Dragons Back Race

This is more of a tool for me to process all the events of my week rather than a race report but you might find it interesting and if anyone has any plans to do this in the future it might be helpful, although hopefully you won’t have a heat wave so you won’t need any of this ?

After being on the volunteer team last year, I saw how beautiful Conwy was and persuaded Alan to come down with me for the weekend before the race start. We stayed in a B&B which was right opposite the registration area, which was even closer than I initially thought so a really good spot, the majority of the other guests were also would be Dragons. We had a wander round the town on Saturday afternoon and evening in the sunshine. It was lovely weather for a holiday! On Sunday, I registered early, had my kit checked and handed over my dry bags, which was a relief as I had packed and repacked them numerous times over the last few weeks and I knew as long as I had them, I would keep re-arranging them. There are strict rules for your dry bags and they must be particular Ortileb models and the Camp bag no more than 15kg and the support bag no more than 2.5kg. My camp bag was under weight – phew, but my support bag was overweight. I had to make a few last minute decisions about what I would ditch and what I could transfer over to my camp bag. I was glad I decided to do this now as I did not need that stress at 5am on race morning. After a wander round the castle walls and a quiet afternoon, race briefing was at 6pm – I don’t think I have ever felt such a feeling of imposter syndrome, everyone looked so fit and toned and strong. There were a few professional athletes – looking very professional! I was a bit subdued after this but Alan soon talked some sense and confidence into me as we went for fish and chips. It was an early night but I am not sure I slept very well thinking of what awaited me.

Day 1 – Conwy Castle to Nant Gwynant
I was feeling incredibly nervous and sick, I queued for the toilet about 3 times and although we were meant to be in the castle walls by 5.30am I was still hanging around at 5.40am. Eventually I could put it off no longer and Alan and I made our way in, through the gift shop, across the bridge and up the zig zagging path to the Castle entrance, here we split. Competitors into the ground floor of the castle, and supporters high on the castle battlements looking down on us. It truly is one of the most magical race starts I have ever experienced – a medieval castle, male welsh choir singing, dawn breaking and the supporters looking down on us surrounded by all the different nationalities flags fluttering in the wind. The choir stopped singing, we were given our briefing and then we were off. I hung back so I was one of the last ones out of the castle, down the zig zagging path, across the bridge, through the gift shop (how many races do you get to run through a gift shop) and onto the castle walls. We ran along the castle walls until we reached the far end of town and then dropped down onto the road and out of Conwy into the mountains.

