"The legendary Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ follows the mountainous spine of Wales from north to south. This incredible 5-day journey is 315 kilometres long with 15,500 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain. It is the toughest 5-day mountain race in the world."
I lined up on the start line (with long time friend Ash, we were taking on this challenge together) of this infamous race with these words from the official website spinning around my head! This was to be the toughest challenge of my life, and without sounding like a showboating bragger, I've done some pretty tough stuff in the past!
I was quietly confident that I had what it takes to complete this race, a race that has previously only seen roughly 50% of it's starters even make it to the finish line! I know I was fit enough, but there were some fierce cut-offs that were dominating my mind, would I be quick enough over the unforgiving terrain to stay in the race?
Day 1 - The Dragon's Punch in the Face
Carneddau, Glyderau and Snowdon massif
With considerable ascent, day 1 was the Dragon's Back way of sorting the men from the boys, you would soon know if you had what it takes to complete this iconic race as we headed straight into the mountains. The weather was warm and we were working our way from checkpoint to checkpoint with relative ease, we knew the terrain from previous recce's and our plan to preserve ourselves seemed to be working as we hit the first cut off with over 2 hours to spare. This was going to be easy!!
Each day had multiple checkpoints where you had to 'dib' in, between checkpoints you could take whatever route you pleased, so navigation was key. At least twice a day there were checkpoints with a timed cut off, miss the cut off, even by seconds, and you are out the race.
We then headed up Tryfan, basically rock climbing our way, without ropes, to the summit, from here on the day got serious as we headed into mist and then eventually up to the famous Crib Goch ridgeline, up to Snowdon then a few more peaks after, just to finish us off for the day. It was brutally hard terrain but we moved fairly well and made it in with plenty of time to spare, day 1 complete, success.
Day 2 - The Reality Check
Moelwynion and Rhinogydd
Day 1 had been really tough, but we'd tackled it well, not going to fast or hard and getting ourselves into the finish with plenty of time to spare before the cut-off. If we could maintain this, it would be a fantastic, stress free, week. Then day 2 happened, and our new found confidence was beaten out of us.
We headed into the Moelwyn's and into the mist, this was a section we we'd recce'd but I was struggling to remember any of it, I simply couldn't visualise most of the section and it was bugging me. We navigated fairly well, a few minor mistakes, through the mountains and felt that we were cruising nicely. Then we realised something, we really were cursing nicely, too nicely, we'd already become complacent as we hit a checkpoint just 2 minutes within the recommended time. It was panic time, how had this happened? Why were we so slow compared to yesterday? With no time to consider the details we started HAMMERING the next 2 sections, hitting the hills hard and running the flats much faster than we'd have liked, but we had no choice, there was no way I was getting timed out if I could help it. Thankfully we nailed the nav through a tricky section and got to the timed checkpoint with 30mins to spare, we'd made up enough time to at least eat and briefly rest.
The afternoon saw the sun blazing down on us, it was BOILING. We went up the Rhinogs and then messed up our descent of the first one, annoying as we'd recce'd a great decent only weeks before, it took us ages to get down as we crawled down huge boulders, avoiding massive holes, and heather traps. Again, we were losing time.
We hacked on over the next few mountains, 5mins within the recommended time again, time to hammer another section. I was exhausted, the efforts from earlier, and the heat, were getting to me. We made up the time though. When we eventually got in, it was late, almost 10pm, this was not ideal but we were still in the race, many other were not.
Late finishes would now become the theme of the week, we'd get in at 10pm, quickly eat, wash our feet, take care of kit, set up beds, sleep for 4-5 hours maximum then the alarm went off at 4:45am. Straight up, breakfast, pack kit, back on the course at 6am. It was the only way we'd complete this race and it was relentless.
Day 3 - Long and Lumpy and Neverending
Cadair Idris and Pumlumon Fawr
This was a day to fear, huge distance and yet still loads of climbing to be done. We'd be lead to believe that if you can crack 2/3's of this day, you were pretty much home and dry for the race. Many people had already retired or been timed out, including some friends, we had to do this, for them, for everyone that was supporting us, for ourselves.
We were confident on this day as it had more runnable sections and less technical climbing, which suited us. The heat was cranking up even more and it apparently hit the late 20's on this day. When you are out on the open hills you are literally getting baked by the sun, there is no shade, it was like doing a hilly version of the Marathon Des Sables!
