“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), Hunter S. Thompson
I never meant to enter Dragon’s Back, after dropping out of Tahoe 200 last year I swore off these epic events but two months after 2014’s quadrilogy of DNF’s at Zion 100, the Welsh 3000’s, Tahoe 200 and Ultima Frontera something about Dragon’s Back got under my skin. This was a different event – you had to qualify and be selected, it was local to me, only a few people had ever completed it. Yes – this one was different… So – after a bit of gentle persuasion from my friends at “Dirty Daps, Muddy Tracks”, i.e. lots of posts chanting “DO IT, DO IT, DO IT” I slapped down the £750 entry fee and awaited the rejection email. That didn’t work out too well – they let me in.
At this point I should probably mention that back in my youth I was known as “Go-on Guy”, this was because I could be persuaded to do just about anything by asking me 3 times. The conversation would go something like this:
Them – “I bet you cant’t jump off that garage/drink that bottle of vodka/eat the hottest curry/ride the shopping trolley down that hill”
Me – ” Yeah, that would be stupid”
Them – “Go-on Guy”
Me – ” No, sod off”
Them – ” Go-on Guy”
Me – ” I’ve already told you no, do you think I’m stupid?”
Them – “Go-on Guy”
Me – ” OK then, let me at it”
You get the idea? I’m very suggestible/stupid and up for a good challenge – there’s probably some deep, psychological issues about acceptance involved but for now, let’s just say – I can be persuaded to do just about anything if you ask me “Go-on Guy” 3 times. I also have been known as “Awesome Mawson” but that’s another story for another time.
Back to Dragon’s Back, 22nd-26th June 2015, 5 days of mountain running from North to South Wales. Around 292km and 15,665m of ascent, (181 miles, 51,000′ in old money). Now – those stats don’t scare me at all… Pro-rata it’s about the same as Bear 100 and a few of the bigger mountain events I’ve done. It’s not at elevation either – the highest peaks we have here in Wales top-out at 3000′ so no issues with altitude.
So – why I am I here at 01:00, a week before the race looking at my kit and thinking “SHIT – what have I done?” well, let me explain a bit more about the Dragon’s Back…
This race was first run in 1992, it took another 20 years for someone to manage the logistics of running it again. In 2012 around 30% finished the full race – 2015 will be the 3rd edition. So – why is it so hard? It’s not your average race, it’s not a trail race, a fell race and probably stretches the limits of what could actually be called a race – it’s more of a personal adventure. There’s no real course only a few checkpoints to visit in order, (which you don’t know until you start each day) how you get between them is up to the individual. Most of the route is featureless, trackless, mountainous terrain. There’s exposed ridges with Grade 1 scrambles, vast stretches of bogs and marshes and oh, did I mention – just about every mountain on the spine of Wales. The checkpoints change with each edition – so there’s no guarantee that if you try to recce the route you’ll be covering the right ground. My approach is “ignorance is bliss” – I’ve been into Snowdonia and I know the Welsh mountains and terrain – it’s going to be emotional, wherever the checkpoints tell us to go.
In good weather this might be OK, if it’s wet, cloudy and/or foggy it will be a nightmare. Having got lost on the Welsh 3000’s last year I know only too well how nasty Snowdonia is when the clouds are down. It can go from a nice walk in the hills to a desperate scramble on the rocky cliffs and crags in seconds.
One of the things that swayed me was the structured 5-day format with campsites at the end of each day. That’s what killed me at the Tahoe 200, I need that support and forced sleep/support stations otherwise I’ll just carry on until I drop. My aim is to plod around in 12-13 hours each day and get at least 5-6 hours of decent sleep a night. I’m not in any rush and plan to get my money’s worth. It’s a fine-line between running fast enough to get me to the end of the stage with enough time to refuel and recover, and going harder than I can recover from in the limited time overnight. Experience tells me that I can go forever on 17-20 minute miles on hilly/mountain terrain and that’s good enough to hit a 60-65 hour final goal. The only real issue is navigation, have I mentioned I can get lost in the frozen food isle in Tesco?
I’m currently packing my kit for 5 days, this picture shows what I’m taking. It’s my “hill food”, sleeping gear and other essential kit for 5 days in the Welsh mountains. I can’t believe how much there is, and I think this is conservative with about 1200 calories of “hill food” per day! How do the Marathon de Sables people fit all this into a backpack? Fortunately we have it carried from camp-to-camp for us so all we need to worry about is what to carry on the day.
Training has been a bit sporadic. My approach has been a big run at the weekend and precious little during the week, mainly because I’ve just been too tired to do anything with any quality. It’s got me through a couple of 100k runs including a comfortable Fellsman and a solo Bishop’s Castle Ring run in Shropshire. I was also happy with finishing the awesome Transylvania 100k in nearly 31 hours feeling OK – so no DNF’s this year. It will be interesting to see how my approach compares to others who do lots of shorter, faster runs.
It’s going to be an absolutely awesome adventure – I know a few people doing the race and another few marshalling. Hopefully some of my buddies will be able to come along and support on the way too. It’s going to be an epic event, and I hope there’ll be an equally epic blog to follow in a couple of weeks time!
Enter the Dragon!