Transgrancanaria 125km 2017 Race Preview

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From the heat and humidity of Costa Rica and The Coastal Challenge to the the Canary island of Gran Canaria and the Transgrancanaria 125km.

This is my fourth year working on the flagship 125km race and once again it appears in the UTWT (Ultra Trail World Tour) calendar. The race starts on Friday evening, 24th February at 2300 hours’ local time. If it was ever in doubt, this race is a tough one! With over 8000m of positive gain, each and everyone of those 125km’s will be felt by the the time the runners reach the finish.

Starting on the north-west coast, the race travels south via the mountainous spine of Gran Canaria and then arrives at the finish, close to the sea in Maspalomas. The route is logical and therefore very appealing from a run aesthetic point of view. 

Over the years, the race has had some stellar performances and 2017 will see the return of the 2016 champions, Caroline Chaverot and Didrik Hermansen.

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Male Contenders

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Didrik Hermansen won the race last year with a high quality and well paced performance. He followed Transgrancanaria up with a stunning Western States and world-class 100km races. Didrik can mix running and climbing and therefore goes into the 2017 race as the hot favourite. Fellow Norwegian, Sondre Amdahl, tells me that Didrik is in great shape!

©iancorless.com_Transgrancanaria2016-2824©iancorless.com_Transgrancanaria2016-0660 The UK’s Andy Symonds ran a stunning race in 2016 and placed 5th – I have a felling he will be on the podium this year! His 2016 season was solid one with UTMB being his only blip. A win at Lavaredo, 2nd at Buff Epic behind Luis Alberto Hernando and 4th at Transvulcania confirms that Andy’s stepping stones to longer racing is working – 2017 will be his year and I also hear he will be racing at Marathon des Sables.

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Diego Pazos finished 3rd last year and what followed was a steady growth in the sport. I predicted he was a ‘one-to-watch’ for 2017 and I stand by that. His victory Mont-Blanc 80km confirmed that he is on the up.

©iancorless.com_Transgrancanaria2016-2663 Antoine Guillon placed on the podium previously and I have no reason to doubt that he can provide a repeat performance. In real terms, the podium may well be decided by those who pace themselves and come strong in the latter stages. Antoine may well be one of these guys – he will be able to bring the ‘long game’ to the race, something he learned when he won Diagonale des Fous (Raid de la Reunion) in 2015. ©iancorless.com_Transgrancanaria2016-0072

Yeray Duran is Transgrancanaria regular and is very popular within Spain and the Canary Islands. Arguably, it was Transgrancanaria that elevated his profile. He had a tough race last year but that blip is not indicative of how Yeray runs – I think we will see him up there this year.
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Julien Chorier is always a tip for the podium and victory – he is one seriously classy runner. He was 2nd at Transgrancaria in 2014 and 7th last year. Mixing Hardrock and Western States shows that Julien can mix speed and climbing perfectly – one to watch for the top-5 for sure and maybe the podium!

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Timothy Olson has raced on the island before (2014) and placed 3rd. He arrived in advance of this years race to train and prepare, something he has done on many occasions for multiple races. Normally, I would be pushing Timmy for the win but for the past year or so, the form has been missing. So, it’s difficult to predict the outcome here in the Canaries. Can Timmy win? Absolutely! So, lets cross our fingers and hope that we see a return to 2013 when this guy was on fire! 

Pau Capell won the 85km event previously and last year held hands with Diego Pazoz and crossed the line for an equal 3rd place. He will be up there!

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Fabien Antolinus is a runner I first met at Les Templiers and since then he has continually impressed with his ability to mix speed and climbing to great results. Two years ago he was 5th at UTMB but for me, his performances at Ice Trail Tarentaise were stand out. He’s a top-5 contender for sure.

iancorless-com_etr2016-8828 Casey Morgan will keep UK interest high. He’s been up there at Transgrancanaria in the past and currently he is on a roll with a series of top quality victories. I last saw him race at Everest Trail Race and he was in great shape. He followed that race with another race victory in the Spanish mountains and just recently he raced in Hong Kong with great success.

