DragonsBack Race Recap
It has been a week since my return from Wales and 10 days since the finish of this iconic event. I don't race a lot throughout the year but when I do it is usually a race that requires intense preparation.
For anyone unfamiliar, the DragonsBack Race in Wales is a 236-mile six-day trail race that covers the length of Wales starting in the north in the castle in Conwy and finishing in the south in the Capitol city of Cardiff. The course is unmarked and has no aid stations. You are required to use navigation (GPS allowed) to follow a prescribed route that entails electronic checkpoints along the way. There is one checkpoint usually midday that has your individual drop bag containing your food for the afternoon and any other items you may need, however, there is a 5lb. limit on your bag.
Participants must carry the following with them at all times: Compass, whistle, headlamp, batteries, rain top and bottom, extra layer, hat and gloves, hydration system, and enough calories to last the day (upwards of 2400). Our personal duffel bags for each night were carried to the next campsite as we moved south and I would spend each night in a tent with seven other racers. Our duffels contained a sleeping pad and sleeping bag, extra clothing, socks, mess kit and cup, blister kit, and your remaining daily race food for the six days. Maximum weight 32lbs.
Now the nitty gritty: Each day averaged 40 miles, and the total vertical for the race was 57,000 feet. If you miss a mid-day cutoff or the end of day 10 p.m. cutoff you are relegated to a short course for the remaining days. Needless to say, I had to be strong on the uphills and downhills and be able to run when possible, and make no mistakes navigating. Ya, it was a little stressful.
A day begins like this: 4:30 a.m. wake up. Deflate and pack the pad and sleeping bag. Take a bag containing a mess kit and water bottles and a toothbrush. Eat, fill bottles, brush teeth. Spray feet with Tri-slide silicone lubricant then put on Drymax socks. I did not have one blister with this combo. I used Hoka SpeedGoat 6 shoes which I found to be okay under the wet, muddy, sheep poo conditions. I wore T8 compression shorts and T8 Sherpa shorts which are the quickest drying and lightest shorts I have ever used. After that load my pack with food for the day. I used Awesome Sauce made by Spring Energy Gels and carried twenty per day along with twelve buffered electrolyte tablets since I was doing straight water. The gels worked very well as it is basically applesauce and basmati rice and are easy on the stomach. If we passed through a town it was within the rules to hit a gas station or bakery for a coke, maybe two.
As you leave camp you carry your duffel and drop bag over to a table to be checked and weighed. Your race vest is then checked for mandatory gear. This was a daily routine and if you were missing anything you could not start the day. More stress.
Once I left the table I would dip my wrist dabber into the electronic box and head out with a map in hand. It was 6 a.m.
What can I tell you? It was hard, like stupid hard, okay stupid stupid hard. The picture is from Day One at about the 23-mile mark. There were 35mph winds gusting and it was a pucker factor of 10. As far as each day there are places where no trail exists. Imagine going to a ski area and going up AND down the steepest, rockiest terrain they have. Now do that for 10 to 12 hours. Do that in training and maybe just maybe you will be set up to finish.
Day One went well and took about 13 hours to complete on a route of 31 miles which was compiled of the 13 highest points in Wales. The highlight was certainly Crib Goch, a knifelike ridge of a quarter mile. Type 10 fun.
Day Two turned nasty with rain and windy conditions in the Rhynogs, a rugged stretch of peaks, steep technical descents turned happy legs to sad legs and and the trail to mud, needless to say, it was a 15-hour day. Again ugh.
On day Three it was clear for most of the day and then went sideways. I struggled a bit through a boggy marsh area and up to the final summit checkpoint just as darkness fell. Out came the headlamp in foggy, rainy, blowing conditions. Totally alone now for the last 5 miles in a whiteout without snow. I would come in at 9:30 p.m. It was a long day that gave me very little time to eat and prep for the next day which diminished my chances to finish on time the next day.
Day Four was muddy and rainy and muddy and rainy from the start. This was tremendously taxing for all competitors and it drained my tank quickly. This was to be my undoing as I would miss the cutoff midday by 10 minutes and be relegated to a shorter course for the last two days. I was certainly disappointed but for those of you who know me, I put things behind me and move on quickly. The one moment that will always remain with me was being at the cutoff point and being told the Queen had died....some things we never forget.
Day Five was more rain and wind and small breaks of sunshine that gave a glimpse of the rolling Welsh landscape. With only 20 miles to cover that day the pressure of cutoffs was gone and I was able to enjoy where I was even more. The best part of Day Five was arriving in time for a dinner of fries, shepherd's pie, smoothies and blueberry cobbler, and ice cream.
Every day became a race with time management when I finished. Quickly change, blow up mattress, layout bag, eat, brush teeth, pack race vest for next bag. Wear clothes I will race in the next day, let feet breathe, put in ear plugs, take Leg Cramps PM and Restful Legs. Sleep. Wake up run and repeat.........
Day Six was a beautiful day. Thirty of us were transported to the midpoint of the course for the final 20 miles into Cardiff and the finish line. It was a beautiful run on tarmac and fields and bike paths through the city to a finish line next to the castle we would have finished in but because of the Queen's death was closed.
Looking back on the twelve months of preparation I realized the journey was as magical as the race, I wouldn't change a thing.
In 2019 I finished the course and received the pewter sculpture of a Dragon. I know now that it is the only one I will ever earn but in many ways, it also represents 2022. It was a blessing and a curse to be here. The beauty, the camaraderie, the difficulty, the highs, and the lows. Wales will always be with me......