On the morning of day 3 of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race the cumulative effect of two hard days of mountain running is evident.
The medical tent is busy (it always is) and runners are up and about well ahead of their start time to be sure of setting off as early as possible for the long day ahead ... or they are having a lie in having decided their body can take no more punishment and it is time for a rest day.
The pre-race advice was that statistically those who complete day 3 stand a good chance of completing the full distance, so in many minds this is the crux day. It is a long one, 71km, with almost as much ascent as yesterday, and that is a daunting prospect on heavy legs and aching limbs.
Last night the toll of those who are moving too slowly to complete the race continued. Either with runners arriving well after dark and in a condition where they knew they could not continue today, which was the case with Vassos Alexander, or in a few cases with arrivals after the 23.00 course closure.
The two runners who hopped a fence to make the cut-off were last to arrive, and Andy Nuttall was contrite, knowing he’d behaved badly. (They will be penalised, and decided to leave the race, after finishing after the 11pm cut off). The race also had to pick up the Japanese couple who are on honeymoon – they would have arrived well after 23.00 despite setting off from the support point with the first runners.
This morning the race is organising who will go to the support point to re-start, who is missing a day and who is retired altogether, while at the same time setting off the majority who are still competitive.
The medics are busy strapping and blister patching for the day ahead and are taking the same firm but fair line as in all other aspects of the race. Chief medic Becci Leung said, “It is interesting that those who did the Cape Wrath Ultra with us are teaching their tent mates to deal with their own blisters and not to come to us”, and she added with a smile, “and they know now they’ll get little sympathy unless they really do need it. They are being sent back if they turn up without their blister kits, and persistent offenders have even been given a strike by the medical team!”
Race Director Shane Only has been busy making sure everyone is fairly treated, including reviewing film footage and disqualifying Ceri Rees for his behaviour when he missed yesterday’s cut-off. “I don’t want to be seen as strict,” he said, “I’ve just found that for the benefit of all in the event, competitors and staff, that it’s important to be consistent. You have to do that to deliver a professionally run event and keep everything running smoothly.”
Among those setting off this morning is Joe Faulkner. He has the accumulated knowledge of 3 past Dragon’s Back completions behind him and said, “I feel in good shape, and felt really good coming down into camp yesterday.” He’s told me he’s “out for a long walk” and that yesterday he kept catching up those moving faster by taking better routes and not stopping to look at the map so much. “I don’t think they like me now” he said, “they keep passing me and then seeing me again later!”
He knows better than anyone that the day will be a tough one and said that while the morning ascent of Cadair Idris (the summit of which can be seen from camp) is a big climb, it is the climbing later in the day which is harder to cope with, and a little unexpected as there are no obvious summits.
At the end of today the process of rest, recovery and, treatment will begin again, and the runners will once again decide if they can keep on moving towards the end of Dragon’s Back Race.