380km, Conwy castle to Cardiff castle, taking in 17,400 metres of ascent over 6 days. The Dragon's Back race takes in the stunning, wild scenery across the length of Wales in what's considered the toughest mountain race.
Back in 2019 Lisa Watson took part and won the race, so we like to think she knows a thing or two about the race. Being organised with self-care kit and food is one of the major features of the Dragon’s Back Race.
"While you are looked after in the evenings, you must be self-sufficient on the hill and be able to look after yourself well enough to ensure you get a decent recovery each night.
This is very different to a lot of single day races where you can red-line during the event and catch up with calorie deficits later or trash your kit on the event. There is a limit to what you can bring so you need to know everything works for you and will last the full 5 (now 6!) days of abuse. A small annoyance such as a rubbing bag or shoes is magnified on an event like this and can be race-ending."
"In 2019 we were really lucky with the weather (Shane Ohly does well to book amazing weather for all his events, I want to learn his sun dance!) so we didn’t have the added issue of dealing with wet stinky kit each day. We were all able to strip down our packs of heavier weight warm layers and mostly run in shorts and T-shirt. What weight we saved this way was inevitably replaced with more water though."
Off the back of her win we came up with a little kit list and advice on what to have ready, should you take it on.
What to wear:
- Top: Alpkit short sleeve Koulin Trail Tee (Mens | Women's) except day 1 when I wore the Koulin Trail long sleeve. (Mens | Women's)
- Bottom: Alpkit Koulin trail shorts (Mens | Women's), (except day 1 where I wore _ 3/4 lengths trail tights) - 4 days on the trot, they dried out nicely and didn’t smell too bad either!
- Shoes: Inov-8 roclite 275 G-Grip on all but day 2 where I wore Inov-8 X-Talon Ultra 260.
- Watch: Suunto 9
- Head: Cap/buff to keep hair out of my face and sun out of my eyes
- Warm layer: Alpkit Kepler merino long sleeve (Mens | Women's), luckily I didn’t need it but nice to know it was there.
- Waterproofs: Alpkit Gravitas jacket (Mens | Women's) -kept me warm on Cadair Idris in the fog and wind. When it was packed it was so light and small I didn’t notice it was there. Trousers - cheap light ones from decathlon (I had some heavier weight ones in my overnight pack in case the weather forecast turned bad, but these cheap ones are fine for emergencies in good weather)
- Thin hat and Alpkit Specta Running Pullover gloves
- S.O.L. emergency bivvy
- Headtorch and spare battery
- Small first aid kit: including emergency cash, pen and paper, various plasters, small bandage tape, water purification tablets, pain killers etc.
- A small bottle of suncream
- Water: I carried 2 x 500ml bottles in the front of the bag. I usually had another 500ml in the back and would switch it over when one ran out. I probably could have carried less and filled up more from streams but I prefer to be safe. I used rehydration tablets in one of the bottles to get some salts in.
- Food- see below
We were lucky to have a support bag at a mid-way-ish point each day. This meant I could have some more substantial food at some point during the day. I also packed some spare layers in case the weather turned for the worse and a change of shoes and spare socks just in case. As the weather was so good I didn’t use my spare layers but it was nice to know that they were there as a backup. On day 5 I packed 2 full spare bottles of water to save time at the support point.
Spare kit in support bag:
- Full length Alpkit Koulin trail tights (Mens | Women's)
- Koulin long sleeve (except day 1 when I wore it)
- Alpkit Heiko Jacket (Mens | Women's)
- Whichever pair of shoes I wasn’t wearing that day (See above)
- A larger bottle of suncream
This was a bit of a challenge to pack for as I had no idea how long I would be out for each day and I normally pack for 1 “portion” i.e. cereal bar or sandwich, per hour I’m going to be out. I don’t like gels and usually, I eat a lot of normal savoury food but there was no opportunity to keep things cold, so this was a bit of a challenge. I also packed some more substantial food in my support bag and the food I wanted for the afternoon so I didn’t need to carry it all in one go.
