Taming the Dragon – 2017 Dragons Back Race Preview

Jim Mann – The Berghaus Dragons Back Race

Travelling from the North of Wales to the South via the ‘Dragons Back’ – the 2017 edition of the Berghaus Dragons Back Race looks set to have all the makings of a classic. A gigantic 315km route awaits the runners as they make the journey over multiple days. 

Day 1 in its own right is a tough day in the mountains as the best of Wales provides a stunning backdrop and stage setter for the race. In past editions, the opening day has proved too much for many… will 2017 be the same? It’s expected that 30% of those who start will not begin day 2 – a frightening statistic! 

Jim Mann, winner of the 2015 edition of the race has decided to return and defend his crown. After a tough 2016, Jim has recently returned to form after in ‘Winter Round’ record breaking run. Mann completed the Charlie Ramsay Round, the Paddy Buckley Round and the Bob Graham Round all within 1-month and set a new benchmark for the triple. 

British ultra-running pioneer Jez Bragg toed the line in 2015 but was forced to withdraw through illness, no doubt he will look to put the record straight in 2017. However, Cape Wrath 2016 champion Marcus Scotney will want to make sure he continues a winning streak of Ourea Events multi-day success with a strong performance.

Nickademus Hollon from the USA is well known in the ultra-world but may well fly under the radar of the UK based runners. Hollon was the youngest runner to complete the infamous Barkley and has placed 2nd at the Tor des Geants. He loves a challenge and although the UK mountains may well be new to him, we can anticipate a strong performance.

Alistair Hubbard and Neil Talbot may very well be the other prime contenders to take top honors on this journey through Wales. Hubbard has won the expert category on the Great Lakeland 3-Day – a great build up race to the Welsh multi-day adventure.

With the absence of Jasmin Paris, the ladies’ race is open but many are tipping Carol Morgan as a potential favorite. Her recent victory at The Spine is a standout result and it confirms that she can keep pushing even when tiredness and sleep deprivation are prevalent.

Sabrina Verjee is a regular Ourea Event competitor and participated in the 2015 Dragons Back Race where she placed 14th overall. It’s fair to say that Verjee has improved since then and she recently won the Great Lakeland 3-Day.

Italian Emanuela Marzotto came to running late in life and has made up for lost time with a sting of back-to-back performances in the world’s biggest ultras and multi-day races. Her experience in the Marathon des Sables was no doubt instrumental in her success in winning the 2016 Cape Wrath Ultra. Without doubt, she will have her hands full racing against Morgan and Varjee in Wales. 

A final nod goes to Canada’s Emily Compton who is a complete unknown on UK soil but she has accumulated a string of top-10 results dating back to 2012. Notable markers being 3rd at Vulcano Ultra Trail in 2013 and 5th at Yakima Skyline Rim 50k in 2016.

Action begins on May 20th when runners will arrive in Wales ahead of the May 21st start.

You can follow the daily action via this website in words and images and on Twitter – @talkultra and on Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

CALENDAR 2016 iancorless.com – Order now!

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The 2016 iancorless.com calendar is now available to order.

Price £20.00 (free postage UK)

Delivery is guaranteed on or before December 7th with the first batch of calendars being posted in early November. Numbers are limited and will be sold on a first come, first served basis.

To order a calendar please use the contact form below.

Featured races in the calendar are:

Marmot Dark Mountains, The Coastal Challenge, The Dragons Back Race, Marathon des Sables, Tranvulcania Ultramarathon, Richtersveld Wildrun, The Rut, Glen Coe Skyline, Ultra Pirineu, Everest Trail Race and the Dolomites SkyRace.

To order a calendar please tick the calendar box and then your preferred postal preference – UK, Europe or outside Europe (please tick only one postbox). You will receive an invoice via PayPal and once paid a confirmation.

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 1 2015 – Race Images

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MANN ON FIRE – Day 1 The Berghaus Dragons Back Race 2015

Jim Mann took the fire out of the Dragon and blazed a trail on day 1 of the Berghaus Dragons Back Race. Mann crossed the line to record a time of 7:49 almost 1 hour ahead of predicted time. Post race apparently was heard to say, ‘I was taking it easy today to safe myself!’ That is a worrying sign for the other competitors.

Andre Jonsson finished 2nd 11 minutes behind Mann; a great run! However, it was interesting to hear how Jonsson’s fatigue compared to Mann on the line. He has his work cut out if he hopes to topple Mann.

The weather is always a significant factor in any mountain race and it was an up and down day of rain showers, clag, cloud and sun. When the sun came out it was incredible to see; particularly for those runners who were on Crib Goch.

Jasmine Paris (8:11) placed 1st lady and crossed the line with Konrad Rawlik, Ed Catmur and Damian Hall just behind. Steve Birkinshaw was next to finish running day 1 as a single stage for the Berghaus relay team. The Spine female winner, Beth Pascall (9:07) looked strong all day and finished 2nd. Lizzie Wraith was 3rd lady in 10:06.

Day 1 camp is in Nant-Gwynant and as per all Ourea Events; all runners are looked after with homemade fresh food, constant tea and coffee supplies and an abundance of cake. In contrast to other Ourea Events, participants do not need to provide their own ten, Berghaus as race sponsor have provided large 8 man tents and runners sleep together similar to bivouac at the Marathon des Sables.

As I write this runners are still out on the course and therefore we can only update on retirements when the 2300 cut off has elapsed. However, one of the pre race favourites, Pavel Paloncy (Spine winner) took a fall and has had to retire.

Day 2 will have a staggered start with runners departing between a window of 0600 and 0900. Start times are based on finishing times from day 1.

All times are provisional and will be confirmed in due course.

 

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.

The Dragon’s Back is back!

