Neil Talbott traverses Crib Goch on the Snowdon range during the 2017 event. Photo: Ian Corless

Neil Talbott traverses Crib Goch on the Snowdon range during the 2017 event. Photo: Ian Corless

Runners from 32 nations will line up in north Wales on Monday for the start of the event claimed to be the world’s toughest five-day mountain race.

Organisers of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race expect 450 athletes to gather at Conwy Castle as the 315km-long race gets underway.

They said it will be the biggest field to start the event, which is run every other year and involves running the length of Wales, with 15,500m of ascent over remote mountains.

The race headquarters has to move 40 miles south each day, with 100 volunteers helping. The operation involves bringing scores of Berghaus tents, several large marquees, nine tonnes of participants’ kit, 220kg of baked beans, 630kg of chips, 160kg of fresh fruit and much more to Wales. Each day, the entire race HQ will be taken down, transported and set up again for the next overnight camp.

Shane Ohly, race director, said: “We are very confident in our plans for delivering the biggest ever Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race and intend to achieve this without losing the special atmosphere and the spirit of adventure that is unique to this amazing event.”

Kev McFadyen, Berghaus brand director, said: “The Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race has earned an iconic status as the world’s toughest five-day mountain running race.

“It’s amazing to watch the event unfold and know that our people and our kit are playing their part in making the event happen and helping competitors complete their amazing journey down the spine of Wales.”

Previous winners will line up with challengers for the race titles.

In the women’s race, Sabrina Verjee will be back for her third Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race after finishing fifth woman – 14th overall – in 2015 and second woman – 13th overall – in a very close 2017 race. Organisers said: “With so much previous experience of the route, she will hope to use this to her advantage and finally come out on top in 2019.

“However, there are many who will surely challenge her, including Berghaus athlete and running journalist Sandra Mastropietro from Germany.

“She will be taking on this race for the first time, but comes to the event with plenty of experience as a three-times finisher of the Gore-Tex Transalpine Run, a seven-stage trail race traversing the Alps from Germany to Italy, and also the 102km Zugspitze Ultratrail which takes in 5,500m of ascent through the German Alps.”

Also tackling the route will be Lowri Morgan, a Welsh television presenter, adventurer and marathon runner. She has completed the Jungle Ultra Marathon, a 140-mile event in the Brazilian Amazon, and was one of only 50 participants, out of 150 starters, to complete the course. She also successfully completed the notorious 350-mile non-stop footrace in the Canadian Artic, the 6633 Arctic Ultra.

A potential dark horse in the women’s race could be Sheffield-based Dark Peak club runner Lisa Watson. Earlier this year, she finished in fourth overall and first female team on the High Peak Marathon and won the coveted Edale Skyline in March.

Runners at the start of the 2017 event. Photo: Guillem Casanova

Runners at the start of the 2017 event. Photo: Guillem Casanova

In the men’s race, Jim Mann is returning for his fourth Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race, after having finished sixth in 2012, first in 2015 and second in 2017 following a closely fought race with eventual winner Marcus Scotney.

Another favourite in the men’s race is event newcomer Robert Barnes. In 2018, he won the Cape Wrath Ultra, the sister event to the Welsh race. Another challenging ultrarunning expedition race, the Cape Wrath Ultra traverses 400km over eight days through the wild Highlands of Scotland to finish at Cape Wrath lighthouse, the most north-westerly tip of UK mainland.

Organisers said: “Barnes looked pretty comfortable winning in Scotland, but it remains to be seen how he will fare over this rougher and rockier route through the Welsh mountains.”

Other fancied runners include Wouter Huitzing of the Netherlands and Stef Maginelle from Belgium. Huitzing is returning for his second Dragon’s Back after finishing 16th overall in 2017. He secured a win in the non-stop 108-mile Montane Spine Challenger race last year with a new course record of 25hrs, 42mins and 21secs.

Galen Reynolds won the long course at the 10 Peaks Race in 2018, finishing the 73km course with 5,000m of ascent through the Lake District in 11hrs and 46mins. He is also a two time-finisher of the 330km Tor des Géants in the Italian Alps.

Another dark horse to watch out for could be Konrad Rawlik, husband of renowned fell- and ultrarunner Jasmin Paris. They both competed in the 2015 race with Paris finishing first woman and second overall – beating her husband by six minutes as he finished third overall.

Other participants to follow through the Welsh mountains include Virgin Radio presenter Vassos Alexander, who will be back for his second attempt after having dropped out on day three in 2017.

Joe Faulkner will be aiming to complete a record breaking fifth race after having successfully completed the original edition of the race in 1992 and every event since, in 2012, 2015, and 2017. He has a long history of off-road running, adventure racing and mountain skills training, and his experience and aptitude is hugely respected in outdoor circles.

Tom Withers is also back for more after finishing in last place in the 2017 race, 42 hours behind the winner Marcus Scotney, in a time of 80hrs 17mins. He received the biggest Dragon trophy of all for being last over the line and spending the most time out on the course.

The race gets underway from Conwy Castle at 7am on Monday. Runners’ progress can be plotted on the Opentracking site.

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