After celebrating Laura's incredible achievement of not only completing, but winning the Dig Deep 60 Mile Ultra in 2021, we now have the honour of marking her epic feat of completing the Dragon's Back Race - known as the 'world's toughtest mountain race' - a legendary 380km, 6-day ultra running journey through Wales. Thank you to Laura for sharing her experience with us below.
"The race was every bit and more of it’s tag line!
I trained extensively for a year and sacrificed an awful lot: time with my family, friends, plans, trips, social events, playing football and decorating my house! It was tough juggling co-parenting, having no car, no family near by to help, I had to squeeze training and life into the narrowest of gaps. At one point I was drowning in it, unsure that I could rescue myself. Turns out this was going to come in handy!
Sadly, just a couple of days before I was due to head to Wales, my Nan (my Dad’s mum) passed away. I considered pulling out but I knew she would want me to go and as my family said, you’ll have an angel on each shoulder now. Needing to keep my head together, I had to store it in the back room of my mind and put my focus entirely on the week ahead.
And so the most brutal week of my life began!
The thing with the Dragon is, it’s not a trail race, it’s not hiking in the Peak District, it’s not even a nice camping trip. It’s back to back days of nose bleed steep technical decent, steep ascents that take hours to reach the summit, there is 1-2 water points each day, you are completely self sufficient for water, food, navigation and managing any first aid. That requires carrying 2-3kg of kit and water all day everyday. In 30 degree heat - I’ll come back to that!
It requires efficient organisation of yourself, your camp stuff, your kit, which gets difficult when you’re waking up at 4.30am, concentrating all day and you're absolutely knackered! You can’t afford to slack off at any point and think “I’ll do that tomorrow”. Basically running trail ultras is a piece of cake compared!
The heat I can only describe as horrendous. Scrambling Tryfan with no shade, no breeze, legs getting weak from the burning sun. Some runners left the race with heat stroke and one was helicoptered off, even members of the events team went home ill. As the week unfolded, 30 minute breaks were built into the days and even the option to skip a day. But I hadn’t come here to skip a day!
My lowest point was on the afternoon of the second day when the heat was so intense, I had nausea and couldn’t take on any fuel. I thought it had me beat. When I realised even if I did want to retire, I was 2+ hours from a road and no one was coming for me, I only had myself. I forced down some boiled sweets and pushed on, just counting 1-4 over and over until I could allow any thoughts back into my mind.
Lots of people asked me how my legs were but it’s your mind that is the real battle ground. The Dragon messes with your head, when you’re tired, when you’re dehydrated, when you’ve not seen civilisation or another person outside of the event for days. If you can’t manage your mind the dragon will eat you alive, no matter how skilled or strong you are, I witnessed this happen to runners throughout the week who left.
Once day 3 was done, I felt I’d broke the back but I still had a long way to go and it was daunting to contemplate. Getting fed up with constant wet feet from the endless bogs (I lost my shoe in a bog and watched it sink like the titanic. Had to fish it out with my trekking pole), then having to manage my feet so as not to get trench foot (as some did, eww).
Camp starts to thin out a little and although I mostly kept to myself in order to keep focussed, I met some great people from all over the globe - shouts to Sasha from Toronto, Meg from Oz, the Belgian boys- and my tent mates Matt, Josh, Lee and Andy.
Day 4-6 is a blur in parts as it just feels like a continuous day with only patches of memory! I really enjoyed those days though, my highlight was probably being interviewed by running legend Lowri Morgan whilst trying not to fall down a rocky decent and smash my face in! Also the bakery in Llandovery - oh my god civilisation! I saw a dog and actually wept! The sausage roll and Fanta Lemon was amazing.
Day 6 and Cardiff Castle beckoned, I somehow found the energy to put my foot down in the heat and flew to the finish as fast as my battered body would take me. Not before stopping at the support point were I set a world record for the fastest consumed Calippo.
I remember looking at the map with 5 miles to go to the finish, 5 miles I thought, that’s nothing. But they were the longest miles of my existence! Feeling absolutely battered, burning hot, like I can’t take another step. I remembered my why. Why I’m doing this.
Then I heard the cheers from the castle and slowly the tops of the castle appeared on the skyline and I knew I’d done it, I was going to finish. Everything I’d had to keep in and under control all week could now come out.
The finish is still so surreal to think about even now.
The Dragon's Back really was a once in a lifetime achievement.
Thank you to my friends and family for advice and pep talks and to my coach whose knowledge and direction got me to the finish.
The lows took me to places where I had to dig so deep down into resources I never knew I had. The highs made me feel untouchable. I’ve come home walking a little taller.
When life tells you you’re incapable, do the extraordinary."