Berghaus Dragon's Back Race 2015 - Race Directors Report

2nd Jul 2015

Above: Kevin Douglas from the USA on the stunning Crib Goch that features in Day 1 of the race. © Ian Corless

The 3rd Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ is over and it is clear from the deluge of emails and social media chatter that the event has, once again, had a profound impact on the competitors and event team alike. The comment and commentary is universally superb and the event has confirmed its reputation as a world-class ultra running expedition experience.

There were nearly 300 applications for the 2015 event. We accepted 144 competitors and 128 started the full course on Monday 22nd June. Helene Whitaker gave an inspiring and motivational talk to everyone on the Sunday evening at YHA Conwy where she predicted that ‘only half of you would finish’. She was proved spot on with 65 runners going on to complete the full course.

Of those that entered, whether they finished the full course or not, I witnessed so many examples of stoicism, determination and grit: aching bones, tendonitis, sore muscles, blistered skin and macerated feet. Truly, the competitors tried so hard to succeed and the importance of becoming a ‘Dragon’ and getting a ‘Dragon’ was an overwhelming sentiment heard again and again at the overnight camps. It was truly humbling to witness.

It is this quiet determination that helps to establish the remarkable atmosphere at the overnight camps. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie and shared adventure and it was incredible to be part of it.

Whilst I would never be so bold as to say the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ is the hardest or toughest anything, it is now clear that this race offers an incredibly difficult challenge that is equal to anything else globally.

Above: Beth Pascall who finished 4th overall and 2nd lady enjoying the amazing day 2 weather and mountains. © Ian Corless


As the Race Director, it is enormously satisfying to reflect on how the event has evolved since 2012 when it last took place. Whilst the 2012 race was a great event, and many competitors and volunteers returned for 2015, I came away from it with a mountain of notes on how to improve the race and listened carefully to the feedback in the months following. The 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ incorporated many minor tweaks to the format and the organisation; as is often the case, many small amendments combined to great effect this year. You will be pleased to know that once again I have returned from the event with pages of notes on how to continue that process of improvement and I am extremely confident that the 2017 race will blow you away! 

The single most notable change from 2012 to 2015 was the refinement of the course and I am now confident that with the experience of the previous two events, that we have the right course and I do not intend to make any further changes to the route in the future, assuming that there are no unforeseen landowner permission issues. This means that there is no need to keep the route secret, and therefore we intend to publish a provisional 2017 checkpoint list shortly. Happy recceing! 

As I explained in my pre-race briefing to competitors, my role as the Race Director is first and foremost to keep competitors and event staff safe. Obviously this is within the context of the ‘nature of the challenge’ and in this instance the nature of the challenge is formidable for all. Secondly, my role is to ensure that the event logistics are effective. We needed to manage nearly 180 people who were at times spread over 100km; many in mountainous, wilderness terrain, with little or no mobile phone reception. We also needed to dismantle, transport and erect the event campsite each day, establish a temporary internet connection, generate electrical power and most importantly, ensure that there was food on the table for everyone! 

Above: André Jonsson from Sweden heading away from the summit of Cnicht - the first checkpoint of the day - on day 2 of the race. © Ian Corless


The complexities of this are significant and very rarely I need to make decisions for the ‘greater good’ of the event, i.e. for the benefit of the majority and for the welfare of my event team. However, after the first two days it was clear that despite some competitors passing through the midway support point before the cut off, they were slowing down considerably thereafter and arriving very late that evening… or more precisely, the following morning! On both Monday and Tuesday we had a small number of competitors finishing after 0100 in the morning despite the course closure time of 2300. This meant that some members of the event team (admin, catering, safety, medical) all needed to remain up until everyone was accounted for. For the earliest starters and latest finishers, this meant finishing work at 2am and needing to be up again at 4am, which was not sustainable and therefore I brought the day 3 midway cut off 40 minutes forward. The result was profound with all the remaining runners on the full course having finished by the 2300 course closure time or having been retired at the midway support point.

