The 2019 Berghaus Dragon's Back Race has come to an end. The north-south route along the spine of Wales is billed as the world's toughest five-day mountain race, as reflected in its extremely high drop-out rate. Over the gruelling course, competitors have to cover 315km and climb 15,500m, navigating across remote, mountainous and often trackless terrain.
Originally staged in 1992, and then revived by Shane Ohly in 2012, the Dragon's Back Race has acquired near-mythical status in the adventure racing and ultra-running community, and sees entries from ultra runners from all over the world. This year 402 started the race, with 256 still taking part during the final day.
In the end Galen Reynolds maintained his lead, finishing in first place with an overall time of 37:38:06. The women's race had a more dramatic ending, with Lisa Watson to coming home with a convincing victory, finishing with an overall time of 44:33:23.
Here's the full breakdown:
The early morning start of day one of the 2019 Berghaus Dragon's Back Race showcased how much the event has grown since its revival some years ago, and the courtyard of Conwy Castle was packed with 402 ultra-runners and an unprecedented number of spectators.
With 52km in distance and 3800m of climbing on day one alone, the race begins as it means to continue. It's a huge challenge from the off, and when the cut-off time for the day was reached 16 hours later, Tryfan, the Glyderau and Snowdon via Crib Goch had taken their toll on the field; fully a tenth of the field had fallen by the wayside, with 44 runners either failing to reach checkpoints by the cut-off times or retiring from the race through injury or for other reasons.
After the drama of Crib Goch and Snowdon on Monday, day two of the 2019 Berghaus Dragon's Back Race saw competitors heading into the Moelwynion and Rhinogydd, and some very challenging and sparsely populated terrain. Many of the late finishers from day one were obliged to set out early to give themselves a chance of beating the cut-off times and complete the 58km route, with 3600m of climbing.
There was a lot of cheeky bog that is hard to run on...
Despite some valiant efforts, 48 runners were timed out by the end of the day, including Joe Faulkner, who lost his chance to complete all five editions of the Dragon's Back Race.
Canada's Galen Reynolds consolidated his early lead from day one, with Jim Mann hot on his heels.
Galen Reynolds commented: "There was a lot of cheeky bog that is hard to run on, so I was pleased to reach the Rhinogydd. It was great to get out of the bog!"
In the women's race, Sabrina Verjee (UK) extended her lead, of almost 30 minutes over second placed woman Alyssa Clark (USA).
Covering 71km, with 3500m ascent, day 3 is a biggie, and takes the runners from southern Snowdonia down into the gentler hills of Mid Wales. But first they have to contend with Cadair Idris. Keeping up the Dragon's Back's notorious attrition rate, another 48 competitors had retired by the end of the third day.
I had a great day with Jim, running and chatting...
Overnight women's leader Sabrina Verjee really suffered during the day and although she retained her lead with a solid time on the day of 10:15:45, it was cut to 22 minutes by Lisa Watson (UK), who moved up to second place with an impressive time of 9:54:17. Alyssa Clark, meanwhile, dropped to third place.
"I had a bad morning for some reason" said Sabrina "I was very hot, which is unusual for me. It just got harder and harder."
In the men's race, first placed Galen Reynolds and second placed Jim Mann (UK), ran day 3 together the whole distance, to complete the stage in 8:23:00. Rob Barnes (UK) retained third position overall.
"It was awesome today" said Galen. "A bit longer obviously, which I kind of felt in my legs. But it was beautiful and a different terrain from the past two days so it was more runnable. I liked the undulating course and the descents weren't so technical. I had a great day with Jim, running and chatting."
Further down the field, it was a very long, hard day for many athletes, but the general feeling is that successfully finishing the third day leaves runners in with a good chance of finishing the race. Day four involves significantly less climbing, but at 71km again, there's a lot of ground for the athletes to cover, with already weary, and in many cases battered, bodies.
The 71km of day 4 saw a change of fortunes in the women's race, while the distance and sustained climbing continued to exact a toll on the field overall, with several more retirees and one major casualty during day.
If you're blacking out, then that is the time to stop...
Sabrina Verjee started the day 22 minutes ahead of Lisa Watson, but Watson put in a strong performance to overhaul her lead, finishing one minute ahead. Unexpectedly, third placed woman Alyssa Clark struggled badly, collapsing on the hill before being helped to the support point by fellow runners, where she retired from the race.
"I wasn't feeling good overnight" said Alyssa.
"I was shaking uncontrollably, but I thought I might be okay once I got started with the race this morning. But I still didn't feel that good. I was so tired. Then my vision started to blur and I was blacking out. I collapsed twice I think. Luckily some of the participants could help me and they called for a medic. I was just shaking so much and fainting. I am gutted to be out. I so desperately wanted to finish but I can't: If you are blacking out, then that is the time to stop... I will be back for sure."
On day 4, first and second-placed men, Galen Reynolds and Jim Mann, spent a second day running together to finish within seconds of each other, both opening their lead over Rob barnes in third place. By the end of the day Galen's overall lead on Jim was still a solid 42 minutes.
Over the final 63km of the race, day 5 takes runners up into the Brecon Beacons, with 2200m of climbing including a sting in the Dragon's tail in the form of the summit of Fan Brycheiniog and Carreg Yr Ogof on the Black Mountain.
In the end the final stage proved too much for Sabrina Verjee, who had impressively led the pack for so much of the race. This left Lisa Watson, who had been gaining time consistently since Day 3, to put in an incredibly strong performance, eventually going on to finish a remarkable 2 hours and 11 minutes ahead.
In the men's, Galen Reynolds managed to extend his 44 minute lead at the start of the day to 55 minutes at the end, leading to his crown as champion.
- The full aggregate times and leader boards can be found here