Wednesday 1 July 2015

The Berghaus Dragon's Back Race part 2

If you haven't already, you can see part 1 of the blog where I explain a bit more about how the race works and what sort of kit I used. This is pretty much just my account day by day if I can remember everything in order ;) I've used a few pics from other times to show the course and some that I took en route.


After a night in Conwy we walked into the castle around 6.30am on Monday morning ready to start. There was a choir singing as we were handed out the days maps... After glancing at the map I knew the way pretty much off by heart after the first couple of hills to get out of the town and into the mountains. I kept the map out most of the day although rarely had to look at it even in the cloudy conditions we experienced during the first morning. It was essentially a large chunk of the welsh 3000s to get us up and over the Carneddau range after a big snaking trail of runners over the first few miles and I was moving confidently in the cloud having run across there in all kinds of conditions.

The days running was about 53km with 3800m of ascent and I never really ended up running with anyone for more than a few minutes at a time. I moved ahead of a guy following me and passed another as we descended down into the Ogwen valley and the days support checkpoint where I only briefly stopped to top up my water although I didn't actually need anything else so just kept on going up Tryfan. It's a good rocky climb and it was a bit wet on the whole making it slower going scrambling about in the rocks. Next I scurried along down the tricky  descent! It was easy to pick up a few scrapes moving through the terrain before ascending on to the Glyders. It was almost a spot of rock climbing to reach the summit of Glyder Fach and swipe the electronic box with my timing chip before trotting across to Glyder Fawr still in the mist. THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE IN POOR VISIBILITY, We just had a bit of cloud so no dramas ;)

I got straight onto the vague path down to Pen Y Pass Yha where I've stayed plenty of times. I was moving well and it was easy finding the path compared to a day in January where I was in a total whiteout and couldn't tell the floor from the sky. From the YHA it was straight up the Pyg track until the turn for Crib Goch which is probably not what you would call trail running. It's a stiff ascent up onto the ridge which is a bit narrow in places but I've been up quite a few times and the weather was fairly pleasant by now. VIDEO HERE

After Crib Goch you follow the ridge which is fairly straight forwards and eventually around and on to Snowdon where there were a couple of marshals out to meet us. We followed what forms part of the horseshoe around towards west peak and along to a far control point before taking a grassy descent to a track which I've run down in the past winding its way down to the day one finish just to the south of Nant Gwynant.

Day 1 was fun although I probably paced myself a bit too much although I was happy to arrive at the end feeling like I'd just had a nice easy day out... Interesting! The camp was amazingly efficient and the tents were great! Very spacious with loads of room to spread out kit and stretch out. I landed in 9th position and pretty much got straight into my post race routine so that I'd be well fueled, hydrated and ready to go the next day. There were people finishing late into the evening and already people showing signs of wear and damage during even the first day! 

DAY 2 
I woke up at 6am ready for a 7am start. I knew the first hill Cnicht, and that was cloudy last time I was up there, that's all. I woke up with a dull ache in my knee which was a bit strange, I woke up and I'd been lying slightly off my Thermarest overnight so knee was pressing into the floor other than that I was feeling great and looking forwards to some sunshine! 

I was loving the Moelwyns and enjoying finding my way around some new hills that I'd never been up! The scenery was pretty stunning and I began to catch people from the earlier start times quite quickly. On the map there was a large gap after cp 4 and it left a few totally different options for route choice, I was tempted by a longer route that skirted around on the road but chose to take the more direct line just a bit more difficult to nav and worse terrain which was pretty boggy in places. I was looking forwards to getting back into the Rhinogs which were pretty rocky and had some good steep gradients to play on! 

