Welsh Castles Relay

10/06/2022 00:00, I Mewn Blog / Club Notice Board / Road /

It is a matter of record that the idea for a relay started as part of Les Croupiers AGM in January 1982. Alcohol always tends to widen the scope for discussion, and most members assumed this suggestion would join the dregs in the empty glasses and not resurface. Most - but not all.

John Taylor and John Thomas, together with Les Croupiers founder members Rob Evans and Jeff Aston were keen on the idea of a relay round Wales, and with a Welsh Tourist Board Initiative "Year of the Castles" scheduled for the following year, the outline of a plan began to take shape.

This resulted in a Welsh Castles Relay Pilot Run, starting at midnight on Saturday 17 July, 1982, from Cardiff Castle, and finishing at Caernarfon Castle 20 hours, 38 minutes and 6 seconds later. One significant fact was the presence of Rob Cole from the Western Mail. Rob was a young journalist at the time who wrote a regular column called "On the Run with Rob Cole". His writing had a huge following and he was responsible for the very successful Western Mail Cardiff Marathon which was held 1981-86. Our pilot run received plenty of column inches.

The following year 6 teams took up the challenge to run from north to south. It was an instant success. In the first two editions the standard relay format was employed, and ran through the night. Landrovers headlights were used to shine enough light for the runners to see the road ahead. However, the disparity in ability meant that the teams finished hours apart, making a race presentation difficult.  

So in 1985 the present day multi-stage format was adopted, with an overnight stop in Newtown. The route has changed periodically, but always with the safety of the runners as the prime concern. Teams began to enter from further and further afield. Invariably, all were overwhelmed by the simplicity of the concept and the attention to detail. The idea of multi-stage relays wasn't new, but not on this scale.

Horwich RMI were a good case in point. They decided to revamp a longstanding event "Manchester to Blackpool" in 1989. This was a mini-Castles - 10 stages totalling just over 50 miles and held on a Sunday morning. Les Croupiers took part on many occasions.

Due to the fact that the demand for places was now beginning to exceed the number we could safely accommodate, Fairwater Runners devised the Rack Raid in 1993 - a one day 13 stage mixed relay totalling 100 miles, primarily around the beautiful scenery in Gwent. Three decades on, the Rack Raid is also going from strength to strength.

The WCR race has also attracted teams from around the world. Valencia and Madrid (Spain), Nantes (France), Team Thuringa (Germany), several teams from Netherlands, Los Angeles Police Department, Freedom 55 from Canada, and in 2019, Right to Movement - Palestine.

Given the nature of the event, many have commented that starting such a project wouldn't be permitted today, such is the volume of traffic on the roads. For that, we have to thank the unstinting support from the Police, who also compete each year. The professional medical support provided by Acute Medics is another important factor.

The relay has experienced its fair share of darker moments. Race Organiser Jeff Wood suffered a cardiac arrest and died during the 1998 event, and Alan Carver of sponsor Air Products the same in 1999. In 2006 Clevedon athlete Clive Richards was knocked down by a motor bike whilst trying to help a colleague. Despite having to spend many nights in hospital, Clive was able to compete again the following year when Clevedon won the event.

Thus, the Welsh Castles Relay hasn't just survived, it continues to thrive. Its spirit is infectious. It's not just a race, it's a funning festival.

This years event takes place this weekend, starting in Caernarfon and finishing in Cardiff. For yet more details, why not read through Welsh Castles Relay history on Les Croupiers Running Club home page.