Race Director's Report - 2017 Berghaus Dragon's Back Race

31st May 2017

There is no doubt that the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ is legendary and global. With this fourth edition of the race just gone, it has firmly established itself on the top table of world-class mountain running events, and it is also clearly one of the hardest to complete! The statistics speak for themselves:


2012 - Starters 82, Finishers 32 – Finishing rate: 39%

2015 - Starters 142, Finishers 65 – Finishing rate: 45%

2017 - Starters 223, Finishers 127 – Finishing rate: 56%


Looking for the final results?


Whilst the percentage of finishers is increasing this doesn’t tell the full story. First and foremost, the average experience and personal competency level of a participant at the event is very high in comparison to other events, and if you put this same cohort of runners into most other events, the finish rate would be near 100%.

Information about the nature of the course and best approach increases with each edition of the race and the addition of a Recommended Route printed on the map, and accompanying GPX track, was a massive help to many participants, and certainly pushed the finish rate up in 2017. The weather was also a huge help. Although heat and sun makes the going tough for the runners, very poor weather in terms of wind, rain and poor visibility has the potential to decimate the field, and this will happen eventually.

We will very carefully review the entire route again over the next 12 months, and the GPX files of every participant. However, at this stage, I have no intention of changing the route unless there is a requirement from one of the many landowners and stakeholders along the 315km course. The route as it is, is awesome!

I am reflective on what I see at the event and the feedback we receive, and strive for a process of constant improvement. During the event, and immediately afterwards, I have made various notes on incremental improvements, and there are now 10 pages of bullet points…. Expect the 2019 event to be even better!



Relief on the 2017 finish line ©guillemcasanova.com


Thanks to the Event Team

Compared to any other component of an event, the Event Team make the biggest difference to the participants’ experience. Without exception, the team at the 2017 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ have grafted through long hours, whilst being cheerful, friendly and professional. Four times Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ finisher joe Faulkner said it best:

“The Ourea Events staff are simply the best. Highly skilled, competent, relaxed .....no egos, faffing, or posing wannabes in this team”.

The team have been incredible, and I am sincerely grateful for their hard work and dedication. The team provided relentless enthusiasm and commitment to the ongoing success of the event. It has been an honour and a pleasure to work beside them, and it’s fantastic to know that many will be returning to help or participate at our sister ultra-running expedition event - the Cape Wrath Ultra™ - in May 2018. The 73-strong event team at the 2017 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race were:


  • Abbi Forsyth
  • Ali Edwards
  • Andy Brooks
  • Ann Perry
  • Anna Morrison
  • Becci Leung
  • Ben Pritchard
  • Beverley Notton
  • Charlotte Hattersley
  • Chris Lines
  • Colin Harding
  • Craig Kingston
  • Dave Cumins
  • Dave Taylor
  • Duncan Anderson
  • Emily Ravenhill
  • Garry Perratt
  • Gary McMahon
  • Gary Tompsett
  • Graham Gristwood
  • Gregory Mickelborough
  • Guido Althausen
  • Guillem Casanova
  • Hannah Phelan
  • Heather Ohly
  • Helen Samson
  • Huw Erddyn
  • Ian Corless
  • Ian Cowie
  • Iona Pawson
  • Jacqueline (Jack) Cooper
  • James Thurlow
  • Jane Hand
  • Jessica Whilock
  • Joasia Zakrzewski
  • John Allen
  • Kate Worthington
  • Kerstin Rosenqvist
  • Kim Potter
  • Lawrie Jones
  • Lillian Deegan
  • Louise Allen
  • Luke Elliott
  • Mary-Ann Ochota
  • Matt Gemmell
  • Matt Harmon
  • Matthew Hand
  • Michelle Creed
  • Mike Mitchell
  • Nick Brown
  • Nick Stafford
  • Nigel Coe
  • Paul Beeson
  • Paul Imrie
  • Pete Gabriel
  • Peter Huzan
  • Rich Heap
  • Rob Howard
  • Rob O'Loughlin
  • Rusty Bale
  • Sabrina Paniccia
  • Scott Mathers
  • Shane Ohly
  • Steve Arden
  • Steve Ashworth
  • Stewart Caithness
  • Stu Lade 
  • Stuart Smith
  • Sue Dowker
  • Tim Glasby
  • Tim Harrop
  • Tom Hecht
  • Will Hardy


