Dragon’s Back Race is a multi-day ultra event held every second year in Wales. The route follows the famous mountain spine called the Dragon’s Back and is approximately 315 kilometres long with 15’500hm D+ of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain. Loïc Trégan has put down all the preparation necessary to race the dragon and did very well. Loïc finished the race in 47h57min on a very strong 8th place. Congratulations.
Dragon’s Back Race Inverview
Q: Loïc, you just returned from the fells where you run Dragon’s Back Race. Can you summarize the race for us?
Loïc: Basically, it is a stage race of 5 days. It is part a trail race, and part an adventure race – with a touch of mountaineering too. There is sometimes a bit more ascent (up to 4000m) and sometimes a bit more distance (up to 70km), but more or less the days took me between 9h and 11h. There is a support camp every night with tents and food, and they would drop a support bag in the middle. But except for that, you are expected to be independent in terms of food and navigation. If you get lost, you carry a survival bag so you just take care of yourself.
Q: What is the main difference with the numerous ultra we have here in the Alps?
Loïc: First, it feels very very remote. You don’t get to see a small village after each pass, if nobody tells you you’d think you have to travel to Siberia or Patagonia to find such wilderness !
Secondly, the terrain is very particular.
It is technical, with a lot of scrambling or traversing screes – this you can get it in the Alps if you look for it, but most people don’t and will not have the training to move fast. At most, you do an hour of it at the higher elevation, but on Dragon’s Back if can be non-stop for hours and hours.
Additionally, you get a lot of uneven soft ground – or even swamps where people loose their shoes ! Running on this terrain almost requires you to learn to run again, without the proper gait you get quickly debilitating cramps. I have found compression socks to help, they saved my calves.
Q: What does the training look like?
Loïc: I highly recommend to try easier fell races, like Glen Coe or Tromso. They are part of the “Sky Running Extreme”, so it is kind of ironic to call them easy. But they last only one day, and will give you a good sense of the terrain.
Then of course you need the running training itself. I’d count at least 200km and +5000m per month for the 6 months before as base training. I run about 3 times 90min per week, always high-intensity and as fast as I can.
On top of that, you need to get used to long, consecutive days in the mountains. I would do a 3-day week-end every 2 months, and if you can make it 5 days it is even better. Ski touring is great.
So, the good news is that the race is accessible to “normal people” – you can have a regular job and keep time for friends and family.
Now, to be honest when I look at the Strava of other competitors many did two times what I did.
Q: What food did you take on the hills?
Loïc: I planned for 3000kcal per day, knowing I would eat much less – but it is good to have options as it is hard to predict exactly what you feel like eating. Variety is important.
Personally, I took a lot of dry fruits and nuts plus one gel every 2 hours. Stuffing a Coca Cola in my mid-day support bag was very helpful, it helps you rehydrate very quickly and in-turn absorb more food.
Once at the camp, only one advice: eat as much as you can! I had three diners and two breakfast.
Q: What about the pacing ? How to know if you go too fast or slow?
Loïc: Yes, that is very hard to know what pace is good – at least for me, because I had no experience of stage race. Long story short, it more 5 fast races than one long and slow ultra.
I went conservative the first day, and ran it at my standard “ultra” pace. I finished 19th out of 240.
The next day I stumbled on a fast guy, Manuel “Lolo” Zehn. He was going at a good yet challenging pace, and was much better than me at navigation. I know if I’d loose him, I would have to join a much slower group behind so I decided to give it a try.
The teamwork was working great, finishing in the Top 10. I was dead at the end of the day but still recovering very well at night.
Q: What shoes do you recommend?
Loïc: It is no secret, I am a 100% inov-8 runner! I ran the race with the new Roclite 305. But you have so many types of terrain – from swamps to road – that anyway there is no perfect shoe. You cannot optimize for everything.
You need at least the following I think:
- very good cushioning, the rare hardpacked sections are what will you cause you the most pain, and also where you need the most comfort because that is where you can go fast and save a lot of time.
- strong protection, you run a lot of grassy landscapes with hidden rocks. I almost broke two toes kicking stones
- lugs should be a compromise between aggressive enough for mud and grass, but provide enough contact surface for wet rocks
- no hard bits on the shoe, they are very quick to cause blisters
The inov-8 X-Talon 212 – a legendary fell racing shoes – was very popular. But too light for me on these long distances. La Sportiva Bushido or the Saucony Peregrine would be good too.
Q: Any other tip to share?
Loïc: Take a foam roller! I was using it at least 30min every day, and I am 100% sure that is the secret to a good recovery.
Learn where your feet are most likely to get blisters, and tape them ahead of time. Prepare them one month in advance with scrubbing and hydratation.
Practice a lot with your bag: how much time you need to prepare your sleep system, your hill bag the next day, etc. It is amazing how you can loose 30-60min per day just on the logistics.
Organization is key to maximize recovery time !