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Dragon’s Back 2017 Day 1

Starting the Crib Goch ridge
Dragons back start
Just before the start of Dragon’s Back

Overview of events!

Here is a quick overview of events. I will then go on to write a bit about what it is like to take part in Dragon’s Back Day 1. In short: It was EPIC!

First of all I would like to offer massive thanks to everyone that has helped and supported me. Many of you already know that I tripped coming out of Pen Y Pass, suffered some injuries to my right knee and then slowly made my way into the finish. I was in time and had completed the day 1 route, but my knee wasn’t in a good state. The medics took a look at it and with significant concern that it might be fractured decided that I shouldn’t continue. With the way my knee looked and was starting to feel I was really worried about causing any further damage, particularly if it was broken, so I agreed with their decision.

It was a heart wrenching decision to make. I hade put so much effort into being in the race, not just financially with the entry fee and travel, but also in fund raising effort and nine months of highly focussed training time with my coach Charles Miron. To turn up to a 5 day race and fail to start day 2 was horrible. I was only consoled a small amount when the medics said I had the best injury for the day, and a tiny bit of kudos was recovered when they said they had no idea how I hade made it from Pen Y Pass and around the Snowdon Horseshoe to the overnight camp with my knee in such a state! To be honest it didn’t hurt a massive amount, but my hands were also damaged. My level of movement was restricted and things were sore, limiting my ability to scramble up the sides of Crib Goch and making descending difficult.

When I finally got home and on to A&E the speed that they got me into x-ray also seemed to imply that they thought the knee might be broken. Very fortunately for me the x-ray came back clear. The restrictive bandages could come off and I was told that it would be ok. I just need to take it easy for a few days while it heals up. In the meantime I should focus on gradually increasing flexibility and was told strictly no running for a few days!

In other words a lot of drama to come out of the race with, a crushing DNF for a stupid fall, and then a bit of a damp squib when the x-ray came back. I am so relieved it is a damp squib though. All of this training wont be for nothing, and I don’t have to spend months losing fitness, going crazy and rehabbing a broken patella!

My “B” race for this year is the North Downs Way 100 in August. It was my backup race if Dragon’s Back were to go wrong. Now I shall divert my attention to it and put all of this fitness to running 100 miles non-stop for the first time in my life. I am aiming to do it in under 24 hours and I should have the fitness to achieve that goal.

Dragon’s Back Day 1

The first day of Dragon’s Back was really good fun. It is the most challenging day I have ever had in the hills and it took in some simply amazing mountains.

Conwy Castle
Hanging about in Conwy Castle

All competitors had registered the night before, and been giving a detailed race brief. I have never done an event organised by Shane Ohly before and I like his straight forward approach. The rules were clear cut as was the penalty system for infringing one of those rules. 223 would be on the start line.

Dragons back start
Just before the start of Dragon’s Back

First thing on Monday morning we were all there in Conwy Castle. We got to mill around the castle a bit and explore some of the towers. It felt very surreal, then the welsh male voice choir started up which added to the atmosphere. After the race photo, and bang on 7am, we were set off. The first bit didn’t really count while we wound our way out of the castle. The start “dib” point was at the exit. This meant that there was no impatience or rushing. We simply worked our way around the battlements in view of the first hill of the day. There was a lot of chatting and nervous joking up and down the line of runners.

Hill number 1
Looking at hill number one from Conwy Castle
Leaving Conwy Castle
Leaving Conwy Castle

Once we got out of the castle people started to run. Lots took off at quite a speed, but I joined a few others in walking most of the way up to the first summit. This was all in my plan, so I was quite happy to let others rush off.

Dragons Back CP1
Checkpoint 1

There was a small queue at the first checkpoint at the summit of Conwy Mountain, but we were soon on our way again. Runners would frequently swap places and exchange brief conversations as we all went at our own paces. We made our way up and up, with views of Conwy chasing us into the higher mountains through much of the morning. The skies were overcast, but the air was clear with good views of Anglesey.

Before long we were getting into the mountains proper. The ground started to get more rocky and challenging. Then the BIG mountains came into view with Tryfan and Snowdon. We weren’t even half way in and we could almost see the finish!!!

rocky summit
One of many rocky summits
flat on Dragons Back
This is what flat often seemed to look like on Dragons Back Day 1
Early views of Tryfan
Early views of Tryfan

As we descended to the mid way supply point at Llyn Ogwn we got our first taste of what the rest of the day would be like with a scramble down from Pen Yr Ole Wen.

Climbing down from Pen Yr Ole Wen
Climbing down from Pen Yr Ole Wen

My fuelling and hydration was going to plan and at the supply point I felt really good. I was chatting with other runners and everyone seemed keen to crack on and start climbing Tryfan. For those that don’t know Tryfan is a massing lump of rock rising up to 830 metres. It is covered with scrambling and climbing routes, with no easy routes to the top. We took the most straightforward route, but were soon in to proper scrambling territory. It was great fun, and before the clouds started to close in the views were spectacular.

A view from Tryfan
A view from Tryfan

Tryfan is where I discovered that I should have spent a bit more time training on the climbing wall. My pace slowed a lot as the hill got steeper. I was comfortably moving forwards, but many others were much quicker than me. I soon crested the summit and stuck my head out in to the wind. I dibbed and moved along heading off Tryfan and then into the Glyders. More rocks and scrambling. I was loving it.

