Dragon's Back RaceThe Dragon's Back Race starts inside Conwy Castle, and participants 'run' along the castle walls before heading up onto the Snowdonia mountains. The Welsh Male Voice choir added to the atmosphere, and prior to the start I drifted to the back, feeling unattached and struggled to get involved. Big crowds and ceremony aren't my style, and I just wanted to get started.
I didn't enjoy the morning of Day One. It's a long steady drag up onto the Carnedd massif, although higher up, the cloud and clag, and running a section with my friend Mel lifted my spirits. I started to pass many people on the descent to Ogwen, and went quickly through the CP without access to my drop-bag. The rocky ground of the Glyders suits me but, I was struggling for 'CoMo' ...Commitment and Momentum a mantra I use when Mountain Biking over technical ground and in many ways very lacking this week.
Something needed to change so I stopped for a cup of Earl Grey at the Pen-y-Pass YHA checkpoint. I enjoyed it so much, I had a second one ( well why not?) and then set off afresh for the scrambling climb of Crib Goch.
'Ok, let's see if I can pass ten people on the long descent off Snowdon.' All went well and I enjoyed the company of 'Basil' on the climb up Lliwedd. I descended well, relaxed and easy and finished Day One comfortably. Good food and sleep was my priority, that and to avoid the early start queues.
I had a good stretch and massage on my old school 9mm 'Karrimat' and then went to lay out my Thermarest. 'Where is it, Oh no...left in the car. No worries, let's get some more dinner....'
A good hour spent eating and chatting then off to bed. I pull out my Down quilt, ready to settle down, massage my feet, and let them breath, only to discover I've packed my Rab Top Bag, rather than the quilt. Little thing's but each very annoying - let's call them Marginal Losses, and added to the forgotten trekking poles.
I did sleep well, which was a bonus and decided on a relatively late start.
CoMo and Marginal LossesDay Two had begun with what only can be described as a comedy of numpty errors, failing the kit check mis-packing my map, breaking safety pins, and even once started being called back by tent mate Oli as he found my phone stashed in our tent. The compensation of a later start is a peaceful warm up over the Moelwyns and I found finally found my Dragon's Back rhythm ascending out of Maentrwog, enjoying the next few miles with Peter, a first timer who had previously volunteered in the Ourea events team.
Pushing on comfortably towards the mid-day Checkpoint, I was starting to pass those who were suffering and who would be tight up against the CP cut-off time. I was moving well, feeling much better and actually running racing lines towards Cwm Bychan. By cutting corners off the snaking 'DBR trod', I was passing small groups of suffering Dragonettes, (sadly including Sarah Fuller, who'd 'had an horrendous morning if weapons grade suffering' )
With twenty five minutes to cut-off I was moving well - walking and running on firmer ground and bed rock. I was really starting to enjoy myself but conscious I need to bear left and drop into the valley. Glancing left I'd lost sight of the DBR snaking peleton and a quick glance at the compass confirmed I need to keep going left.
'No Worries, time is Ok' I thought and continued, inspired by the terrain and with adrenaline rising. Then things got worse; more rough ground, thick heather, vicious gorse and big boulders and all on slope gentle facing the wrong aspect. I stopped on a large boulder. Map out, reading glasses out, compass...accurately locate myself. Oh shit, I'm actually nearly 1km right of the penultimate CP, at the right height, but that ground looks hard! I gave it another five minutes of effort, on equally slow and ground and jumped up onto another large flat boulder... looking back I'd only covered about 300 metres.
'Game Over' I said out loud. Only a miracle would have me making the cut-off and I just didn't have the fight for that. A slight sense of numbness and shock quickly subsided as I navigated and ran well, heading intentionally rightwards to the road and enjoying being back in control.
Cwm Bychan is a tranquil place, accessible only by a narrow gated road. I use to come here quite often as a teenage as it's the road end access point to the Rhinogs if you come by the West coast train. Llyn Cwm Bychan is beautiful, still and peaceful and I thought about taking a swim, but thought anyone who might be watching my tracker might get a bit worried, or laugh maybe?
I walked the 1km up the road to the CP. I wondered how I was, what did I feel, not doubt I would be asked a few times today, possibly with a camera in front of me. I simply felt Calm and Content.
So, they you have it folks .....Dragon's Back No.5 was not to be. I messed up, perhaps under prepared and certainly not on form.
Time to Go HomeWith a brew in hand, thanks to Captain Cowie, I heard that Mel had made it through the cut-off and was in good spirits. Then Sarah arrived missing the cut-off. We both had tried, there were tears of sadness, effort and relief.
Then another runner was seen coming back down from the Rhinogs. This was Mel, she was Ok, but was sore, and felt that she'd be slow over the second half of the route, be late and more importantly chasing darkness and didn't want to be a liability to herself or others. A brave decision. Well Done, Mel.
After the unexpected, but strangely enjoyable bus drive round the Camp Two, (thank you Emily) I had a quiet evening in camp, keeping out of the way and doing my best to support my tent mates, all of which were going well. No half days for me; I was going home in the morning. Lying in your tent in racing gear, no longer in 'the game' you are aware of the smell, stickiness and ache of your body and stupidity of my sleeping bag and mat combo mistakes were annoying. I also didn't have any proper trousers.
Beautiful BlaenauSo, an early bus to Blaenau Ffestiniog, a couple of hours in the community cafe, excellent customer service, including a free coffee and finding me a charging lead, then banter and breakfast. Another scenic bus trip over to Conwy and I was home for 4pm. The dirty washing was in the machine and DBR washed away by 6pm.
There was lots to do at home. My 'CBA*' attitude at the start of the race was a bit worrying, but I had things to do. DBR was just Week One of a three week road trip: including a trip to my sisters house in Pembrokeshire and then onto Somerset for work with James Thurlow and Open Adventure.
*CBA - (Can't Be Arsed) I felt somewhat unmotivated and lacking in passion for this year's race. I was under no illusions as to how tough it is. 2012 was toughest - 2017 tough due to the very hot weather and super dry mountains. During this year's race the weather forecast steadily improved and I had no desire to repeat the fight to get through the heat of 2017.
There is no doubt I was under par in terms of mental and emotional preparation. My packing and admin showed up some errors and I was maybe complacent. For example, I realised I'd forgotten my poles and I drive down the M6. I would have used them from Day Two onwards, but thought, 'Oh Well, perhaps they are cheat sticks ...and I'll just have to manage without'. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to replace them, maybe I wanted the additional challenge.
Equally so, you can't pull off such big adventures without great commitment and drive. It was simply lacking .... I could only see a sweaty, sunburning sufferfest ahead, and very little enjoyable challenge.
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