This year saw the club invited to compete in a 13 stage relay covering 100 miles all within 12 hours. Each stage had it’s own start time with cut off times applied and there is a bit of overlap to ensure it’s all finished within a reasonable time. The cut off for each stage requires runners to finish within a 9 minute mile average – so a 5 mile route would have a 45 minute cut off. If runners come in after this time then they are given the cut off time (in this example 45:00), unless they are more than 10 minutes off the cut off in which case they are given the cut off time plus 10 minutes (in this example 55:00). Stages ranged from 5.1 miles to 13.1 miles.
The road to Rack Raid began as an attempt to get into Welsh Castles which requires 20 runners plus a number of reserves across the 2 day event from North Wales down to South Wales. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough runners who would meet the strict cut off times for that event to apply so turned our attentions to Rack Raid. Many of our members had already run the ‘qualifier’ route the captains had set out which involved 2 laps of the Ogmore Valley loop for a 10 mile run in total. This then ended up being used to determine places for Rack Raid instead.
The 13 runners had to made up of a 7/6 gender split with the majority of teams going for 7 male and 6 female runners which is what we went for.
The final team was (in order of what stages they ran) – Jo Gamba, Dai James, Gareth Jenkins, Chris Truman, Neil Price, Niki Puleio, Sarah Davies, Anneliese Loveluck, Steven James, Liz Davis, Paul Smith, Sian Price and Emma Loyns.
Jo Gamba and I headed off at 530am to get to Grosmont Castle in time for Jo to do the first leg at 730am. T-shirts collected for the team and ‘official vehicle’ sticker acquired which was needed to drive to certain stages and parts of the course that weren’t open to other vehicles.
A race briefing is given at the start of each stage and numbers given out which are the same for each team throughout the day. There are just 28 teams in total and they discourage other runners / supporters from going to the start as there’s a few houses around the castle and they don’t want too much noise at 7-730am on a Sunday morning. It was odd to see such a small field of runners as Jo set off on the first stage.
That first stage was the shortest at 5.1 miles but still included 315 feet of elevation with the majority of that in the first half of the run. The entire route is on quiet country roads and for those of us seeing runners off at the start, it meant carefully driving passed them to get to the end point of that stage. It does mean there’s an opportunity to shout encouragement out of the car window as you drive past though. Quite a lot of the teams had chosen female runners for the first stage with just 1 male out of 28 teams. I passed Jo about a mile or so in and she doing well in the middle of the pack.
Arriving at the second stage I saw Steven, Niki, Dai and Chris who had car shared with Dai who was due to start the second leg. As pointed out at the start of this review, the stages overlap slightly so Dai and the rest of the runners for the second stage set off before most of the first stage runners came in. A few minutes later Jo appeared and finished in a fantastic 41:09 and well inside the cut off of 46 minutes and in 17th place overall. As I was running stage 3, we had to quickly get in the car and drive off, passing Dai who was amongst the top 5 or so runners along the way. His stage was 6.9 miles with 636 feet of elevation and very little downhill making it one of the hilliest if basing it on elevation per mile.
The third stage started at White Castle which was restricted to ‘official vehicles’ only meaning only Jo and I could drive our car to the start. This meant a quick change of plan as Steven couldn’t go and pick Dai up from the end of his stage but it was fine as Jo could take Dai to the next stage after dropping me off where we would all reconvene. Driving to the start of stage 3 we saw that Dai would have a tough half mile long hill to content with at the end but despite this he finished in an excellent time of 50:55 and 8th place overall.
I set off for stage 3 which was a 7.5 mile route to Abergavenny with 394 feet of elevation. It was a nice start as I went down the hill Dai had just had to come up before turning back onto the main road. The route then gradually climbed for agonising 4 miles albeit at a mostly gentle gradient. It also started raining but fortunately for me it wasn’t too heavy and quite refreshing. The final 2.5 miles of my stage were almost entirely downhill so I was able to make up for some lost time on the incline and ended with a sprint finish against a female runner from Les Croupiers which definitely helped me find another gear than if I’d been running in alone. Very pleased with a time of 55:07 and 11th place overall.
Meanwhile, Chris Truman had set of on stage 4. A 6.7 mile hilly route with 633 feet of elevation. Like many of the stages it involved a lot of climbing for the first half before a downhill second half. Chris finished in 46:53 equalling our best position of the day so far with 8th overall.
By this point, Jo and I had already been up for 5 hours and we were barely a third of the way through the day so we went off to Monmouth to sneak in a quick second breakfast before seeing Neil come in from stage 5. Stage 5 was an 8.1 mile route with 443 feet of elevation which Neil finished in 55:15 and 9th overall. Most of the stages started or finished near castles but Neil’s finish was just as good with it finishing on an old bridge heading into Monmouth town.
Niki was up next with the second longest stage of the day. A 12.6 route from Monmouth to Raglan taking in 801 feet of elevation and hilly throughout. He smashed it in 1:21:59. To put it in perspective, had it been half marathon distance then he’d have finished a reasonably hilly half marathon in around 1 hour 25/26 minutes. It was also the third time we’d finished 8th overall.
