Montane Dragon's Back Race

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Smart running as university academics win 2022 Montane Dragon’s Back Race

Press Release / 11.09.2022See All Event Posts Follow Event
James Nobles and Lisa Watson
James Nobles and Lisa Watson / © Montane Dragon’s Back Race® _ No Limits Photography

Two university academics have recorded victories at the 2022 Montane Dragon’s Back Race. James Nobles, a Bristol University research fellow,was the overall winner, and Lisa Watson, a researcher at the University of Sheffield, won the women’s event. James, who is 31 and lives in Cheltenham, crossed the finishing line in Cardiff early on Saturday afternoon, completing a six-day, 380km ultra run through Wales. In winning the women’s race, Lisa, 32, became the first person to win two editions of the Dragon’s Back Race as an individual.

The Montane Dragon’s Back Race started in Conwy Castle in North Wales on Monday morning, with 264 athletes from 26 nations setting out on an arduous six-day race along the mountainous spine of the country, covering an average of over 60km a day and a total of 17,400m of ascent (almost twice the height of Everest). A notoriously tough event, by the start of the final day only 105 participants were still in the race.

On the evening of day four, following news of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the event team had to make new plans to safely bring the race to a conclusion in Cardiff. With Cardiff Castle no longer available for the finish, a new site in the city was identified and arranged. The most important priority was to allow runners from around the world to complete the race. Meanwhile, the decision was taken to pause the posting of updates via the event website and social media accounts, though the public could still follow the live event tracking online. Today’s finish was managed in a lower key way than originally planned, in Bute Park near the castle.

James Nobles ran consistently throughout the week and was always in the top three of the men’s race. The early leader was Chris Cope, a Nottingham GP with type 1 diabetes, but he picked up an injury on day four and had to nurse his body around the final two days. Welshman Simon Roberts, who was defending the title, moved into the lead on day five, but tendonitis ended his race early. James, who volunteered at the race last year, put in another very strong run on the final day to secure the win.

In the women’s race, Lisa Watson, who won the event in 2019 and has volunteered in the past too, led from start to finish, extending her advantage every day. By the start of day six, Lisa, 32, and from Sheffield, had a 12 hour lead on the rest of the field and was also lying sixth overall. On the final day, she once again set the pace in the women’s race and never looked likely to falter. Lisa becomes the first person to win two editions of the Dragon’s Back Race as an individual. She continues the tradition of outstanding performances by female athletes in ultra running events. Helene Whitaker (Diamantides) was the overall winner of the first Dragon’s Back Race in 1992 alongside Martin Stone, when it was a team event for pairs of runners. Helene then won the women’s race as an individual in 2012, while other women have featured in the overall top five, including Jasmin Paris, who was second in 2015.

The Montane Dragon’s Back Race was first held in 1992 and after a gap of 20 years, was resurrected in 2012. The race has since been established as a regular event on the calendar and now takes place every year. It is widely regarded as the toughest multi-stage mountain race on the planet and in 2021, under 25% of the starters completed the full course to earn the much-coveted trophy for every finisher, and title of ‘Dragon Slayer’.

James is originally from Huddersfield and works as a public health research fellow at Bristol University, comments: “I can’t believe it. It was one hell of a week. I stuck with my game plan and somehow it’s paid off. I believed that I could do it, but I had no idea whether or not it would happen. I am absolutely over the moon and I don’t think much beats right now. Coming in here and seeing everybody is so good.”

Lisa, a researcher at the University of Sheffield who won the women’s race in 2019, comments: “It’s a really good feeling now that it’s done. Genuinely, I’ve really enjoyed pretty much all of the race and there have only been a couple of low moments. I was smiling ear to ear from start to finish so that was great. I love this race.”

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