Fulvio Dapit has come close in the past and is often let down with stomach issues. He won’t make the podium but he will be up in the top-10.

Ones to watch: 

  • Freddy Thevenin
  • Daniel Jung
  • Ben Duffus
  • Gerard Morales
  • Fritjof Fagerlund
  • Nicola Bassi
  • Dimity Mityaev

and many more…

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Female Contenders

©iancorless.com_SWC2016-6618This race has Caroline Chaverot’s name written all over it and no disrespect to the other female competitors but I don’t see anyone coming close to this French lady. Caroline was on fire in 2016 and was for me, THE, female ultra-runner of the year. She was unstoppable with a sting of high-profile victories. In summary, anyone who wins UTMB, becomes UTWT champion, becomes Skyrunning World Champion and IAU World Trail Champion all in one-year deserves the upmost respect. I think she will win the race by at least 1-hour!
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I am going to throw a curve ball in and put my neck on the line with a stunning performance expectation from the UK’s Beth Pascall. She will be somewhat of a dark horse over in Gran Canaria but she has all the potential to produce a shock. She has with the UK’s Spine Race and the shorter distance, Challenge Race. She obliterated the ladies’ record at the Lakeland 100 and won the Hoka Highland Fling. One to watch! *Update 21st Feb, Beth will not race due to an injury to her foot.

Andrea Huser never stops. She is like Michael Wardian and each time she runs I am amazed with her ability to recover and race again. She doesn’t have the speed of Caroline and therefore, providing Caroline has no problems. I don’t see the Swiss lady beating her. However, she has a list of results that makes the podium almost guaranteed – victories at Lavaredo, Diagonale des Fous and Swiss Irontrail and let’s not forget 2nd at UTMB behind Caroline!


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Azara Garcia and Gemma Arenas have set their tables out in Skyrunning races and we know that have speed and can climb with the best. However, 125km and 8000m of vertical is a long way and this may well be the downfall for the Spanish duo. Gemma probably has the edge over Azara as she has excelled at Ultra Pirineu with victory. For Gemma, I see 125km possibly being a real learning curve.

Lisa Borzani likes the long and mountainous races such as Tor des Geants and Ronda dels Cims – that will set her up well for this tough and challenging Transgrancanaria course. She may lack the speed but as others fade, she will continue to push strong. 

Manuela Vilaseca was 5th at Transgrancanaria two-years ago and in this line-up, I believe the podium is a possibility – a win would only really come should Andrea and Caroline have bad races.  

Ildiko Wermescher would be a long shot for the podium but a top-5 and certainly a top-10 is a distinct possibility. 2016 seemed to be a below par year but 2014 saw the German lady place 4th at Transgrancanaria.
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Debbie Martin-Consani is my dark horse for a shake up in the ladies’ rankings. Like Beth Pascall, she is a Lakeland 100 winner and she has excelled at other 100-milers and races like Spartathlon, she ha s also raced in a GB vest. Word on the street (or the hills) is that Debbie has been going up and down those Scottish mountains to prepare for this 125km race. 

Ones to watch:

  • Yulia Baykova
  • Jen Benna
  • Laura Barrera
  • Caroline Rohrl
  • Laia Diez

and many more…

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The Berghaus Dragons Back Race Day 5 2015 – The back is broken

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‘So what a week, what a journey, impossible to explain how tough, how mentally and physically challenging it was but also how spiritual it has been. Cut off from the world, no social media, no showers, just living in the wild with a group of equal enthusiasts.’ – Mike Evans

It’s over! The Berghaus Dragons Back has been broken. Mike Evans sums it up above, how do you compress the highs and lows of an incredible hard 5 days. For the tough and tireless 66 who completed the full race, the emotion (or lack of) was poignant in Carreg Cennen Castle. For some, it was just too much. I can understand it, 5 days of exhaustion, fatigue and stress and finally it’s over. The simple crossing of a line and a final ‘dib in’ and it was job done.