It was the correct decision and is a good example of how a small tweak to the event format has a significant positive impact on the operation of the race. However, whilst I have confidence in the integrity of decisions like this, it is heartbreaking for a few competitors that then fall the wrong side of a decision and are unable to finish the full race.  

Above: Sabrina Verjee leads Jonathan Whilock, James Bromfield and Joanna Zakrzewski towards the summit of Gau Graig at the begining of Day 3. © Ian Corless

Thanks – Event Team

Talking of early starts and late finishes I need to now mention the utterly superb volunteer marshals and event team. The entire team worked incredibly hard, with relentless enthusiasm and I am personally, very sincerely grateful for their help and support, as I know the competitors are too. Honestly, the whole team worked harder than I ever expected them to need do so that my vision for the event could be achieved. Whilst we clearly delivered a world-class race, it was at the expense of a small team of extremely tired and dedicated people. Next time, we will return with a much larger team, a shift work pattern and ring-fenced rest time. Once again I would like to express my total thanks to the team that included:

Camp Team
Amanda Crozier
Andy Nuttall - Ultra Magazine
Anna Morrison
Carwyn "Caz' Phillips - Preseli Beast
Ed Dickson – Bespoke by Nature
Emily Ravenhill
Jane Hand
Matthew Hand
Paul Beeson
Paul Imrie
Wayne Lee

Catering Team
Beverley Notton
Heather Ohly
+ help from various others notably Emily Ravenhill

Checkpoint Team
Chris Baynham-Hughes
Garry Perratt
Ian Cowie
James Turner
Peter Huzan
Steve Arden
Wendy Dodds

Admin & Logistics Team
Charlie Sproson – Mountain Run
Jean Sinclair
Kate Worthington – RAW Adventures
Tom Hecht

Film Team
Ben Pritchard
Helene Whitaker
Nick Brown
Rich Heap - Slackjaw
Rob Johnson

Medical Team
Abbi Forsyth
Andy Stokes – Stokes Sports Therapy
Claire Ellis
Darrel Singh
Mike Mitchell

Photojournalism Team
Ian Corless - Talk Ultra
James Carneggie
Rob Howard
Tim Burton

Support Point Team
Iona Pawson
Kim Potter
Melanie Wright
Stuart Smith – Adventure in Mind

If you meet them in the pub please buy them a pint! 

Above: Louise Staples and Simon Franklin on day 4. © Ian Corless
Thanks – To Our Sponsors

I would also like to thank the event sponsors. These were Berghaus, YHA, Petzl, Ortlieb and Harvey Maps. 

Eric Audigé-Soutter and his team at YHA Conwy went out of their way to assist everyone involved with the event and we were made to feel extremely welcome whilst staying. We often use the excellent network of YHA hostels across the UK when visiting new areas to plan our events and we have been delighted to work with the YHA on this event.

Special thanks must be extended to Berghaus who have supported the event in an exemplary manner and many of the new features, like the tracking, videos, and the excellent tents are a direct result of their sponsorship. What is really great about working with Berghaus is the depth of talent they have within their staff and sponsored athletes. Impressively, staff members Ivan Muckle, Angela Foster, Luke O’Connor and Dan Smith completed a day each of the race in a relay, with Berghaus athlete, and 2012 winner, Steve Birkinshaw leading them on Day 1.

Open Tracking – SOS Button

The SOS buttons on the competitor trackers were pressed 4 times during the event! I think most of the emergencies and overdue competitor action was hidden away from the competitors but there was lots going on in the background and during the race, on average, one competitor was hospitalised each day and there were two more serious incidents that would typically have involved mountain rescue. Fortunately, we are an experienced event team and were able to deal with these in-house. 

