Beard makes his Welsh Castles debut on the 10.7 mile stage from Barmouth with 696 feet of elevation.

Stage 7: Nicky Bennett is taking on the second mountain stage from Dolgellau with the 10.1 mile route having 1,473 feet of elevation. Nicky ran the first mountain stage (3) in last years event.

Stage 8: Jon Matthews is the newest member of our club running tomorrow having only joined a few months ago. He takes on the 10.8 mile stage with 1,107 feet of elevation.

Stage 9: Sarah Davies is our second lady to take on Castles with the 8.5 mile stage with 325 feet of elevation. Sarah also ran at Rack Raid last weekend and has recently got a 5K PB (which was also a new club age category record) at SSAFA.

Stage 10: Scott Gray finishes off day 1 with the 3rd mountain stage and longest stage of the entire weekend with a 13.1 mile run with 1,112 feet of elevation.

Stage 11: Niki Puleio has taken one for the team by taking the first stage of day 2 which is not only a mountain stage, but starts at 7am and will mean getting up possibly before 5am to get ready and travel the 40 minutes to get there from our last minute accommodation. His route is 10.5 miles with 1,240 feet of elevation. Niki also ran last year when he ran stage 10. Niki also ran Rack Raid last weekend.

Stage 12: Josh Parry returns to Castles having done stage 4 last year. This years stage is 11.2 miles with 505 feet of elevation.

Stage 13: Luke Davis is the only member who will be repeating the same stage he did last year with a 10.6 mile run including 518 feet of elevation.

Stage 14: Aled Jenkins takes on the biggest mountain stage of the lot in terms of elevation with 1,617 feet of climbing over 10.8 miles. Aled recently ran 2:30 at London Marathon to take the club record. This will be his Welsh Castles debut.

Stage 15: Willow Hughes will be the 3rd female OPR member to run Welsh Castles and takes on the second longest stage at 12.8 miles with 495 feet of elevation.

Stage 16: Gareth Jenkins (me!) will take on the final mountain stage of the weekend. Up until version 4 of the team sheet, I was running the final stage (20) but some last minute changes have resulted in me going from possibly the best stage in terms of the distance/elevation/finish support, to one that literally goes uphill constantly for the final 6 miles of the 12.5 miles in total with most of the 1,181 feet of climbing in that second half. I’m not complaining though – running at Welsh Castles has been high up on the list of things I’ve wanted to do ever since I joined the club nearly 12 years ago. I can’t believe it’s finally going to happen!

Stage 17: Sian Price only rejoined the club a month or so ago after a couple of years out and in that time she’s been on the receiving end of desperate messages from me twice already. Sian stepped in as a last minute replacement for Rack Raid and has now done the same again for Welsh Castles. She will be the 4th OPR lady to take on a Welsh Castles stage with a 8.7 mile stage with 407 feet of elevation. There was a bit of panic a few days ago when we accidently had the cut off time at 8 and a half minute miles for her stage but we can confirm all stages have a cut off of 9 and a half minutes per mile.

Stage 18: Jamie Verran makes his Welsh Castles debut having run at Rack Raid for us last weekend. He takes on a 9.1 mile stage with 404 feet of elevation. Jamie has been on form at the shorter distances with two PB’s at 10K in the last couple of months and a 5K PB at SSAFA as well as several first finishes at various parkruns.

Stage 19: Ashley Howells is another making his Welsh Castles debut taking on the 7.7 mile stage with 279 feet of elevation. Ashley recently ran a 50K Ultra in West Wales and regularly runs with the Running Punks as well as OPR.

Stage 20: Jo Jenkins will be the 5th female member of OPR to take on Welsh Castles. In the last minute reshuffle, Jo was our final runner to added and obviously if there’s someone I had to give up the final stage for, then I’m very happy it’s her. Jo is used to the multi-stage events having represented the club three times at Rack Raid. Jo takes on the 9.9 mile final stage from Caerphilly Castle to Cardiff with 207 feet of elevation.

All the best to our Welsh Castles runners this weekend.

Man vs Horse

If you’re not familiar with this event then yes, it is what the name suggests – a race against horses. Not only that, it’s 22-24 miles across a tough multi-terrain course. Last year was only the fourth occasion in 42 years where a runner finished first ahead of the horses. A handful of members have participated in this in previous years including current members, Wayne Hayhurst and Fiona Drysdale. This year, Chris Pratt takes on the event for the first time.

Pembrokeshire 100 miler

At midday on Friday 7th June, Gareth Richards set off on his third 100 mile event having completed the Dragon 100 the last two years in a row. Gareth is actually using the event as a ‘warm up’ and is going to ‘take it easy’ ahead of the Dragon 100 this year (in just 6 weeks time) where he is hoping to dip under the 24 hour barrier having got close in both years so far. The event is run by Run Walk Crawl who a lot of you reading this will be familiar with from the Vale events and they also organise the Dragon 50/100 milers. Nick Harris and former member Jamie Vanstone became the first members of the club to ever complete a 100 miler when they ran together in just under 32 hours on the inaugural Pembrokeshire 100 in 2017. The event didn’t return after covid and this is first year that it’s been back on since 2019.

Swansea Half Marathon and 5 miler

This year, Swansea Half have added a 5 mile option with multiple members taking on one of the distances. Unfortunately I don’t have a start list for this one but I believe Kris Denholm is one of the official pacers and all eyes with be on Jake Tasker who has finished 4th at Swansea Half on two occasions and it’s where his current 1:09 club record PB was set. Katie Plimmer is likely to lead the charge for our female members with the likes of Willow, Bethan and Sian at Castles.

With a packed race calendar over the summer months then good luck to those who may be running at event not mentioned above. Although it may be a reduced attendance due to these events, we will no doubt still have big numbers at parkrun and this weekend, Kris Denholm becomes only the 4th member of the club to reach 400 parkruns.

All the best to all our runners.