Welsh sport had much to celebrate at the 31st running of the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri yesterday, as local man and GB international Rob Samuel(pictured, above) took one of his sweetest of victories at this iconic event - and in doing so made it a hat-trick of wins.
Bangor University student Sarah Caskey also turned in a stunning performance in the women's event, as the 23-year old took a gun-to-tape victory.
There are few marathons in the UK that can claim to have the same history as the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri. Now in its 31st year the marathon, which is regarded as one of the toughest and most picturesque in the UK, can proudly boast some great battles and performances over the years.
Some of the UK's top mountain and marathon runners such as Jeff Norman, Martin Cox and Lizzy Hawker have graced the event, with Norman's best time from 1985 surely ranking as one of the great marathon performances in the UK from the last four decades.
After a year of sunshine and blue skies in 2012, it was a return to more familiar conditions at this iconic British marathon, as although the first two hours of the event were relatively dry, high winds and heavy rain returned to add that little bit of extra spice to this event which takes in almost 3000ft of climbing over its 26 arduous miles.
Once again almost 2000 runners set off at 10.30am just outside of the village of Llanberis, now considered the 'outdoor capital of Wales' due to the preponderance of sporting events over the course of the year.
Having had a very strong season on the mountains of the UK in 2013 Eryri Harrier Samuel was touch-and-go in terms of participation at this year's event, after picking up a hamstring injury at the World Mountain Running Championships in Poland some six weeks ago. However, with some encouragement from friends and a few weeks of solid mileage back under his belt, the 27-year old stood on the start line in the knowledge that a well judged performance could bag him a third win in as many years. Commenting on his terrific winning effort Samuel said:
"It was an amazing feeling once again to come down the finishing straight with the Ddraig Goch (Welsh flag), very emotional. With all of the trials and tribulations over the last 6 weeks or so, taking my third win here is all the more sweet, and I suppose it will take a little while for it to sink in."
Speaking about how the race unfolded, he continued:
"I felt really good out there today, and knew that I had to bide my time and make sure that I looked after my legs for the first half of the race. I just sort of sat in for the first few miles and considered the opposition really. Of course I always knew that Gwyn (Owen) would be strong today, and he ran a great race up to around mile 18, where I could still feel he was a threat. Luckily for me he started to drop-off a little around Betws Garmon and I knew then that I just needed to keep my form.
"The last four miles over Bwlch y Groes are tough, no matter how good you feel, and coming off the descent I just put my head down and went as hard as I could into the High Street and, well, the feeling coming up the finishing straight with the crowd going mad was unforgettable. I'd like to thank all of the volunteers, organisation and support on the course this year, it really was incredible once again, with people across the route shouting my name. I'd would like to thank Andy Walling (Coach / Physio) who has helped me greatly again in 2013 and all of the people who kept me positive over the last week or so".
His time of 2:43:50 is his slowest winning time at this event, however 2013 was all about racing and history will show that the Eryri man is now a three-time winner of the race.
Behind him Owen struggled over the last 4 miles to place an eventual 5th in 2:50:06, with Robert Bridges (2:46:06) of the Manchester Tri Club steaming through for an excellent second place ahead of Bridgend AC man Rob Atkin (2:47:53) in third and Matthew Battensby (2:49:32) in fourth position completing that top 5.
The women’s race proved to be a highly dramatic story, with just 11 seconds separating winner Sarah Caskey and runner-up Melanie Staley. Young Bangor student Caskey is well acclimatised to the North Wales and Snowdonia weather conditions and is also pretty familiar with the landscape and challenging Snowdonian terrain, and having run a highly-creditable 2:52 marathon in Manchester earlier in 2013 came into the race amongst the favourites.
Back again in 2013 was the 2012 winner Emily Gelder, who had claimed the title last year with a run to perfection over the closing miles of the race, and with Staley, Trail Marathon Wales 2013 winner Mary Grace Spalton and new-mum Andrea Rowlands also ready to challenge, the women's event had always promised to be a great race.
However, Caskey was obviously waiting for no one as the race wound its way up to Pen-y-Pass over the opening 3 miles. As they approached the crest of the first brow and the first feed station, her lead was already considerable. By the time they had descended Cwm Dyli and Nant Gwynant and on towards 13 miles and Beddgelert, her lead was a healthy 2 minutes - even at this relatively early stage Caskey would be difficult to beat. Behind, 2012 winner Gelder, Eryri Harrier Rowlands and Cambridge runner Staley were all looking strong, and it was to be Melanie Staley who would be the runner with biggest challenge over the closing stages of the race.