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I am now able to confirm the dates for the third iconic Dragon’s Back Race™ in 2015. The race will depart from Conwy on Monday 22nd June and finish five days later at Carreg Cennen Castle in South Wales.

In the last few weeks there has been a comprehensive update of the Dragon’s Back Race™ website and the majority of details for the 2015 race are now available online.

There is bound to be much speculation about the first day of the race, which in 2012 included all the Welsh 3000ft peaks, and the notoriously exposed Grib y Ddysgl ridge between Crib Goch and Garnedd Ugain. Some competitors felt that the route was too hard. This is something I have consider very carefully and just like 2012, I shall be keeping the details of the final route secret until the competitor briefing on the night before the race. However, the keen eyed will have spotted that the estimated distance for Day 1 in 2015 is 7km / 600m less than 2012. Competitors can certainly infer that the Day 1 route in 2015 is going to be slightly different, but they should not make the mistake of thinking it is going to be easier!

The 2015 course will be similar, but not identical, to the 2012 route. The 2012 route took its inspiration from the original 1992 Dragon’s Back Race™ and again for 2015, it is our absolute intention to stay true to the original concept of running the mountainous spine of Wales.

Also new for the 2015 race will be live tracking of the competitors so that friends and family can watch all the action unfold in real time each day.

The deadline for Dragon’s Back Race™ 2015 applications is Monday 8th September 2014. Please do not delay if you are intending to enter and get yourself registered and familiar with the online process.

If you were interested in volunteering as a marshal at the Dragon’s Back Race™ the Application process is now open.

  • The Dragon’s Back website HERE
  • Check out the DVD HERE it’s a great watch!

Dragon’s Back Race – DVD

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“YOU ARE MOST ALIVE WHEN YOU ARE MOST FEARFUL”

I love a good movie! I don’t mind if it is in the cinema or at home. Both have pluses and minuses.

A big plus of the cinema is popcorn from the ticket desk and of course, when I am in my seat, that is it. I don’t move until the movies over… you see, I am always easily distracted. I always have ‘something’ to do!

At home I can kick back, put my feet up, get a glass of wine and hopefully relax. If the movie doesn’t grab me, I often find I am reaching for my laptop and then I somehow multi task. More to the point, my work gets my attention and the movie drifts away from my mind and it becomes a distant memory.

This didn’t happen with the Dragon’s Back Race!

Running movies are a tough call. If you are ‘interested’ and by that, I mean a runner or enthusiastic sports person, you can often continue watching a poor movie because the content enthrals you. Very few running movies have been ale to combine key elements and not only provide a great story but also be able to tell it in a visual way, with thoughtful dialogue and importantly a great soundtrack. For comparison I mention ‘The Runner’ by JB Benna, a story about David Horton running the Pacific Crest Trail (2,700 miles) and most recently, “A fine line – Summits of my life” by Sebastian Montaz-Rosset. As I am sure many of you will know, this movie documents Kilian Jornet over the first of his Summits series. I consider the latter filmmaker, Seb Montaz, a master of his craft.

Lets cut to the chase!

I loved the Dragon’s Back Race dvd. It provides a movie experience for all. I strongly feel, very much like the James Cracknell documentary on the Marathon des Sables, that this movie is extremely watchable and intereting for all concerned.

It really does tick all the boxes.

An epic journey, stunning scenery and locations, thoughtful and meaningful story telling, glory, pain, struggles and strife. Not only that, but for the most part, the sun was shining in Wales… that doesn’t happen often, does it!

Documenting the story of eighty four runners, from fifteen countries, the Dragon’s Back Race takes hold of you from the start as the dulcet tones of a male voice choir and the views on Conway Castle lead us into a journey of 300km over five days and altitude gains of 17,000m. The last year this race was held was in 1992.

The film takes you into the heart of the 2012 race as the competitors navigate an individual path down the spine of Wales. Never has Wales looked so good on film.

It’s a compelling and beautiful story. Remote, relentless, ruthless but ravishing.

“I expect to suffer much physical pain” says Rob Baker, eventually placing second overall.

As with all races, somebody comes first and somebody comes last. Without doubt, the film follows the battle for the front of the race between Steve Birkinshaw, Rob Baker and Patrick Devine Wright. But for balance, a wonderful insight is provided into Helene Whitaker (she raced the Dragon’s Back in 1992 and won it). She conveys true mountain spirit, “You don’t enter something like this if you know you can finish it”. And she is right, by day four, from the eighty four starters, only 28 people are left in the race.

One of the twenty eight, is no61 and of course, she is sixty one years old, Wendy Dodd. Also a participant in the 1992 race, she personifies true mountain spirit, guts and a desire to achieve, “It is far more harmful to be inactive than active” she retorts, poles in hand as she powers up a climb. On leaving a checkpoint after a well earned rest and refuel, she stops, turns to the camera and says, “Got to get to the post office before it closes, I need to get my pension”.

It is this humility, this passion and I guess the quirkiness of all those who undertake such challenges that gives the Dragon’s Back Race such broad appeal.

If anyone asks you in the future, “What is mountain running like in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales?”

Point them in the direction of the Dragon’s Back Race dvd. They won’t be disappointed.

Links:

The dvd is available HERE

What others are saying:

“Breathtaking” – Trail Running Magazine

“Awesome endurance and stunning filming” – UKHillwalking.com

“One of the great running documentaries. A must see for any runner” – Sheffield Adventure Film Festival

“A film of epic proportions” – MudSweatandTears.co.uk

“Remote, Relentless, Ruthless and Ravishing” – talkultra.com

Many thanks to Shane Ohly for my advance copy of the dvd and the opportunity to review it, *Please note, I am not connected to the Dragon’s Back Race in any way. This is an impartial review.