Within half an hour of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race getting underway the racers setting out were being pelted by heavy rainfall, and when the shower had passed and visibility improved a little they could see the hills of the Carneddau ahead of them shrouded in mist and cloud. The first stage of the race was going to be made even more challenging by the weather.
The day one map showed the route across the three principal mountain ranges of Snowdonia National Park, the Carneddau, the Glyderau and Snowdon, which is the highest point in England and Wales at 1085m.
The 1:40,000 maps are specially produced by Harvey, and stripped of data the runners won’t need, like summit names off the route, town and river names etc. They are laminated and the super-sized day one map shows 21 checkpoints, almost all on mountain summits. There are also guidance times which the slowest racers should aim to be within if they are to make the two cut-offs on the day, and the finish closure time of 23:00.
The first part of day one was the long haul over the Carneddau hills, across open and windswept ground taking in gradually higher summits on which the runners were unlikely to meet many walkers, even in the summer. From the beginning they are in the wilds with only each other for occasional company and on this first day they will come to know those moving at a similar pace and new friendships will form.
After crossing the 3 highest summits the route drops down to the Ogwen Valley to cross the A5 trunk road where the day one support point is set up in a roadside car park below Mount Tryfan. The estimated time for the leader here was 11.00-12.00 but the pace was fast and the leader Jim Mann, arrived at 10.33, moving impressively quickly and passing swiftly through the transition. He knew exactly what he wanted and where it was, directing the marshals to help him and in moments had moved away up the steep, rocky slopes of Tryfan. He didn’t follow the path but took a line directly up the broken gullies and crags to the ridge line, from where it is a scramble to the top.
Mann featured in the 2012 race, where for the first few days he was racing against Steve Birkinshaw. Under that pressure and in the heat he couldn’t sustain his challenge for the lead to the end. Now he is back for another go, better prepared and with the experience of 3 years ago, and in the cloudy weather he was trying to keep his distance from the nearest chasers, so he couldn’t be followed and lead them in the mist.
Next in was André Jonsson who said, “I was with Jim in the early stages but took a wrong turn in the clouds and lost some time and places.” He had some supporters at the support point to cheer him through and he too set off straight up the flank of Tryfan. He was now 15 minutes behind and won’t see Jim Mann ahead of him, so will be navigating on his own across the Glyders.
He was followed by Ed Catmur and then Konrad Rawlik, who was with the first lady to arrive, Jasmine Paris. She said, “The navigation up there is far from straightforward!” It wasn’t long before the second lady arrived as Beth Pascall followed her in saying, “I’m doing OK and taking it steady, being careful with the navigation in this weather.”
The winner from 2012 was next to arrive, coming along the main A5 from a different direction to everyone else. Steve Birkinshaw descended down the ridge off the peak of Pen yr Ole Wen instead of taking the easier (and quicker) path, but wasn’t worried. He is not doing the whole race, just this first day as part of a special relay team set up by race sponsors Berghaus, who also sponsor him.
At the support point he was taking his time and said, “It’s nice not to be racing and as I’d never come down that route I thought, why not try it for a change!” Speaking to him earlier he’d told me he felt that after his win in 2012 it wasn’t a race he wanted to come back to compete in. “I had such good memories of that week,” he said, “and didn’t want to risk spoiling those by coming back again.”
Charlie Sharpe was next in followed by two more international competitors – Wouter Hamelinck of Belgium, and Jonas Mollare. Wouter raced in 2012 and is a popular and very recognisable character with his big bushy beard. He had a Welsh flag tied to his day bag, and his tiny backpack (easily the smallest), had some tatty prayer flags hanging off it.
Those were the top 10 on the early stages of day one, and it’s already looking like a very fast and competitive race will develop in the week ahead.
Written by Rob @ Sleep Monsters