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The Dragon Bites on Day One

3rd Sep 2012

Reporting by Rob Howard / www.SleepMonsters.com

After all the talk it was time for action ... but the pre-race briefings were right.  This is one of the toughest foot races in the world, and day one is the hardest day, and it had been made harder than it was 20 years ago.  As day one progressed, taking  runners into Snowdonia and across the highest summits of the week, the true scale of the challenge began to hit home, and despite good weather (much better than in the first race) the retirement rate was high and for the later runners the course was shortened.

At the time of writing (19.20 on Monday night) only a dozen finishers have reached camp having completed the full days route, with the leader Steve Birkinshaw arriving more than 2 hours later than expected, having spent nearly 10 hours running.  “That was hard,” he said, “after the first section it’s all very rocky underfoot and hard to get going.”  He added, “That route on Crib Goch is terrible and I had an awful time up there .... I’d never been up there before!” 

He was followed in by Rob Baker some 23 minutes later who announced, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!  I’ve done elite mountain marathons and the like but never anything like that so I’m surprised to have done so well.  It might have been hard but it was a great day out, some of the views were stunning and I think I’ve completed my tick list for Wales in one day.”

The two leaders set about sorting themselves out with food and found a two man tent to share, so they won’t be disturbed by later arrivals and can have a lay in!  In the morning the latest arrivals start first at 6am (so they get the least rest unfortunately), and the quickest start last.

There are some other runners in camp when the leaders arrived, but they came by minibus having pulled out at one of the first manned road crossings today.  These include most of the Spanish contingent of racers, and so far it looks like at least 10 runners pulled out or cut short their day (the full results will be posted but it may take while before they are up.)  The Spanish crew seemed cheerful enough and hope to continue with some of tomorrow’s route at least.  They had settled down together for the night in one of the big Nordisk teepees. 

One of their compatriots Anaime Perez did push on up Tryfan, but when I saw him he said he was feeling a bit sad as the cut-offs were getting closer – I think he had realised by this stage that he couldn’t get around the full course and would have to cut it short somewhere.

The first lady to finish was Nicky Spinks (11 hours 27 minutes) and she commented on the heat today. “I got really dehydrated on the first stage as there was no water at all.  I was getting cramps and climbing Tryfan I thought I’d never make the finish, it wasn’t pleasant!  I was wobbling all over the place and have never been like that before. After that I filled 2 bottles at every stream and I still think I’m dehydrated even now.  I hope it’s not so hot tomorrow.”  She found Crib Goch a real challenge too.  “I wasn’t looking down, I’d have been too scared!  It went on forever too.”

Some high cloud did cover the tops during the day, and this quickly changed the situation for the racers, making the navigation tricky, particularly on the Glyders where a few people struggled to find the right way across big boulder fields.  This slowed them down but did at least give some respite from the hot day.

Spinks finished ahead of Helene Whitaker who jokingly reached for Shane Ohly’s neck to throttle him when she arrived.  “I was pleased to hold it together and not fall apart,” she said.  “I wasn’t in great shape on Crib Goch and don’t think I’d have pulled through but for this man here.”  She had run in with Irish runner Patrick Devine Wright (honestly) and he said, “I’d been dreading Crib Goch all day as I’d done it once in the mist before and told myself I’d never do it again. Then I saw it was on the route ... but being with Helene helped as she was in a worse state than me and someone had to hold it together!”  Whitaker finished 11 minutes behind Spinks, so the ladies race is close after day one.

As dusk draws in it’s clear that the majority of runners will finish long after dark and wearing their head torches and some will choose to cut the route to finish in a reasonable time. (One Spanish runner has already done this.) Others will have no choice as the Race Director has decided that those arriving at the foot of Snowdon after 7pm will have to climb directly up and miss out Crib Goch, and those arriving by 9pm will have to finish their day there and be transported back to camp.

The latest race photos can be seen on SleepMonsters at; http://www.sleepmonsters.com/racereport.php?page_action=gal&gallery_id=1735&race_id=9939