Deirdre Won First Place at the Mongol Derby

Deirdre Griffith  |  December 7, 2022

Deirdre Won First Place at the Mongol Derby

The 2022 Mongol Derby–an epic 1,000 km (621 mile) horse race that spans the Mongolian Steppe and has been run every year since 2009 (except for a two-year break due to COVID in 2020-2021)–will undoubtedly go down as one of the most nail-biting editions of this legendary battle of wits, skill, and endurance.

After eight days of back-and-forth drama, Jackson, Wyoming’s very own Deirdre Griffith (IG: @deirdredoesthederby) clinched the win on the final day along with South African Willemien Jooste. In the process, she raised $100,000 for the Parental Mental Wellness Program for new parents at St. John’s Health. We salute Deirdre and her fellow competitors on this once-in-a-lifetime feat. Let’s run through the highlights!

What exactly is the Mongol Derby?

Billed as the “longest and toughest horse race on earth,” the Mongol Derby is the equine adventure race par excellence. The eight to ten day test features the world’s top 46 riders from all over the world who gather in Mongolia to recreate Genghis Khan’s legendary horse messenger system.

The rules of the race are short and sweet: riders are tasked to cross the wild landscape with only the help of a GPS device, changing horses every 25 miles with a vet check at each stop, where broken bones and bruises are not uncommon. As 2019 winner Lara Prior-Palmer dubbed it, the Mongol Derby is nothing less than “a Tour de France on unknown bicycles.”

Photo credit Shari Thompson

Deirdre’s inspiration to compete

Deirdre Griffith, an accomplished Jackson real estate agent who grew up riding horses in Bolinas, CA, has had a longtime fascination with competing in the Mongol Derby. “This race has always piqued my interest as an epic challenge both mentally and physically,” she said. “One of my main reasons for competing in this race is to show my girls that they should dream big and they can achieve anything they set their minds to.” But Deirdre’s drive to win in 2022 also stems from an even more personal story.

After giving birth to two daughters, Deirdre suffered from postpartum depression. She and her husband had trouble knowing where to go for support and scheduling counseling sessions. That’s why she was so excited about the March 2022 opening of the Parental Mental Wellness Program for new parents at St. John’s Health in Jackson.

Using the race as a platform, she raised over $100,000 that will help build this program from the ground up. VP of development and marketing for the St. John’s Health Foundation Sheldon Perkins said that her donation will assure that “mental health care is now built into daily operations at the St. John’s Health Birth Center” – an accomplishment that will aid countless parents to traverse their own postpartum journeys.

Photo credit Shari Thompson

A blow-by-blow look at the race

The drama unfolded in Mongolia in lightning-quick succession virtually from the starting gun. It took two and half years of preparation for Deirdre just to arrive at the race, which featured many professional riders and jockeys, including New Zealanders Sam Edney and Annie Hackett, who took an early lead while others fell behind due to inclement weather and navigational errors.

By day four, Irishman Patrick Heffron and Brit Chris Walker claimed the lead amid mountainous terrain. A pack of seven riders, including Griffith and Jooste, followed only a few hours behind, but Griffith’s attention never wavered. “My strategy never changed throughout the whole race,” she said, “Ride my race, and ride the horse I’m on.”

The final days of the race were fought bitterly among the remaining riders. Patrick and Chris camped just 18 minutes ahead of the followers who were, by now, dwindling due to time penalties and injuries. The pressure mounted on days six and seven, as Deirdre had trouble sleeping yet still staved off injury. “My body felt strong and prepared,” Griffith said, “I came home without a mark.”

Day eight was a nailbiter, but Deirdre and Willemien held their nerve and ran a tactically flawless last stretch. They overcame the leaders on the second-to-last horse station before the finish line then flew to victory a couple of hours later. Through the course of the race, Deirdre incurred zero vet penalties, setting up a win just 35 minutes ahead of second place.

What it takes to win the Mongol Derby

Viewing the Mongol Derby from a bird’s eye view gives a pretty picture of the event, but Deirdre’s experience on the ground proves just how impressive a win it truly was. The race is split up into 28 stations which act as checkpoints for riders to complete vet checks, swap horses, tend to injuries, and take in food. As an option, riders can camp in the wild or find a Mongolian family to host them for a time.

Adding to the difficulty, racers are penalized for riding beyond daily cut-off times, and many struggle with fevers, aches, and recovery issues. Eating local foods and getting accustomed to the severe landscape also make this race suitable only for the brave. “Each horse station is hosted by a family that will prepare food for the riders,” Deirdre said. “One night out, we were served a bowl of boiled sheep leg bones…It was pretty tasty.”

Griffith credits 2 years worth of fitness and strength training prior to the event for her continued endurance throughout the race. Astonishing, given that she broke her hand just 2 months before, riding the race with a custom splint.

Photo credit Shari Thompson

What’s next for Deirdre?

Asked if she’s ready to compete in Mongol Derbies in the future, Deirdre was optimistic: “I’d do it again because it was that awesome, but I had such a perfect experience I couldn’t top it. Something else will be on the horizon. I like having goals on the calendar to keep me motivated and engaged.” Congrats, Deirdre!

If you’d like to read more about Deirdre’s success, visit her Instagram or check out Deirdre Griffith’s page for more info on real estate in Jackson, WY.

Deirdre Griffith

About the Author

Deirdre Griffith

Deirdre Griffith has called the Mountain West home for over 15 years and enjoys all it has to offer. As a real estate investor herself, Deirdre diligently tracks local residential markets, financial markets, as well as a broad range of ranches and outfits. 

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