Steve Birkinshaw – Day 1 – Snowdonia, 49km, 3,823m
The race clock turned to 7am and 128 competitors and me from the Berghaus relay team set off along the walls of Conwy castle ready for their trip down the mountainous spine of Wales. After winning in 2012 and having been feeling tired and run down for several weeks I was glad not to have the pressure of racing so I set off in the middle determined to have an enjoyable day out. However, after taking some good routes by the time I got to the second checkpoint I was in front. Climbing up steeply to the third checkpoint the faster guys started to get away and for once I did not race but was happy to let them go. As we climbed up onto the Carnedds the weather turned a bit grim, with a cold wind, rain and low visibility. I made steady progress carefully checking my map and compass so I did not make any mistakes. I took the direct route from Pen Yr Ole Wen down to Ogwen as I had never been that way before and wanted to see what it was like (it was rough and slow, so I will not go that way again!). The climb up Crib Goch was exciting and exposed but without any views, although by the time I reached Snowdon summit the weather had cleared to give a beautiful evening. I enjoyed the descent and finished in 8 hours 48m around an hour behind race leader Jim Mann.
Steve Birkinshaw on day 1. Pic: Ian Corless
Steve Birkinshaw ascending Crib Goch, Snowdonia. Pic: Ian Corless
Steve arriving at Hafod Y Lan Campsite at the end of Day 1
Ivan Muckle – Day 2 – The Moelywns and Rhinogs, 54km, 3,544m
On my current fitness scale the day 2 leg of the Dragons Back race definitely hit epic levels. My route stretched from the bottom edge of the Snowdon range, wound its way through the Moelwyn and Rhinog mountains and ended just short of Cadair Idris. I set off at a little past 6am as much to maximise my available time as to escape the gathering swarm of midges. The freedom to choose your own route between checkpoints was welcome and challenging but map reading wasn’t my main focus, keeping my legs moving was. I hoped the training I’d done prior was enough to get me through the day and it barely was, 17hrs plus and 65km or so after leaving the start I arrived in darkness at the finish completely and utterly drained, 99th out of 99 finishers for the day! I’m in awe of other competitors who did the entire 5 day event and honoured to have been able to be part of our Berghaus relay team.
Ivan Muckle, Berghaus retail trainer accepting the relay dibber from Steve Birkinshaw
Ivan Muckle setting off ready to tackle the Moelywns
Angela Foster – Cadair Idris and Plynlimon – 68km, 3,712m
Somehow I managed to put my name down for the longest day, 68km, the longest I have ever ran before was 46km so although it was only 1 day of the Dragons Back it was still a challenge for me. I was pretty nervous and so set off at 6am making sure that I had a full day ahead. I hooked up with father and son; Glen and Huw Davies and Emilio who came all the way from New York City. Huw’s navigation was spot on and we only went wrong once into a dense forest because the map was wrong, honest! 🙂
The trails were good and I made sure to walk fastup the hills and run everything else, I felt fine most of the way until we went off course into the woods and had ½ a mile of tussock bashing where I ended up knee deep in sludge. Back on a good track for ½ mile and then back aggressively fighting relentless tussocks for another couple of miles until we summited the last mountain in the dusk and in the thick mist. At the time I thought to myself ‘never again’ but something is telling me inside now to do the whole thing. Possessed by the Dragon?! All in all an amazing emotional day meeting lovely people and making awesome friends!!
On top of Cadair Idris, first summit ticked off!!
Leaving Plynlimon…homeward bound!!
Luke O’Connor – Day 4 – The Elan Valey, 64km, 2,273m
It was one of the best, and worst, days of my life. 70km+ distance, 2,500m of ascent, 17.5hrs non-stop on the hill. How do the full week finishers do it!?
Luke pushing hard on day 4. Pic : Ian Corless
The hardest part was being alone for ten hours in such barren and desolate landscape, especially after dark, trudging over tussocks and through bogs. All I had for company were swarms of flies (I was struggling to decide what smells were me and what was what I had waded through), wild ponies and sheep. Plus a film of dead mozzies on my exposed skin.
Arriving at the support point at Elan Village.
This mental and physical exhaustion led to nav errors…which led to extra miles and a 25% gradient climb I didn’t need! However, friends, colleagues plus race participants/staff cheering me on and Mountain Fuel kept me going. Also thinking, “WWBD – What Would Batman Do?” He’d wear an awesome utility belt and beat his demons. So I did.
Net result: exhaustion, dehydration, sunstroke, bites, blisters in places I didn’t know was possible, lead legs, funky smell and too much caffeine. And an amazing sense of achievement – even if common sense and nav skills lost, I won a moral victory on points and distance covered!
Dan Smith – Day 5 – The Brecon Beacons, 57km, 2,313m
After ‘watching the dots’ all week on the DBR website tracker, seeing people getting drastically lost or falling way behind, I started to get pretty apprehensive about doing the final stage of the race. I got nervous about having the right kit, whether my navigation would be up to scratch, and more importantly whether my fitness would get me through before the dreaded cut off times.
Dan queuing up to get his dibber at the start.
I’d done a fair bit of training but I’d never done this kind of distance before so had no idea how I would fair. I took the tactic of tagging along with some seasoned adventure runners, a couple guys who had completed the race back in 2012, and my tent buddies; Big John, Little John and their running companion Mike Evans.
Dan at Carreg Cennen Castle finish line.
We set off right at the front of the pack at 6am on the dot. Not surprisingly their bodies were pretty battered by this point, but their strength, determination and solid nav skills helped us keep at a steady pace, and stay at the front of the field going in to the half way re-supply point. As we headed up toward the Black Mountains, the Johns’ were quick to point out I had ‘fresh legs’ and should be bombing on ahead, so I took up the challenge and picked up the pace…then came the wind, rain and fog! Desperate not to be left to my own devices, I latched on to another couple of runners, Trimane and Michelle, who looked impressively strong runners, and the pace really started to pick up. They quickly navigated us through a couple of checkpoints, in little to no visibility, and I was still feeling pretty strong…until the ‘speed train’ came up behind us out of the fog. The front-runners, with Jim Mann leading the way were cruising through the wind and rain as if it were day 1! Myself and another lone runner John Whilock picked up the pace again and tagged along with the strongest runners in the race. I found it okay at first, but with a couple of checkpoints to go, started to flag and could feel myself dropping off the back of the group. I quickly grabbed all the food and gels I had left in my bag, and started to munch! I managed to cling on the back through the last 2 checkpoints, and then as we descended out of the fog, Carreg Cennen Castle finally came in to sight. It was a privilege then to run up in to the castle with Beth Pascall, and be cheered to the finish by all the amazing organisers and volunteers!
It is true what they say about Ultras and Adventure runs such as these… it’s all about the experience and the adventure, and the people and surroundings made it an amazing one! The full race next time!