I spent the beginning of the race taking it easy but slowly passing and picking off other runners. I checked off the first couple of checkpoints, they are little flags like you get in orienteering and you have to touch them to be recorded. If you miss more than three over the course of the week you are no longer able to be competitive and if it is deemed that you have gained an advantage by missing them, you get time penalties. As we came to the 2nd or 3rd checkpoint of the day I heard accordion music and thought it must have been a local come up to cheer us on and play music, but it turned out to be Carmine who ran the whole event with an accordion on his back and played it at the top of every hill! I was mindful of my time but I was doing well, the sun was climbing and it was getting warmer but I felt good, well within the time limits and still passing people. At about 20k we started our steep descent towards the Ogwen Valley it was getting so hot, I really had to concentrate as it was rocky and not something I could move fast over, I was glad I had spent a day running around on the Cobbler as there were sections that felt very similar to that. There are not always obvious paths so if you have not recced the route you don’t know the best lines to go and can get deeper into bogs or onto a sharper rockier descent. All the time as we got lower down the heat was increasing. When I came to the bottom of the descent there was a short road section, the heat was incredible down here. I was too hot to run along the road and just walked. The reservoir that we were passing looked incredibly inviting. I came into the support point which was set up in a car park at the bottom of Tryfan with gazebos for cover and lots of chairs. There are 2 main points to each day, the support point and the water point. At the support point you are given your support bag which you have packed and has whatever you may want at more or less the half way point of each day, more food, a change of clothes, socks, shoes. The race does not provide you with anything apart from water during the day – so anything you want you have to pack it. It was a lovely feeling coming into the support point as there were lots of familiar faces from people I had met the year before when I was a volunteer, who were back to volunteer again this year. It really did make a difference to see some friendly faces as I had gone down on my own not knowing anyone. I was well ahead of the cut off at the support point so sat down in the shade, ate some food, changed my socks, fixed my feet and tried to cool down a little. The event staff had collected buckets of water from the reservoir for you to dunk your head/buff/hat so I soaked my buff and headed off up Tryfan. As I left the checkpoint there was still about 45 mins to cut off so I felt relaxed and thought I was making good time. However, as I started to climb Tryfan the heat seemed to multiply tenfold. It was so hot, I was moving so slowly. I had recced this section in May so I knew what was to come, I knew it was steep and there was scrambling at the top but it was not so bad, today was a very different story. Every step was laboured and I had to keep stopping to get my breath. There was no wind, the sun was like a furnace and the heat was radiating back off the rocks. As slow as I was moving – no one was moving fast, the whole hillside felt like it was in some sort of time glitch, no one ahead or behind me was moving any faster and it was just a total slog to make it up to the top. As I climbed I passed some runners who were just sat at the side of the path, they said they were okay or it was just cramp and I continued on my way. As I scrambled up to the very top I thought I had reached the checkpoint as there were 4 or 5 people sat down in a shaded corner, however it was not the checkpoint they were just sheltering from the sun and after a hello I carried on scrambling until I located the checkpoint. I looked at my cribsheet of times and could not believe I was only about 5 mins off the advised time, what on earth had happened! I was so far ahead and now I was chasing cut offs already.

The next section is a rocky, bouldering, scrambling section across the top of Tryfan towards the Glyders. There were some climbers up here enjoying the sun, bare chested with helmets jumping across the rocks making it look very easy, but I was on 3 points of contact trying to manoeuvre across and down. The climb up to the Glyders is a scree filled hillside and it is tricky to climb without sliding back down or sending a rockfall onto the runners below. I reached the top but although you are on flatter ground, it is not easy ground to negotiate with large rocks scattered around and boulder fields to clamber over and one section looks like something in a science fiction novel with huge angular rocks stretching far into the sky like fingers. We passed another runner who was flat out and had one of the hill crew with him, they were calling for help on the radio and saying he would need evacuated out. I was with a little group of runners and we stopped and asked if we could help or if there was anything we could do, but we were sent on our way. I knew I had another steep tricky descent to the water point and cut off was at 16.40. I had about 20 minutes to descend and I decided to go for it. I ran as fast and hard as I could down the hill but it is not a smooth runnable hill and I kept going over my ankle or twisting my knee so would have to slow down and take it easy for a bit and then try and pick it up again. I was desperately trying to remember the line I had taken when I had done the recce and which way we had been advised to go to miss the bogs, but I ran straight into them. I could see the Pen Y Pass car park and Youth Hostel from where I was which is where the cut off was and realised that I was not going to make it. It was tantalisingly close but I knew it was out of reach. I still wanted to get there as quickly as I could but as I descended the temperature was just increasing and my extra exertion in trying to run fast down the hill increased my body temperature and I could feel my breathing turn into panting. I arrived in the checkpoint 10 minutes past the cut off and that was that. My race was over. I could not believe I had timed out already – I had not even gone over Crib Goch or the Snowden horseshoe. Caz and Sy who were at the water point were lovely and gave me a big hug, told me to sit down in the shade and that the youth hostel had cold juice and ice lollys and to go and get some, so thats what I did. As I sat and ate my ice cream the checkpoint filled up with more and more runners who had also missed the checkpoint. A minibus came and collected us and took us back to camp which was just a 10 minute drive. It was not the way I wanted to enter camp for the first time.
Once in camp, we went through the finish funnel, had our numbers scanned and were asked if we were going home or staying on as a hatchling.

