Running the Dragon's Back

At the beginning of July I began to entertain the thought of running the infamous Dragon’s Back Race in 2021. This 5-day ultra-marathon journey down the spine of Wales is billed as the ‘world’s toughest mountain race’. As expected, Jane was enthusiastic and supportive, but my twin brother Colin was not convinced, “1½ marathons a day for five days. Good luck with that!!”

Dragon's Back Mountain Race From Conwy Castle to Cardiff Castle in 6½ days

Having made the mental commitment to enter, it came as quite a shock (“random madness” as Colin commented) when the organisers announced that another day would be added, so that the race could finish at Cardiff Castle. The race now totalled six days, 380km / 243 miles and 17,400m /57,087' of ascent. These were big numbers indeed, but regardless on September 1st I nervously waited for 10.00am when the website entry list opened. Despite the eye-watering entrance fee of £1,200 it was sold out in less than 24 hours with 550 entries coming from 34 different countries.

Out of interest, I had the confidence to enter because I’m not exactly a total novice at long-distance and mountain walking in the UK. Over the years I have:

  • Summited all 443 x 2000' summits of England and Wales
  • Completed the Bob Graham Round (solo with road support from Jane)
  • Coast to coast walks across England (Wainwright’s C2C), Scotland (Inverie to Stonehaven) and Wales (Llanfairfechan to Three Cliffs Bay, Gower) – all with Jane.
  • Lakeland Three Thousanders (with Colin /45 miles; 16 hours)
  • Welsh Three Thousanders (first with Colin and second solo /24 miles; 10 hours)
  • Pennine Way (with friend Steve, self-supported, wild camping /9.5 days, daily average 45km)
  • Offa’s Dyke Path (solo, self-supported, wild camping /6.75 days, daily average 41km)
  • Multiple occasions when I’ve walked over 64km /40 miles in one day (but not on successive days!)
Chris Harle - running the Dragon's Back Chris Harle - training for the Dragon's Back

This hardly qualifies me for the Dragon's Back, but at least it’s a decent foundation.

By the end of September, I completed six months of regular running. The start coincided with the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown when a few short runs in a week was all I could manage, but with steady progress I have just reached a 60km week.

However, it’s clear that I need to be more focussed, with training appropriate to my age (currently 62) and to the demands of the Dragon’s Back. So, I have recruited the expert help of fell running coach, Dave Taylor from Sheffield, to prepare a bespoke training plan for the next twelve weeks. In the New Year we will review progress and see what’s necessary to get me to the starting line on September 6th 2021 in the best possible shape.

In the meantime, I will write a monthly update on my preparation, to include what equipment I intend to use, nutrition considerations, recceing the route, and answering any questions that you might have about this event - or my levels of sanity.



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