Thanks to Berghaus

Special thanks also needs to go to Berghaus. As a leading outdoor brand, they saw the unique and incredible challenge offered by the Dragon’s Back Race for the first of the modern editions of the race in 2012. Ever since, they have been a stalwart supporter of the event, and have committed to continuing their sponsorship through to the next edition in 2019. Berghaus’ support makes many of the added extras of the event happen, such as the live GPS Tracking and documentary film (due autumn 2017). Of course, they always provide the excellent Event Team uniform and a 5-strong delegation to form the exclusive Dragon's Back Race™ relay team! We are looking forward to working with Berghaus at the 2019 event.


Berghaus Dragon's Back Race 2017 Event Team Uniform


The Role of the Race Director

My role as the Race Director of a highly-complex event like the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ is multifaceted but safety, fluid logistics, and fairness are primary considerations. As I made crystal clear in my briefing to all the participants on Sunday evening before the event, occasionally, ensuring that these key event parameters are met will mean that I annoy a participant (timing them out, retiring or disqualifying for example). I believe that being a good Race Director means stepping back from the moment, taking an overview and ensuring that the structure and parity of the event is maintained. That structure is created from many aspects of the event set up; the rules, the start/finish times, cut-offs, the blue fencing etc. all of which combine to give the event its strong identity. Without this structure, there would be no coherent event.

To ensure parity across the event and between all participants, I will not just change the rules adhoc. Whether this relates to a missing mandatory kit item, or missed cut-off, my role is occasionally to apply strict fairness and parity.


Race briefing

Race Director, Shane Ohly, giving the pre-race briefing in Conwy, the eve of the race start ©guillemcasanova.com


Rule Violations

After our sister event, the Cape Wrath Ultra™ last year, we decided to adopt a new system of ‘Three Strikes And You Are Out’, and issuing ‘Strikes’ for any infringement of the rules and potentially a time penalty as well. Overall, this seems to have been a resounding success, and although we still issue strikes, we did not have the problem of consistent (and deliberate) infringement of the rules by the same participants. For the more serious infringement of the rules, both in terms of the actual infringement, and the potential impact on the results, the senior event team investigated the circumstances carefully, before coming to a considered opinion on the appropriate penalty. For the record, there were 9 participants who received official sanctions: One 15-minute time penalty, 11 strikes, and one disqualification.

Each infringement of the rules was treated on an individual basis, and a key guide for us was whether the infringement was deliberate (i.e. attempting to gain an unfair advantage) or accidental (i.e. a navigational error).

Worthy of additional comment are the rule infringements by Jim Mann. Certainly, the two instances had the potential to influence the overall result of the race and each infringement was carefully considered by the senior Event Team, and not me personally, as Jim is a friend of mine. In each instance, their recommendation for a penalty/strike was followed, and this is discussed in more detail in the two videos below. However, it is worth emphasising that Jim’s rule infringements were not an attempt to gain an unfair advantage; they were simple errors in both instances.


Jim Mann in last chance saloon

BREAKING! Jim Mann, currently 2nd - 8 minutes behind Marcus Scotney, issued 2nd strike for deviating from mandatory route. Last-chance saloon? Race Director Shane Ohly explains.. #DragonsBackRace

Posted by Berghaus Dragon's Back Race on Thursday, 25 May 2017


Day 1 - Time penalty issued to current race 1st place Jim Mann

An excerpt from tomorrow's press release: "...the race adjudicators imposed a time penalty of 15 minutes on Mann and he will start day two with a time of 7:27, after he missed a checkpoint. Race organisers had slightly shifted the Crib Goch checkpoint 250m from its 2015 position and its description on the route map was slightly ambiguous, implying that it was in the same location as in the previous race. Mann told marshals on the course and continued on his way with confidence, believing that the checkpoint location was being investigated."