The hatchling is a way to keep timed out or injured runners within the event, it has always been there but this year it was official and you would be awarded a hatchling trophy at the end of the week instead of a dragon if you stayed on course. I chose to go onto the hatchling course, my aim was to get to Cardiff and if took the hatchling to get there, then that is what I would do.

I was shown to my tent that would be home for the week, I was in tent number 2 and there were already 2 of my tent mates there, they had been timed out at the support point earlier in the day. The big blue tents are famous at Dragons Back and each tent sleeps 8 people in 4 pods. Our camp bags were already in here so I pulled out my mat and sleeping bag and then set about heading to the marquees to get something to eat and head down to the river to have a wash. Each camp is always set up by a river or a stream and these are the only washing facilities while you are away.

I prepared my hill pack with food and set out my clothes for the next day and then sat in the communal tent eating and chatting to other competitors. It was obvious there were a lot of people who had been timed out or had succome to the heat in one way or another.

As night went on, our remaining tent mates returned from their race day, some late into the night.

Day 2 – Nant Gwynant to Dolgellau
I had to inform the Info Team which hatchling course I was deciding to do the night before, I had chosen the morning section as it had the longer distance and most elevation.
Ourea Events had also decided that in light of the heat and the effect on the runners on the first day that now there would be an additional half hour given at the support point. Normally this event is renowned for its strict cut off times and you have to be through and out the checkpoint by the cut off time. However because of the weather you now just had to be in the check point by the cut off time and you had an additional half an hour to cool down, rehydryate and eat before leaving the checkpoint. The cut off time at the end of the day had also been extended to 10.30pm. The extra half hour would not be added to your time overall.

Our tent was awake by around 4am with everyone getting dressed, taping feet and preparing for the day ahead, as 5 of my tent mates were still on the full course, I let them get ready before I started getting prepared myself. Once ready, I had breakfast – there is so much food available but I found it hard eating so early in the morning, but was aware that I needed to fuel as much as I could. I went through kit check – you need to have a kit check each morning where you are asked for 3 random things from the mandatory kit list, handed over my camp and support bag and made my way to the start line.

The course opens at 6am every morning, the majority of runners try to leave at this time so you have the most time on course. The faster runners are told that they cannot leave before 7am or 8am so they don’t arrive at checkpoints/support points before they are set up and to give the camp team time to collapse camp, move on and set up the next nights camp.

I left around 6.15 and ran out of camp, the first few miles were on road before turning off onto some farmland and then climbing Cnicht, it was still hot but today was windier and I enjoyed the wind and the cooling effect it had. I had such a negative mind set, not something I have really experienced before and although moving well and keeping up with the pack I was beset with thoughts of being a rubbish runner and not good enough and why was I even on this journey. I was running on my own and in a real dark cloud of my own making.


After Cnicht I experienced the famous bum slide down the hillside and spent the rest of the day picking grass and heather out my shorts. There was a steep out and back to the top of Moelwyn Bach and I reached the trig point at the same time as some of the lead runners, they disappeared out of sight quickly while I negotiated the steep, rocky slopes. The descent led to a path that was head high with ferns and broken walls down towards a railway track but as we got lower, the sun got hotter and all the wind we had had higher up completely left us. I was having to walk as I was so hot and trying to pick my way over the ground. We ran a short section along the Ffestiniog Railway and had the people from the steam train waving at us as we ran past. The water point is always a high point as you get so much support from the volunteers and they were always dressed up with costumes and wigs, it was always fun seeing what todays outfit was.

