It’s now one month today until the toughest mountain running race in the world – the Berghaus Dragon’s Back race.
This incredible 5-day mountain ultra is 315 kilometers long with 15,500 meters of ascent across wild trackless and remote mountainous terrain – it’s a journey not a trail race.
Fell running legend Steve Birkinshaw offers 14 pieces of advice that could help make a big difference to your performance even at a late stage of training. These tips are relevant to all mountain races – not just the Dragon’s Back Race.
Your mountain ultra-isn’t just around the corner? Check out Steve’s training tips and preparation tips
Over to you Steve…
1. Remember to complete the race you do not need to be fast just efficient.
So no navigational mistakes or faffing just moving steadily all the time in the correct direction.
2. Look after your feet.
A small blister on the first day can turn into a massive open one by the fourth or fifth day making each step agony. The important thing to do is sort out any rubbing before it causes a blister. As soon as you finish a day, wash and dry your feet and make sure they stay dry until the next morning.
3. Be aware of your chaffing areas
At the start of each day apply your favourite ointment to the areas of your body you know are sensitive to rubbing and chaffing. On a stage I always carry an old film canister containing Vaseline which I apply if any chaffing starts.
4. Work out possible water sources
Look at the maps and work out where possible sources are of water are. Then you will know when it is necessary to carry water and when you can do a section without carrying water. For example on the first day there are some long ridge runs with no possible sources of water and you will need a full bottle/bladder at the start of these sections.
5. Dont just drink the water…
If it is very hot pour water over your body at every stream you cross. This will keep you cool and stop you getting dehydrated.
6. Set small goals one at a time
Set yourself small goals, such as get to the top of the next hill or run for ten minutes. When you have achieved that set another small goal
7. Check the weather forecast.
If bad weather is forecast think about moving kit from your “camp” kit into your running rucksack. If hot weather is forecast be extra careful about drinking enough water.
8. Be aware of cut off times
You will be allocated an approximate start time for the next day when you have finished a day. Make sure you do not start after this or you could end up missing the cut-off times.
9. The race does not finish when you have crossed the line at the end of a day
You need to immediately think about recovering and preparing for the next day. Have a plan of what needs doing: refuelling, changing clothes, sorting out kit.
10. Make use of the resupply dry bag
Make use of the 22L resupply dry bag which are at the support points approximately mid-way through each day. Just carry the food you need for the first half (with a little extra just in case) and have a bag of food you can just pick up quickly when you reach the resupply dry bag. Similarly have a drinks bottle or bladder ready which you can quickly swap with the empty one.
11. Run your own race.
Getting dragged along at someone else’s pace will probably cause real suffering later on in a stage. It is better to finish a stage strong than to start fast and suffer at the end.
12. Similar speed friends
If you enjoy company then look out for someone of a similar speed who also wants someone to run with. Some great friendships have been formed on the Dragon’s Back Race.
13. Expect to feel awful…
Expect to feel awful when you set off on days 2-5. The aches and blisters usually seem to improve after half an hour or so.
14. Remember why you are doing it
Everyone will feel exhausted and completely drained at some point in the race. Everyone will at some point question why they are doing it.
Think about how bad you will feel if you give up. The bad times do not last and when you finish and receive the trophy you can look back with pride and think that it has all been worth it.
Remember all the reasons you are doing it – challenge, enjoyment, raising money.