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Welsh Castles Relay and Trail Half Marathon Wales

Over two weeks Russell Bentley takes on the chaotic Welsh Castles Relay and races over the trails for a win in Coed Y Brenin at the Trail Half Marathon Wales.

Weslh Castles Relay

The Welsh Castles Relay is a 209 mile, 2 day race from Caernarfon Castle, North Wales, down to Cardiff Castle. 20 runners in a team, each covering roughly 10 miles.
Kent AC had never done this event before, so it was a great chance for the team to get together, and right on my doorstep too. A lot of us (me) weren’t really sure what was going on. There was a 75 page rule book (who is going to read that?), lots of thrills and spills and rushing around made for a very fun, if slightly (completely) chaotic event.

Trail Half Marathon Wales 3

Runners crashed into each other, threw water bottles over officials and knocked themselves out on lampposts. We did excellently, finishing 3rd in our debut. 2nd place still haven’t crossed the finish line actually. I was ready to kick off about it, but Coach Ken said it was OK so….

Personally, I was finding it hard to get into ‘game-frame’ for my run, Leg 3, 12.2 miles. My heart rate on the way to the start was 35bpm, impressive, considering the way our minibus was racing around.

Trail Half Marathon Wales 6

I noticed I was running on pavements (the roads had cars on them!), while everyone else was staying on the road. I asked the guy nearest me what the rules were. He said we had to stay on the left of the road unless told otherwise. So I did, which was fine, until we entered the long final hill and I nearly got mowed down by a passing motorbike. I lost my head after that, otherwise, I would have flown up the hill smashing Dewi and the course record (of course).

As I finished, in 3rd, the team were all there to cheer me along. Very nice. Captain, Dave Morgan, asked me if I needed anything to eat or drink. I waved him off confidently and started the run up to my hometown. I had never actually run this hill before, but very quickly I realised it was not as easy as I thought.

With a heavy kit bag and 14 miles already in my legs, I started to feel pretty rough. Friends were beeping and waving. I normally love the beep and wave, but not now when I was looking and feeling progressively awful. What the hell was the matter with me? I had finished the Dragon’s Back Race, the toughest mountain race in the world and here I was dying on this silly hill. I got very thirsty and hungry. Wanted to stop and walk. I was going so slowly it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.

I remembered something someone said about training on the off-beat. Sometimes the challenges come when you don’t expect them, when there is no record, no crowd, no race, no nothing. I accepted the challenge, dropped the ego, and kept going. FIVE miles of relentless up. I’m not too proud to say that as soon as I entered Blaenau town I stopped, put my hands on my knees, then walked the rest of the way home.

The next morning I had a hilly 17 mile loop scheduled. I drove to the layby, parked the car, reclined my seat, slept for half an hour, then drove back home.

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Trail Half Marathon Wales

The focus of this week was Trail Half Marathon Wales, a great event that takes place in the gorgeous Coed Y Brenin. I knew Max Nichols was going to be my main competition. He has been running exceptionally well lately and had recently been selected for the GB Mountain Running squad. Nonetheless, I decided to have a really good crack at beating him here. I recced the course three times in the week, and had an action plan fixed in my head.

I felt good in my warm up and got to the start line ready to go. Max wasn’t there. He had missed a train. I had to quickly recalibrate my plan. After the first hill I was pretty sure I was going to win the race so I needed something else to shoot for. I decided to aim for my best ever time on this course, which came in 2019 when I was actually doing the full marathon, read all about it here.

The first half of this race was going very well, but somewhere into the second half I started to pick up the back markers from the Marathon distance. They had set off an hour before us. On the wider trails it was no problem to run around them, but some sections were very tight paths through the woods and there was really no way round. I had to shout ‘coming through’, which inevitably caused a jolt. People were not expecting me and I didn’t have right of way.

It was hard doing this at breakneck speed, I had already effectively won the race and beat my previous time, so I just felt like a bit of a dick, shouting at everyone like this. I slowed down. I’m glad I did. It gave me a chance to appreciate the situation. Here I was winning a race, springing past people, my body and mind fit for purpose. It felt invigorating to be out in the morning sun, with the birds singing, the tall trees providing dappled shade, sparkling river to my left, you get the idea.

At the finish line, the announcer called out, helpfully, that I had narrowly missed Andy Davies’ record by 30 seconds. I could have tried harder, but I could have twisted an ankle too.

Brilliant race as always. Thanks loads to Matt Ward and the organisers.

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With training partner and friend Elliw, who won the women’s race
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Russell has also run the On Snowdonia Trail Marathon

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Russell Bentley
Russell Bentley
Track runner. Trained in Kenya, Won the Snowdonia Marathon 2018, PB Berlin Marathon 2:20:20

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