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The Race Comes to a Close

8th Sep 2012

Reporting by Rob Howard / www.SleepMonsters.com

The second Dragon’s Back Race drew to a close at about 11pm on Friday night in the dark courtyard of Carreg Cennen Castle.  The speeches had already been made and the prizes given out.but there was still one more trophy to be given, and that was to the last runner on the course, Wendy Dodds. 

Wendy was the oldest competitor in the race (61) and one of 4 runners taking part who had also completed the first race 20 years ago.  She was accompanied by some race staff over the later part of the course and the crowd who had walked up to the castle to see her finish began cheering when their headlights came into view in the woods on the final climb.  Going at a good pace she passed through the crowd and began the final climb into the castle.  With the finish line in sight she put on such a spurt up the hillside the supporting crowd couldn’t keep up with her!

After some hugs, photos and congratulations she was accompanied back down the hill to the function room where the prize giving had taken place and got the loudest cheer of the night and a standing ovation.  She became the third competitor to finish both Dragon’s Back Races and said if anyone wanted her entry for the Mountain Trial on Sunday they could have it!

The other two double finishers were Helene Whitaker and Joe Faulkner, who had both walked up to see her finish.  “I was determined to enjoy today,” said Faulkner, “and I did.  I really concentrated on navigation and every microline so there were no mistakes and its very satisfying to have finished.”  Whitaker made a short speech to thank all the race staff for their incredible efforts, before handing out the trophies to all the competitors who took part. 

These were small versions of the heavy brass Dragon trophy given to Steve Birkinshaw, who held it above his head as everyone applauded. He then gave Shane Ohly a birthday card (it’s his birthday Saturday) signed by all at the race and with a front cover photo of the group shot taken in Conwy Castle.

The final results show that 29 runners completed the full course.   Of these 3 were international visitors from outside the UK who had to cope with unfamiliar maps and even more unfamiliar terrain.  “It is a fell running event,” said Wouter Hamelink of Belgium, “as well as an ultra stage-race, and you need to be able to navigate too.  I am pleased to finish, even though everything hurts. I never really recovered from the first day, but managed to finish each night without using my torch.  You have to have enough time to recover each night – if you finish too late you won’t recover the next day and you are late again and its all over.

The other two international finishers were John Dove and Jon Barker of the USA.  “It was tough,” said Barker, “as much as I could handle.  I got shin splints on day 3 and that made it hard, but we teamed up with others who were struggling, and a complete stranger leant me a trekking pole to help.  We were just here to finish and it’s the people who count more than the race. You meet a lot of good people who help you through.  Wales is fabulous and we’ve seen more of it than anyone else coould in a week , and the race has been well organised.  It’s one of those grass roots level events which has a special quality.”

Everyone who made it to the end, however much of the course they had completed, got a trophy, and one of the Spanish runners summed up the feelings of his cheery group. “We came to finish the race,” he said, “but found we couldn’t do it.  Then we could either be sad or smile.  We chose to smile!”

There are those who came close to finishing the full race, dropping out one day or missing a single cut-off, who will have regrets and wonder what might have been, but if their thoughts turn to having another go they may have to be patient, though hopefully it won’t be a 20 year wait again.  Shane Ohly said, “There will be another race, I’m just not sure when.  I’ll have to go away and have a think about that.”   So, for a while at least, the Dragon sleeps again.