31st May began with a nice dry start to the day as competitors started to arrive at Holt Castle for registration. Two mini-buses were waiting to transport twenty-one competitors to Rhyd-y-benwch picnic area – the closest point to the Source of the Severn.
On the way to the start, competitors were talking about their previous races, MDS, Race the Planet, Lakeland 100 etc. It seemed we had a good field of experienced runners and we were looking forward to seeing how ‘7’ compared with these other events.
The anticipated journey time was over three hours, but having made good time, just two hours later we had arrived at Rhyd-y-benwch.
In order to maintain a full marathon distance for day one, competitors were then transported a further 1.52 miles away from the picnic area, creating a day’s distance of 26.4 miles.
Hafren Forest Authority had given us privileged keys to access forestry tracks, enabling us to arrive at the source hopefully before the competitors, but it was going to be tight for time. It was with some disappointment that Peter Windross was already returning, closely followed by Justin Montague, but thankfully we had arrived before anybody else.
This was the ‘source’ of the Hafren River (Welsh for River Severn), so I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise to be hit with perpetual drizzle and winds. We were soaked and so were the competitors, a telling introduction to the ‘7’ journey they had now embarked upon.
One by one competitors stood by the Severn Source Post to have a quick photograph, before heading back down to Rhyd-y-benwch which was doubling as CP1.
The last competitor to reach the source was Michelle Fookwee who had flown in especially from South Africa to compete.
Michelle was completely despondent. She was suffering from really tight calves and was unsure if it was wise to continue. Having decided to run back down to CP1 to see if things improved, she then made the difficult decision to drop-out, and we were now down to twenty competitors.
This, the first day, was turning into a close contest. Peters lead on Justin had dwindled at CP2 to just a 3 minute lead, with Jon Tetley and Andy Taylor off the lead by 20 minutes.
With weather conditions still wet and windy, Camp Site 1 was set at Maesmawr B&B, and finally Justin had managed to overtake Peter to arrive home first with a time of 4hrs 13min, Peter now 21 minutes off the pace. The ladies race was also looking close with Yin-Hai Cheung leading with 5hrs 49min, closely followed by duo Kirstine Oliver & Jannine Bowtell with 5hrs 58min.
From Maesmawr B&B the challenge covers 43 miles and also takes in the Hafren Ultra, which is open to individual single day runners. As such we were joined by Glyn Price.
It was becoming apparent that recent weather had impacted on the Severn Way route. Some fields and tracks were overgrown, making headway very tiring. Justin was showing his penchant for adding a few extra miles here and there with the odd navigational errors. Andy Taylor and Jon Tetley were leading through CP1 & CP2, have been passed numerous times by Justin! Justin unperturbed and smiling all the way finally staying on track to grab the lead back at CP3, coming first into camp at Wingfield Arms in 7 hours 56 minutes.
Chris Smart, leading the Veteran’s category arriving in at 9 hours 54 minutes with Dave Fawlkner.
Chris Chilton & Jerome Timbrell arrived home together in 9 hours 21 minutes.
Yin-Hai was still leading the ladies, but this was a five day challenge with all to play for. Kirstine & Jannine came in a couple of hours behind, but looked fresh, high spirited and living the moment. Susan Buckley with a time of 11 hours 50 minutes made good use of Jim from Apollo massage to help relax.
David Cranwell who had also had a few navigational difficulties arrived in at 13 hours 56 minutes.
This day, also The Severn Path Ultra, is the first long day, consisting of some 58 miles. Again the terrain was in places very overgrown.
On today’s race we were joined by Daniel Young, Mark Minihane, Laurence Paterman, Kelvin James and Jim Wright.
With the introduction of fresh legs, it was going to be interesting to see how Justin and our other ‘7’ competitors prevailed.
The day didn’t disappoint. Justin, Mark & Daniel were locked at the front. Everybody was starting to feel the impact on their bodies that the ‘7’ challenge was bringing. What seemed like a nice five day run down the River Severn a few days earlier was turning into a real test of endurance and mental strength.
Blisters, back-pack rash, twisted ankles, every little injury was now playing on the minds of the competitors who were slowly deciding that this year the challenge was not going to be completed.