After leaving the water point, we snaked along the valley and then up to open hillside, the heat was building again, and the runners I had been with earlier had spread out. I was walking a bit and following my map, trying to stay on route. Another runner joined me and we navigated together. It was incredibly hot and the bogs that we were walking through were the only thing that was keeping us cool. I noticed that the runner I was with was getting quiet and seemed to be struggling a bit, it turned out his hat had blown away in the high winds earlier in the morning and he had no protection for his head, he was running out of water and was feeling severely dehydrated and unwell. I kept with him and told him we had another few kms until the support point, there was no shade but nothing else to do but keep moving. I gave him my visor and although it did nothing for the top of his head, at least it kept some sun off his face. My tent mate came past and I told her the situation and she ran on ahead to let the support point know that we were coming in and that we might need medical assistance. It seemed to take an age to get down to the support point, but as we did the medics swooped into action and took him away into the shade and got him to lie down and doused him in water and made sure he was drinking. Relieved we had made it I sat down, ate and waited for the minibus to take us back to camp.

Back at camp our tent hatchling count had increased as one of my tent mates had missed the cut off at the support point. Our tent now had 7 occupants, 1 had gone home with an injury, 3 of us were on the hatchling and 4 still on the full dragon.

Camp Admin is so important and the one thing I had drummed into me prior to the event, I was starting to get my routine sorted, I had a recovery shake, sorted my hill pack, food and clothes for the next day, made my bed up for evening, jumped in the river and had something to eat. The river today was wonderful and we all lay about it in for about 40 minutes, this is a luxury you do not have unless you are one of the very fastest runners – or on the hatchling course.

Day 3 – Dolgellau to Ceredigion
Again I had chosen to do the first section, it catches the coolest part of the day as well as again being the longer section with most elevation. I was getting into a routine now and was up early, just after the full dragons in my tent, my feet had taken quite a battering the first couple of days and I had bad blisters that I had tried to pop and dress. As part of the compulsory kit you need to have a big blister kit and I honestly did not really think I would use it, it turned out I nearly ran it dry over the course of the week. My feet had only just recovered from Lakeland 100, they were quite tender and some of the blisters were in exactly the same place as I had them previously. I don’t think I had done myself any favours as the skin was new and fragile and did not like this new abuse I was putting them under. I changed my shoes to my Altras thinking they had a bit more cushioning and would switch up the hot spots. I had got some advice from the medical tent the night before about taping so was trying some new techniques.

I started running at about 6.10, oh and it was my birthday today too! The first few miles were sore underfoot, before long we started climbing and I could see Cadar Idris in the distance. I was trying to keep my feet dry for as long as possible as I had put moleskin on my feet however there was not much chance of this as the lower slopes were boggy and my feet got wet pretty quickly. I had to sit down shortly after the first checkpoint and try and sort my feet out, once done I started running again but minus some of the padding I had started with. I absolutely loved Cadar Idris, after the harsh rocky landscape of the first couple of days. A few people said that all their recces up here the weather had been awful and there had been no views but today the views were incredible and you could see for miles, I was having such a lovely time. There was a long steep descent down to checkpoint 5 and the water point, it was so incredibly hot. We stopped at the few water sources on the way down and dunked hats, buffs, heads under and into the water and as we got into the valley it was stifling. I got into the water stop well before the cut off and filled up my water again, each day I was carrying around 2.5 – 3 litres, 1.5/2 litres in my bladder and 2 x 500m in my front water bottles, I was drinking it all and refilling completely at the water stops. I don’t think I have ever drunk so much, I am normally lucky to drink only one of my bottles, it was a real sign of just how hot it was, but it is also incredibly heavy carrying all this water along with your mandatory kit.

After refilling all my water I set off again, there were a few steep inclines and then a road section, after leaving the road the path headed up, it was a track with open hillside on either side – and absolutely no shade and so still. I was leap frogging with a runner who was still on the full dragon course and we chatted and pulled away from each other then caught up had another chat and pulled away again. There were a couple of little streams that cut across the path and we stopped at every one soaking our hats and buffs and pouring water over our heads and neck. We were moving pretty slowly and after a bit came to a larger river, another runner who knew the area shouted that this would be our last water source so to make the most of it and he took off his pack and lay down completely in the river, water flowing right over the top of him. He lay there for a few minutes, jumped up put his pack back on and said make sure you get in. Both myself and Mark who I was leapfrogging had quite bad blisters on our feet and we did not want to completely submerge ourselves and make our feet worse.


