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Ultra runners aim to ‘slay’ the dragon in the mountains of Wales

Over 330 ultra runners are making their final preparations for the 2023 Montane Dragon’s Back Race.

Starting from Conwy Castle on the morning of Monday 4 September, the six-day race covers 380km, with 17,400m of ascent, finishing at Cardiff Castle on the following Saturday. Competitors from 25 nations will line up on the start line, including some of the world’s best ultra runners.

The Montane Dragon’s Back Race was first held in 1992 and after a gap of 20 years, was resurrected in 2012. Now an annual event, the race is widely regarded as the toughest multi-stage mountain race on the planet. The route heads south along the mountainous spine of Wales and participants face climbs up iconic peaks such as Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Tryfan, the Glyders, Cnicht, the Rhinogs, Cadair Idris, and Pen y Fan. Last year, under 40% of the starters completed the full course within the allotted cut-off times, claiming a ‘Dragon Slayer’ trophy.

For the first time, runners at this year’s Montane Dragon’s Back Race can choose to take on the shorter ‘Hatchling’ course, tackling the first or second half of each day during the event. As well as signing up for the Hatchling in advance, participants who entered the full race will have the option of dropping to the shorter course during the week. The introduction of the Hatchling is designed to make the race more inclusive, for those who want to experience the journey through Wales, but don’t feel able to complete the full distance, or want to build up to that in a future year. Everyone who completes the shorter course will earn a special memento.

There is no clear favourite in either the men’s or women’s race, but both look set to be keenly contested. In the women’s race, Welsh runner Sana Duthie could be leading the charge for a home win. Sana holds the fastest known time record for completing the 299km Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and earlier this year won the women’s race at Ultra Wales, where she was third overall. The UK’s Robyn Cassidy, Spain’s Silvia Trigueros and American Alyssa Clark are all expected to challenge. Robyn will be hoping to build on her second place finish at the 100-mile Arc of Attrition race earlier this year. Silvia is an experienced ultra runner, who last year finished second woman at the 330km Tor des Géants in Italy, and Alyssa will be aiming for a better outcome than in 2019, when she was on course for a top three finish in Wales, before having to drop out. Since then, she has posted some very impressive runs, including a win in the women’s race at the 2022 Moab 240-mile race in Utah.

Other leading competitors in the women’s race include Vicky Savage, who was second woman at the 2022 Cape Wrath Ultra, and Ita Emanuela Marzotto, who won that race in 2016, while Katy Parrott will hope that a second place finish at the 185km Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra last year was a sign of more success to follow.

In the men’s race, 2022 Cape Wrath Ultra winner Graham Walton will take on the likes of Dougie Zinis, who was joint third in this year’s Montane Spine Race, and Jon Shield, who comes into the race on the back of a win at the 200km BTU Mountain Ultra in Kyrgyzstan. Hugh Chatfield is also expected to be competitive, after a fourth place finish in the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 100km, third place in the Edale Skyline, and a fast Bob Graham Round (17 hours and 17 minutes), all in 2022. As in previous years, athletes are also likely to emerge from the pack and challenge the front runners, in both the men’s and women’s races.

Elsewhere in the field, the 2023 Montane Dragon’s Back Race will be packed with runners who have great stories and motivations for taking part in the event. High profile participants like evolutionary biologist and broadcaster Ben Garrod, and Zukie Tandathu of Black Trail Runners, will take on the challenge, alongside representatives from the Tea and Trails and Trail and Error podcasts.

The aim of the majority of the participants will be to beat the cut-off times each day and complete six full days of mountain running. Supporting all of them will be the Ourea Events crew of around 150, covering a wide variety of roles as they move the event south through Wales, managing every aspect in a responsible way, and aiming to minimise any impact on the nature through which the race travels.

Race director Shane Ohly said: “Once again, we are excited and privileged to be starting our journey through Wales with the Montane Dragon’s Back Race. The field of runners is bigger than last year’s and I think that adding the Hatchling option has encouraged more people to join us. There’s going to be some exciting racing at the front of the field and tension elsewhere – this event always delivers a lot of compelling moments and a big audience of ‘dot watchers’ online. None of it would be possible without the backing of landowners, the Welsh Government and our sponsor Montane – our thanks go to all of them, and to our committed and passionate race crew, who will be pulling out all of the stops again, to ensure that being part of the race is memorable for everyone involved.”

For the latest race news, visit www.dragonsbackrace.com, and follow @DragonsBackRace on Twitter and Instagram, or find the event on Facebook. The live tracking will be available on the website from 6:00am on Monday 4 September. Entries now open and for the 2024 race – full details are on the website.

Header image: Lisa Watson in action on Crib Goch at the 2022 Montane Dragons Back Race. Credit: ©Montane Dragon’s Back Race® | No Limits Photography

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