SUNDAY 1st March sees the return of an extraordinary test of endurance, the Barry Track 40 Miles and Barry Marathon Track Race, at the Jenner Park Stadium. Racing over such arduous distances pre-dates the modern Olympic Games and was very popular in the mid and late nineteenth century.

In Wales too, many such races were held in Maindy Stadium, Cardiff, and the first sub four hour 40 miles was achieved there in 1967.

The local equivalent at Barry was first held on the cinder track in 1986 and was won by local athlete Mick McGeoch, who remains the race director today. After converting the track to a synthetic surface the following year, the Barry 40 has been held every year, and has earned its place as a cult event on the global ultra calendar. In the previous 33 editions no less than 62 world best performances have been set, and 3 Barry winners have gone on to win global titles – Carolyn Hunter-Rowe (1993), Simon Pride (1999) and Lizzy Hawker (2006).

The Barry Marathon was created in 2017 as an opportunity for those who would find themselves unable to complete 40 miles in the allotted time, and has proved a popular under card.

The event has been particularly well supported this year, with 19 athletes entering the 40 miles and 4 the marathon. They will be travelling from all parts of the UK - 11 from England, 9 from Wales and 3 from Scotland.

Defending champion James Elgar returns to defend the title he won in gale force conditions 12 months ago. A Rogerstone resident, James hopes to go faster this year, no doubt confident after reducing his Ironman Triathlon best time to 8 hours 56 minutes last year.

One of James's main challengers might be Sam Richards (Pontypridd Roadents), who at 27 is the youngest in the race. Just 3 weeks ago on his ultra debut, Sam decisively won the Brecon to Cardiff 43 mile trail race in atrocious conditions. Sam works at St Fagans Museum and is likely to attract a lot of local support.

The English challenge looks extremely strong on paper with Andrew Savery, Andrew Siggers, Michael Taylor and Adam Stokes all possessing marathon best times well inside 2 hours 30 minutes. Jez Bragg from Dorset, a former two time UK 100 km champion is another in with a great chance.

If the men's race looks an open affair, so too does the ladies. Cardiff resident Rachel Bowen won the Welsh title 12 months ago, and faces a potentially thrilling challenge from Izzy Cairns (Tynebridge), Helen James (Loughborough) and Steph Wilson (Pudsey & Bramley).

As always the race incorporates the Welsh Ultradistance Championships, and 6 of the athletes qualify for that. The great thing about ultradistance is that every athlete has a tale to tell – a special reason for competing, if you like. Such tales are invariably inspiring. Dave Coles from Cyncoed began his ultra career in 1984 in South Africa, and three times ran the Comrades Ultramarathon, a 90 km rollercoaster held between Durban and Pietermaritzberg. He last raced in the event at the age of 26, and returns in June to tackle it again at the age of 60. Dave will be using the Barry 40 miles for preparation.

As ever, the race will start at 10am and admission is free.