Posted by Berghaus Dragon's Back Race on Monday, 22 May 2017


We certainly learnt from the process of enforcing the rules of the event, and have some ideas for making the process more transparent in the future. Watch for an update on this ahead of 2019.


Day 1 – GPS Tracking Outage

Our GPS Tracking system went down shortly after the start of the race on the first day. The trackers use Manx Telecom SIM cards and the problem was a systemic error affecting a large quantity of Manx Telecom SIM card worldwide. It was not a problem we could have predicted, and not one we could do anything about to fix. For ongoing safety monitoring, we fell back to the systems used by most other races (logging participants through checkpoints, good radio communications, and of course the SI Timing system), and these worked perfectly. Fortunately, the error was fixed by the end of the day, and the tracking worked well from then onwards.


GPS Tracking – Good Behaviour

In my pre-event briefing I did warn participants that 1000’s would be watching their GPS trackers, and that they should be on their best behaviour. Well we are delighted to confirm that there was indeed a huge digital audience during the event, with the outside world watching our every move. There was also almost universal adherence to our mandatory routes and rules and the runners demonstrated an exceptionally high standard of behaviour throughout, reinforcing the excellent reputation that the event has with many stakeholders and landowners along the route. Thank you.


Tracking replay function

Configure the tracking replay (desktop only) by choosing your 'favourite' participants to see their journey in 10-minute increments - check out the cog on the right-hand side for more. Select just one participant for a more detailed recap.


Ongoing Health

Whether they completed the full course or not, every one of the participants’ bodies has taken a significant battering, and we would highly recommend an extended period of recovery now. We would recommend having 4 weeks off running, followed by 10 weeks of easy running, as all too often we have seen participants in our expedition length races return to running too early, and ending up with chronic fatigue and injury problems. Time to let your bodies heal!

We would also like to reiterate the danger of Lyme’s Disease from tick bites. Whilst this is unlikely, if you develop a ‘bulls-eye’ rash around a tick bite, or experience flu like symptoms in the next 30 days, we would advise a trip to the doctors. Ensure that you explain you have been bitten by a tick. There is more information Lyme’s Disease Action website.


Dragon Mail™

Dragon Mail™ proved to be extremely popular again with 3,398 messages of support sent to the participants during the event. We are aware of a small number of instances in which participants claim they didn’t receive a message that they were adamant had been sent. The most likely reason was that these were sent outside of ‘service hours’ – the system was only set up to deliver between Sunday 21st May and 12 noon on Friday 26th May (as advertised in the form - even though some messages from Saturday 20th were also printed). We have a database of all mails sent, so we would invite any participant to get in touch so we can look into any mail that was sent and run an export of just mail addressed to them.

We will look hard at an upgraded Dragon Mail™ system for 2019 and it is likely that we will have to recruit a full-time Dragon Mail™ post master to handle the sheer volume of messages for the 2019 event! Dragon Mail™ is an awesome element of the event, and delivering it is one of the prized event team jobs because of the obvious joy it brings to the participants.



Dragon Mail 'leaderboard' - who received the most mail over the week?


GPS Tracks

All the participants’ GPS tracks are public and available for download for everyone to view (link is to a zip-file download of all tracks - sorry it's not compatible with mobile devices)


Social Media

Please check out our Facebook page – especially our video playlists to re-watch highlights of the action from Wales – and don’t hesitate to tag all those known to you in photos, share posts and your photos from the event.

Don't forget to have a browse through both our Instagram and Twitter profiles too and follow to keep up to date ahead of 2019!


A misty start on day 4

A misty start on day 4 ©guillemcasanova.com



If you are writing a blog/review about the event please share it with us. We will compile a list of blogs in due course.


