The race crosses some of Wales's toughest terrain. Photo: Jon Brooke

The race crosses some of Wales's toughest terrain. Photo: Jon Brooke

Top ultrarunning athlete Jez Bragg has confirmed he will tackle this year’s Dragon’s Back race, one of the toughest on the calendar.

Bragg, who has won the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc and broke the record for the Te Araroa route down the length of New Zealand, will join a strong field of contenders in the race, which runs down the spine of Wales.

The Dorset-based runner came second in this year’s Fellsman in the Yorkshire Dales, ahead of Konrad Rawlik who will also attempt the Dragon’s Back. Jasmin Paris, who broke the women’s record in the 2015 Fellsman, will also join the field for the race in Wales, which starts at Conwy Castle and ends at Carreg Cennen in south Wales.

The 300km (186-mile) route involves 16,000m (52,500ft) of ascent over five days, crossing wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain.

The original Dragon’s Back Race was held in September 1992 and entered running folklore for its extreme difficultly and surprise female winner. After a 20-year absence, the race was revived in 2012.

Helene Whitaker, neé Diamantides, the 1992 winner alongside Martin Stone, returned and finished fourth. Renowned adventure racer Steve Birkinshaw was the overall winner. However, only 32 of the 82 starters managed to complete the full course and the reputation of the event as one of the hardest mountain races in the world was confirmed.

Jez Bragg is a strong contender for the race title

Jez Bragg is a strong contender for the race title

The 2015 race has once again attracted a strong field of 140 runners from Britain and around the world.

Race director Shane Ohly said he doesn’t believe a Bragg win is a foregone conclusion. “It is a five-day race over rough terrain and anything can happen,” he said. “Jez, also completed a record-breaking Ramsay Round the weekend before, which is an interesting approach to preparing for such an arduous event as the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race.

“There is a strong field of both male and female runners and while I do have an opinion on who I think will win, I keep that to myself for now.”

Lining up alongside Bragg are top British mountain ultrarunners including Ed Catmuir and Berghaus sponsored athlete Charlie Sharp.

Catmuir has an orienteering background similar to the 2012 winner Steve Birkinshaw and in recent years has excelled at the longer endurance races, winning the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon and Spine Challenger.

Sharp recently joined the roster of Berghaus-sponsored athletes and is a prolific podium placer at ultra-races. The main international competition could come from André Jonsson. The Swedish runner has a load of podium results at tough mountain races in Europe including stage wins at the Gore-Tex TransAlpine. Rumour has it that he has been training in Wales earlier in the year.

Jasmin Paris is fancied for the women's title and a strong overall finish

Jasmin Paris is fancied for the women's title and a strong overall finish

There is also a cohort of other strong British runners, including the likes of Jim Mann, Konrad Rawlik and John Duggan, who Ohly believes are likely to feature high up in the field. Ohly said: “It is such a tough race. Runners get injured, some fade mentally and as Patrick Devine Wright proved in 2012, a relatively unknown runner with a determined approach can record a superb result.

“It’s easy to dwell on the men’s race, but I actually think that the women’s field is more interesting with a pack of extremely talented runners. I believe that any one of these has the ability to feature at the front end of the overall race.”

He noted Jasmin Paris, Lizzie Wraith, Beth Pascall, Carol Morgan and Joanna Zakrzewski as stand-out participants.

Ohly has secured race sponsorship from outdoor brand Berghaus, whose staff are also mounting a relay over the five days.

He said: “What is really great about working with Berghaus is the depth of talent they have within their staff and sponsored athletes. Impressively, staff members Ivan Muckle, Angela Foster, Luke O’Connor and Dan Smith will be completing a day each of the race in a relay, with Berghaus athlete, and 2012 winner, Steve Birkinshaw leading them on day one.”

The race starts on Monday, 22 June and athletes will carry GPS trackers, allowing the public to see a leaderboard during the event.

Details are on the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race website.

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