Coming off of Glyder Fawr, Pen Y Pass soon came into view. The final point of civilisation before we would push on up Crib Goch and into the full Snowdon Horseshoe.

Approaching Pen Y Pass
Approaching Pen Y Pass

I moved some water around at Pen Y Pass and took a moment to make sure I had all the food in all of the right places. I crossed the road and made my way through the car park. Calling another runner over who wasn’t sure of the exit. I then jogged ahead and on to the foot of the trail up Crib Goch. It was wide, flat and rocky. I took a sip of a drink, then stubbed my toe. My body tipped forwards, with my feet scrabbling to catch up. They couldn’t do it. Now my arms were flailing. I was picking up speed. This was going to hurt. Try to relax. BANG! I bounced and slid along the trail. The pain was instant with lots of body parts shouting at once. I rolled onto my back and tried not to throw up.

A few moments later the lady runner that I had redirected in the car park came past. I must have looked an odd sight from a distance. I was simply reclining on the path, leaning on my rucksack. As she got closer though she could see the blood on my leg and hands asked if I was ok. To be honest I had no idea at that point. I told her to go on. I was only a few hundred metres from the medic stationed at Pen Y Pass. I would sit on the path and compose myself while deciding what to do.

While I was sat there about 10 runners stopped in all to make sure I was ok. They were brilliant, and it was really good for them all to offer. I didn’t take any of them up on it though, and as the pain settled out and the shock subsided I made my way to my feet.

I took a step towards Crib Goch, then another, then another. Well, my body still worked. My ego and self confidence were dented, but I could move. Onwards! I apologise to anyone behind me who had to encounter blood speckled rocks. I wasn’t gushing or dripping blood, but the palm of my left hand was torn up and I needed all of my limbs to be able to grip to the sides and top of Crib Goch, so the odd smear was inevitable. I was very careful not to touch that knee on anything though!

The path that bit me
The path that bit me
Part way up Crib Goch
Part way up Crib Goch
Starting the Crib Goch ridge
Starting the Crib Goch ridge – The easy bit!

I had a sense of humour failure and a “navigational issue” on the latter half of Crib Goch which resulted in an extra loose and rocky scramble to re-attain the ridge line. The way to avoid any similar navigational issue at any point on the Dragon’s Back is to never take the easy path at a T junction. It is never the easy path on Dragons Back …. 🙂

My knee was pulling really tight on the final descent, so I walked it in. The folk I had been running with trundled off into the distance and I was soon left alone in the fading light. I had been out so long that my GPS battery was going flat, and my mind turned to thoughts of the finish. Here I made a daft second navigational error. I was on mandatory route by this point, so I had to retrace my steps a couple of hundred metres back up the hill to be able to regain it without a penalty.

Finally I crossed the finish. The official stats were 3800m ascent over 52km, just 32 miles. My watch showed me that it had taken me 14 hours and 36 minutes! It also showed 55km and 4100m ascent which is probably about right when my errors were factored in.

The medics

The support and help that I had from the medics was excellent. Their first thought was that my knee was bruised and that I should decide in the morning whether to continue or not. They commended me on having a decent injury and not making any fuss about it. They had seen lesser wounds earlier with a lot more fuss being giving.

A further poke and a prod as the swelling grew gave the medics further cause for concern which is when they started to worry that it might be fractured. The knee no longer wanted to bend and I was having difficulty walking. The portable toilets were another interesting challenge with an unbending leg! The medics got me food and drink, they made sure I was kept warm.

To cut a long story short they made a call on their satellite phone to my Mum (with my permission), who had dropped me at the race start, and asked her to come and get me in the morning. They advised me to get to A&E as soon as possible, but that it should be ok to wait until I got to Plymouth. If the cuts had been deeper they would have taken me to A&E right there and then.

I had an emotional moment in a portable toilet where nobody could see me. The last thing I wanted to do was quit. The rest of my body felt tired but good. Without the stupid fall I would have been up and away and into stage 2 at 6am the following day. I felt so frustrated. I pulled myself together, then spent half an hour trying to get changed and into my sleeping bag, wishing that I was more flexible. I can’t touch my toes at the best of times, this was turning into a comedy sketch!

What next!

After this disappointment I am going to capitalise on the fitness that I have and focus it into my B race for the year. This is the North Downs Way 100 in early August. It will be my first attempt at running 100 miles and I am naively going to try and do it in under 24 hours. You get a better medal if you finish it in under 24 hours!

I am then going to turn my focus to the next running of the Dragon’s Back in 2019. I want a finish. I want a Dragon Trophy and I want to remove the shade of this DNF. I think that part of this will involve withdrawing from the Marathon Des Sables in 2018. I want to divert that money into my Dragon’s Back 2019 training fund to be able to make the most of the lessons I have learnt this time around. I want to do more rock climbing. Train on more 1000m hills and learn to run on flat trails……..

On the plus side the effort has managed to raise a brilliant £840 for Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team – Plymouth. Thank you so much for your support. I am so sorry for this disappointing DNF and will give you value for your money at the NDW100 on the 5th August 2017.


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