There is a fine line between providing a first class race service and still allowing competitors to remain self reliant, and this was in evidence at the first camp on the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race.
Camp was set up at Nant Gwynant in a large farmer’s field, and it was an impressive camp too. There were 34 large, blue Berghaus Air 8 inflatable tents set up for the competitors in neat signposted rows. These have a central communal area and sleeping compartments to either side, so are ideal for 8 competitors at a time who can leave shoes and wet kit in the communal area. (That’s one of the camp rules.)
Alongside these were large marquees for mess tent, kitchen and race HQ, a medical tent, a long row of portaloos, an area for marshals camping and space for the large number of race vehicles. The runners arrived into the finish and directly into the HQ tent to download the Sportident ‘dibbers’ they wear on their wrist and insert into recording boxes at each checkpoint. (This was more important than ever on day one as a complete failure of the network used by the trackers meant they did not work for much of the day. Fortunately the main timing system is Sportident, but it still made it a stressful day for the organisers.)
On arrival every runner gets a print out of their times at each checkpoint, and on this piece of paper is a half hour time window for the next day’s breakfast and their start time. The time is set so they start early enough to make the cut-offs the next day and this means the later you arrive ... the earlier you have to get up! It seems harsh that those who struggle the most get the least rest, but that’s how it has to be if they are to make it to the finish.
Obviously the race also wants to spread out the times runners are visiting the kitchen – they can’t feed them all at once! The kitchen staff feeding this small mobile athletic army is only 4 people, and they provide breakfast, constant hot water when camp is open, a bowl of chips when runners arrive (very welcome!), and evening meals for around 300 people – all from a camp kitchen.
Once in camp the runners have had it stressed their own ‘camp administration’ is vital – in other words looking after themselves. Getting enough food and as much sleep as they can, checking their feet (and for ticks), reviewing the next day’s route, getting up in time ... and watching out for tent mates who may be too exhausted to do these things. As they days roll on and fatigue increases these seemingly simple actions can make the difference between finishing the race or pulling out.
The volunteers help as much as they can, they are always around to help, and on arrival the racer’s kit bag is taken to their tent for them. The runner who arrived at kit check to set off this morning without his kit bags ready to load onto the trucks was met with bemusement, even more so when he said they were still in his tent. When he added that ‘the volunteers are here for carrying our kit’ he was promptly and firmly sent back to get his own bags! (One runner also had to be shown how to peel a hard-boiled egg this morning!)
Despite this emphasis on self-management there are many small refinements to help in camp, even down to a chart in the toilets to remind runners to check their pee colour! (Too light and they are over hydrated, too dark and they are dehydrated), and there were even fairly lights around the portaloos last night!
The first morning in camp ran like a well oiled machine – a good start to the week. There were more runners completing day one than ever before (as a percentage) with only 25 of the 223 starters not completing the day. Prior to the start the Race Director had warned as many as 30% might not complete day one, partly to push everyone into preparing well I am sure, and as he said this morning it was a pretty good day for running yesterday. He added, “Everyone is doing really well, which is fantastic.”
Among those who didn’t make it to the cut-off yesterday were Shuhei Akamine and Miyuki Tamura, two of the Japanese party. They missed the cut-off at Pen-y-Pass and didn’t complete the crossing of Snowdon but did not seem too downhearted this morning – and they have reason to be happy as it turns out because they are on honeymoon! “We want to do as much of the race as we can,” said Tamura, “and we are here together and can enjoy the beautiful scenery – it is a perfect honeymoon!”
They were arranging to be transported to the support point in the Rhinog hills so they can run the last part of today’s course and where ever possible those missing cut-offs will be allowed this option. (And encourage to take it – Ohly has said the race is not providing a bus tour of Wales.)
Once everyone is on their way camp has to be broken down, moved and rebuilt ready to receive and look after the runners at tonight’s second camp, which is near the town of Dolgellau on a commercial campsite at Cymmer Abbey.