We moved well and but we were still close to the cut-off times, thankfully not as close as the previous day for the most part, just keep moving, just keep moving. Once again the climbs were relentless but the views spectacular, we were both really flagging again, the previous days and lack of sleep catching up with us. This day seemed to go on FOREVER and it was another late finish, but we made it, we were still in the race, somehow!
Day 4 - Wales Doesn't Get this Hot
Elan Valley and Drygarn Fawr
Another incredibly long day and another incredibly hot day. This day had the 'slightly less ascent' tag attached to it very quickly, but with 3 days of mountain running, crawling, climbing, walking in our legs, it wasn't going to be easy.
We started the day in the best way possible, by getting lost! Thankfully it wasn't just us but a huge clan of around 25 runners all looking confused in a forest. It's this way, it's that way, the problem here was there were too many chefs, and no one knew who to trust, or not trust! We ended up sliding down a forest covered cliff in the end, spilling out onto a footpath at the bottom, much to the shock and amusement of our fellow competitors who had taken the correct route. This wasn't good for time, we lost a load and were already playing catch up. Thankfully there were some straight forward runnable sections ahead and we took full advantage, gaining back the time we'd lost and some.
I'd been lucky up to this point, with minimal blisters or issues. This changed when I lost my foot in a hole full of cow shit! Not a big deal initially but suddenly my heel started to sting, really sting! I had the tiniest crack appearing and the dirty water was clearly aggravating it. You have to sort these issues early, before they get out of hand, otherwise you are in trouble. I did a quick job on it out on the trails and then as soon as I got to the timed check point, new shoes went on and the issue was taped, and taped some more. Problem sorted.
It was another huge day and we were totally broken by the end, drained of all energy, it was put determination that drove us forward, we got in late again but we knew there was one day to go and the end was in sight.
Day 5 - How Can We Stop You Now?
Carmarthenshire and The Black Mountain
This was it, time to finish this thing. Final day, it didn't matter than we could hardly walk when we woke up, it didn't matter that we were totally ruined, there was nothing that would stand in our way between us and the Dragon trophy that lie in wait.
Or was there?
I knew that if we got to day 5 in one piece, we'd nailed this race. We'd not been fast, but we were still in the race and all I cared about was getting to the end and getting that Dragon trophy. We set off sore and aching. We'd recce'd this whole day previously and knew it was relatively straight forward, or from what I could remember at least...
The first 30km flew by, we were smashing it, 2.5 hours ahead of the time cut-off and enjoying ourselves. We grabbed more food at a check point and cracked on, eager to get this thing done. Then the wheels started to fall off, and the doors, the windows, the lights....everything. It was BOILING, and there was hardly any water around so we were rationing. I could feel myself burning up and getting dangerously dehydrated. Just keep moving.
We had one last mountain range to conquer, and from what I remembered, it wasn't so bad, I'd remembered wrong. For some reason I'd forgotten about an additional 3 or 4 summits that we had to hit, and they were horrible. I was hot, felt ill, struggling to eat, surely I wasn't going to fail now? I had concerns for sure.
We kept going, I was grumpy, tired and felt worse and worse as time went by. The going was slow but we kept moving, one step at a time. FINALLY we made it to the castle that marked 5km to the finish. We were buzzing, I started to perk up as I knew it was all downhill from here, Ash was bouncing around like he was on a parkrun!
The final 3km were on road, and earlier in the day I'd made a promise to Ash, when we hit the road, we'll put some music on to distract us from the pain. We hit the road and I stopped and started fiddling with my phone, Ash was keen to get on and then the music started playing (A punk band called Midtown if anyone cares!?) and we both had huge grins on our faces. We ran down that hill like school kids at a rock concert for the first time, jumping around and playing air guitar as we went, time flew and that memory will last with me forever more. Then we saw a steward waving and clapping, I quickly turned the music off, we were done, we'd done it, we finished, we BLOODY FINISHED...we entered the finishers funnel to whoops and cheers, I had a tear in my eye, it was over, we were done.
We did it, never any doubt ;)
I want to thank everyone for all their amazing support and Ash for being the best running buddy anyone could ever have, we completing this race against the odds and it was an experience that I will never forget.