I soaked myself as much as possible and started moving onwards. In the distance we could see a steep hillside that looked like it had little trees on it, but we soon realised they were not trees, they were people and that we would soon be one of those little bent over figures moving incredibly slowly up the very steep hill. After summiting this hill, I waited for Mark to see that he was okay as I could see he was struggling, he soon made it to the top, both of us complaining about how incredibly hot it was and then continued running. I decided to stop and phone Alan as I had not spoken to him that day and I had a phone signal. After chatting to Alan for a bit I began running again and before long came across my leapfrog buddy. We had just passed a couple of other runners who had been sitting on the crest of a little hill and they followed on behind us. Mark started staggering and was caught by the two German runners we had just passed. We sat him down and I got my waterproof out and held it above him trying to create some shade while one of the German runners asked Mark lots of questions about how he was feeling, got him to drink some water and gave him a bit of a time out. Luckily it turned out he was ex-army and red cross so knew what he was doing. After a while we all started moving again, but very slowly. Another couple of runners came up behind us knew the route, they said that there was a lovely cool shady woodland shortly but to get there as quickly as possible we needed to miss out the next checkpoint which was just an out and back up a big hill. Now in the shade, Mark was starting to feel a bit better but as we moved through the woods, suddenly one of the German runners who had helped us started feeling unwell and was wretching and being sick. We all sat down again giving everyone a chance to recover, it turned out that both of the German runners has been feeling unwell when we came across them, but a collapsing runner trumped the nausea they had been feeling. We started moving again down the hill, we were about 4/5kms from the support point and we realised we would never make the cut offs now. As we rounded a corner, Kieran, one of the runners that had been with us earlier was sitting with another runner at the side of the path, this poor runner had woken up in a bush after falling unconscious while running down the hill, he was so lucky he was on more benign ground than we had been on earlier. We all sat down beside this new casualty who had luckily managed to pick himself up, although he did not know how long he had been out for, and got himself into some shade by the main path. There were more phone calls made to race control and medics were despatched to help this fallen runner. There were now 6 of us, 4 ill runners, myself and Kieran. After sitting with the runners for about 10 minutes Kieran and I knew that we needed to get going, the unwell runners were now starting to recover, we made sure they all had lots of water and the medics were on their way to look after them. The would drive as far as they could and walk the last section and these runners would get driven back to camp – but we knew that we would not be collected and still needed to get to the support point.

It was a long walk to the next checkpoint and we passed the medics on the way up as we made our way down. The Support Point was in the village of Machynlleth and we eventually arrived after the checkpoint had closed. My feet were so sore, I think walking is actually more painful than running, I could feel the sores and blisters and I had some new hot spots that I knew would need attention. I could not wait to take my shoes off.
We were bussed back to camp and as we were scanned in, I saw a big sign saying happy birthday and then the start/finish team all started signing me happy birthday. This was not a birthday I was going to forget in a hurry!

Our tent had another hatchling tonight, another one of our tentmates was timed out so we were now 3 dragons and 4 hatchlings.

Day 4 – Fagwr Fawr to Rhandirmwyn
Again I chose to run the first part of the day, when I originally signed up for this race, I thought that I would be going for the full Dragon, and if I got timed out, I would still try and run full days. Things were not panning out this way, the heat was really affecting me and each day I was only running the half day, although I had set off the previous days with an idea in the back of my head that if I reached the support point in time, I still had the option to do the full day.

My morning followed the now usual routine, I had another taping technique for my feet, the change of shoes had helped the blisters and my new skills with K tape were showing. I had a couple of sores that were causing me issues but I was managing to get on with it.

