Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Day 3 - Breaking the Back of the Dragon....

I really wasn't sure what to expect from Day 3 - it was to be the longest day at over 68K. Helene (Whitaker) had said that it was the day that she really didn't enjoy - it was just about getting your head down and getting on with it - but she did, however, think it might suit me more than some of the other days, as there were some good runnable stretches. The added bonus was that if I made it through Wednesday without missing a checkpoint or cutoff, then I was over halfway there!

A better view of Cadair Idris
Having looked up at the "chair" of Cadair Idris the night before, I was actually quite looking forward to getting up onto it and running along the ridge, but although it was fairly sunny when we set off, we could see that the summit was gradually amassing clouds.

Setting off

Sabrina, Jonny and I set off together again and enjoyed some good banter on the first "mandatory" part of the route....into Dolgellau. It seemed like a nice place to stay for active types....walkers, hill runners, mountain bikers etc, but all too soon we were through and out the other side heading uphill. It was still relatively clear when we reached the first checkpoint, but the weather closed in soon afterwards, and the ridge run was made easier by the fact that there was a fence to navigate our way along. There were plenty of people strung out along the ridge, who had started slightly ahead of us. We caught up with Rob (who we had seen on and off during the previous day.....he had been going at a slightly slower pace as he had slightly overheated in the sun, but usually picked a better line) and so three became four.

Four soon became three again, as Sabrina was feeling strong and so forged ahead as we descended in the mist. It was nice to be in a group as Rob kept Jonny in sight (ahead of him) while making sure that I didn't fall too far behind. I tried to hone my descending skills (well, a slight improvement would do) by following their lines when they chose to leave the path and descend on grassier slopes.......and I definitely noticed how much more confidently you could run down when your footing seemed surer. I realised that it was only day 3 but I was definitely going down faster than I had been and managed to maintain contact, knowing I would catch up as soon as the terrain flattened off, or indeed started to climb.

Surprisingly, I found the rough track down to a road rather unsteady underfoot as the stones tended to roll under your feet, and if you didn't pick your feet up you could easily trip. Is was another mandatory section and the was a photographer positioned halfway down (I'm sure that was because they expected some dramatic trips and falls). Lizzie (Wraith) just seemed to float effortlessly past on that descent!!

I was surprised to hear what sounded like an airhorn ahead of us, as I was sure that we weren't near any checkpoint.....but it was actually from a trainline (I learned later that this is the trainline used in the "Race the Train" event) we had to cross.

Yippee....there was a short road section, but I "paid it back" and made sure that Jonny and Rob were just behind me. The next section seemed to be an interminable drag up a rough road......I managed to run-walk all the way, and even chatted to some hikers coming in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, I lost sight of everyone on this stretch, even though I waited for two faster runner (Owen and Jonas) to catch me up to double check I hadn't misread a turning. I decided to strike up off the road and make a beeline for the summit (even thoughI had seen Owen and Jonas continue further along the road), but turned back to see if I could spot Jonny or Rob before the cloud enveloped me again. There were definitely figures some way back heading up the road, so I decided to just press on, as they'd be sure to catch me up on the descent from that summit checkpoint.

Just before I reached the summit, I realised that I was right behind Owen and Jonas again, as they'd followed a fence line up along the end of the ridge, but the extra distance had meant that it wasn't any quicker than my climb. The visibility was very poor again and they disappeared into the mist as soon as they'd "dibbed". I passed a couple of runners on the descent (there's something you wouldn't expect to hear from me!) and put some trust into my navigation skills when the others didn't catch me. It can't have been a bad choice as I caught up with Owen and Jonas again before the next CP. It was an interesting one to run into, as our route choice involved going in and out of the CP along the same path, so you passed runners ahead of you (including Sabrina and Lizzie) and then behind you as you left (I did see Rob but unfortunately no Jonny).
The Day 3 support point was just through the town of Machynlleth, but in order to get down to it from the hills, we had to work our way through a forest. On the map there were several forest roads and trails...on the ground there were many more, and some areas of deforestation to add in another level of confusion. Owen and I managed to multitask - running, chatting and working out a route as we went (though I think he had prior knowledge of the forest which helped) and Jonas pounded after us.

It appeared to be market day in Machynlleth as there were many stalls being set up along the main streets, and although I know some poeple were nipping into shops to buy drinks and sandwiches etc, I carried on to my restock bag at the support point. Having not passed anyone except the Swedish couple (who had been ahead of me everyday so far) in the forest, I thought the marshals were having a laugh when they said that I was the first runner to the support point but, as I found out later, they were being serious and our navigation/routechoice must have been spot-on!

Just to further show the difference between those of us "completing" and those that were "competing", I sat down on a nice camp chair to open my bag, eat and drink during which time several speedsters arrived, grabbed a bag restock and headed straight off again. Helene even had to chivvy me along to stock chatting and get running again!
The mandatory route out of the CP had been marked in error on some of our maps, so after a quick correction I was off again (and only managed one small wrong turn on a dead-end forestry road that wasn't on the map), but was very surprised to see Lizzie, Owen and Jonas up ahead approaching the next checkpoint from what appeared to be a different directrion entirely. Appearances must be deceptive as we all thought we'd followed the route drawn on the maps. We joined forces after that as the time passed much more quickly with some good chat and we motivated each other to keep going.

Racing Jonas in - photo credit Rob Howard

The final checkpoint wasn't hard to find but it was a slightly arduous climb to get there. We started off in a valley wading through a riverlet and then decided to find out own route up a hillside to the summit ridge. I think it must have taken about 45minutes - and we climbed up relentlessly with owen leading the way. Jonas and I swopped places at the rear of our little group, but I'm kind of glad that the others pushed on without looking back, as there were many many occasions when my legs were trying to say that they wanted to have a sit down protest!! Finally we got to the summit, and then knew it was just a (long) run down to the campsite.

Photo credit Rob Howard
We split up on those descents as there were all types of terrain to cover (and a few fences/gates to hurdle).....grassy slopes, then track, then rocky road, then grass/tussocks, then countouring round, then a small ridge, and finally a steep slope down to the road in the valley. I could see Lizzie and Owen racing each other to the line further ahead as Jonas and I stuck closer together. Having the group to work with for the second half of the days really helped me......it may have been the longest day, but it was my fastest and most enjayable day so far....and I finished 12th on the day (the only problem being that the portaloos were so far away from the tents in the campsite, that it felt like we were going to another CP just to get to them!!).

"Another day to go?"
On a slightly funny note, I had convinced myself when I ran into camp that there was only "one short day left", so it was rather disappointing to get my day's printout which told me the next day was not much shorter and it was only the penultimate day.....still, at least the "back was broken" as we were over halfway there!!

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