Some smiled, some laughed, some looked bemused at the assembled group who clapped and cheered; it was all too much and a lack of words summed up the the journey undertaken more than loud chants of yee-ha!

This select and hardy few may well have broken the back of the Dragon but it had been a a touch and go affair for all. Even race winner, Jim Mann said on the final finish line:

‘Dense cloud, rain, cold, difficult navigation, I could have done without that today!’

But slay the Dragon they did and at the evening awards ceremony, race director Shane Ohly summed it up very well:

‘It seems wrong that I have to countdown the finishers from 66 – 1 as it emphasises the top of the field and places a priority on them when in reality, everyone here is a hero.’

The racing and the finish line was full of stories. As you would expect, every single finisher (and non-finisher) had a very unique story to tell. Old to young, these stories will be discussed in time to come and as time passes, more will be revealed. For now, the journey is too raw, too sensitive, the enormity too big to understand. I said during the race that lives would be changed as the race progressed through Wales. I witnessed at first hand how the weak became strong and the strong became weak. It’s the nature of the event. It’s meant to be tough and those who didn’t complete this time, for whatever reason, will learn and I am sure will be back in 2017 for the next edition.

The final day was not without drama. A wet day, conditions proved to be very tough and post race many commented on how difficult the navigation had been in the white out conditions, driving rain and strong winds. It’s somewhat ironic that as Pavel Paloncy crossed the line first, the sun and dry weather followed him and all assembled were treated to a warm and sunny afternoon with incredible views. Paloncy would almost certainly have been a contender for a podium place had he not taken a bad fall on day 1 resulting in hospital treatment.

Mann will of course be remembered as the Dragon Slayer of 2015 but notably it was the year of the ladies with Paris, Pascall and Wraith featuring in the top 10 throughout the race and all 3 of them placing in the top 6 – Paris 2nd, Pascall 4th and Wraith 6th. Just like in the original race when Helene Whitaker showed the men a thing or two, 2015 had all the potential for a repeat performance and this was something Ohly touched on at the awards:

‘Despite the so called ‘advantages’ men have, ladies once again triumphed at the Dragons Back Race and I think that it is brilliant. All 3 ladies raced incredibly well and Paris had all the potential to win the race outright.’

Father and son team Glenn and Huw Davies in many ways provided me with a raw insight into the race. Having lost my father way too young I watched this duo battle the terrain as one. Joined together from beginning to end they witnessed each others highs and lows in a way that is beyond comprehension. Ever day I looked at them, envious of the time they were having together. What they shared is beyond special and I can only wish that I had had that opportunity in my life. When they finished in the castle it was a whirl of emotion for the duo; it all proved too much for young Huw (just 22), ‘I am real proud of my dad!’

It’s funny, all assembled, big to small, old to young suddenly got something in their eyes… maybe it was the wind or the midgies?

Joe Faulkner, legend that he is completed the very first Dragons Back Race and in 2012 he came back for more. Completing the 2015 event makes him quite the unique individual. He is the only person ever to complete all 3 Dragon Back Races. Wow! As a just reward, Ohly offered a tribute to Faulkner at the awards ceremony and acknowledged how instrumental he had been in Ohly’s own rise and development in the sport. As a nod of recognition, Ohly asked Faulkner to offer the awards to male and female winners; Jasmine Paris and Jim Mann.

Beer was flowing, spirits were high and as Paris and Mann sat down with awards in hand, the 2015 Berghaus Dragons Back race came to a close.

I can’t help but think there a great deal of runners (and marshals) today sitting, looking around and thinking, ‘What next?’ Races are like that, they make you, they break you, they inspire you and they take you to the lowest of the low and highest of the high. Plans are being made. What’s next?