By Participants




Economic Impact Survey

Participants will be emailed directly to encourage them to complete an economic impact survey. It will only take 2-3 minutes. We are asking participants to complete this survey so that we can clearly demonstrate to organisations (like Visit Wales, National Trust and major landowners) the positive economic impact events have on the local economy at a time when many landowners are dramatically increasing the fees they charge to events. This is important. We will provide £50 of event-credit to use at any Ourea Events 2017 or 2018 event to two participants drawn from those completing this survey! [edited 30/6 - no stock available of 'finisher's gilet']



Feedback from anyone who engaged with the 2017 race, from participants through to audiences keeping updated via news/social media/tracking from afar, 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. Certainly, the honest feedback we have received over the years has been instrumental in polishing the details, and the event is better for it. So, please don’t be shy and get in touch with your comments.


2018 Cape Wrath Ultra™ Entry

Did the multi-stage ultra-running bug grab you? Our sister event, the Cape wrath Ultra™, is an 8-day expedition ultra-running event in the Highlands of Scotland. Now that there are a good number of participants who have taken part in both, it would be fair to summarise the consensus feeling; the Cape Wrath Ultra™ is generally considered to be easier to run, but with greater distances, and a magnitude more remote (and therefore serious) route. The 2018 Cape Wrath Ultra™ is almost sold out, so if you are considering entering, now is the time!

NOTE: We are also recruiting volunteers for this event, so if you are keen to gain event credit please check out the Ourea Events volunteering page for more details.


Cape Wrath Ultra 2018

When was the last time you did something really epic? "This race is the hardest thing I’ve done, harder than the 10 day race in Australia or the Marathon Des Sables." - 2016 finisher Entries open Monday 8th May 2017

Posted by Cape Wrath Ultra on Friday, 7 April 2017


2019 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ - Date & Entries

The provisional dates for the 2019 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ are Monday 20th to Friday 24th May 2019. Please note that there will be a registration day on Sunday 19th May. Entries will open May 2018. We expect the event to sell out very quickly (days certainly, hours possibly) so if you are keen to return, please keep an eye on email updates from us.

How best to prepare? Aside from entering the Cape Wrath Ultra, we recommend taking part in the Expert course of the Silva Great Lakeland 3Day - entries for 2018 open soon!


The infamous Crib Goch - day 1

Day 1 - the ascent up to Crib Goch, the knife-edge spine of the Dragon



For us, we still have 30 blue Berghaus Air 8-person tents to dry!

For you, we've gathered together all the links for news, videos, and even BBC Radio 2 (warning - expires soon) clips:


Clips from BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Breakfast Show






In-race news articles (now updated with race imagery)

Rob Howard from the Adventure Racing website SleepMonsters travelled with the event, and is responsible for the majority of the excellent news story text updated on the event website each day. Relive the race with his compelling tales of adventure, toil and redefining of limits here:


Press Reporting

Chris Lines from Right Lines PR, also accompanied the event producing press releases and daily round ups for the event website. Amazingly, as part of the Berghaus Relay Team, Chris also completed Day 3 of the race! Read his daily summaries here:



Ian Corless's Talk Ultra Episode 136 is dedicated to the Berghaus Dragon's Back Race - have a listen now!


Route Summary (Height profile/distance totals/key locations) Information


Participant Ecological Briefings

The Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race passes through the full range of Wales’ outstanding upland landscapes, including all of the highest mountain ranges in the country. These are recognised as areas of national and international importance for their upland wildlife habitats, flora and fauna. Occasionally, the features that provide this interest can be vulnerable to the wear and tear that may result from the passage of participants. The risk of ecological damage is carefully assessed during early stages in the planning process for the event, when every effort is made to avoid the need for participants to cross areas of special ecological interest.

For situations where participants might need to pass through areas of ecological sensitivity we are keen to encourage personal route selection choices that avoid the risk of local ecological disturbance. An Ecological Briefing Note has been prepared for each day of the 2017 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race to identify key features that contribute to the special ecological value of the event area, with route selection comments to help minimise the risk of localised ecological disturbance.


Class of 2017

The Berghaus Dragon's Back Race - class of 2017 ©guillemcasanova.com 

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