Worried Relatives

Unfortunately a few worried relatives of competitors contacted mountain rescue and/or the police directly when their relative’s tracker went through a ‘black spot’ and they (wrongly) assumed that they had not finished or were still out of the course. In each case they were safely asleep in their tent! It is really important for competitors to explain the nature of the challenge to friends and family and to reassure them that not answering their mobile phone (there was no reception at the overnight camps where these incidents occurred) does not constitute an emergency!

Open Tracking - Competitor GPX Tracks 

One of the benefits of Open Tracking is that we have a GPS track of each competitor for each day of the race. If you would like a copy of your GPS track please contact us and we will send you a copy.

Above: Wouter Hamelinck starts day 5 in high spirits... after all the finish is only 56km away! Check out the superb set of competitor portraits HERE. © Ian Corless



2015 Films

The team from Slackjaw were busy busy during the event and there is an awesome selection of films HERE

Social Media

Please check out our Facebook page HERE and don’t hesitate to tag yourself and friends, share posts and post your photos from the event.

Competitor Blogs

If you are writing a blog about the event please share it with us on social media and by email. We will compile a list of the competitor blogs in due course.


Feedback is very important to us. Whatever you have to say, positive or negative we are keen to hear your thoughts. This is so important for us in refining and improving the event. So, please don’t be shy and email your comments to

2017 Entry

The 2017 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ is not a vetted event and we are happy to offer entries to anyone who agrees to our Competitor Declaration. Entries will open May 2016. Aspirant competitors must complete an online application form. Entries will be sold on a first come, first served basis. More HERE.

Rob Howard Photo Gallery
Rob Howard Event Reports

Ian Corless Photo Gallery
Ian Corless Talk Ultra Reports

Geographical Visits
Above: We predicted that 10,000's of people would be watching and they were...


Online Statistics

We were blown away by the unprecedented levels of engagement with Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ fans and followers all over the world. Some top line stats for the week:

  • Our video featurettes were viewed in total over 82,000 times.
  • Our social reach on Facebook surpassed 300,000 (organic) and we gained over 1000 new fans.
  • Our international reach was staggering with 25% of our website traffic coming from abroad, with a bias from Sweden and the US (89% Europe, 7% Americas, 2% Asia, 2% others). See above for the geographical reach where any country in blue was recorded visiting during the week.
Dragon Mail™

When we advertised the ‘send a competitor a message’ feature on our website, we were expecting perhaps a handful of people to take up the offer. By day 2 we already had over 300 pending and by the end of the week had (with the incredible dedication of teams of marshals, new ink cartridges and reams of paper aplenty) delivered over 650 to the competitors!


We’re incredibly grateful to Nick Smith for setting up which for this event helped put competitors in touch with each other and organise lift shares. We thoroughly recommend it and challenge you to top the record 19% sign-up rate the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ now holds on the site. We’re glad to be able to use this service to do a extra little for the environment and it is in perfect keeping with Ourea Events’ values and continued work with 1% For The Planet.

Above: Jim Mann and Jasmin Paris. Victorious at the end of the 2015 Berghaus Dragon's Back Race. © Ian Corless
And Finally...

Congratulations to Jim Mann (1st overall) and Jasmin Paris (2nd overall and 1st women). They were worthy winners who inspired everyone with their athleticism. Congratulations to everyone who finished the full course. This is a remarkable achievement that very few have managed to do. Congratulations to everyone who lined up on the start line in Conwy Castle, regardless of whether you finished because you had the determination, belief or vision simply to start the race, and very few runners even have that!

Many tears were shed. Tear of joy, pain, relief and simply raw emotion as the enormity of the race overwhelmed not just competitors but the entire event team. 2015 was an incredibly experience for everyone and I know that some of the volunteers are intending to enter in 2017 and some competitors are planning to return… will you be joining them? 

See you in 2017!

Shane Ohly

Race Director
Berghaus Dragon's Back Race 2015

PS... Whether you are a Berghaus Dragon's Back Race™ competitor or simply inspired by the race you might like to consider these other events organised by Ourea Events:


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