I left camp at around 6.30, my latest time yet and the extra time showed as I had very few runners around me to begin with. There was a big climb out of camp and then a boggy traverse before the woods of death! I had seen a couple of photos of these woods from recces but I could not remember where they were, I soon found out. The descent was so steep and muddy and slidey with a bit of a drop at one point that I was concerned I would go over the edge, the trees also had lots of broken branches just at face height, as I got to a really tricky bit all the speedy and front runners came by. I tried really had to get off the path, but there was just nowhere to go. I watched how they negotiated the slopes and mud and fallen trees and when there was a gap tried to match what they had done, but not very successfully! This day was lovely, it was cloudier and a bit of wind and I was running well despite my feet, we had tussocks and bogs and lots of grassy trods, I was gaining on and passing lots of other runners. I don’t think they enjoyed the terrain as much as I did. We ran through a wind farm and some country roads and more moorland, I ran and walked and chatted with friends and ticked off the checkpoints. As I got into the Support point, we sat down and had some water and food, there was still a long time to the cut off. The full dragons were getting big cheers as they went back out onto the course and I was annoyed with myself. Today had not been as hot, I had got into the half day mindset and if I had set of earlier, taken food supplies to last a whole day this could have been the day I got my full day in.

When we returned to camp there was lots of activity, and we were told there would be an announcement coming soon. Shane appeared and told us that the next day was forecast to 28/29 degrees, this was the day we were going over the Brecon Beacons. Due to the excessive temperatures – apparently we were now in an official heatwave – there were going to be multiple options for the following day. As well as the usual options of starting at camp and running to the support point, starting at the support point and running to the finish, there would be 2 additional options. You could start at the water point which would be a shorter day still on the 2nd half of the Brecon Beacons, or you could skip the day completely. If you chose that option you would no longer be eligible for either the Hatchling or the Dragon, but you would be transported to the next days camp – which is completely unheard of for this race, normally if you don’t run then you get dropped at the bus stop and have to make your own way home! It really must have been extreme temperatures forecast. For the full course they also brought in another half hour rest this time at the water point which meant that the course closure time was now 11pm.

I was really torn, I knew the first section, although it would be cool to begin with, was on a lot of roads and did not really appeal to me. The 2nd section would be over the majority of the Brecon Beacons but would be ridiculously hot and I really didn’t know how I would cope and the third choice would be much shorter, but you would still get to go over the main points of the Brecon Beacons. Myself and a couple of friends chose option 3. I had the intention to do the short route on day 5 so I could do the full day on day 6. This would give my feet a chance to recover a bit too.

Day 5 – Into Bannau Brycheiniog National Park
I woke up feeling a complete fraud, why on earth was I picking the shortest route? I had entered this race to test myself and so far I had not done a single full day and now I was opting for the shortest choice. I had quite a lot of negative headspace that morning and was really questioning myself. As we were starting at the furthest point, we were bussed to Llandovery where we would spend a couple of hours before being picked up and taken to Pont ar Daf where we were allowed to start running at 1pm. We hung around Llandovery and watched runners doing the full day running through the village – It did not make me feel any better, the whole time we were waiting, I was berating myself for chosing the easy option. Eventually we were taken to the water point and were allowed to start running. It…was…so….hot! I struggled with the first climb, any slight spot of wind, I stood and let it cool my body. I was really pleased to be with 2 friends and it made the day so much more enjoyable, we took photos and marvelled at all the people who did not look like walkers who had chosen to come here at the hottest part of the day under their own violition. There were a lot of very white bodies that I am sure were quite a very different colour that night. Bannau Brycheiniog was beautiful and I was starting to give myself a break that I had made the right choice. It was incredibly hot, we were not doing much running and we were having such a great day out. As we returned to camp there was the usual steep descent but there was beautiful waterfall and river that ran alongside the path, we dunked ourselves in and for the rest of the descent, we passed crew members who were off duty all splashing around and making the most of the river. I had been using lots of sun screen but my skin was sore, as I looked at it I realised I had the most horrific heat rash my arms and legs were swollen with a really angry rash and the rash extended to areas that had been covered by clothing too. When we got back into camp, I went to my tent and lay down – everyone else was still out on the course and I had the tent to myself, I could feel my body starting to shake. I headed to the medical tent and they took me in and checked me over, I got some antihistamine tablets and had my temperature checked. It was a bit elevated, but I was going to go and lie in the river for a bit and try and cool my skin so they said that was a good idea but I was to come back after I had been in the river so they could check my temperature to make sure it was coming down.