The terrain was stunning in the mountain sections, sun was out what more could you want from a summer holiday? I chose some lines which looked awesome although I doubt they'd be the quickest or shortest I was loving it! Would definitely like to go running around there again. The final few cps came about quite quickly and before I knew it I was heading down to pick up a forest trail to the finish line. The line I was following on the ground was fantastic as I descended from the final hill only for it to vanish into some tussocky bouldery terrain which was just terrible to move across. I hit a stone wall with no crossing points and couldn't spot any where to get across so I traversed along the wall for what felt like ages trying to pick up some sort of path into the forest where I could take the good track and put some fast and easy miles in to the end. I probably lost an hour in this section just wading through the tussocks. It felt like 3! I was happy to get into the forest eventually and made light work of the last 10km or so back to camp. 

I'd stopped with a runner who'd fallen and had to pull out earlier in the day so I arrived at the finish in just over 11 hours for what I'd made into about 60km. On a trail race I'd probably knock the same distance out in half of the time to give you some perspective on how much longer the terrain could take you!  Camp was again nicely organised and we had the luxury of hot showers. Apart from the boggy bit in the middle of the day and the tussocky area towards the end I could run in those mountains all day! Stunning part of the country I'd likely never have been to if it wasn't for the race! 


Starting to get into a rhythm now, woke up feeling fresh and ready. I knew the first half of the day after running it as part of the support team in 2012. We head through Dolgellau and up on to the  Cader Idris following the ridge around in some patchy clouds. I was moving really well and  it was easy going without needing to navigate. I was soon passing runners who'd taken the earlier starts. The rocky tracks and firm grassy trails suited me nicely and I was able to take good lines down through foot paths and over towards the next few hills before reaching Machynlleth where the support point was but also where there was a Co op where I was a bit greedy on the Soleros! Running down to the town was probably the longest I spent running with anyone in the whole event which was nice and broke up the day a lot! 

I was a bit slow moving out of the cp with a belly full of ice cream and made the mistake of unfolding the whole map to see where we were going at the end of the day... It looked milllles away! It probably was. We were heading a long way south to reach a hill called Plynlimon. Today I clocked in just over 70km in just shy of 11 hours. The terrain on the whole wasn't too bad in terms of bogs and I don't really remember there being too many tussocks. It was starting to feel like I'd actually made a bit of progress having done 3 of the days leaving only a 40 miler and a 35 miler on the following and final day. It was nice to see the camp from the top of the hill and descend down to be greeted by one amazing crew of marshals! Their energy and positivity was relentless! 

I had a rather cold bath in the stream just below camp. To be honest I slid over as the rocks were all covered in algae and within about 90 seconds of me getting back to shore and putting a towel around myself there was a family crossing the bridge... I was just quick enough luckily. The camp was starting to look more like a field hospital at times with people hobbling about on stiff legs and sore feet. There was also a group of runners coming in just inside the cutoff time slightly before 11pm. These guys had been out for a long time! I'd rather not imagine how hard it would have been! 

Day 4

So day 4.. I know it's not exactly just a jog in to the finish from here with still over 65 miles to go but I think a lot of people felt a bit of relief after the 3rd stage. Any hard times perhaps can be fought through if the finish is only one more day away. I started day 4 a little bit late and was pretty much right at the back, knowing none of the route I was quite excited by the size of the map and also the 10km road section at the end.

My calves were feeling a bit tight on the 4th day, I think perhaps because I slept without anything under my feet and face down so my ankle was plantar flexed all night. As I fought off a couple of excited farm dogs I made my way up the first climb pretty steady too reach the land of the tussocks. It was a bit of a trudge through the cloud to pass 3 small reservoirs then follow a fence line leading to some wind turbines and the first control point. After swiping my chip I made my way across some more tussocks to reach a good track which was access road for the wind turbines. A pretty big wind farm built throughout the forest and I was now moving really well. The only thing with forests I was coming to realise is that what's on the map and what is on the ground are often two different things! The track began to swing around hard to the right which I thought was a little weird..... I decided it must be wrong and back tracked about 5 or 10 mins to the last junction and went the other way. A few fast miles and I hit the next cp, all good. From here I managed to get some reasonably good lines over to a small road section. Right about now I caught sight of a group of 4 scrambling through tussocks. I didan extra 200m on the road then hit a good trod up and aroud the hill side to reach the fence line. This had been far faster than the group and I was quite happy to be catching some of the earlier starters finally.

