Excitement and nerves as runners register at Berghaus Dragon's Back Race

19th May 2019

More than 400 participants, arriving from 32 different countries, formed a long queue at the seaside town of Conwy, north Wales, today as they registered for the world's toughest five-day mountain running race. Each carrying a large bag of kit, they checked in and picked up race numbers, maps, safety briefings and t-shirts. Marshals ensured that their additional race rucksacks contained all the mandatory kit.

The runners, with an age range of 23 to 68, face a 315km race with 15,500m of ascent starting tomorrow morning – and finishing on Friday. They will complete five stages, day after day,  following the wild and mountainous spine of Wales from north to south. 


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Participants arrive to register at the start of 2019 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® ©No Limits Photography

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Runners chat as they queue to register. ©No Limits Photography

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On film: The busy registration tent. ©No Limits Photography


The first-time hopefuls

For many runners, it is their first time at the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race®. These participants talked of their nerves – and excitement.

Alessio Volani (race number 450), of Italy, said: "It is my first time in Wales and my first multi-stage race, so I am simply hoping to finish. It will be a new adventure."

Standing nearby, Nelson Burns (race no. 60), from the UK, said: "It is also my first multi-stage running race. I hope to survive! I used to be a keen cyclist and I am doing this long-distance running race as my way of proving to myself that I am not getting old."

Two friends, Joshua Toh (437)  and Abimanyu Shunmugan  (398), had travelled from Singapore to race. Joshua said: "This is my first time in Wales and while I have started a multi-stage race before I have not completed one. I have heard that previously there has been a 50% drop out in this race and that makes me nervous. My goal is to be one of those who do finish."

Abimanyu said: "I just hope to complete inside the cut-off times. I am also looking forward to seeing the scenery of the route and I hope the weather stays sunny."


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From Singapore to race in Wales. ©No Limits Photography

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The registration tent. ©No Limits Photography

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A participant is fitted with their race chip. ©No Limits Photography


Anwen Darlington (98) is visiting home territory in north Wales. Her parents live near the race start, although she now lives in Dundee. Anwen said: "One of the attractions of the race is to visit areas of Wales that I have not seen before.  

"It will be an adventure although I confess I am terrified. I have no idea if I will finish but I have been training in the Cairngorms and so I hope that will pay off."

Lee McKenzie (288) said: "This is my first time in this race and my main concern is not finishing. However, my biggest hope is that I do finish."

A great way to holiday

For those that have taken part in the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® before, or have completed other similar events, the following five days were described by many as a chance for a "holiday".


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Sabrina Verjee: I am looking forward to a holiday. ©No Limits Photography


Sabrina Verjee (448) is taking part in the Dragon's Back race for the third time. In 2015, she was fifth female and in 2017, the last outing of the race, she came home second lady.  However, the British runner insisted she was not in Wales to be competitive.

She said: "I am looking forward to it like a holiday. I do not take part in these events to compete. I am here to enjoy myself. I will be away from work and I will be doing all the things I love, running, eating, sleeping and chatting. I am taking part for the benefit of my mental health and I am really looking forward to the next five days." 

John Kynaston (247), from Scotland, has gifted himself the race for his 60th birthday. He said: "This has been a two-year plan and I have been training for this. I am looking forward to it and although I am worried about the uncontrollables, such as the weather and potential injuries, I am excited about what lies ahead.

"I have three aims, rather like medals. Bronze is to finish, silver is sub 75 hours and gold is sub 72 hours. Let's just see..."  

Jim Mann (47), taking part for his fourth time and the runner up in 2017, was not to be drawn on his aspirations for this year's race. A new dad, he said: "I have not been training that much. I am looking forward to getting some sleep this week!" 

But the British runner who also came home 6th in 2012 and 1st in 2015, is very experienced and one to watch at the front of the field. He said: "Let's just see how it goes..."

Mats Borgen-Johansen (42) is from Norway. He has previously competed in the endurance mountain trail race, the Tor de Geants, among others. He said: "I know what multi-stage races can feel like but Wales is new to me and there are many unknowns, including the terrain and the weather. 

"My other big concern is coping with my celiac disease and all that goes with that. I am also worried about how my muscles will cope with all the downhills. That's a lot of worries, isn't it? Actually, I am also on my vacation and I am looking forward to being away from work and relaxing."


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Berghaus Dragon's Back race timer chips. ©No Limits Photography

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The mandatory kit list. ©No Limits Photography

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Ready to race. ©No Limits Photography


Jorgen Grondal (164), also from Norway, was forced to pull out of another multi-stage race, the Trans Gran Canaria, so he was hoping that the Berghaus Dragon's Back race will prove to be a better race for him. He said: "I had problems with tendonitis but I seemed to recover okay. Now I am just focusing on having a good time. I am looking forward to meeting new people, pushing my limits and the scenery."

Mike Hogan (188) is thrilled to be at the start line of the race. The British participant said: "I have volunteered at other races with Ourea Events to gain the credits to get to this race. The training has been hard with juggling my young kids with my wife, who also does long distance running. I just hope I have done enough.

"I am looking forward to starting and also to getting it done. I want to focus on running my own race and to not taking my eye off that." 

Ian Heywood (181) completed last year's Cape Wrath Ultra race and is keen to do the same with this week's race. He was philosophical, however. He said: "I am 56 and I would like to finish the Dragon's Back before I am 60. I hope I can do it this time but if not I will see this opportunity as a recce for doing it next time. I still have time before I turn 60! I hope I don't irritate the Dragon!"

Ian will be drawing on previous experience. He said: "I know from the Cape Wrath Ultra that I need to focus on one day at a time. I am worried about niggles and injuries but I am trying not to think about that, just about getting to the finish each day without being cut-off."


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Race returner Ian Blakebrough. ©No Limits Photography


At the age of 68, Ian Blakebrough (race number 40) is the oldest competitor this week – and he is making a return to a race he had to pull out of four years ago. The British runner, who was the oldest person to finish the Cape Wrath Ultra three yeas ago, said: "I was disappointed last time I did the Dragon's Back because I had picked up an injury while skiing earlier in the year and the race was over for me after a day and a half.

"This year I have been more careful while skiing and I hope to make it to the finish of the Dragon's Back. I am really looking forward to a beer at the end!" 

And finally...'What could possibly go wrong?"

As registration continued throughout a sunny afternoon, a participant was seen dashing towards the back of the queue, seemingly a little dishevelled. It was Louise Mcwilliams (291), an experienced UK ultra runner. Laughing, she said: "I have rushed to get here after a weekend of zero sleep because I was volunteering at a 100-mile race. I guess that is not the best preparation but I am still excited. What could possibly go wrong?"


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Volunteers man the registration tent. ©No Limits Photography

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The race relies on a dedicated team of volunteers. ©No Limits Photography


Track the runners

Keep track of the runners on the live tracker  This news feed will give daily updates on the runners as they aim to slay the 2019 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race®.

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