After about 45 minutes sitting in the river my skin was starting to look a bit better so I got dressed and went back to the medical tent and although still with a bit of a high temperature it was going in the right direction so with a warning to go back to them if I started to feel unwell I went to the mess tent and had something to eat and chill out for the evening.

I had to make a decision about day 6 though – I had planned to run the whole day but we were now being told it could be the hottest day yet, I was not feeling great after my short day being cooked on the Brecon Beacons and I was unsure how my body would feel in the morning. If I chose to run the whole day and got timed out for any reason or was unable to make the checkpoints then I would be out the race – that was it – no Cardiff, no hatchling. I did not want to come this far and then not get my hatchling on the last day. After chatting with my tentmate I chose to run the shorter day.

Day 6 – To Cardiff Castle!
I woke up after having a rough nights sleep and thought that it was good I was doing the shorter day, however after eating breakfast and getting prepared, I was feeling better and having second thoughts, however it was now too late to change my mind as it was nearly 7 and I had missed my window to start running. We got ready and waited for our transport. The camp was on a narrow road which was too tight for coaches so we were driven in a fleet of minibuses to the nearest town where we waited for the coach. Unfortunately the coach was about an hour late, as I sat and waited I ruminated on my choices. Eventually we were on our way and when we arrived at the support point and waited to run, the heat was intense. We were ushered out and started our final run to Cardiff, after running along a cycle path we soon moved through a town and up out on a moor road, there was a bit of a climb but when we reached the top there were some lovely views to all the surrounding countryside except there was rubbish everywhere. It must be a favourite spot to drive, park up and eat fast food/drink alcohol and then chuck all the contents out your window. There were cans and bottles everywhere. It was really quite sad and disheartening especially after running through all the pristine beautiful Welsh countryside over the week to be met with this. I was saying this to another runner, Andy who agreed with me and said he wished he had a bag to collect it and then we spotted a Tesco bag for life that had also been dumped. Andy picked up the bag and we ran along together picking up cans and wrappers and boxes and putting it in our bag until it was full, we ran together passing the bag between us like a baton for quite a few miles until we reached the water point where we disposed of it beside the race rubbish. The water point was at a pub and it was glorious! There were ice creams being given out and runners were going into the pub and getting pints of beer and cider and juice. The pub was also selling filled rolls and crisps and there was a lovely outdoor covered area that had a nice breeze so we sat down. I enjoyed my pint of fresh orange and lemonade with tons of ice and packet of crisps, it was so refreshing and so much better than the electrolytes I had been drinking all week. We were soon on the move again and back on the tarmac and the final 10 miles to Cardiff.

The route followed the Taff Trail which snaked alongside a river and had lots of lovely trees to shade us, I was running on my own now and as we got closer to Cardiff the number of people increased, there were lots of bikes whizzing past with nearly everyone shouting encouragement and telling me I was nearly there. Some of the trail made me feel a little bit nervous, I was alone but it was light and I was glad I was not running along there when it was getting dark – there were gangs of kids smoking joints and some shouting comments that were not entirely encouraging! One group had gone past me a couple of times really close on an electric bike and the next I saw they were dragging it down an embankment towards a weir – I fear the bike never made it back out. The trail opened up into a big park with lots of people sitting around having picnics and kids playing. A familiar voice shouted behind me and I turned to see Megan who I had been running with earlier in the week come by. She was on a roll and I told her she was running faster than me, to keep going and go for it. There was a bit of confusion with all the paths in the park and Megan and a couple of other runners missed the turn, I shouted and they came back. We found the correct path, saw the Castle walls, had a sharp right turn and suddenly we were running over the drawbridge into the grounds of Cardiff Castle with people cheering along the finish straight and our names being announced on the loud speaker and we were over the line. I was so glad Megan was there, it was good to have someone I knew at the finish line. We hugged and cried, I don’t think I have ever had so many emotions crossing a finish line before. Relief, happiness, pain, disappointment, exhaustion, sadness that my journey was over.