As they descended Bwlch-y-Groes (mile 24) Caskey encountered what she later described as "a searing pain in her lower back" which appeared to slow her considerably over the demanding and unforgiving plummet back into Llanberis, as Staley was closing rapidly on the Bangor runner. Indeed, as Caskey turned into the High St. with around 300 metres to run, little did she know that her large advantage had been whittled down to a handful of seconds.
Still, with a determined sprint into the finish, it was to be a memorable victory for Caskey (pictured below) and as she broke the tape bloodied and battled-scarred the pain quickly turned to elation.
"I am so happy to win", she stated, "This is an unbelievable event, and it's a great feeling to win"
When questioned about the fact that Melanie Staley was within 11 seconds of her in the last metres of the race, she added:
"I really had no idea she was there, and in fact if Mel had started to pass me I don't know what I would have done! But honestly that was the hardest thing I have ever done, the last 4 miles are seriously brutal, so tough, and the last 2 miles are almost like a fell race. I was in agony coming down the last descent, but I am just glad I was able to hang on."
The proximity of Staley was all to apparent in the times of the first two runners with Caskey's 3:12:07 versus Staley's 3:12:18 telling the tale. Having given birth just 5 months earlier Andrea Rowlands (3:15:44) showed fantastic resolve in coming through for the final podium spot, with Emily Gelder (3:16:57) in 4th and Mary Grace Spalton (3:19:52) completing the women's leading five runners.
Race organiser Jayne Lloyd was rightly proud of the racing, and the overall event success, stating:
“What a great race! Our winners were of such a high calibre once again, cementing the event as one of Wales’ premier road races, and we are all chuffed to see Rob come back on take his third win here.The feedback from all runners after the event has been immense and very humbling, from the front to the back of the race.
“The whole organising and volunteer teams were amazing too, and we had some great backing once again from our sponsors and partners, especially National Trust and Tenovous. We have so many people to thank, the communities in Llanberis and on the whole of the route came out once again to make this one of the friendliest and best-supported races in the whole of the UK. The high street finish was a sea of colour and smiling faces as ever, even in the rain and wind, and the crowds were huge throughout the day in Llanberis. We are really grateful to all involved and proud of this event, which seems to go from strength to strength every year!"
Men's top 5
1 Rob Samuel 2:43:50 Eryri Harriers
2 Robert Bridges 2:46:06 Manchester Tri Club
3 Rob Atkin 2:47:43 Bridgend AC
4 Matthew Battensby 2:49:32
5 Gwyn Owen 2:50:17
Women's top 5
1 Sarah Caskey 3:12:07 Bangor University AC
2 Melanie Staley 3:12:18 Cambridge and Coleridge
3 Andrea Rowlands 3:15:44 Eryri Harriers
4 Emily Gelder 3:16:57
5 Mary Grace Spalton 3:19:52 Belgrave Harriers
This year's Snowdonia Marathon incorporates the Welsh Masters Marathon Championships.
Race day information
Registration will take place in the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre (LL55 4UR) from midday until midnight on Friday 25th October 2013 and again from 6am until 9am on the morning of Saturday 26th October. This is when you will be given your race pack.
Runners can park at any one of a number of Pay and Display car parks around the village. All are within easy walking distance of registration. Please be environmentally aware and try to share transport to the race wherever possible.
Please be aware that the weather at this time of year can be quite challenging and you are advised to carry some sort of body cover with you whilst running.
The inaugural Snowdonia Marathon was held in 1982, and was conceived as a dramatic alternative to the numerous city and town races becoming so popular. The demanding and spectacular route, encircling Snowdon, Wales’ and England’s highest peak, has given the event a unique place in the annual marathon calendar ever since.
In a 2011 poll by Runners World Magazine, the Snowdonia Marathon was voted the best Marathon in the UK for the second time. This is somewhat ironic since it is also regarded as one of the most difficult!
Our success has been credited to three things; the beautiful scenery, the runners that organize the race and the hospitality of the local people. The 2012 race will be the 30th Snowdonia Marathon and the biggest so far – little did we realise in 1982 how popular the event would become.