- A selection of cereal bars - my favourites were: graze flapjacks, belvita soft bakes, go ahead fruit bakes, brunch bars. I tried to vary my selection each day but generally, I didn’t really pay that much attention to what I was eating as long as it was going down!
- Homemade date and cashew balls (like a Nakd bar but cheaper and less packaging. Brief recipe: equal quantities dates and cashews, blitz in a food processor until a thick paste, add flavourings and mix. My favourite is cocoa powder and peppermint essence. Roll into balls. Done)
- Baby bells - these were awesome! The waxy wrappers got a bit gross in my bag but I really appreciated the savoury snack and they went down really well. My awesome tent mate Joe Faulkner gave me some bags of cheese cubes and cherry tomatoes which were amazing. Joe put a cool bag in his camp kit to keep this sort of food cool all week. I would definitely do this if I did the race again.
- Peperami sausages - I’m not normally a big meat eater but these were another savoury snack that didn’t need a fridge. As these are a bit chewy I quite often ate these at the end of the day rather than on the hill.
- Mars/Snickers bars - essential for a quick boost!
- Small bag of sweets - my treat for the last 5-10km only otherwise I get sugar crashes but a treat to look forward to and easy to get down when you are pushing yourself to the finish line.
More of the above for the second part of the day.
- Pasties - for days 1 and 2 I packed these, meaty for the first day and veggie for the second day to avoid it going bad in the heat. On day 3 we passed through Machynlleth so I bought another couple to have on days 3 and 4. I didn’t like to stop at the support points for too long so I generally grabbed this and ate it on the way up the next hill. On day 5 I didn’t bother with a bigger portion of food and just survived the day on hill snacks.
- Fruit juice - I had a carton of orange juice packed for each day. I think I only drunk this at the day 2 support point when it was really hot, but I appreciated it when I got back to camp if I hadn’t had it in the day.
- Fruit pots - again I think I only ate this on day 2 but I appreciated it at camp on the days I didn’t eat it.
- Spare rehydration tablets - the wonderful volunteers always filled up our water for us at the support point and I packed some spare rehydration tablets to put in my water.
- Coca Cola - an addition from the shop in Machynlleth after serious jealousy of my fellow participants who had packed this. I only had a slurp or two at the support point on day 3 and 4 but it was really refreshing. I enjoyed the rest at camp.
We were allowed a 60l dry bag for all of our kit for camp, no weight limit but it does all need to fit. I chose one that opens on the long edge which means you can easily get to all your kit and its less of a struggle to pack. We were sleeping in tents provided, but we needed to all the rest of our sleeping kit. The tents were kindly inflated and packed away each day by the incredible camp team volunteers. Having worked on Cape Wrath ultra I know what hard work it is to assemble and move camo each day, and they had double the number of participants to cater for at DBR! What heroes! At camp we were also catered for by the amazing catering team, just bring a cup and bowl/plate.
- Sleeping kit: Alpkit PipeDream 400 sleeping bag, Thermarest Neoair, earplugs (essential)
- Spare clothes: fluffy socks, Walking trousers, spare t-shirt, Alpkit Griffon jumper (Mens | Women's), ski jacket - waterproof and cosy and also used a pillow.
- Headtorch: Alpkit Viper - great to have a second for camp so I never needed to unpack my hill bag and risk leaving out mandatory kit.
- Wash kit and towel (and wet wipes for the days I couldn’t be bothered to go to the stream). We were lucky to have showers at the campsite on day 2!
- Talcum powder to dry out the feet.
- More food: John west tuna meals. I had packed these as extra hill food to eat at support points on day 3-5 but they became extra as I bought some more pasties. I ate a couple in the evenings when I got back to camp. Not really necessary as we were so well catered for but it was nice not to have to move from my tent for a while I got washed and my kit sorted.
- Recovery fuel: drunk when I got back to camp, I usually use Mountain Fuel Chocolate flavour. For me, this makes a real difference to my recovery and also helps with rehydration.
- Larger first aid kit and blister kit, spare sun cream to top up small bottle, midge repellent, and head net.
- Washing line and pegs - really useful!
- Clogs (useful to let feet breathe in the evening) and warm comfy boots (worn in the mornings)