Thursday, 2 July 2015

Dragon's Tale Revisted

Dragon's Back Race - 2015

So, the DBR is over for another two years and there will be so many different memories and stories from a wide range of people.

Firstly, I'd like to thank Shane, Heather and Tom for amazingly professional delivery of 'The Third Edition' which appeared to be faultless to me.  Backed up by a highly competent team of hand-picked marshals and with the generous title sponsorship of Berghaus, this was a very slick production.

There is no doubt this is a tough race. It's a tough week on everyone; at least we runners get more sleep generally than the event team, who work tirelessly to make the event happen.  Some 'big names' bailed out, some due to injury and some realised mid-week that it wasn't going to happen for them.
I was sad to see to the two 'Jim's, and my Spine mate Mark, all very experienced mountain running men,  choose to stop through 'SMJ' decisions when things weren't going there way.

There are other people to thank as well,  I spent a bit of time with Carol, initially on the Glyders and especially on Crib Goch, but she is much faster runner than me and quickly gets away on the flat. My tent companions whittled down to see me sharing with Damian Hall, Pavel, Jonas and a certain Mr Tobias Mews who were all great entertainment and a source of inspiration in various ways.  ('Stop Faffing'  Tobias...)

I'd also like to congratulate our NAV4 Adventure clients who did so well: Lizzie, Tremayne, Michelle and Richard for completing the full race, and in very good times, along with Louise, Anna, Carlos, Katharine, Wayne for going so well and so far.  I was really pleased to see Braddan complete this year after being so close in 2012.  I actually didn't see much of him all week, as he started early, got to bed early and was wary of any cut-offs.

More Than Just a Race

'More than just a race' is what Angie from Berghaus quoted today; and she should know having been there working all week and running the complete Day Three, the long tough day, in tough conditions. In some ways it's a family affair, although with different branches of the family.  I've been taking my time to catch up with some social-media, and have particularly enjoyed Helene Whittaker's videos, if only to see what else was going on around me during the week.  Helene is very much part of the DBR team, as is Wendy Dodds;  Steve were conspicuous by your absence.

Great Videos and Media Coverage

There are hundreds of photos on the web, and with more surfacing each day.  Helene's video presentations were the highlight of yesterday's media catch up, and before we all become yesterday's chip paper please take a look at a few videos on the dragonsbackrace website

If you only watch two video shorts then please try these those of Jim Mann, Huw and Glen Davies and myself from Day Five   Jim's words are very poignant, and the bit about Glen and Huw Davies is pretty special for me too.    The camera does lie: the twenty or so seconds of me walking up that lane doesn't show how steep it was.  Plus, I would have answered questions with a more lengthy response especially if Helene or some had asked me something interesting. And....I think Ian Corless's camera has a special filter on it to make us look more rugged and knackered than we really are.

'So, Three Dragon's Back Races in 23 Years?'

I was often asked which was best , or which was hardest, or whether this one was tougher than The Spine.  If truth be told I found this one the easiest.  1992 was very daunting and way beyond the physical limits of what any of us had done then.  2012 was hard from an emotional and psychological point of view as it came just a week after the Sting Exped Adventure Race in Scotland. So, I started a bit battered and sore but was fit that year.  This year in 2015 I was far from running or race fit, but had enough mountain miles in my legs from working outdoors, usually with a sizeable sac on.

I'm just not running fit any more.  Someone once described my running as similar to an old 2.0 litre non-turbo Diesel Transit van.  There the ones that look tatty, and you'd never think they would pass an MOT, but they just keep going.  As long as you keep putting the right fuel in they keep going.

Well, if that is so, in DBR 1992 I (think?) I would have been and 'L' reg Transit. That 'L' plate means a lot to me. In 1992 I was just thirty, and coming into my long distance prime (the media hadn't invented the word 'ultra' then, in fact social media was invented!)  But I was surrounded by the great and the good of long distance mountain running;  Stone and Diamantides, Belton and McDermott, Walsh and Clark, Cudahy and Kyle, Wendy and Sue, Turnbull and Jones, someone called Crane, John get the idea.  So, I was the young unknown tea-boy, the fat 'mid-packer' (sic) who survived and came to the fore.  I was just lucky to be born when I was and be invited to take part.

However, in '92 I was also quietly confident. I'd chalked up 3 Bob Graham Rounds, a good handful of hilly '100' milers, dozens of mountain marathons (proper two day jobs, not 26.2 miles of trail)  and so I had miles in the tank, topped off by an eagerness and passion to have specifically made a Soft Option 'Event' running sac.  In other words, well prepared and with eyes wide open.

