A Long Way to Nowhere

5th Sep 2012

Reporting by Rob Howard / www.SleepMonsters.com

It was another long day on the Dragon’s Back Race and at the end of it racers arrived at a sheep barn high on the mid-Wales hills to find their tents set up inside.  As Helene Whitaker put it, “I’ve never been so happy to see a tent set up in sheep shit before!”  (To be fair there was some hay too.)

The reason she was happy was surviving day 3.  “I’ve been trying to block it from my memory,” she said. “It’s the hardest day and I knew if I didn’t finish it in reasonable shape I’d never make tomorrow when the tussocks are some of the worst on the race.  So I’m glad it’s over and to be here in one piece. I had a group to run with all day and that helped, and I carried two water bottles with me at all times and managed to stay hydrated, so I was O.K.”

The leader s in the men’s race finished together and I asked them if they were racing or just getting around the course now. I got slightly different answers.  “We decided not to race it,” said Birkinshaw, “it’s too hard to race such long days, day after day.  I was expecting around 7 hour days, not 9 hour days.”

Rob Baker was a little more hesitant about the idea of not racing ... but then he is the one who is behind. “I only entered this a month ago,” he said, “and it’s not my priority for the year. I also said I would not be madly competitive and am really happy with my position so far .... but ... if I want to make a race of it I have to do it tomorrow.  The trouble is Steve is so good at what he does, and I’ve never run this far before so if I race it I could blow up completely ... we’ll have to see how it goes.”

The plan for some runners to start at midway today meant they reached camp easily in daylight and could relax in the sun.  The Spanish and French racers were cheering in other runners and enjoying camping in a sheep barn!  (The day 3 camp 20 years ago was also in a sheep barn which I think was in the same place, but it looks like the barn has been rebuilt.) 

At the back of the race the long and hot run to the support point today meant another group of racers missed the final cut off and were transported around to camp.  (These were Anne Ver Hoef, Steve Dubieniec, Brenda Williams, Bruno Legrand, Richard Townsend, Peter Dewulf, Mark Rawlinson and Jonathan White.)

As the evening drew on and the sun set, the temperature dropped very quickly and the camp gradually filled up.  There is always a fair bit of activity in the camp.  The kitchens are busy of course, serving soup, bread and chips, supplying endless amounts of cake, and later the evening meal, and the runners sit around the dining tables to chat or wander off to wash in nearby streams.  (This is where the drinking water comes from too.)

There is also a detailed nutrition study being undertaken so many are weighed twice each day and give details of all they’ve eaten and keep the packets to give to the researches so they can work out the calorie count later. There is a volunteer offering the Bowen technique too, a gentle hands on therapy to reset, repair and balance the body, so runners are laid out on rows of tables being given gentle massage.  The traditional medic is busy too of course, mainly with blisters and exhaustion and dehydration, and he had to go to nearby hospitals for more supplies today.  (Scalpels, saline, gauze etc.)

As night sets in the camp quietens, but until the last runners are accounted for all the volunteers and supporters are on hand for them.

[The day 3 results will be published on www.sportident.co.uk tomorrow and photos are on SleepMonsters at http://www.sleepmonsters.com/racereport.php?page_action=gal&race_id=9939]

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