Dueling with the Red Dragon - Page 5
Day Three—25.7 miles
So the farmer was wrong.
The final day is the shortest but, physically, the toughest, with 4286 feet of elevation change, including the climb to the highest point on the course, 425 feet near Strumble Head.
It’s still dark at 7 a.m. and headlamps twinkle as the runners file up to the start above Porthgain. It’s misty and cooler than yesterday. The widely varying lengths of today’s stages only add to the degree of difficulty. Stage one is just four miles long, while stage two stretches nearly nine miles to Strumble Head. The combination of a short, easy stage with the long, hard climb up The Strumbles is often the last straw for tired, sore runners, explains Blow.
“We have a lot of drop-outs on this stage. But with the steep ups and downs close to the cliff edge, the third day is the most awe inspiring,” continues Blow. “You really feel you’re out in the wild—no civilization in sight and the sea out to your left. This day is what people really come for.”
Fatigue is written on the faces of all the runners and it’s clear some are beyond their limits. But the Canadians look fresh and relaxed. For most of them, if day one was hardest, today is easiest.
“At the top of The Strumbles, I was alone and in the mist. You could just see the ocean through the mist and hear the waves … just magical,” says Lishe. “It didn’t feel that difficult because I was in awe.”
After The Strumbles, the hardest stage is the final six miles from Goodwick to the finish. The course follows the seafront promenade through the town of Fishguard and up a long, gradual hill. Outside of town, the coast path skirts another series of headlands, down and around bays and beaches, then back up again. You can see runners a headland or two ahead, and you know the finish is frustratingly farther ahead and out of sight. There are dozens more gates and stiles, too.
“I remember thinking the finish had to be close, and I hiked very slowly to the rhythm of my family’s names: Pe-ter, Hun-ter. ...” says Lishe. “The mantra saved me and helped me get the job done.”
The finish in Pwllgwaelod (say ‘puth’ and stick out your tongue, then ‘gway-lod’) finally comes. The path switchbacks down into a cozy bay tucked between two headlands, with a sweep of beach and a pub café busy with Sunday diners. The runners can see the finish line below. Down a last excruciating set of steps, along the road, through the parking lot, and it’s over.
Pat runs solo to finish, impressively in the same time as day two—first in her Female Senior Veteran age group. Jan and Betty run together for most of the day, focusing on each other or on runners between them and getting to the finish together.
They finish about 25 minutes behind Pat, with Lishe, Hilary and Tom another 25 minutes back.
Tom has a tough day, his toughest of the race. Struggling with nausea most of the day, he digs deep: “I had taken three lucky coins with me, representing three significant people in my life and representing adventure, purpose and strength through friendship. In the last couple of miles I called out loud for assistance from the ‘representatives’ of these coins and I felt they were there to help.”
That evening, it rained for the first time since the eve of the race.
Duart Snow is a journalist, open-water swimmer and Nordic skier in Vancouver, British Columbia. His favorite athletes make the difficult look easy—as Team Canada did in Wales.