Dragon’s Back 2021 – Lessons Learnt

Well here we are a week after the event and it is fair to say that my race didn’t go to plan! It may be small consolation that 75% of the 370 starters didn’t reach Cardiff Castle either but my reasons are my own and I can’t compare myself to others. In fact, 130 people DNF’ed on day one of this six day race – that is astonishing. Compared to a total of 30 last year this is a huge increase and meant a third of the field were wiped out on the first day, largely due to the heat and humidity right from the start I’d say. I finished day one, in fact I loved it.

Perfect conditions on Crib Goch

Tryfan was tough as always but skipping over Crib Goch and overtaking people I was in my element, then when a friendly face greeted me at the top near Garnedd Ugain I was told I was in good spirits and looked strong. In truth I should have carried on and started day two, there were a few reasons I didn’t…

Mind Over Matter

Steep descent from Gallt y Wenallt

It is true that I was shaken and did have a very sore back and painful shoulders after a pretty bad jarring fall on the last dark, steep, grassy descent from Gallt y Wenallt (a dewy, slippery descent of over 500m in less than a mile). It is also true that both these things felt pretty much back to normal after a couple of days so I don’t consider that the main reason I didn’t continue. At the time, in my depleted state, I convinced myself that this WAS a good enough reason to stop, coupled with lack of sleep and inability to keep food down. In actual fact, looking back now I can see clearly that I let my demons win on this occasion – convincing me that there was no point carrying on, it was going to be hotter than the first day, I’d be timed out for sure, how can I even run with a sore back, no sleep and not having eaten anything. The answer is that you CAN and I SHOULD have done. If I had started day two I may well have made it to the finish (of that day AND even of day six – I’ll never know now).

Silence Your Demons

The demons won this time and I’m kicking myself, just a little bit. I’m not devastated, I’m not sobbing, I’m certainly not broken but I am a little disappointed in myself that I let my own demons talk me out of completing something amazing. Self-preservation is a strong instinct but you need to keep it in check if you want to take more than a fleeting step outside your comfort zone. There are a number of demons I know I need to deal with. I didn’t cope well being totally out of my comfort zone in camp – I felt stressed and under pressure, the effect (and fear) of running in the heat, fear of failing (go figure!) and there are a few others too. One particular demon I should have dealt with some time ago, but I have allowed to linger and affect me negatively for too long, despite knowing deep down that no good would come of it. When you finally see those true colours come shining through it is easy to feel like a fool. Sometimes, everyone else can see it apart from you! I will learn lessons, draw strength from it and not repeat the same mistake.

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

Probably no surprise to anyone who knows me well but I am going back in 2022 to have another go. I have made notes covering how I will approach the race differently next time. The list covers areas from preparation, recces, climb training, rest and other aspects. I will meet more Dragons and immerse myself in the race preparation so I find myself surrounded by friendly faces in camp next time rather than feeling lost. I’ll also focus on rest and make sure I stay well away from any Dementors before the next race!

Final Thought

When I set myself a challenge I hate to let it beat me and give up. This may be the ultimate challenge in many ways but I wouldn’t have entered the race if I didn’t truly believe I can complete it. See you out on the trails my fellow Dragons In (More) Training.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Dragon’s Back Race less than a week away

Next week I’ll be taking part in the Dragon’s Back Race, one of the world’s toughest mountain races. The event takes place over six days, starting Monday 6th Sept at Conwy Castle, North Wales and finishing in Cardiff Castle.

The full Dragon’s Back route from Conwy to Cardiff

The route is 236 miles in length with over 17,400m of climb (twice the height of Everest!) and covers the whole of Wales from north to south, crossing three mountain ranges – Snowdonia, the Cambrian Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. Route highlights include day one which takes in the Carneddau and Glyder ranges, then tough scrambles up Tryfan and Crib Goch before a climb to the Snowdon summit, then day five includes a full traverse of the Brecon Beacons.

I’ve been running ultras for nearly ten years now and have so far run almost 50 ultras ranging from 30 to over 100 miles. This is definitely the biggest challenge I have ever taken on. I genuinely don’t know if I will make it the whole way, but I’ll give it 100% as this race means a lot to me. I have been training hard despite covid restrictions and completed seven trips to Wales so far this year to recce the route and get used to the tough climbs and terrain. It has been amazing to experience the landscapes, incredible variety of terrain and relentless climbs(!) that the journey entails. I’ve seen Pen y Fan at sunrise, Cadair Idris at midnight, bivvyed 630m up Drygarn Fawr near Elan and been spellbound by the remoteness and beauty of the Cambrian mountains. I love Wales. Words that spring to mind are WOW, EPIC and IMMENSE! This is going to be one hell of a rollercoaster ride. I can’t wait to get started now!

Near the summit of Cadair Idris

The media coverage on this event is excellent. The organisers post daily video updates on Youtube and Facebook and there are live webcams at the finish points. More details on the route and the race itself can be found on the Dragon’s Back website.

While the race is on, you can send ‘Dragon Mail’ to support your runner. These messages are given to each competitor as they finish each day and provide a much-needed mental boost at the end of a tough day. Details of how to send Dragon Mail will be posted on the race website over the next couple of days together with links for the live tracking and race results. My race number is 105.

Race website: https://www.dragonsbackrace.com/

Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/DragonsBackRace-RasCefnYDdraig

Pen y Fan at sunrise