Hugh Chatfield and Robyn Cassidy have singled themselves out as the ones to beat after astonishing performances on day one of the Montane Dragon’s Back Race.
The hot weather was the biggest hurdle many runners faced today out on course, with many suffering in the soaring temperatures. However, for many it has been an incredible start to a journey they have been fixated on for a long time.
At 49km with 3,800m of climb, the route on Day 1 is an epic adventure in its own right. After leaving Conwy Castle at 6am this morning, runners enjoyed a beautiful sunrise run over the Castle Walls before climbing their first summit of the day. From there, they tackled the grassy peaks of the Carneddau before dropping into the support point at Ogwen. The second half of the day is characterised by much rougher and rockier terrain. Straight out of the support point, runners climbed Tryfan, a mountain famous for being where many of the early mountaineers honed their skills before Everest expeditions. The rugged terrain continues from here, with the large boulders of the Glyderrau before the biggest challenge runners will face yet – Crib Goch. This spectacular knife-edge arête is a route highlight for most, though those with a fear of heights may tremble a little as they scramble over the rocks towards the most famous peak in Wales, Yr Wyddfa. Runners then completed the horseshoe as they came back into camp, with one final tricky descent to challenge their quads.
The magical atmosphere in Conwy Castle was a spectacular start to the race
The buzz of nervous anticipation was palpable as runners gathered in Conwy Castle this morning for the start of the race. The sun was just beginning to creep above the horizon. The haunting songs of the Male Voice Choir really helped create a sense of momentous occasion, which indeed it is for the runners who have trained so hard to get here.
We spoke to some of the participants as they busied themselves preparing for the day ahead.
Hayley White ran the Cape Wrath Ultra in 2021, and is now back for a bigger challenge. She was feeling very positive ahead of the adventure. She said, “I’m rather nervous, but very excited as well. This week has dragged in the lead up, but I’m raring to go now.”
She felt well-prepared for the event. “I did a lot of raw adventure recces. I’ve recced probably all but about 6 miles of it so I shouldn’t get lost.”
“I’m most looking forward to camp at the end of each night, and getting dragon mail.”
Heather Pritchard-Jones was excited to be on the start line as a participant, having volunteered at the Cape Wrath Ultra earlier this year. She said, “Volunteering is so heartwarming – I loved it. But it’s made me so chilled now. I know what to expect and I know people. It’s a great community.”
She is certainly determined. She said, “I’m reaching that castle no matter what!”
Lake District based runner, Sarah Gerrish has been looking forward to this adventure for a while after months of training out in the hills. She said, “I’m excited, but I just want to get going. I’ve enjoyed getting out for long days in the hills. I’m looking forward to being able to spend every day just running and not having to think about anything else.”
It was certainly a very special moment indeed to watch these runners embarking on a journey they have been planning and training for for so long.
The first Support Point of the Day was at the Ogwen Valley
As the cool breeze of the morning gave way to the stronger heat of the late morning sun, the Support Point provided a welcome respite for runners to fill up their water bottles. The Support Point volunteers were as enthusiastic as ever, bolstering the runners ahead of the next section of rocky terrain.
Hugh Chatfield was the first into the Support Point, but Montane and SCARPA athlete Jon Shield was hot on his heels not far behind.
Hugh was moving well as he propelled himself up the steep climb of Tryfan. He said, “The race has barely begun. At least it’s in the shade. The heat’s not a problem yet but it will be tomorrow.”
Hugh admitted that while he wasn’t necessarily anticipating being at the front, he was certainly here to compete. He said, “There’s a lot of good runners in the field – a lot more experienced runners in the field. But we weren’t too quick through that first support point.”
Jon Shield was next through. “I’m getting too old for this,” he joked. “I’m starting to feel the heat now. I’ve just got to keep steady now. With the heat I need to be a bit more cautious. I’ve got two water bottles in my hand and lots of electrolyte.”
Robyn Cassidy was the first woman through the checkpoint. She seemed in excellent spirits as she tackled the steep climb. “It’s nice to be in the shade. There’s a good breeze on top. I’ve tried to keep it reined in for the first half so I don’t feel too bad.”
Some runners were certainly struggling with the heat. Adam Potter was wishing he could lie down in a pool of iced water when we caught up with him. He said, “I brought an extra kilo of water today. I drank it all. There’s less running to do now for the last 12 miles so probably less sweaty and hot.”
