The Dragon's Breath

5th Sep 2012

Reporting by Rob Howard /

It’s hot.  It’s very, very hot.

Day 3 is the hottest so far, and the heat is making life even more uncomfortable for the runners who are suffering dehydration and blisters. 

They had the opposite problem during the night as under the clear skies it was cold, not the night for a lightweight sleeping bag, especially when you are already exhausted. Some runners chose to rise early and set off on the big climb up Cader Idris while it was still cool, and to give themselves the longest amount of daylight to complete the day ahead.  It was a good tactic as the day warmed up quickly.  Every stream was a chance to refill and cool down, and sun cream and hats were essential kit.


The two leaders, Steve Birkinshaw and Rob Baker, opted to get as much rest as they could and once again set off together close to 9am.  They are still sharing a tent together so neither could spring a surprise on the other by starting early!  Baker was keen to get away as he was shivering.

Number 9, Ian Symington, was on a flyer and racing ahead of the field, but most had opted once again to form into small groups to help each other.  Symington said, “It was perfect crossing Cader today, there was a cool breeze. Couldn’t have been better!”

By the time the racers reached the support point for the day at Machynlleth they were two thirds of the day through and it was the hottest part of the day.  It took the first runners 7 hours to get there (slightly less for the leaders) so it’s going to be another long, long day and the slower competitors will find the cut-offs hard to hit, especially if they didn’t start as early as they could have.

The support point had been moved out of town as it was market day and the town was packed. It was also an irresistible stopping off point for the runners, who could not pass by the racks of sandwiches and coolers of cold drinks.  Most went shopping and one said the co-op gave him an express checkout.  Matt Davies came in clutching his ‘meal deal’ and keen to sit down and eat it.

The largest group to arrive included some of the highest placed runners, Mark Ford, Patrick Devine Wright, Sam Smith and Helene Whitaker.  They were supporting each other, but clearly competitive too.  There was no ‘hopping stopping’ for them and their transition was very quick.

Whitaker was the only one not to sit down, quickly drinking tea and water, dunking her hat in water and resupplying her small rucksack.  She poured water over her head too and the officials were spraying water onto all the racers to cool them down.  Whitaker left first, walking off up the road to find the next track.  (Ford even managed to take time out to send a text while he was there!)

Everyone was out of food, most saying they’d not expected it to take so long to get to the support point, and some said they’d been eating bilberries and blackberries on the way.

The two leaders came in together, both looking very hot and drawn, and they were relieved to hear they had gained some time on Whitaker.  Birkinshaw was struggling with his drop bag and cursing quietly as he couldn’t find what he wanted.  When told it was half way in the race as a whole he said, “That’s good, the second half is always physiologically easier as you are on the way to the finish.”  Baker said, “Don’t tell me that, it’s depressing!”

The final third of the day takes teams through a big area of forest and over the summit of Plynlimon to camp.  This area is the source of several rivers and will be wet underfoot, especially this year.  After the wettest summer for 100 years and with underfoot conditions so soggy it’s ironic the racers are being roasted in this Indian summer.

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