Snowdonia is the land of Dragons and so it is a fitting place for ultramarathoners to go into battle. I use the word battle as that’s exactly what they had to do at the Ultra Trail Snowdonia by UTMB (UTS).
The over 1,000 strong army of runners had to battle the elements, the mountains, the boggy and technical terrain and ultimately the race itself. UTS proudly bills itself as “beautiful beyond belief and savage beyond reason” and having witnessed it first hand I can’t help but agree.
The first race began at the National Slate Museum at the heart of Snowdonia, North Wales, a thoughtful nod to the area’s past. At 11am, engulfed in red smoke, the first race began. These athletes had to cover 165km across some of the harshest terrain in the UK. Immediately starting with a climb up Snowdon (the first of four climbs). I followed the elite runners as they descended off Snowdon and through the first aid station with two runners creating an impressive lead in only 14km. They were Simon Roberts, who won the seemingly impossible Dragon’s Back Race last year having arrived on the start line as a relatively unknown runner, and Mark Darbyshire who won last year’s 100km edition of this race. Their lead stretched as the kilometres rolled on, undaunted by the 10,200 metres of elevation as they sailed up and over the mountains. The mountains, however, had other plans for the runners. As night began to descend so did a storm that swept through the area and with conditions deteriorating rapidly to a dangerous degree the race organisers made the brave decision to stop the race and pull the runners down from the mountains. What went on behind the scenes to safely bring all the runners back to race HQ was nothing short of miraculous and goes to show the lengths that the organisers go to ensure all runners are safe.
The weather-battered runners were given the option to line up for the 100 and 50km editions that started the following day and some of the brave runners, already with 50-70km in their legs, chose to return to the start lines. The 100km race kicked off at 4am, with the rain still hammering down, but the 50km started later that morning with the sun starting to break through the clouds. After the rain the runners were gifted some glorious views as the weather continued to improve throughout the day and while there were bogs to cross and mountains to climb the morale of all the runners coming through the aid stations was remarkably high. With the route taking in some of the best climbs and views Snowdonia and the UK have to offer there was always a place for the runners to stop to catch their breath and take a photo.
The final sting in the tail for both distances wais finishing the race with a summit of Snowdon one last time and then heading down the mountain to return to the National Slate Museum and the cheering crowds.
Both the 100 and the 50 were hotly contested from the off, with Josh Wade breaking the course record on his way to winning in the 100 and Jack Scott taking the win in the 50 with an astonishing time of 5 hours 32 minutes as he builds up towards UTMB in August. I caught up with Jack just after his win to get his thoughts on the event which can be watched over on our Instagram
The wonderful Meryl Cooper came home in second in the 50 having fought off covid twice in only ten weeks. As we know from a video we did with her during UTMB last year she is no stranger to overcoming adversity in the mountains:
As the sun set on the beauty of Snowdonia the runners, now caked in mud and sweat, hobbled back to their cars and silence fell over the finish line. The dragon had been put back to slumber until its next edition on 12-14th of May and we here at The Running Channel can’t help but be tempted to take on the beast next year and line up for UTS.
Are you tempted too? Entries will be opening July 12th with 200 bibs at early bird pricing so follow the link below and we will see you at the start line.