With 380km of distance and 17,400m of ascent to conquer across six consecutive days, the Montane Dragon’s Back Race pushes experienced ultra runners to their absolute limit. This now legendary route from the north of Wales to the south has seen many incredible Dragon Slayers over the years, including our very own #TeamMontane ultra runner Simon Roberts. The current defending champion of the race shares his top tips to take on the Dragon’s Back Race in this dedicated blog.
Joining Simon on the start line this year are several other eager #TeamMontane ultra runners, including Gary House (who has also previously completed the race), Becks Ferry and Dennis Pemsel. We caught up with them to find out how their training has been shaping up, what made them take on the challenge and which pieces of Montane kit they’ll be relying upon as they take on the mighty Welsh Mountains…
Tell us a bit about yourself
Gary: I’m born and raised in North Wales so it was always going to be the hills that I enjoyed most. Ironically I didn’t take running seriously until I spent a few years living in Manchester and started to keep fit while I had no money for a gym! That led to a healthy obsession trying to learn everything I could from workshops, books and courses to make me better, ultimately leading me to work as a coach for the last 10+ years. These days I work very hard to be the best runner, coach and dad that I can be.
Becks: I'm originally from the North, having grown up near the Peak District, which definitely fostered a love of the outside. I now live in the Cotswolds. Another beautiful place to run and explore. I started running initially on the track. As I got older, the distances got further and the destinations wilder.
Dennis: My name is Dennis and I come from the wonderful Spreewald which is south of Berlin, Germany. I'm known on the trail as a funny guy who likes to talk with people and enjoy the run with the volunteers. For me, running has to be fun and challenge me in some way.
I started running in 2009 with the Berlin Marathon and changed the underground from street to trail in 2014. My first trail run was in the Bavarian forest with the Revierguide. After that I ran different races like U.TLW, Leadville 100, the Montane Spine Race, Tor des Geants and other adventures. I found out that my lovely kind of races are these with a specific family atmosphere.
Why are you taking on the Montane Dragon’s Back Race?
Gary: I completed the Dragon’s Back Race in 2019. After starting pretty well, I picked up a nasty injury which led to compartment syndrome in my leg. The last 1.5 days were so painful just walking that I never want to experience that again and wouldn’t recommend it but knowing my family had made the trip to the finish meant it was never in doubt. This time I am hoping to run the whole thing and see my wife and the kids at the finish line in Cardiff, now they are a little older and will be able to at least remember the castle!
Becks: This will be my first attempt. I love huge challenges and running in Wales. The terrain is wild, rugged and varied. I also love the camaraderie of these events. In fact, I'll be running with some friends!
Dennis: This will be my first attempt at the Dragon’s Back Race. After running the Spine Race and doing some trail runs in the Lake District, I fell in love with running in the UK. I love to run long distances and stage races, which is how I discovered the Dragon’s Back Race. Also, I love the terrain in Wales. The first two days will challenge me a lot, with all the wild and rough trails. That's my kind of running!
What has your training looked like?
Gary: Only to be sensible, look after myself and trust my strengths. I am good in the mountains, know plenty of the route and can eat anything while doing anything…… a skill that I have spent years working on!
Becks: My training has been a little sporadic as I’ve had to balance life events around it. I’ve given it my best focus and my plan is simply to try to get to the end! I will be really happy with this.
Dennis: Most of the time, I train in such a way that other competitions prepare me for the next main competition. This time I ran the Eiger Ultra trail over 250km in July. So I was able to train some altitude and also my nutrition food, as well as sleep and regeneration. After that I increased the amount of training, not the intensity because I think it's important to have the power after 4 or 5 days to “run” the easy flat parts.
Which Montane kit will you be running in and relying on?
Gary: The Gecko Packs are very comfortable and easily accessible, so that's a big win in these events - I also love the Dart base layers as they are so versatile on days where you are not quite sure what the weather will be. I have a trusty pair of Montane mountaineering gloves that I have had for about 10 years ready for around the camp too!
Becks: It’s Wales and, whilst I know last year was blisteringly hot, I’m going to put my money on rain! So, I’ll be using the Spine jacket. It’s a great piece of kit as it allows you to move yet remain dry. A lot of jackets like this are too bulky but this fits the bill perfectly. It looks good too.
Dennis: I know that the weather in Wales can change quickly. So I will be prepared for both. The main focus will be rainy weather, which I generally find more pleasant. The Spine jacket, Minimus waterproof trousers and the Montane Gaiters will be in my luggage for this.
How do you plan to unwind post-Dragon’s Back Race?
Gary: I will be sharing a few beers with my friend Simon (also part of #TeamMontane and defending champion of the Dragon’s Back Race) and anyone else who wants to join. Whoever does best is buying breakfast... Diolch (that's thanks in Welsh) Simon.
Becks: Well… I am actually flying the very next day to Nepal to try to climb an 8000m without oxygen!
Dennis: The first thing I wanted to do was the Tor des Géants afterwards until I realized that the date didn't work. Now I will be flying to Bulgaria for a 100-miler before heading back to London for the London Marathon.
Feeling inspired for the Montane Dragon’s Back Race?
For more pre-race inspiration, don’t miss hearing from another 2022 #TeamMontane racer, and defending champion Simon Roberts. Discover his tips for taming the dragon. You can also find out more about the race's impressive 30 year heritage in our dedicated Story Behind blog. This year's race kicks off on the 5th September. Head over to our event hub to find out more.