It may very well be a new adventure, a new challenge, another race, maybe even recovery  but I know one thing,  all those who toed the line in the north of Wales a week a go will now be thinking of 2017 and contemplating coming back for more.

Like a Phoenix, the Dragon will rise from the ashes of 2015 and return in 2017.

Just one last question:

Can you tame the Dragon?

http://www.dragonsbackrace.com

Full results HERE

It’s extremely important to acknowledge the tireless help and devotion of all the volunteer marshals, kitchen staff and crew that made this race happen. They had their own ultra to undertake and events like this could not happen without them. In addition, sponsors provide an aid that facilitates the day-to-day functioning and feasibility of a race like this. Ohly pointed out his appreciation for Berghaus as a main sponsor, ‘Without them this event could not happen!’

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The Berghaus Dragons Back Race Day 5 2015 – Meet the Runners

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“Remember this day, for it will be yours for all time!” – King Leonidas

Today, 80 runners departed the final Berghaus Dragons Back Race 2015 start line. Battle scarred, they once again face another gruelling day; 56.5km and 2300m of vertical gain.

But who are these brave souls?

Take a look, 4 days of pain engrained on each face. It takes a special person to enter the Berghaus Dragons Back Race but it takes an extra special person to finish.

This race has thrown everything at the runners and in general, weather conditions have been good. Yes they have had rain, mist, clag and occasional strong winds but there has been no disaster days of torrential rain or storms.

It has been an inspiration to share the journey of so many and to document it. We look on in awe at the front of the race and how Jim Mann and Jasmin Paris (and others) can run so fast and effortlessly over such tough and challenging terrain. But Jezz Bragg summed it up for me at the end of day 3 when runners finished well into the night only to get a few hours sleep and then get up and do it all again:

‘These guys are the heroes. They are out all day from 6am, marching on and then they finish at 11pm. They have no rest, no recuperation, no time to eat properly, hydrate and just manage themselves; I couldn’t do it!’

Just last night, the last official runner completed the course in just a few minutes under 11 hours. He was told:

‘You need to start at 6am in the morning so that you have a fighting chance to make the afternoon cut off and complete the race.’

Without hesitation or grumble, they say ‘OK!’ and off they go.

It was never meant to be easy

I can confirm 100% that this race has not been easy, I would actually go as far as saying that this has been one of the toughest races I have worked on. It has been special.

As today draws to a close, the faces below will arrive at Carreg Cennen Castle having run the Dragons Back of Wales. I am looking forward to welcoming each and everyone of them at what will have been a life changing journey.

The Berghaus Dragons Back Race Day 4 2015 – Race Images

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Day 3 took its toll on the runners in the 2015 Berghaus Dragons Back Race and on the morning of day 4; over 50% of the field had withdrawn. It’s fair to say that the Dragons Back Race is one of the toughest multiday races in the world. The relentless terrain, continuous climbing and descending, navigation, sleep deprivation and long days really do make this a toughie!

However, the terrain changed today for day 4. Green fields and rolling hills replaced the dramatic and rugged landscape of the 3 previous days.

Rolling terrain and less vertical ascent does in principal equate to more runnable terrain. However, no matter how runnable the terrain may be, you still need the legs to run! As you can imagine, the runners left in the race do have somewhat sore legs!

After a cloudy start and slight drizzle, the sun slowly broke through the grey but it did take a while; the final hours of the day were baked in glorious sunshine.

Although beautiful, the day 4 course did not have the challenging terrain of the previous days and it was another long day at 64km with 2273m of vertical gain.

It was a routine day at the front of the race with the main protagonists from the previous 3 days confirming their status as the strongest runners in a quality and determined field. Unfortunately, the front of the race did loose a top contender!

 

Jez Bragg had had a tough day during day 3 with stomach issues and then during the night he had chills, sickness and little or no sleep. He did force some breakfast down and start the day but it soon became clear he was depleted. He reluctantly pulled out of the race.

