The Dragon's Back Race DVD

Review by Dave MacFarlane
Friday 22nd March 2013

The Dragon's Back Race is probably one of the finest examples of an ultra-running film that I have seen. Leaving egos at the door the film sketches an intimate portrait of the athletes who took part in this truly gruelling five-day mountain run.

From an understated opening the film depicts a race that quietly goes on about its business whilst aware in the back of its mind that it's classed as one of the hardest mountain running events in the world. In stark contrast to many ‘adrenaline' films that woo their audience in to a state of frenzy with hard tunes and quick-fire edits, the Dragon's Back Race allows you to make your own decisions on what sort of event this is.

The scenery of Wales provides a big-mountain feel and is the canvas that allows the stories of the competitors to be drawn, sketching their experiences on a landscape that works with and against those running through it, the five days of the race are represented in ‘warts and all' fashion, what the Dragon's Back Race film achieves is an insightful documentation of a race that once went down in history and was re-born harder, longer and more determined to stop even the strongest.

Race director Shane Ohly states: ‘Mountain running is a niche sport within a niche sport almost, but these guys are world class in what they're doing.' The battle for top place between well-known mountain runners Steve Birkinshaw and Rob Baker is played out in quiet determination until the end and the stories of runners Helene Whittaker, Nicky Spinks and Wendy Dodds make compelling viewing as it is the desire to run the spine of Wales rather than a win at all costs competitive attitude that takes centre-stage.

Slackjaw have produced a truly fine account of a race that went once in to running lore and was resurrected harder, the characters in the film make it what it is, a quietly confident documentary that utilises the silence and calm of the Welsh mountain landscape to draw the portraits of those who competed in the second legendary Dragon's Back Race.

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