91 competitors have gathered in the North Wales town of Conwy tonight for the second running of the Dragons’s Back Race – 20 years after the first run. The race that was too good to be forgotten, and until now too tough to put on again, has returned after two decades to challenge the very best mountain and ultra runners in the world.
Shane Ohly is the organiser who has relaunched this legendary race and the speed with which entries filled prove the race was far from forgotten, if anything its iconic status has grown over the years. Tonight those runners who wanted to take on 200 miles of mountain running and 45,000 feet of ascent in 5 days of racing across often trackless terrain are on the eve of the race - and tonight they heard the race briefing.
This covered the practicalities of managing so many runners across such a big area, making sure they are all safe and accounted for, ensuring as many as possible finish, and providing camps and food for them every night. As the race goes on I’ll explain more about all this, but one thing to emphasise is that the runners were told cut-offs and course closure times would be enforced. They were also told Day 1 would be quite a bit harder than it was 20 years ago!
They won’t get their maps for day one and the route until the morning, but Ohly told them all the first day would take them over all the Welsh 3000’ peaks and include 20 checkpoints. After a night in which some of them may not sleep too soundly, they will all be up for an early start, with the race beginning at 07.00 in Conwy Castle.
For many the highlight of the evening was the introductory talk given by Martin Stone, one of the winning pair in the original race. He began by asking a round of applause for the 4 athletes from the original race who are returning to race The Dragon’s Back again. These are his running partner from 20 years ago, Helene Whitaker (nee Diamantides), Wendy Dodds, and Joe Faulkner and Steve ‘Dubby’ Dubieniec who raced together in 1992. Steve has travelled over from New Zealand for the race.
Stone recounted how the lead had changed day by day on the first race, and how important route finding was to the teams. In that race almost all of the competitors ran in pairs, and one significant difference this time is that it’s a race for solo competitors. Stone told how both he and Diamantides had very low points and needed their partners to pull them through, and his advice to competitors was to buddy up with a runner of similar standard.
He also advised runners to try to only think about the next summit, next checkpoint etc, and to break the route down in this way to help keep their focus ... and their sanity! Ohly agreed; “It is going to be hard,” he said, “but it is doable!” Just how hard it is going to be everyone will find out tomorrow!