Film captures the high from running

Sheffield Adventure Film Festival 2013'The Dragon's Back
Sheffield Adventure Film Festival 2013'The Dragon's Back

CHASING the Dragon by Sheffield-based film maker Richard Heap tells the tale of addiction - not to Class A drugs but to mountain marathon running.

The award-winning film is being premiered this weekend at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival.

It tells the story of what is quite probably the hardest running race in the world, a five-day epic from north to south Wales, which sees hardened ultra fell runners covering 200 miles, 45,000ft in height and taking in the country’s highest peaks including Snowdon.

Set against the backdrop of stunning Welsh mountain scenery, the film follows some of the 84 competitors who took part in The Dragon’s Back race - resurrected last year for the first time in 20 years.

The extreme highs and lows, the pain, the physical strength, the sheer mental toughness bordering on lunacy and the solitude of mountains are all beautifully captured in this 60-minute documentary.

Among the stars are Helen Whitaker, who returns to the hills after jointly winning the original race 20 years ago to finish fourth - beating most of the men.

Another unlikely protagonist is eventual winner Steve Birkinshaw, a bespectacled middle-aged fell runner whose strength and endurance is mighty impressive.

Steve, who wins the race comfortably from nearest rival Rob Baker, says of the run: “Sometimes it is gloriously pleasant but sometimes it’s bloody horrible.

“It almost becomes a spiritual experience, you just move through the landscape and it’s just fantastic.”

Another female runner, Nicky Spinks, says the race is easy compared to her own personal battle with breast cancer.

She says: “Real life challenges are far bigger than this - it’s not as hard as being told you’ve got cancer.”

Richard, founder of Slackjaw films, is best known for his rock climbing and motor racing documentaries but he has triumphed with his latest production, winning the Shaff award for Best Running Film and coming third in the Best Film category.

The 44-year-old from Nether Edge said: “I went along to film some footage for the race website but I soon realised there was an incredible story to tell.

“I got quite emotional while I was editing it and remembering what the runners had to go through.”

The film follows the competitors on their mission to navigate the mountains of Wales from north to south.

There is no set route and the runners navigate between check points ascending 45,000ft over five days and run at least marathon or more every day.

By the end of the week just 32 runners are left in the field with many experienced and seasoned athletes unable to complete the course - an indication of just how tough it really is.

The footage captures the extreme highs and lows as the runners strive to complete the ultimate feat of physical and mental endurance driven on by their obsession.

Richard will be taking part in a Q&A with Helen Whitaker, Steve Birkinshaw and race director Shane Ohly after the film is premiered on Saturday.