By Owen Morgan
Four-hundred-and-two ultra runners from around the globe set off from Conwy Castle in north Wales last Monday morning.
Five days, 315km and 17 Welsh mountains later, 237 of them crossed the finishing line at Llandeilo in the south having completed the mammoth challenge.
The 2019 edition of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back race lived up to its fearsome reputation as the toughest five-day mountain running race in the world.
With 15,500m of ascent – almost twice the height of Everest – the spine of the Dragon’s Back is made up of some of Wales’s highest and most challenging mountain terrain, including the “knife-edge” Crib Goch ridge in Snowdonia.
This year’s epic race was won by Canada’s Galen Reynolds in 37 hours 48 minutes and 06 seconds – the fastest time since the race’s inception in 1992.
Having previously completed some of the most iconic ultra running events in the world, Reynolds said afterwards: “That was very painful because I ran hard. But apart from all the pain it feels really good to win.”
The women’s title went to Britain’s Lisa Watson, who completed the remarkable journey from north to south in 44:33.23.
She said afterwards: “I have absolutely, absolutely loved it. It has been the best week ever. I am really happy to win. I just can’t quite believe it yet.”
Fourth in the women’s race was Welsh television presenter, adventurer and ultra marathon runner Lowri Morgan, who managed to complete the course with a torn cartilage.
After crossing the finish line in a time of 51:20.52, a delighted Morgan said: “They say there are two rules in ultra running, to get to the start line and to get to the finish line.
“I really didn’t think I would get to the start line and the only reason I got to the finish line was because of the people in the race and the organisation.”
“It has been a truly unforgettable experience.”
Having become a mum for the first time in 2014, Morgan added: “People said I wouldn’t be able to do this after having a child but that’s not true. If there’s a will there’s a way, always.”
Earlier in the race the broadcaster said that the camaraderie of the competitors and pre-race words of encouragement from her son had helped keep her going.
After the rigours of day three, which saw the runners tackle the 69km from Southern Snowdonia over Cadair Idris and down to the Cambrian Mountains, Morgan said: “Today is the first time I woke up and thought I don’t want to get out of my sleeping bag.
“I am so tired. Also, I am finding the descents so painful, which is a shame because I like descending.
“But, you know, it’s not a race for me. I am enjoying it like an adventure.
“You are running alongside these incredible people but it doesn’t matter because you are all in it together and everyone is so lovely. You get a pat on the back or words of encouragement from the others, which feels uplifting.
“My young son told me before I left just to do my best . . . and that was great to hear. I think that to win a race it isn’t necessarily about crossing the line first it’s about being the best version of yourself.”
The highest placed Welsh runner overall was Andrew Jones, who finished sixth in a time of 43:53.39.
Among the obstacles in the runners’ way as they travelled south were the iconic peaks of legendary Welsh mountains such as Tryfan, Cadair Idris and Pen Pumlumon Fawr.
There were few home comforts for the runners – gathered from 32 different countries – who camped down in tents after each of the five tortuous days of competition. However, an army of 150 volunteers were on hand to ensure everything went smoothly throughout.
After setting off as early as 6am each morning, some of the runners took almost 17 hours to tackle individual stages before the 11pm daily cut-off time, battling against some of Wales’ wildest terrain.
On the final stage, which started in Rhandirmwyn and took in part of the Brecon Beacons National Park and Carmarthenshire’s Black Mountain, two of the runners Remi Alex and Llion Iwan, risked missing the final cut-off time to stop for 90 minutes to help an injured runner – an indication of the remarkable spirit fostered between the entire field.
Entries are now open for the next running of the race in May 2021. For more information and full details of the this year’s event go to http://www.berghausdragonsbackrace.com/.