At 14.50 at Cwm Brychan, the support and cut-off point on day 2 of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race there were almost 20 people resting in the shade around the race tent. Others were coming down the rocky hillside and there were still 32 kit bags laid out on the grass, which meant those runners had still to arrive. The cut-off for the day was at 15.00, and everyone had to have handed in their kit bag and left by that time ...
The minutes ticked down to the cut-off and some of those in residence set off. With two minutes to go Tom Withers ran in, grabbed some bars, and ran off again. Cutting it even closer were Andy Nuttall and Chris Williams who arrived with a minute to spare, only doing so by climbing a fence (which will earn them a double strike, and final warning, before both opt to retire from the event that evening), but they somehow managed to scramble out of the support point with seconds to spare and could continue. They joined about 10 others in the car park field who had summoned up the mental and physical energy to move out, anther 10 or so stayed where they were – their day was done, they couldn’t go on.
Day 2 support point
As this was happening a runner in an orange race shirt was running fast down the hill, but it was too late, he’d missed the cut-off by a couple of minutes and he too couldn’t go on. It was Ceri Rees and he was distraught and angry when told he’d missed the cut. He protested vehemently that he’d set off late due to medical treatment and was making good time, that he was 4th yesterday and raising lots of money for charity. It was to no avail, he was too late and that was that. He was in tears of frustration and despair, one of the marshals was crying, upset for him, but it had been made clear to all that the cut-offs were fixed and the marshals stuck to their task.
It was a bitter blow to Rees, and to all those who missed the cut-off today. It was a difficult one to make as the terrain was slow and difficult to cross. In the morning the Moelwyn hills were shrouded in dense low cloud making navigation slower and around midday as runners approached the Rhinog hills the sun came through. Then it was blisteringly hot and the terrain of mixed scrub, boulders and bog was harder going again. With yesterdays efforts in their legs many were struggling to move fast enough, and maybe regretting not starting that extra half hour earlier.
The race will organise transport for the 40 or so runners stopped at Cwm Brychan, which isn’t easy in itself as the road to get there is a very long, twisting single track with almost no passing places.
Some of those who retired had been in the support point for a long time, almost an hour in some cases. Once they’d stopped they just could not get going again, despite all the encouragement the marshals could give them. I spoke to Spanish racer Natalia Roman Lopez one of those who’d been there a long while. When I asked how she was getting on she pointed to her feet and shrugged wearily. “It is beautiful,” she said, “but so hard, and the days are so long. I am on holiday but now I think it’s maybe the wrong holiday for me.” She still seemed cheerful but couldn’t be persuaded to continue.
Swiss racer, Krirsten Isak was one of those who rested up for a long time, but then got moving again. “In the Alps we never go off the trail so much,” she said, “and we don’t have bogs you disappear into! I am slow, that is my problem.” Nevertheless, she moved slowly onward.
Vassos Alexander with high spirits progressing through day 2
The struggle to leave was as much mental as physical. Vassos Alexander came in almost an hour ahead of the cut off, and only just made it out again, after much encouragement. “A 100 mile race is a walk in the park compared any one of these days,” he said, “I’ve been found out and am out of my depth. I can’t run down over the rocks like these guys.” He’d lost his map in a fall, had blood showing through his shirt in a few places and wouldn’t take his shoes off for fear of the ‘blistered and bloody mess’ he’d find. Even so, he got up and moved off saying, “If I move I’m still in the game.” He left with Chris Mills for company, having ‘buddied up’ to help each other through, but for a while there he had been close to giving in.
One experienced racer who knows how much time can be ‘lost’ at a support point is Joe Faulkner, who has finished all 3 previous Dragon’s Back Races (including in 1992). He dealt with it by walking in, saying “You’re going nowhere standing still,” and leaving with his bag untouched. He overtook 27 people!
Through the afternoon those still on the course will continue south, heading for camp two, which is at Cymmer Abbey camp site near Dollgellau. For those who just made the cut it will be a long afternoon and evening as they press on, through the remainder of the Rhinog’s, over Diffwys and down to the head of the Mawddach Estuary to reach camp.