Published: 14 September 2023

A Pembrokeshire woman has successfully conquered a gruelling 236-mile gruelling race that has been described as one of the toughest mountain races in the world. 

Sanna Duthie, 35, of Milford Haven, took on the Montane Dragon’s Back Race, which sees competitors from all over the world run the equivalent of 1.5 marathons every day for six days, over Wales’ uniquely wild, trackless and remote mountainous terrain.

The ultra-runner was chosen to represent the Wales Air Ambulance after impressing the judging panel with her passion and dedication.

The race started at Conwy Castle on September 4 and saw runners hot-footing it down the spine of Wales in soaring temperatures to finish at Cardiff Castle. While 298 people from 28 countries started the race, only 87 people made it to the end. Sanna was the fifth female to cross the line and finished 19th overall with an impressive time of 68 hours and four minutes.

She described the experience as a “dream come true” and said she was still pinching herself that she had taking part in the race, let alone completed it.

Sanna said: “The atmosphere in Cardiff was fantastic, there were people cheering out my name, and there was a good party atmosphere. You feel like you are the best person in the world crossing that line.

“I was given a dragon at the end of the race, and it is tradition that you name your dragon. I named mine Hope, as no matter what happens along the way as long as you have hope, it will pull you through. I had been thinking of that throughout the race and I couldn’t wait to receive it.

“I still can’t believe I completed the Dragon’s Back as so many runners don’t even finish. I was chuffed to complete the race let alone be ranked the fifth female and 19th overall. I am new to mountain running so I still have lots to learn.

“It all seems so surreal, and it almost feels like a dream!”

Sanna, who works in office administration, said it had been her ambition to enter the Montane Dragon’s Back Race, but the £1,599 entry fee had financially held her back.

She said: As a proud Welsh runner, the race has been on my radar for nearly 10 years. I know several people who have taken part which has only fuelled my desire to do it.

“Knowing I was doing it for the Charity kept me going, and while there were times I could have called it a day due to tiredness, I knew I could never make that call to the Wales Air Ambulance to say I couldn’t complete it.

Sanna is no stranger to fundraising for the all-Wales Charity, having raised nearly £5,000 in 2021 by running the entire Pembrokeshire Coast Path, all in one go. To receive the Charity space the ultra-runner pledged to raise £2,000 for the Charity, which she has surpassed, raising over £2,700.

Sanna said standing at the starting line was a wonderful memory despite knowing she had to run 32 miles and 3,800m (12,467ft) of climbs that day.

She said: “It was fantastic, everyone was buzzing, The Male Voice Choir was singing and it was one of the best race starts I have ever had. The first day was the hardest and I was so worried about Crib Coch as it is not my usual type of terrain.”

After completing a day of running, Sanna would head to camp for the night where she shared a tent with eight other runners.  

She said: “When I got back to camp, I would set my bed up, get everything ready for the next day, get my food, have a wash in the river, get my dragon’s mail, have more food and then sort my feet out by ensuring they were dry and elevated.  I would aim to be in bed by 8.45-9pm but you couldn’t sleep until everyone else was in.

“One of the lows was not having a shower and I did get homesick, but the highs outweighed it all. You don’t often get six mountain days of no rain and the views were spectacular, you could see for miles which was amazing.

“Other highs included the people I met and the Dragon’s mail that I received from friends and family - I also had a message of support from the Wales Air Ambulance. It became the highlight of the day.”

Sanna said she was proud to run as a female runner and encouraged more women to take on the challenge.

She said: “We need more female ultra-runners. Women are so strong mentally. I see women of all different ages complete it, you just have to believe in yourself and get to the start line. I thank Wales Air Ambulance for believing in me and giving me the chance to take part in the Dragon’s Back.”

The Wales Air Ambulance needs to raise £11.2 million every year to keep its helicopters in the air and rapid response vehicles on the road.

Tracey Ann Breese, Wales Air Ambulance’s Events and Partnership Fundraiser, said: “A huge congratulations to Sanna for completing the Montane Dragon’s Back Race. Like many of my colleagues, I followed her journey throughout and she was outstanding. What a remarkable achievement by a remarkable woman.

“It was clear from Sanna’s application for the Charity space that she was totally committed and determined from the start, and we are so pleased and proud that she was able to conquer the race, both as a personal goal and to fundraise for Wales Air Ambulance.” 

 To support Sanna visit her Just Giving page,