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Gavin’s Dragon’s Back Race – taking on the toughest mountain race

January 5 2024

You may want to buckle up for today’s read - it’s supporter Gavin’s account of the extreme challenge he took on to raise funds for Livability. Ambulances, trench foot and more – why did he do it?

What do you do when you’re not undertaking extreme sports, Gavin?

I’m going to sound like a Victorian but I run an iron foundry near Edinburgh. It’s been in my family for about 200 years and we do iron castings – we did Big Ben and Westminster Bridge, that kind of stuff. On a personal note, I’m married to Sophie, and her sister Tasha lives at Livability Talbot Manor in Dorset. We have one dog and no kids!

What does the Dragon’s Back challenge involve?

It’s running for six days back to back, 240 miles in total, from Llandudno to Cardiff, up and down Welsh mountains. I’ve done ultra-marathons and ‘iron man’ challenges before but this was a step up, very much so. I trained for a year and it’s just a lot, a lot of time on your feet. I was doing 20, 25 hours’ training a week and it’s pretty depressing in the winter, but it does get you outside! My dog Monty has been on every single training run I’ve done in the past few years.

What about your diet and training?

Well, the problem with running for hours and hours is you have to keep on eating loads of stuff, and theoretically my diet was good but when it starts getting to big long days, you just crave ten big Macs.

Did you have any injuries?

When training, no, just lost a few toenails. But on the challenge itself, I got ambulanced out. To give you the picture: On day one, 35 per cent of the runners dropped out because we were having a fluke heatwave and it was about 36°; second day, another 20 per cent dropped out so we were down to 50 people; third day, another 15 per cent dropped out. If you get to day four, you’re pretty sure to finish. I got to the end of day four and I collapsed over the finish line.

I don’t remember very much but I was ambulanced out and stayed in hospital for two days. I had a kidney infection and hypothermia. They think it was probably from drinking water from the stream. I was the only person to finish day four but not finish the challenge, so that was a bit annoying! But I think it was an honourable discharge, not that I remember much about it.

The heat was the toughest thing; most of the streams had dried up and runners were lying face-down when they could find a stream, just to cool down. I’m ginger and I’m Scottish so I had no chance! Also, I had no concept of how bad my feet would get; they fall to bits and it took three months for them to get back to normal. At one stage, I counted 29 blisters on one foot. Everyone got trench foot because we were sweating so much.

Was Tasha rooting for you?

Yes, she was and I got a couple of lovely cards from Livability Talbot. I seemed to have a wee fan club for a while, which was a novel experience.

Despite the agony, were there any bright moments?

Oh yes, there were, Wales is absolutely stunning and the route takes you over all the mountain ranges, top to bottom. Every night, you get back in the dark so you see the sun set and every morning, you see the sun rise, so that’s pretty cool. I was running 12 or 13 hours a day, so usually 6am to about 6pm but sometimes longer.

What did you learn about yourself?

I didn’t know I could keep going until I absolutely broke down and I found I can! I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. And I always thought I was a bit of a wuss with pain but turns out I can put up with more than I thought.

Do you feel proud of yourself?

Not for ages but I think I was in the top 15 per cent so I can see that I did well. And I’m going to try again next year …

You’re what?!

Yes, it’s an unscratched itch so I’m going to give it another go. I’ll be 40 so I think it will be my retirement run. I raised about £3,200 – I was only expecting to raise about £400 – so that was a delight. I believe Tasha and her housemates went to the panto with some of the proceeds. Hopefully I’ll get to the finish line next time in one piece. And hopefully it will be pouring with rain and freezing, which is more my comfort zone! I raised it all for Livability – it’s the charity I have a direct relationship with. Livability Talbot Manor is brilliant, it gives all the residents the ability to have a much fuller life than they would without.

Why did you do it?

I think it’s the ‘type A fun’ thing, putting yourself through horrible experiences for fun and I think I fall into that weird category. I guess it was one – to take on the challenge; two – to raise money for Livability, and three – to see if I could do it.

Amazing! You don’t have to run up mountains to volunteer with Livability – there are all sorts of ways to get involved.

Find out more https://www.livability.org.uk/get-involved/

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