|John Dove crossing the finish line on the final day of The Dragon's Back Race in Wales.|
When I think of the local ultrarunning community here in Georgia, I'm hard pressed to name someone with a more impressive racing history than John Dove. There are only a handful of others that surpass his accomplishments. A veteran of thirty 100 milers, an avid adventure racer and a dedicated mountain bike rider, John is at once humble and personable. He's always good for a laugh and he's supportive of trail running enthusiasts of all abilities.
John recently found himself looking for a new challenge. A buddy clued him into a multi-day stage race in Wales called The Dragon's Back Race. It's a grueling five day stage race covering almost 200 miles and an insane amount of climbing along a Welsh mountain range. Originally run in 1992, it took a twenty year hiatus until the next time it was produced, which was earlier this month. Only 29 out of 90 participants finished all five stages this year.
After returning back to the States, I recently had an opportunity to catch up with John and ask him about his experience. Here's how it went…
John, congrats on your Dragon's Back finish! I'm curious, how did you hear about this event and what inspired you take it on?
Thanks! My friend Jon Barker saw the race mentioned on the Sleepmonsters website. We had been talking about doing a multi-day adventure race or multi-stage running race for a few years. We signed up back in November, so I had a lot of time to think about what I was getting myself into. I wanted to do something out of my normal ultra running comfort zone. Not to say that a 100 miler is ever easy, but after completing thirty of them I wanted to do something that challenged me in a different way, something unknown to me.
What would you say is the biggest difference between racing in the states and racing overseas?
The biggest difference is the navigation aspect of most of the races in the UK. This was not a marked course. Each morning you were given a map with several checkpoints marked on it. It was my decision what route to take. Now some of the route choices were very obvious, trails, roads bridal paths, but sometimes your best route didn't include any kind of path or trail, just pure cross country running. We scrambled up climbs and ran through miles of grassy, sometimes muddy open land to get to the checkpoints along the course. The closest thing we have to this in the States is our adventure races, but the navigation in the Dragon's Back was much more straight forward.
Racing stage races involves a whole different approach than racing ultra distance races. How did you prepare for the Dragon's Back Race and what would you advice to someone considering their first multi-day stage race?
I ran every day for 131 days leading up to the race. I would run the day after an ultra when I really felt bad, run in the rain, run when I was lazy, anything that would mimic how I might feel during the five days of the race. I did a few three day weekends where I ran 30, 30, and 20 miles and the Chattanooga 3-Day Stage Race in June to see how that third day would feel.
My biggest advice would be to make running routine especially back to back long runs. Also try a lot of different food in training. What I eat during 100's is fine, but on day 3 of the Dragon's Back I was absolutely sick of my food choices and had a hard time getting it down. Luckily, we passed through a couple of villages and I was able to grab some food. Taking 60 gels and a handful of bars was not the best food plan. I will have a much bigger variety at the next one I do.
What was the most grueling day of the Dragon's Back race and why?
I would say day one. It was 37 miles and had 15,600 feet of climbing. That's a lot of climbing in such a short distance! Most of the day was spent on the ridges so there was no water sources. I went a couple hours without water in the first half of the day and really paid for it later. I felt my best on the final day, Friday, better than I did all week. Guess it was knowing it was the last day.I was surprised that I had any pep left in the legs on Friday and that I was still able to run well for the second half of the last day.
Next up for you is the Pinhoti 100 in November, a race you have won in the past…how are you feeling going into that race and how are you managing recovering from Dragon's Back Race to racing a 100-miler a couple of months later?
Right now I am not thinking too much about Pinhoti. I know I will feel better closer to the race, but it is too early in the recovery process to start thinking about running a 100 mile race. I had been doing some short runs and some mountain biking up through the weekend (a week after the race) and felt okay. I got my weight back up to what it was going into the Dragon's Back, so I thought I was coming along well. Then I ran for an hour at lunch on Monday and went back out that afternoon for another hour and thought "ok I am ready for some mileage." Tuesday morning I was dead and I dragged along all day at work. I got home and couldn't motivate myself to get out and run.
So 11 days after the race and I am still feeling fatigued. I will listen to my body and not force anything for the next week to 10 days. I am racing the Stump Jump 50K in 17 days on October 6th. That will be a good time to push hard and really see how my recovery is coming. After that I will have a month to run some higher mileage weeks to get ready for Pinhoti. I hope all the training I put in for the Dragon's Back and the 192 miles I ran during the race will help me at Pinhoti.
What's in store for you in 2013?
For 2013 I will throw my hat in for another chance at the Hardrock 100. If I could run only one 100 miler a year that would be my choice! Also put in for Wasatch 100. I have never run it and the course looks great. I will do a few endurance mountain bike races again early in the year and a couple 50k's. I will also run the Chattanooga 3-Day Stage Race again in June to see if I learned anything over in Wales. I want to run the Double Top 100 in March and of course, Pinhoti 100 again in November and maybe the new Deliverance 100 mile in South Carolina in late November.
Ha, ha! John you went from saying you'd like to run one 100-miler every year to rattling off five different 100 milers in 2013. What'll it be?
Too many races out there to choose from, I guess.
John, Thanks for answering a few questions. Good luck at Stump Jump and Pinhoti and hopefully, if my injury recovery goes well, I'll see you at the Chattanooga 3-Day Stage Race next year.
Thanks, my pleasure! See you then.
You can follow John on Twitter at @jcddove and you can follow The Dragon's Back Race at @TheDragonsBack. Check out John's blog and his race report of the race at johndoveblog.blogspot.com.
View an amazing gallery of photos from The Dragon's Back Race on the UK's Guardian website, click here.
Great recap videos of all five stages are on YouTube, click here.
Great recap videos of all five stages are on YouTube, click here.