As many of you know, next Monday marks the start of a race I've spent the last 12 months training for.
A race that has previously seen less than 50% of its participants even finish. 315km over 5 days in the Welsh mountains.
It's going to be beyond tough, and I'll appreciate every ounce of support I can get.
You will be able to track my progress when the race starts on Monday (22 May) here.
I'm competitor number 31.
Perhaps more importantly, you will be able to send me supportive (or otherwise should you prefer) messages via 'Dragon Mail' through this link.
All support will mean the world to me, you can't underestimate the impact having these messages has on morale in such a race.
Big love, see you on the other side.
I'm constantly get asked about the kit that I use for races, especially for big races like the Dragon's Back Race which starts next Monday (22 May) and lasts for 5 days. With that in mind I thought it might be fun to do a little live Facebook video with my kit for the race. Giving people an insight into what I take on such a challenge.
You can view the video over on the Running Adventures Facebook page.
Enjoy, and let me know if you have any questions.
The Virgin Money London Marathon is done and dusted, you've been thinking about nothing else since at least January and hopefully all your preparation paid off and the day went how you'd imagined it would go while trudging through the rain in the dark throughout winter.
You will be feeling a range of emotions....elation, pride, relief, euphoria and achievement...but now what!? Is that it? For some people, they will be happy with their medal and will hang up their running shoes, satisfied in the knowledge that they've ticked the 'run a marathon' bucket list box. For many others...this will be the start of something special, perhaps a new found love that you can't bear to be without?
With this in mind, I thought i'd offer you some ideas on where to take your running next...
Enter another marathon!!!!
Hadn't thought of that had you!? In all seriousness though, if you loved the marathon so much then why not simply do it again? There are some amazing marathons to enter all around the world, from small local affairs that cost £10 and you get a piece of cake at the end, to full on running extravaganza's (just like London) that will blow your tired little mind with excitement. Here are a couple of cool Autumn marathons with places still going that might tickle your fancy:
Amsterdam Marathon - They say it's "one of Europe's most popular running events", although places are still available!
Loch Ness Marathon - Beautiful area, cheap entry, and monster sightings guaranteed (not guaranteed, he's gone AWOL!), sounds like a winner to me!
Obviously you now have at least one marathon under your belt now, so you have a PB to chase, if you want some help with this, then I can recommend an excellent coach who offers both online and face to face coaching. Learn more here.
Run an ultra?
Hang on, running the marathon was tough enough, and quite far enough, thank you. I'm not going any further! Plus marathon training took up too much time as it is!
Well, let me break some good (?) news to you, you can easily run a 50k entry level ultra marathon off the back of marathon training. You will probably even find it easier than the marathon! Why? Many ultra's are actually much less stressful affairs than the circus of the London Marathon, you'll be in the countryside, surrounded by nature and you'll have no pressure of getting a PB. You can even WALK if you need to, in fact, walking is ENCOURAGED!! I once stopped for an Ice Cream on the beach when running an ultra, and I ended up winning!
There are loads of cool events to have a crack at, many of which you can find via my friends over at RunUltra. Take a look, and see if anything catches your eye.
Nervous of entering an ultra? Well why not join one of my guided trail runs? I offer a 30 mile entry level run, where we take our time, enjoy a day out and have a good laugh in the process. If you do decide to move on to ultras, then I can recommend a good coach again! :)
Try trail running?
Running roads is hard on your legs, full of things that could run you over and can generally, in my opinion, get a bit tedious. You've got fitness in your legs from months of hard work, so why not take advantage of this new found fitness and try hitting some trails?
The UK has an incredible network of trails and amazing countryside to explore. You will not regret heading into the wild and running some stunning routes. Forget about times and mile splits, simply enjoy being around nature, enjoy the woods, run along the beach, run up the biggest hill you can find and take in the view. Running trails is hugely rewarding and will give you a new lease of life. If you enjoy it, then look at entering a trail marathon (there are plenty of those too!). ALSO, running trails will get you fitter, faster and stronger, so if you do return to the roads, you'll smash that PB out the water.
If you are nervous about hitting trails on your own, or want to join a group, then it just so happens that I offer guided trail runs of varying distances, from 4 miles upwards, so come along and see what all the fuss is about. If you fancy having your own adventure but don't know where to start with the planning, then I can help with that too! Just get in touch to discuss, we'll go wherever you want!?