The next couple of hours were quite straight forwards navigationally and providing you stuck to the trods the ground was reasonably easy to move across. Time seemed to fly by and before I knew it I was dropping down the path into the Elan Valley.... Not a clue where that actually is or how you would ever get there but it felt like the true middle of knowhere! The support point was a welcome sight and I was in the mix of runners now so it was nice having people to chat to. Some runners were really suffering and didn't look to be in a good way but each had that drive to keep pushing forwards! Awesome!

It was feeling like a long way but I felt good and was moving through the field as we got to within 20km of the finish and out on to the road. I was making good time on the roads and still running at a decent speed. Most people aroud were walking or occasionally jogging but all moving forward relentlessly. After a bit more farm track and  trail it was time to hit the road. I set to it and got some good pace up and ran it the way into the final camp before the finish. Surely it would be a certain finish for me now if I'd made it to the last day?

Day 5

The final day... I'd got a good idea of the route from the half way point but didn't know any of the bit before. To be honest it was quite good underfoot on the whole and my legs were feeling fine today having propped my feet up during the night. I was one of the last out of camp and after a few miles came across Joe F and we chatted along until the first control point which we almost forgot about! I was quite excited about getting to the end and also the fact that we were passing through something resembling a town aka an ice cream stop. I think people had been keen to start early today and I didn't start to pass many people until about 5km before the half way point. Navigation had been pretty straight forward and I was straight through the checkpoint. So now I knew the rest of the way, onwards and into the hills of the last day. The weather turned as I ascended and there were numerous small groups walking about in the cloud. As the rain began to drive in I slipped a jacket on and continued up the steep climb to the summit of whatever hill we were going up in the Black Mountains. I was pretty confident in my route choice from last time I'd run it and felt like I was moving well. A few people were having a tough time in the mist and my line choice seemed to gain me a hell of a lot of time on some of the groups I had seen in the distance. 

I knew after the next control we dropped down to cross a road then essentially followed a good wide ridge to the final control point! The cloud began to clear, the sun came out and I moved along really enjoying every step yet at the same time almost sad that it was coming to an end... I reached the last point, took a couple of photos and stopped to look around before descending on the final couple of miles to the castle! Now it really felt in the bag then whack... I pretty much disappeared into a bog and was wet from head to toe. No harm done it was only water but I had to laugh... The route skirts around the castle a little just to drag out the last moments of Dragon's Back fun for that little bit longer before a decent climb up into the castle and the finish line!! I had a pretty good bash at running all the way up the hill and was clapped into the finish by some of the amazing crew and other competitors.

A few photos before jogging down to the gift shop for an ice cream and then a lift over to the nights camp at the local rugby club.IT was an ideal venue, nice flat grass, hot showers and the sun shining down. What more could you want?

With the race wrapped up it was time to relax and catch up with friends running and the crew and await the presentation of the famous dragon trophies! A big thank you to Berghaus, 9bar and The Ultra Runner Store for kitting me up. What a fantastic event.

I think there's a lot to talk about regarding strategy although it all depends on what your goals are... I remained pretty comfortable throughout, made sure I looked after my body early on and that I felt strong. If you're looking to race this sort of thing a good back ground of being in the fells and navigating open ground would be something to work on for sure. If you want to be finishing in good time each day then being able to keep a good average pace and choose decent lines across the hills will set you up well, whereas if you're just looking to get to the end and survive it, I think someone who was spot on with nav and could maintain a good walking pace on the whole with some jogging on the flat (ok flattest) bits could get to the end provided they were tough mentally and really wanted that finish line! 

I've now got another 5 day stage race this week (in Spain) only 230km and a good chunk of ascent. Thought I best have a holiday after the Dragon! 

Any questions jump on 

1 comment:

  1. Great discipline Charlie ..... you are clearly at home in the mountains.