Whilst waiting for Niki, the rest of us arrived in Raglan where we our final group of runners joined us – Sarah, Emma and Liz. Sarah was lined up with the others about to set off just as Niki was finishing. Sarah’s route was 5.5 miles from Raglan to Usk taking in 236 feet of elevation and undulating throughout. Sarah put in a great effort finishing well inside the cut off of 51 minutes with in 45:34 and 16th position.
By this point we’d already seen Anneliese Loveluck set off on the longest stage of the event – a 13.1 mile route from Usk to Tintern Abbey which not only had the highest amount of elevation at 1200 feet of climbing, but was also one of the only stages that included some off road running as well. Anneliese had actually offered to run this stage in case you’re wondering why the captains would be so mean. She was one of only two female runners for that stage as a number of teams put out their fastest guys for the stage. Anneliese held her own though and finished in an astonishing 1:36:45 on the hilly half marathon distance course and 16th position. Her time was 21 minutes inside the cut off.
The finish at Tintern Abbey was one of the highlights although as stated earlier, most of the start / finish locations were pretty special in terms of scenery. As we waited for Anneliese to come in, Steven James headed off for Stage 9 – a 10 mile route from the abbey to Chepstow Castle taking in 945 feet of elevation making it the second hilliest in terms of climbing elevation. Again, a number of teams appeared to put their best runners out on this stage and Steven ran a great time of 1:17:14 and 20th place.
Liz Davis was next up taking on a 5.6 mile route to Caldicot Castle with around 300 feet of elevation. Liz missed the cut off by just a few seconds and was therefore awarded a time of 51 minutes and 24th place. It should be noted that 8 runners out the 28 also didn’t make the cut off on what was a deceivingly tough route. Our team spirit and camaraderie really shone through as every one of the team was proud of Liz who absolutely gave it her all and still recorded a great time.
Most of us missed Paul heading off for stage 11 as the tight timings to get from the previous stage didn’t quite work out. His route was 8.3 miles with 551 feet of elevation and was a rare one that didn’t finish at a castle or on a bridge, however, there was a pub which was packed with runners and supporters. Many of you reading this may not have met Paul yet who is relatively new to the club and is amongst our fastest runners. He smashed the route in 55:43 and recorded our joint highest finish of the day with 6th overall.
All of us made it to see him finish whilst across the road, Sian was heading off on the penultimate stage. Stage 12 was 6.6 miles with 266 feet of elevation. We’d be told Sian would get one of the best finishes of all the stages and as we arrived we could see why. The finish was at Caerleon Amphitheatre which dates back to 90 AD and was a venue for gladiatorial combat. Sian finished by running into the middle of the amphitheatre with the rest of us watching from 20-30 feet above. She did get a little confused with exactly where the finish line was and carried on running for a few more metres though. Her time was 51:37 which was well inside the cut off of 60 minutes and she was 18th overall.
The spectacular finish was also the spectacular start venue for our final runner, our club coach, Emma Loyns. Emma had been dreading her stage which although the second shortest at 5.4 miles, it included almost 500 feet of elevation climbing for much of the route and including the a section at the end that a local club use for long hill sessions. The rest of us headed off to the finishing point and caused a little bit of chaos when we accidently ended up driving up the narrow road close to finish where the runners were heading. We had to stop to let the runners go through and wait until they’d finished so frustratingly the final stage was the only one we didn’t make it to see our runner finish. Lesson learnt for next year if we are invited back. Emma smashed it in 47:30 coming in under the cut off and finishing in 20th place.
When we all eventually parked up at the finishing venue at the Castell y Bwch pub we got in the queue for some much needed food and drinks. We’d been given food vouchers at the start of the day which entitled us to curry and chips which went down a treat as we watched the presentations for the stage winners and overall team winners.
The organisers had been posting results from each stage throughout the day along with current team standings so we excitingly awaited to see our final position. Eventually we saw that we’d finished in 14th place out of 28 teams. A fantastic effort and beyond what many of us had expected in our first year. We also finished almost an hour ahead of friendly local rivals, Brackla, who have been competing in Rack Raid for many years (lets ignore that they were probably saving themselves for Welsh Castles the weekend after).
101.5 miles completed in 12 hours 36 minutes and 44 seconds.
So how would I sum it up? Well firstly I would say that elevation profiles don’t always tell the whole story as every single one of our runners found the stages harder than expected. The entire day was very well organised and I can’t imagine the planning and logistics required by Fairwater Runners Cwmbran who run the event. Amazing commitment and support by every single member of our team who were out for 12 hours or more which for a few of us included 100+ miles of driving, running one of the stages and supporting at as many stages as possible. An absolutely fantastic day was had by all and I think if you ask any of the 13 of us that ran it, we would absolutely recommend the club does it again next year. The support and effort put in by every team member was amazing.
Rack Raid 2020 anyone?