Last week, I was interviewed by John Kynaston for his YouTube channel talking about a wide range of things, not just DBR. There was good banter from the live facebook audience and I exchanged a lot of messages with folk over the following few days. OK, DBR has been a part of my life for nigh on thirty years but it's far from the only thing.
Race Director, Shane Ohly with Joe Faulkner, the only person to have completed all four Berghaus Dragon's Back Races® in 1992, 2012, and 2015 (and subsequently 2017). Amazing! ©iancorless.com
I hated being the 'only person to have done four' and didn't want to continue that ever-present record as doing so for the wrong reasons would be sick. Indeed, I smiled and 'lol' when a few minutes before the start prior to last years fun run, Jim Mann said, 'Just think, in five days time, I will have equalled your record Joe'.
'And in a much quicker aggregate time! said I.
'But a few hours later you will have done five' said Jim
I went to an evening talk at Eden Runners many years ago, given by a guy who'd run every London Marathon. I think he was on number twenty eight, and had also run across the USA once or twice. He reckoned he was the youngest of the ever presents, had run them all under three hours. It was a fascinating talk, and the questions afterwards reflected this. As the questions waned I asked, 'Do you think you'll ever choose not to do it? There was an expectation in the room that he had a good chance to be London's Last Man Standing.
This post isn't about what went wrong, or to relive the good times, but I've spent quite a few hours talking and listening to several people about their DBR experiences, expectations and aspirations. I've talked with folk about their 'DNFs'; always a different reason for each of us.
A few have contacted me about online coaching; something I haven't felt qualified to do. I'm not currently scientifically trained or qualified in that sphere, and it's along while since I studied sports science and psychology 35 years ago at college. However, I am a professional trainer, facilitator and trained as a Counsellor; skills I draw on working with clients. I am fascinated in what makes people 'tick' (no pun intended) and the mental psychological, emotional and maybe even spiritual side of long adventures in the mountains, such as the Dragon's Back Race. I purposely avoided the use of the word 'Ultra' there. DBR is not an 'ultra' in my view, it's more than that.
Yes, many will disagree, after all it is more than 26.2 miles.
So, the other Dragon's Back 'FAQs'Q: How did the various DBR years differ? 'Vastly', is my response. '92 was in black and white.
No blog, no RD report, very few photos, simply superb photo journalism by Rob Howard.
199257 people, in 26 pairs and one lone Swede who all quickly became a bunch of mates. The Army were providing the infrastructure. Two square meals a day, and erecting 14' foot army tents, dark and gloomy, but very breathable. A mobile field kitchen, with petrol burners that could melt iron. The route was based around some creaky grid references, and we quickly realised the squaddies, couldn't be trusted to be where the said they would be 'manning' the checkpoints. They were nervous and then gobsmacked about having any women in the event, not least an attractive looking one who went on to win in a mixed pair, nor two more finishing in the top nine pairs. (Wendy Dodds and Sue Walsh, FYI)
Was it really a race? Yes. for Martin, Helene, Mark and Adrian, closely fought and well documented. Several now iconic black and white main stream press images by Rob Howard illustrate this, whilst the rest of us were happy to get to the finish in one piece, as quickly as possible and help each other as much as we could. For Steve and myself our friendly battle was against Wendy and Sue, and playing a good rhthym guitar to Martin, Helene, Adrian and Marks lead.
We had no formal mid-day support, no mid-day 'dropbag', but there were a handful of 'supporters', friend of some participants who between them supported everyone as best the could. They'd leapfrog the handful of road crossings and make sure every one was watered. It's a long way from what I have seen of late in some other ultras.
2012 was different.2012 was professionally produced, and excellently delivered by Shane and his Ourea events team.
Adding in all the Welsh 3000' foot summits on day one as a bit cheeky, dare I say disrespectful to class of '92, and those additional 3000' footers ate up and spat out all but 37 of the c.100 starters.
Luckily Steve Dubie, my original '92 partner, and myself paced ourselves well sneaking through Nant Peris as a cut-off was being invoked towards the end of Day One. We finished the day OK, fifteen hours in the saddle, went strong on Day Two, but Steve took a half day sabbatical on Wednesday.