We felt a bit lost as we crossed the line, what now? There were so many people around and we did not know where we were meant to be going. We collapsed on the grass and Megan called her mum and I called Alan. After our calls, we went to the bar and got a pint of beer each and lay on the grass in a bit of a haze.

It’s been a strange journey that I feel like I am still processing. I had the most amazing time and met some fabulous people, I had great tent mates and doing the hatchling meant I got to spend more time in camp so really got to appreciate camp life, chatting to others, eating at leisure, spending time in the rivers which were like an outside spa. I got to enjoy my runs in daylight and got to nail my camp admin. However, I did not run the race I thought I would be running, despite the heat or maybe because of the heat I don’t feel I got to test myself in the way I anticipated, I did not manage to run a full day. I think the thing that sums it up was when talking to someone I had volunteered with previously who had run this year, although she never managed to get her Dragon and was still officially a hatchling like me, she said she was not disappointed as she could not have given it any more. I can’t say that and that is the thing that is eating away at me.

The flip side is that I looked after myself. I did not succome to heat stroke or collapse, I understand how my body works and I kept within my limitations. The day I ran the shortest route and ended up with swollen limbs and heat rash is testament to my knowledge on how bad I am in very hot sunny conditions and how I made the correct decision for me no matter how rubbish I felt mentally. I helped other people who were not feeling well and were suffering and I made sure that they were safe and were able to get off the hills to receive medical help. A persons safety is more important than a race and I would never change the decisions I made on the hills to stop and look after people.

So what’s next? I don’t actually know. I think I have some more processing to do.

Day 1 23.17 miles – 9,232 ft – 10hrs 53min
Day 2 23.54 miles – 7,313 ft – 9hrs 37min
Day 3 27.74 miles – 7,363 ft – 11hrs 43min
Day 4 20.44 miles – 3,770 ft – 7hrs 15min
Day 5 10.26 miles – 2,703ft – 4hrs 30min
Day 6 20.10 miles – 1,936ft – 5hrs 10min

Total distance 125.28 miles – 32,316ft – 41 hours 7 mins

297 starters
87 Dragons completed the full event (29%)
134 Hatchlings (45%)
The rest of the field never made it to Cardiff

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3 comments on Dragons Back Race

  1. sooz says:

    I was saving this to read and it was worth the wait! You are awesome in every way, you always have been and always will be 😀
    Incredible lady doing incredible things, that’s our Gilly xx

  2. Mark Dawson says:

    Brilliant race report. Well done completing the hatchling and making it to Cardiff. That’s some elevation and miles over all those hills! I had a DNF at my big race last year as it was 31 degrees, we’re not used to running in those temperatures and it’s quite dangerous to keep going on if feeling unwell. You made the right call on the shorter days and not being hospitalised in the hot conditions. Fantastic running!

  3. Jan D says:

    Wow, Gilly. What an adventure! I enjoyed hearing all about it in person but seeing it in black and white really shows what a tough race this is. I also think you are the toughest runner I know. While I can understand the feelings of disappointment you have, severe heat is not something to be taken lightly and I think you made exactly the right choices along the way. You were one of the few to make it into Cardiff in one piece, after all. I’m so very proud of you and in total awe of your achievement! A massive well done to you x

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