Have a rest?
Training for, and running, that marathon was bloody knackering right? You want a rest right? That's cool too, enjoy your achievement and enjoy the rest, you've earnt it and you deserve it. I would say though, don't stop completely if you have intentions of continuing to run races further down the line, you don't want to be starting from scratch again do you!? Go for a few easy runs over the coming weeks, keep those legs moving and then when you feel ready, dig this blog out again and see if any of the previous suggestions seem more enticing.
The Virgin Money London Marathon is right around the corner and I'm getting a lot of questions about the race. So I thought I'd record this little vlog to offer some quick tips for the day.
I'm racing this year and I can't wait, I hope to see you on the course somewhere, give me a wave if you see me.
The Marathon Des Sables starts in 1 day and 15 hours and there will be plenty of people nervously getting ready to travel to Morocco, and many already there. Hopefully this blog post isn't too late, but I thought it might be useful to share 5 last minute tips for those hardy runners heading to the desert for the adventure of their lives.
1. Trust in your training...EVERYONE on that bus to the camp will be saying they've not done enough, and some won't have done enough, but you need to be confident that you did the best you could with your training and there is no point in stressing about what you haven't done, focus on what you have done and be positive.
2. Race your own race...don't suddenly change your plans for the race based on what others are doing. This is your challenge and you need to look after yourself and be sensible. Pace your race and don't worry about what others are doing.
3. If they offer you 2 bottles of water at a checkpoint, take 2 bottles of water...I watched people ditching 1 bottle on the occasions we were given 2, and many regretted it further down the route. Take both bottles with you and if you don't use them both, fair enough, but you will be kicking yourself if you run out and you've still got 1 hour to the next checkpoint. It could spell the end of your race.
4. Be organised in camp...make sure you know where all your kit is, have a plan for eating and drinking and don't leave things until the last minute, you don't need any added stress during the race by not being organised with your kit, food and time.
5. Don't sleep near the Aussies...those guys aren't good at being quiet, last asleep, first awake ;)
Good luck, enjoy the race and HAVE FUN.
If you are reading this and you are doing the race in 2018, then check out my MdS Coaching Package.
I'm very lucky to be endorsed by a number of brands and companies, and I wanted to write a short blog post about one of those companies...FitBites. It's worth noting that I only align myself with companies that offer a product that I enjoy, and will get good use out of...
For those that are unfamiliar, FitBites are basically energy balls, AMAZING energy balls, and I'm not just saying that. They are 100% natural, raw energy balls with superfoods to give you that extra nutritional boost. They originate from the ultra running world as they were inspired by the mighty Mohamad Ahansal, multi Marathon Des Sables winning Moroccan and all round ultra running legend. When racing, Mohamad simply crushed dates and almonds into a small ball, popped them into his backpack and he was off. ‘Keep it simple and keep it natural guys’ were his words, and so FitBites were born.
I've been using them for training in the mountains for the Berghaus Dragon's Back Race and they have been amazing, you get 2 balls in each pack which is the perfect sized snack while on the move, with some amazing flavours. They pack some pretty awesome nutritional value too, as you can see below.
I'll be dishing these out to some lucky runners who come on my adventures over the next few months, you're in for a treat.
Something new...most weeks now I will be tackling YOUR running questions, make sure you join the discussion over in the new Running Adventures Facebook Group.
Those kinds folks at Millet Sports recently asked if I would test and review some Asics running gear for them. They sent me 2 items, the Asics 2-in-1 Men's Running Shorts and the Asics Long Sleeved Seamless Top.
I've been testing both for a couple of weeks and first impressions....very nice.
The shorts have a relatively long inner which feels close fitting but comfortable. The best thing for me was the lack of long labels that couldn't be removed, they are really a pain aren't they!? The shorts felt good and also have a couple of handy pockets, one with a zip so you don't lose your house key down a drain somewhere! I went out on a relatively warm day and didn't have any 'issues' caused by sweat which is always a bonus.
The top is seamless...literally! It's fits well and is super comfy. Again, no annoying labels scratching away which is appreciated. I was worried about overheating in this top but it's claim of being able to maintain 'optimal body temperature' actually works, I felt good throughout my run and had no problems at all.