Jim Mann obviously decided that his 1hour 30min lead over the rest of the field was enough and decided to run day 4 with 2nd overall and 1st lady, Jasmin Paris. Paris was a favourite coming into the Berghaus Dragons Back Race and she has excelled showing everyone a clean pair of heals everyday and in the process she has looked fresh and confident.

Beth Pascall and Lizzie Wraith both looked strong all day, Pascall said post race said, ‘I felt as though I couldn’t go any faster but then I hit the last section. All road! I decided I had to get that over with as soon as possible so I speeded up. Just goes to show, it’s all in the head!’

Wraith came into the race with a bug and had said that she was unsure how her week would go. Obviously it has gone well and just this morning, before the race started she said, ‘If I can finish top 10, I will be over the moon.’

Equally consistent at the front end of the action has been Konrad Rawlik and Damian Hall. Rawlik is 3hour 30min ahead of Hall so we have no fears of a last minute surge on the final day. That would take some serious navigation error!

Tomorrow is the final day! It’s fair to say that anyone who has now finished the first 4 days will finish day 5. Of course, there are no guarantees – a fall, an accident or a serious navigation error could stop all that but lets cross our fingers; believe me, everyone is going to deserve the finish line.

Results day 4

1 – Jim Mann 7:58:50

2 – Jasmin Paris 7:58:54

3 – Beth Pascall 8:27:31

4 – Konrad Rawlik 8:28:25

5 – Damian Hall 8:47:52

6 – Lizzie Wraith 9:11:03

7 – Owen Rees 9:42:01

8 – Jonas Mollare 9:45:26

9 – Lawrence Eccles 10:30:20

10 – Charlie Sharpe 10:38:38

 

Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race Preview 2015

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The legendary Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ will be taking place for only the third time, starting on Monday 22nd June.
The race is one of the world’s most challenging running events and follows the mountainous spine of Wales from Conwy Castle in the north, to Carreg Cennen Castle in the south. An incredible 5 day journey the route is approximately 300km long with 16,000 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain.
In September 1992, the original Dragon’s Back Race™ was held and it soon entered into running folklore for its extreme difficultly and surprise female winner. A 20-year absence and it took Shane Ohly and the Ourea Events team to revive it in 2012.  Helene Whitaker (neé Diamantides), the 1992 winner alongside Martin Stone returned to the event and incredibly finished fourth and renowned adventure and Wainwrights record holder, Steve Birkinshaw was the overall winner.  In the 2012 edition only 32 runners managed to complete the full course from 82 starters. Thhe reputation of the event as one of the hardest mountain races in the world was confirmed.
The 2015 race has once again attracted a strong field of 140 runners from Britain and around the world. It will be interesting to see how many manage to climb the iconic steps into Carreg Cennen Castle on the fifth day.
Leading Contenders
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The standout competitor in the men’s race is naturally Jez Bragg who as a UTMB winner, Fellsman and Te Araroa Trail record holder has been a force within ultra running for many years.  His top class pedigree means he attracts attention whenever he races.
However, race director Shane Ohly, does not think for a moment that a Bragg win is a foregone conclusion:
“It is a five day race over rough terrain and anything can happen. Jez, also completed a record breaking Ramsay Round the weekend before, which is an interesting approach to preparing for such an arduous event as the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™.”
Ohly continues:
“There is a strong field of both male and female runners and while I do have an opinion on who I think will win, I keep that to myself for now!”
Lining up alongside Bragg are top British mountain ultra runners including Ed Catmur and Berghaus sponsored athlete, Charlie Sharp.
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Catmur has an orienteering background that is similar to the 2012 winner Steve Birkinshaw and in recent years he has excelled at the longer endurance races. He has competed over the 100 mile distances with some very fast times, placed highly at the Skyrunning UK 3×3 and has won the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon and Spine Challenger.
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Sharp has recently joined the roster of Berghaus sponsored athletes and is a prolific racer. He runs all distances from 5k to 100 miles plus and has great success. In 2013 he raced The Spine and although not directly comparable to the Dragon’s Back Race it does show that Sharp will be a podium contender in Wales.
The main international competition would seem to be from André Jonsson. The impressive Swedish runner has a load of podium results at tough mountain races in Europe including stage wins at the GORE-TEX TransAlpine. Rumour has it that he has been training in Wales earlier this year…
There is also a cohort of other strong British runners, including the likes of Jim Mann, Konrad Rawlik and John Duggan, who Ohly believes are likely to feature high up in the field. He explains why:
“It is such a tough race. Runners get injured, some fade mentally and as Patrick Devine Wright proved in 2012, a relative unknown runner with a determined approach can record a superb result.”
Ohly continues: “It’s easy to dwell on the men’s race, but I actually think that the women’s field is more interesting with a pack of extremely talented runners. I believe that any one of these has the ability to feature at the front end of the overall race.”
Scanning though the list of female entries, Jasmin Paris, Lizzie Wraith, Beth Pascall, Carol Morgan and Joanna Zakrzewski stand out.
Paris has been tearing up the mountain racing circuit for last few years but has managed to keep a relatively low profile, despite some impressive wins. She recently smashed Nicky Spink’s Fellsman’s record by over 40 minutes and recorded the highest ever place for a female runner.
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Wraith, with superb results at the UTMB, Lavaredo Ultra Trail and a  her UTLD Lakeland 100 win (and course record) make her the one to watch. However, she has had a very bust race schedule recently with multiple races in Nepal, the GL3D and representing GB at the IAU World Trail Champs. Will Wraith be fresh for  the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ as her final target?
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Pascall in particular has impressed. Her slow and methodical run at the UTLD (Lakeland 100) and strong 2nd place behind Debbie Martin Consani was a revelation. She then followed this result up with victory at The Spine. The Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ will most certainly suit Pascall’s skill set. Finally, the dark horse, Zakrzewski is relatively unknown in the mountain running world but she is a star of world 100km athletics with team and individual medals at the world championships. A regular and high place finisher at the iconic Comrades in South Africa, most notably her success at multi-day races such as Atacama Crossing (2010) may well be more relevant to the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™.
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The Berghaus Team 
Berghaus, Britain’s leading performance outdoor brand, is the title sponsor of this iconic event and is supporting the event in many ways. Race director Shane Ohly comments:
“What is really great about working with Berghaus is the depth of talent they have within their staff and sponsored athletes. Impressively, staff members Ivan Muckle, Angela Foster, Luke O’Connor and Dan Smith will be completing a day each of the race in a relay, with Berghaus athlete, and 2012 winner, Steve Birkinshaw leading them on Day 1.” 
The relay line up looks like this:
Day 1     Steve Birkinshaw
Day 2     Ivan Muckle
Day 3     Angela Foster
Day 4     Luke O’Connor
Day 5     Dan Smith
What is fascinating about this line up is the impact that 2012 winner Steve Birkinshaw may have on the rest of the field, especially given that he is running the first, and arguably the toughest, day of the race. Certainly, the other competitors would be well advised not to race with Steve if he intends to go full throttle.
Alongside his colleagues in the relay team, Berghaus Castleford store manager Dan Gerachty, will be attempting to complete all five days alone. Certainly, he will have tales of amazing adventures to share afterwards with customers in store.
Following The Race Live
For the third edition of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™, members of the public will be able to follow the race live with GPS tracking of the competitors and a leaderboard of their positions as they pass through each checkpoint.
Award winning Slackjaw Productions will also be filming the event and publishing multiple 90 second videos on the event website as the race unfolds each day. 1992 winner Helene Whitaker will be presenting these films and providing expert commentary.
It is going to be exciting and compelling viewing, which all kicks off on Monday 22nd June.
Also, keep an eye on Twitter for updates from @DragonsBackRace and @TheRealBerghaus, @talkultra and on Facebook – facebook.com/iancorlessphotography
#DragonsBackRace.