By conclusion at Camp Site 3, only five competitors remained in the Severn Challenge – Justin Montague arriving home first in 10 hours 41 minutes, followed by single day runners Daniel Young with 11 hours 21 minutes and Mark Minihane with 12 hours 13 minutes. The next ‘7’ competitor home was Andy Taylor with a time of 14 hours 38 minutes who had unfortunately lost his running buddy Jon Tetley to a sickness bug during the day. 5th home, another ‘7’ competitor Chris Chilton with 14 hours 59 minutes. Single day runner Laurence gained 6th with 15 hours 11 minutes. Two more ‘7’ guys arrived in 15 hours 31 minutes – Chris Chilton and Dave Fawkner. Yin-Hai was 9th with 16 hours 26 minutes. Coming in joint 10th was Kelvin James and ‘7’ runner Susan Buckley.
Without doubt this had been a most testing day, in distance, terrain and conditions. Inevitably it had its casualties with eleven non finishers – Jim Wright, Jerome Timbrell, Jon Tetley, Alexander Gordon, David Cranwell, Drew Stanley, Kirstine Oliver, Jannine Bowtell, Ian Mayhew, Peter Windross and Steve Rosier.
From Holt Castle, day four is another long day of 58 miles and also The Severn Way Ultra.
Overnight we had also lost Dave Fawkner and Susan Buckley, both had battled well to complete the previous day, but it had left them in an unfit condition to continue.
There were now only five ‘7’ competitors left in the field. We were also joined by single day competitors Andy Parmley and Ian Miller.
Andy, with fresh legs, set a lead from the outset which couldn’t be clawed back by the chasing few. Justin was more on auto-pilot as he nursed the aches of the three previous days.
All five ‘7’ competitors, Justin, Chris C, Chris S, Andy and Yin-Hai were having to dig really deep. As if the blisters and strains and aches weren’t enough, the weather had to join in.
Andy Parmley had already arrived at Manor Farm to take the Severn Way title in 12 hours 29 minutes, but the intrepid five were still out, their pace slowing, the darkness of night already arrived and the onset of heavy rain and blustery winds making best efforts to take the check-point gazebos away.
Time ticked on and expected arrival times past, the conditions weren’t letting up. Justin finally came into CP5, that contagious smile wasn’t there, he was focused on the job, digging deep, but he still had nearly eight miles to go. It was touch and go if we asked to stay for a while at the check-point but we let him go on, deciding to monitor him at the midway punch-point. Next in was Andy Taylor, in good spirits he grabbed some food and drink from his buddy Jon and was on his way. Finally Chris Chilton, Chris Smart and Yin-Hai arrived, all very cold and wet and wondering who it was that had mentioned entering ‘7’ – stiff words to them when they remember who it was! After some warming up in the minibus and hot noodle soup the decision was made to continue and we watched the last three ‘7’ competitors leave CP5 having agreed also to just check them out at the midway punch point.
Yin-Hai, Chris Smart and Chris Chilton arrived at the final camp-site at Manor Farm in an epic 19 hours 49 minutes.
The final day of ‘7’ consisting of 26.3 miles, still a huge distance to cover when your feet are shredded as Chris Smart’s and Chris Chilton’s were. Amazingly the old Justin was back, smiling and looking forward to the days run. Andy and Yin-Hai were both looking positive although very tired, and we were joined by guest runners Matthew Murgatroyd and Jon Tetley to support his buddy Andy, now that his sickness bug had gone.
As we all waited at Severn Beach (the finishing line), just south of The Severn Beach, it was great to have Jerome Timbrell there and various friends and families to offer support.
Justin Montague was first to arrive home, gained the Champions Trophy for The Severn Challenge with an overall time of 40 hours 40 minutes.
Andy Taylor was second with an overall time of 49 hours 7 minutes
Chris Chilton was third with an overall time of 55 hours 48 minutes
Chris Smart and Yin-Hai Cheung finished joint 4th with an overall time of 58 hours 39 min. Both Yin-Hai and Chris had finished each day at different times so there accumulated times being equal for the whole event was truly amazing.
These five guys had battled all that the ‘7’ challenge had thrown at them and were deserved finishers.
A short minibus drive back to Holt Castle, followed by a finisher’s meal and trophy presentation, concluded a most memorable five days with some exceptional people.
Wow, what a five days.
The Severn Challenge returns in 2013 – 30th May – June 3rd