It’s been another scorcher on the penultimate day of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race, with the temperature hitting 25°C and the competitors facing a long run on tarmac into the final camp.
A long stretch of tarmac plays on the runners' minds ©guillemcasanova.com
There was still some early morning mist around as the early competitors set off but it quickly burned off and the runners had a day of blue skies and baking sunshine. The first half of the day was to the support point in Elan Village, a very picturesque spot which is a major visitor attraction in central Wales. The support point was well away from the busy visitor centre though and all of the competitors made it there in good time ahead of the 14.30 cut-off. (Ed Norman was however pulled out with an injured leg before this point.)
A misty start ©guillemcasanova.com
The course was at a lower level today (2400m of ascent) and with more of the distance on road (29%) and passed through some beautiful countryside and around two flooded valleys.
I spoke to US racer Mark Lattanzi walking up to CP5, a small summit just before the support point with extensive views across the hills. He said he was feeling better after a ‘recovery day’ yesterday. “The second day left me almost broken,” he said, “so I just had to get through yesterday and try to recover a bit, which I did.” He added, “This is such a hard race, and I’m amazed how lucky we have been with the weather. If it was wet and stormy it would be so much harder. I can’t think of anything I’ve done which is harder.” (He is a very prolific and experienced racer having taken part in many expedition adventure races and running events like Tor des Geants and Marathon des Sables.)
When I saw Wouter Huitzing of Holland later on he commented on the weather as well. “It’s like I’m Southern France or Spain,” he said, “It’s amazing. Enjoy!”
The route around the Elan Valley reservoirs provided more extensive views of the flooded valleys (which provide water to the English Midlands), using tracks which passed through woodland and pasture. I met the honeymoon couple from Japan here, and although they have only been able to complete short sections of the course they are still enjoying every moment and stopping to take lots of photos. As she passed ‘Mimi’ said, “It is so beautiful, it’s like in a fairy tale, and so peaceful here.”
Elan Valley support point ©guillemcasanova.com
The next section of route crossed one of the highest summits in mid-Wales, Drygarn Fawr (641m) before crossing into another area of flooded valleys, the Llyn Brianne Reservoir. It was in this final section that most of the road running was, following single track lanes that wind through the forests and around the reservoirs. There was only a very occasional car, but it was hard on the feet, there was a lot of glare off road, and it was mentally tough as the road seemed to go on and on before camp finally came into sight. The scenery was magnificent, but the runners were perhaps not in the best condition to appreciate it.
What they did appreciate was to arrive at the campsite, which is in a different location to 2015 ... and to be told there is a pub right next door! Rehydrating suddenly became more appealing.
A laid-back atmosphere at camp 4 ©Tom Hecht
Many of the runners did look sunburned and in severe need of rehydrating, none more so than Swiss racer Barbara Drews who was escorted into the finish, still on her own two feet, but only just. She was staggering and in a state of distress and taken straight off to the medical tent for attention.
At the time of writing there are many runners still to come into the finish but as things stand it is looking like 133 runners will set out tomorrow on the final stage.
No one who has got this far would underestimate the final day, and they shouldn’t – it is 63km, 2200m of ascent and 37% of the route is described as ‘trackless’ – the highest percentage on any day of the race. The racers will need to recover well for the final stage if they are to earn their coveted dragon trophy tomorrow.