Conclusion...if you are looking for some good, versatile kit that will work well in the hills as much as it will on the roads, then this is worth your money. Really comfortable and does what it claims to do, which isn't always the case is it!?
Late last week, myself and my good running buddy, Ash, heading up to Wales once again for some more Berghaus Dragon's Back Race recce'ing and training. We were excited as this was the section we'd been looking forward to the most, day one of the race, 30 miles of mountains across Snowdonia, finishing with Crib Goch and Snowdon itself.
We arrived in Snowdon to strong winds, and snow capped mountains. We managed to find some shelter to put our tent up out the wind and rushed to the pub for warmth, food and planning.
It had become apparent very quickly, that Crib Goch is unlikely to be an option, the mountain rescue teams were suggesting the need for crampons and ice axes if attempting it in these conditions, that's not to mention the wind. We decided that we would take the Pyg track instead, should weather allow, meaning we can still summit Snowdon at the end of a long 30 mile day, and we could at least take a good look at Crib Goch.
The next morning we woke up, and the weather seemed relatively calm! We were excited to get going and our taxi took us to Conwy Castle, for the start of our adventure. We knew time wasn't on our side due to the shorter days, so we had a plan B which would allow us to get back to the campsite and do Snowdon the following morning if we ran out of time, but we were confident we could give it a good go in one day, as always there was one rule...no faffing!
We started well, the sun even came out briefly, and we hit the first set of hills. All was going well and we starting getting higher, at around 400m (altitude) the rain started and the wind began to make itself known, but it wasn't too bad. We kept going, making decent enough time.
We got to Tal Y Fan at 600m and the wind was getting stronger, thankfully we had the benefit of a stone wall protecting us, so we cracked on...enjoying the mountains and relatively easy terrain.
Then things started to go against us...we started climbing even further up towards Carnedd Y Ddelw (how the hell do you say that?) and then Drum (easier!) and we lost our wall! We were hitting the snow line and the wind was ferocious, whipping hail and snow into our faces and against our bodies. I shouted at Ash that we simply needed to get our heads down and churn the section out, keep moving, then we could reconvene a make see assess our situation when we momentarily dropped down to a road and (hopefully) more shelter. We cracked on...
We didn't get far, at the peak of Drum we were now soaked through, getting battered by the wind and snow and we were both starting to get cold, we sheltered behind some rocks and had a chat.
Me: "What are we gaining out of this?"
Ash: "Not much, maybe hyperthermia?"
Ash: "We've gotta get off this mountain..."
I'd started to lose feeling in my fingers, we hammered down the hill to where the wind was slightly calmer and we were back into rain rather than snow. We'd abandoned our adventure, totally gutted, we'd barely made 10 miles out of 30!
We made our way down a valley to the nearest village.
It was this moment that we realised neither of us had any money or bank cards on us! We ALWAYS make a point of having both on us incase of emergency, and the one time we BOTH forget, we need them!!
We then spent an hour chatting to village folk about how we might be able to get back to our camp with no money, thankfully a nice lady in a pub (one of those pubs that you walk into and think you'll instantly get stabbed! Don't judge a book by it's cover and all that!) called us a taxi, we could pay him when we got back to the tent.
We were cold, disappointed, soaked and had spent a fortune on taxis! We were safe though, and you can't put a price on safety!
Many will be reading this and thinking 'what a bunch of wimps, it's hardly Everest', but you have to make the right call on these things, we were in minimal running kit, we had waterproofs but the wind had started to cut right through us. The last thing we wanted to do was bail, we'd driven 5 hours to get there, but many in the village who we spoke to told us stories of mountain rescue going up that very mountain every weekend to rescue people in our situation. We did the right thing.
What's more, it turns out there was an avalanche on the Pyg track at the EXACT time we should have been there, so if we'd cracked on, then I probably wouldn't be sitting here in my warm office writing this blog today!
So whats the point of this blog post???
Well I guess it's simply to encourage people to always put personal safety first, yes we take risks by running in the mountains, but always have an eye on an escape route, and always carry a frigging bank card!
It's disappointing when things don't work out, but disappointment is better than a mountain rescue team giving up their time to hoist you out with hyperthermia.
Stay safe out there folks.
I own Running Adventures.