I was just getting going. Revived by Day Three, I finish strongly in 15th place overall. Not bad for 'Fatty Faulkner' and catching younger faster runners. Apart from sun burnt nipples, I got to enjoy a DBR presentation. I hadn't been to the presentation in 1992 as we'd been the local A&E with Dubie's knee ligaments. 'CL nearly severed' was the diagnosis. But this time, a fittingly sweet evening at Creggan Castle, sharing a couple of beers with a few fellows waiting for Wendy to finish and then retired to bed happy. Well, except for the news that my sister in law had decided to end her own life .earlier that week. Life is easy in the bubble on the mountains.
The next morning's bus ride back to Conway was an experience.
20152015 race production settled into the groove. Lot's had been learnt by everyone and I don't remember much about the racing, apart from a few chats with a few folk, talk of deadman's willies, climbing Nameless mountain with Basil, and that irksome tarmac road at the end. 2017 was similar. A larger, and more psyched set of ultra runners, GPS enabled and collectively much more 'corporate nouse'.
I actually got into race mode on Tuesday pm, but the hot Cambria sun had other ideas and fried me alive. Day Four afternoon was the hottest and dustiest racing I have ever done, with route choice being dictated by stream courses and fresh water.
This picture tells a story.
Early afternoon, Day Four mid-way CP, kneeling at Captain Cowie's feet, as he drenches me in water.
No sun burnt nipples this time, more suitable clothing, and a wet T-shirt on my head at every opportunity.
It's my photo taken of Ourea's Media wall at the GL3D overnight campsite.
An excellent event and essential DBR graduation. What a brill idea.
Spring 2019 PrepIn the build up to 2019, I worked on the first official recce weekend with Kate from RAW Adventures. We had very cold, snowy conditions and Crib Goch was way off the agenda. A lot was learned by many, and I did go back a few times with different people to talk, 'run' and coach on varying individual recce days.
|Crib Goch later in the Spring, private recce|
I'm pleased to see Kate will be heading up all the DBR recces in prep for 2021, and hope to be able to support her accordingly.
2019So, to 2019 and my own experience.
Picture this. I'm standing in the Castle, ten minutes before the start. Shane re-iterates that the timing will start at the far end of the Castle Walls, so there's no need to push the front, and asks the faster runners to start at the back, to allow the slower people more time. (Cut-offs are finite)
So why do I gravitate to the back? Quietly confident, complacent maybe. I wish Jim a speedy and efficient journey and moved away a small distance, each in our own space. I moved further back so that I'm observing the whole scene in front of me. What is all this about? Do I really want to be here? Do I want this any more? Certainly, what I found in front of me seemed alien; the behaviours of some in congruent with my own values, and I struggled to hear the Welsh Male Voice Choir.
My body language was appalling. Conscious that I was leaning somewhat casually against a 1000 year old Castle wall, I became aware of a photographer pointing a long lens at me. I don't think they bothered to press the shutter, or hope they didn't.
For several minutes I thought, 'You don't have to do this. Walk away now.' I watched the start, went for the customary loo stop, then set off at the back, catching the Dragon's tail on the outskirts of the town. I hated that first morning. A few minutes pleasure running with Mel over the Carneddau a steady climb over Tryfan with a nice French couple, then a cup of tea at PyP.
A good climb of Crib Goch, followed by 'Lets see if I can pass 10 people on the descent to camp?' No racing, just let your fell running experience count for something. It did. I passed ten before Lliwedd.
For the record I kept a low profile in camp. Tried to avoid the crowds with a late start on Tuesday. Made a couple of numpty errors leaving camp. Enjoy an hour or so with Peter heading across to the Rhinogs but messed up coming into Day Two cut-off and missed it by 5-10 mins. After an initial numb feel, a glorious sense of relief engulfed me.
Further reading:Original blogs for 2012 and 2019
I am very willing to support and help anyone in their future DBR endeavours. I'm happy to have a free phone or skype call regarding training and preparation, hopes and fears. Remember, I am not a coach and so will not write you a training programme or sign you up for a monthly deal. I will try and sort you head out and get you on the right track, now or in the future.
Plus, of course, you can book a 'One-to-One' day on the hills, with myself (or one of the NAV4 tutor team if you prefer). Details can be found on the Personal Coaching pages of the NAV4 Adventure website.
Hardskills, softskills ...it's a complex issue.