James Nobles Dragon’s Back Race 2022 Q&A
Supernatural Fuel caught up with James Nobles who produced an incredible performance during The Dragon’s Back Race 2022. The Dragon’s Back sees the participants running from Conwy Castle to Cardiff Castle down the mountainous spine of Wales.
Hi James. Congratulations on winning the 2022 edition of The Dragon’s Back Race. 240 miles with 17,400 meters of ascent spread across 6 days makes this one of the toughest events on the planet. How did it feel to take the win and how did you approach this race?
It was a massive shock to win this race. I’d done just about as much preparation as I could squeeze in during the year leading up to the race, and I wanted to put myself in a position to be able to compete, but having never done a race of this length before, who knew what might actually happen! I’d done plenty of long single day events before, mainly the three rounds in the UK and the Lakeland 50, and that was about it. So this was new ground for me. Training had been more structured than ever before and I brought a lot more variety into my training too, including strength, mobility, and speed work. I even saw a physio a few times! My approach in the race was simple; to aim for consistency throughout, whilst pushing as hard as I could within the upper ends of my comfort zone, and not get too caught up in foot races within each day.
Were you quietly confident throughout the race? Any highs or low points you want to share?
I was happy with how things were going. On the fourth day, when the queen passed away, there were all sorts of rumours going around the camp that the race might end that day, or that it might carry on to the end of day five and that would be it. For quite a few hours that evening, before we heard the news that the race would carry on, I was actually pretty happy to be sitting in third place and I’d made peace with that if we did end there. But we didn’t, and the race carried on. I was confident that my approach was going to get me to the end; I focused a lot on injury prevention each day. Any time I had a rub starting, I’d stop and strap it up to prevent a blister developing. I did loads of little things like that – running on the grass rather than the tarmac, using poles on the flats as well as the ups, and paying a lot of attention to foot placement. It was just a case then of seeing how I was holding up going into the last two days of the race, and it was in those two days that I was willing to push myself well outside the comfort zone and race hard.
There were a few low points throughout. I thought I was feeling good and well fuelled going up the Roman Steps on day two, but I was clearly wrong. Once we tapped out at the top of the steps, and took a right to start ascending Rhinog Fawr, I had a bonk impending. I actually had to stop for 2 minutes and pull myself together. It was a serious slog to the top of that hill, and I tried to take on as much food as I could over the next hour to try and avoid the deficit going any further. It wasn’t an out and out bonk and I did start to feel better towards the end of the leg – but it was a definite low point for me. It didn’t help that it was raining pretty heavily there too.
The highs of the race came more fleetingly than the lows; it was the little things like seeing people you knew out on the course, having a chat with them, seeing the volunteers in the checkpoints…My wife and a friend turned up at Usk reservoir too on day 5 which was a real pick-me-up, and came just at the right time after a long spell of road running. And then the emotions that started to surface during the last five miles of the race were definitely something that I won’t forget in a hurry – it’s a rollercoaster of a race in many, many ways.
As with any endurance event getting your nutrition on point is crucial. What was your strategy and how did Supernatural Fuel come into play?
Eat every 30 minutes and drink as needed. I had an alarm set on my watch and no matter where I was, even on the descent of Tryfan, I had something. I rotated between 4-5 different things to have some variety; some things went down well on some days, and went down like razorblades on the next day. Your stomach does weird things during such a long race so having the variety I think really helped. I’d rotate between the Supernatural Fuel pouches, Ella’s Kitchen baby food, gels, chia charge bars, and a concoction of sugar powder in my water. I’d have about 2000 – 2500kcal each day during the race. The post-race and pre-race fuelling was a massive factor too. The great thing about the Dragon’s Back race is that there is a lot of food available, all of the time, when you aren’t racing. The only thing I wish I’d done was take some protein powder with me so that I could have one as soon as I finished; good for dipping chips in?!
This varied between two, the Berry & Quinoa and then the Oats, Banana & Maple Syrup. It was always a good moment when I pulled one of these two out of the bag throughout the day.
What will you take away from The Dragons Back?
There are too many things from this race that you couldn’t pick one; its simply an experience I don’t think I will ever forget. I have no intention of giving the big dragon trophy back, so I guess that counts!
What’s next for James Nobles?
I was supposed to be doing the Cheviot Goat in December, but I’ve recently pulled the plug on that one. I don’t think I realised just how much the Dragon’s Back had taken out of me. I finished the race without injuries and major niggles, so I assumed I’d recover well, but it just hasn’t been the case. I’m still fatigued from it now, five weeks later and so wanted to give myself a solid three months to recover. I’ve got my eyes on the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa next September, so that will hopefully be the big race for next year with a few others in the lead up to it.
And finally, if you could run one last trail one more time, where would it be and why?
The Bob Graham Round. It’s where all of this started for me. I love the route and I love the support from the running community that sits around this challenge. I’ve got my sights on that again next year too, to see how quickly I can get round unsupported.