Tristan Stephenson, who is also known as the co-host of the Trail and Error Podcast, was going well but had slowed down after rolling his ankle early on in the race. “I’ve rolled my ankle twice. It’s annoying when it’s 3 hours into a very, very long race. The good thing about slowing down is you do enjoy it a bit more.” Fortunately Tristan’s ankle didn’t seem to impact his performance, as he still came in as 5th male.
Welsh runner Ieuan Belshaw was enjoying the more mountainous terrain . He is one of the three runners this year who is attempting to be the first ever person to complete both the Cape Wrath Ultra and the Dragon’s Back Race in the same year.
He said, “I feel quite good. The mountains are my bread and butter.”
After sustaining an injury at the Cape Wrath Ultra, he is now ready for this next adventure. He said, “It took a good few weeks. The first ten days were rough but then I turned a corner quick.”
While most runners made it through on time to tackle the rugged delights of Eryri ahead, the high temperatures did unfortunately see several runners cut off at Ogwen.
After months and months of training, this will naturally be a huge disappointment to many. However, most have opted to continue on their journey on the shorter Hatchling Course, meaning that although the full course may be out of reach, they can still enjoy the same incredible mountain journey and receive a Hatchling trophy at the end of it.
Hugh Chatfield has a strong lead
The first camp at Nant Gwynant is the perfect spot to admire the high mountains of Snowdonia. Today, many participants made the most of a chance to cool down in the river after a long, hot day.
First into the finish was Hugh Chatfield. Hugh is well used to the mountains, having seen much success in longer fell races in recent years, and achieving an impressive time of 17 hours 17 minutes on the Bob Graham Round (a prestigious fell running challenge in the Lake District). However, this is his first multi-day race.
He seemed in good spirits when he crossed the finish line. He said, “It’s gorgeous out there but down, down in the valley it’s hot. I was just thinking about that river at camp!”
“It’s a long way to go yet though. I was holding off a bit because I thought wow, I’m going to be under 8 hours.”
Hugh spent much of the time earlier on in the day running with SCARPA athlete Jon Shield.
He said, “I pulled ahead of Jon on the Tryfan climb which I did in about 40ish minutes which was maybe too quick, but there we go. That’s the hardest climbing done.”
Second into the finish was Polish runner Jakub Wolski. After overtaking Jon Shield in the second half of the day, he was now suffering in the heat, immediately heading to cool down in the nearby stream upon arriving in camp.
Jon Shield was third in and only a couple of minutes behind Jakub. He also very much struggled in the warm conditions, saying, “I died at halfway, then got a second wind going up Crib Goch.”
Robyn Cassidy has a storming lead in the women’s field and is fourth overall
Robyn Cassidy (2nd at the Arc of Attrition ealier this year) is proving a force to be reckoned with following an incredible performance on Day 1. She has a 50 minute lead on Victoria Thompson who is in second place, and is in 4th place overall.
She still looked strong when she came into the finish line and was beaming, saying, “That was so good! That was amazing!”
Like other runners, she was conscious of not overcooking it in the heat. She said, “I just had to think about the heat and be sensible. It was the uphills out of breeze that were hot.”
Overall though, she is looking to be a strong contender, and there’s no denying that she is enjoying every minute of the journey so far.
“The Carneddau – the views were so unreal! I was probably a bit too much of a happy spaniel!”
Montane athlete Victoria Thompson was second into the finish, having overtaken SCARPA athlete Silvia Ainhoa Trigueros on the Yr Wyddfa Horseshoe. Victoria has been struggling with injury recently and stopped at the Support Point earlier in the day for some K Tape, but this clearly hasn’t slowed her down. She said, “My watch died so it’s lucky I have a map and compass. My legs are sore now – that last descent is steeper than I thought!”
Silvia was next into the finish line only 15 minutes later. After taking a tumble only 2km into the race, she is still racing incredibly well.
While Hugh and Robyn have established promising early leads, there is still a long way to go and a lot can change. It will be interesting to see how they cope with the stresses of a multi-stage race, as both are new to this format.
Results on Day 1
Top 3 women
- Robyn Cassidy (09:00:50) – 4th overall
- Victoria Thompson (09:50:36)
- Silvia Ainhoa Trigueros (10:04:13)
Top 3 men
- Hugh Chatfield (07:49:29)
- Jakub Wolski (08:30:16)
- Jon Shield (08:32:05)
Follow the Journey
With the weather set to be hot again, it will be another challenging day for our Dragons as they cross the uncompromising terrain of the rugged Rhinogydd.
You can follow their journey every step of the way!
Header image: Jon Shield watches his step on Crib Goch. ©Montane Dragon’s Back Race® | No Limits Photography