Enough of memory lane; but when someone asked if I was going to finish 2015, I immediately thought of Sir Steve Redgrave, when he was asked, 'When did you know you had won?' after that amazingly close finish for his fifth gold medal.  'After ten strokes,' said Sir Steve. Now, Sir Steve isn't arrogant, and I hope I'm not, but having started and got through Day One, and baring injury such as befell Ed or Pavel, I was going to finish this jaunt down the wonderful Welsh mountains.  The destination was a certain, just the speed / time and maybe condition I'd finish in being a little unknown.

Speed Kills

So, just like a 23 year old Transit van, the body work is knackered, the paintwork very much past it's best, and the chassis may be a bit twisted, but inside the engine block refuses to die.  No amount of lycra will hold the wing mirrors on and there's no i-pod socket, tinted glass, nor electric windows.
Air condition involves removing layers of clothing.  Thankfully, smart new Berghaus zip neck short sleeved shirts negated the need to be shirtless this time.

Start Day Four - Bed Hair - Photo by Angie and Berghaus 

Any stage race or 'ultra', or expedition requires you to look after yourself, preserve energy and limit body damage.  The evening's recovery is crucial and a skill set within itself; eat, drink, stretch, (self-medical?) eat, drink, sleep, drink, drink, eat, run...repeat.  Pacing yourself is key, and most of us are only racing yourselves not others.  Although some seem intent on following and steal minutes of others.

Route Choice

Fortunately, this transit hasn't got a Satnav to go wrong; but it does have a map, and good solid navigation skills.  It also grow up in Shropshire and spent it's early years roaming around Snowdonia and Mid-Wales, especially. Seriously, I was efficient throughout with my route choice, 'Yes' in some ways from prior knowledge but you still have to navigate, which at times includes slowing down rather than going the wrong way. I made some small errors, everyone does, but often those are because of 'race head' and trying to gain time on people around you.  One was within a mile of the finish following the 'marked route'! (NB- There is no such thing as a marked route )

I was very happy with my navigation and route choice.  Day Two is the awkward one and I took a direct, and consequently lonely line, enjoying some solitude overlooking Tremadog Bay.  I messed up the end of Day Two, getting swallowed up by some runner-eating-boulders and vicious heather which had me travelling a mile in about one hour and subsequently suffering a mild hunger-bonk on the mandatory route run in. Bit of a sad finish to that day.

Overall, I really enjoyed navigating in poor visibility and certainly passed several people in the 'clagg' with slick lines. However my biggest strength is just keeping up a steady pace,  (as seen in the video on Day Five) which makes it surprising easy to pass people at the Support Point, or even at gates, road junctions and hill tops. Indeed, the ability to navigate effectively is a core mountain running skill and so mastering this will enhance your mountain running performance without doubt.  'Yes' - check out our NAV4 Adventure courses for details.

Diesel Fuel

As long as I keep putting the right fluids in, I keep going. Fuel, water and 'oil' in the right places.

I don't have any complicated nutrition and hydration strategy, but I do like food and drink. I drank water all week, with just two quick tea stops.  I eat sandwiches, 9bars, cashew nuts, cheese and tomato cubes, oat cakes and Peanut M&Ms.  I have been using some Mountain Fuel powders before during and after the race, which make up great milk shake based drinks.  I also had a few Bounce Balls and Cliff Bars from previous expeditions but find them hard work at times.  No gels for me  #gelfreerunning

Gear - Less is More

I bought home more food than I eat.  Heather's catering was great - plentiful food and I've no problem with being vegetarian.  But, I did run out of Early Grey tea bags, had the usual cravings for odd foods and missed semi-skimmed milk.

Clothing: I was lucky enough to earn some Berghaus shorts and base layers, along with a Vapourlight Hypertherm Reversible Smock which is really useful for its weight.   These base layers fit me well, have great length neck zips for ventilation, which is an essential for me.  The Vapourlight Hyper smock also kept me dry in tough weather on the Brecon Beacons during Friday.   That was the only time I put a waterproof on.

Overnight Kit needs careful thinking about. Again 'Less is More', and it's about flexibility and thinking through needs, not necessarily wants.  I know many of you kit fanatics will be after details, but as Helene said at the original briefing, 'Its' not about what you wear, or what you eat .....It's in here (inside) what makes a difference.  Naturally, a NAV4 Adventure course will be a source of further knowledge if you need more advice and input.


The Dragon's Back Race has had a successful third edition.  Well Done Shane and team.  Of course, Shane wasn't in charge in 1992, but I reckon it takes any event to get to three years before it's matured and found it's groove, so he's done it early.  What next for 2017, I wonder.

Finally,  I'd like to thank Mr Stuart Smith. I'll single him out from the many hard working Event Team as he quietly gets on and does the do without any fuss or bother.  I always feel safe and sorted when he's on board.

Thanks for all the messages, support and I wish everyone a happy and swift recovery.
See on in Conway in 2017.


NAV4 Adventure

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