The 2017 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race once again proved why it is considered the toughest five-day mountain run in the world, with 223 competitors (of which 127 finished) braving 315k through warm conditions and an ascent that totalled over 15,000ft. For the first time in the event’s history, the closing day of racing began with a chasing start, which resulted in a thrilling and tense finale as Marcus Scotney and Carol Morgan were crowned champions.
Staged only three times before, in 1992, 2012 and 2015, the event has acquired near mythical status in the adventure racing and ultra-running community. The 2017 field departed from the courtyard of Conwy Castle and through a route that followed the mountainous spine of Wales from Conwy Castle in the north to Carreg Cennen Castle in the south.
The warm weather had made it even tougher for competitors and there was little to separate those at the top after several days of racing. At the close of day four, Scotney had established an eight-minute lead over Jim Mann. Scotney had, however, sustained a knee injury and it seemed that Mann, the 2015 champion, would be able to whittle down the lead even further on the final day of racing.
Scotney’s knee injury didn’t prove to be a major hindrance as he raced away to take the title, crossing The Black Mountain and passing beneath the old finish at Carreg Cennen Castle towards the new finish point on the outskirts of Llandeilo – he completed the 315k race in a total time of 37 hours and 58 minutes.
A clearly relieved Scotney said he believed that his chances of winning were gone after his injury: “It’s not really sunk in. I really thought it was over last night and that I wouldn’t be able to run, but today I decided I had come here to complete the race and to win and that I had to give it a go.
“I knew too that this was potentially my fastest day and that I could run most of it if the knee held out, and it did, though I didn’t have a full range of movement. In the end I was well inside my 40-hour target as well so I’m delighted with the result.”
It was an even tighter contest in the women’s competition as Sabrina Verjee, at the front of the field from the outset, saw her lead diminish gradually, culminating in an emotional victory for Carol Morgan. Morgan, the 2017 female champion (and current record holder) of the Montane Spine Race, finished in just over 48 hours and 41 minutes and has now completed the event on two separate occasions.
She commented: “I’m not sure how I feel right now. I was so nervous this morning. I get nervous before a 5k and have never done anything this hard so there was more to be worried about. I didn’t know what would happen or how I would cope on a fifth day, and the other two runners are very strong.”
While it was clear how much victory meant to Scotney and Morgan, all of the runners who completed the gruelling event were met with resounding cheers from everyone involved. This was no more apparent than when the final dragon, Tom Withers, received a standing ovation after completing the race in 80 hours and 17 minutes. You can view the video here.