Wales and GB international Rob Samuel returned to Snowdonia on Saturday with a stunning performance at the 2012 Snowdonia Marathon Eryri.
The Eryri Harrier produced what can be described as a gun-to-tape victory, making light work of one of the toughest marathons in the UK, to record a new course record of 2:35:40. The best time for the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri event is still held by Jeff Norman at 2:28:02, however the move to the new course and the High St. finish location has ensured a new course since 2010.
Rob Samuel at the Snowdon Marathon (pic by Gwynfor James)
In the women's race there was a monumental battle for the title, with Welsh international Emily Gelder storming through in the closing stages to take the race.
There are few marathons in the UK that can claim to have the same history as the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri. Now in its 30th 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 many years of high winds and heavy rain the organisers were hopeful of some respite for the runners (who came from 17 countries), and the day dawned to cool, light winds and blue skies, bathing the glorious mountainous vistas in Autumn sunshine. It was 5-time winner Norman who got the 2000+ runners underway 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.
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. The race went to plan in many ways, I went out hard from the off and though it was very tough from 18-22 miles up to Waunfawr, I put another effort in over Bwlch y Groes and into Llanberis.
Speaking about how the race unfolded, he continued:
"I felt really good in the first half of the race, and I knew I had to watch Matthew (Roberts), plus you never quite know when you line-up who might be there to take it on. The support through Beddgelert was once again amazing and that really gives you a boost when you pass halfway. 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 also like to thank all of the volunteers, organisation and support on the course this year, it really was incredible. Finally, I would like to thank Andy Walling (Coach / Physio) who has helped me greatly this last few years, he has helped develop my running style and also been there when I needed it physically and mentally."
Finishing in a fine second place was fellow Welsh international and Eryri Harrier, Matthew Roberts. The Llanberis resident put in a great effort to hold on to Samuel, and TV footage even shows him within striking distance of Rob up until Betws Garmon (19 miles). However, the tough final 4 miles were not kind to Math and he eventual finished some seven minutes back on Samuel, still posting a superb 2:42:41, some 6 minutes better than his time of 2011.
Northern Ireland international Justin Maxwell completed the podium, with a strong run for third in 2:47:45.
The women’s race proved to be a highly dramatic story. Former world mountain running champion Angela Mudge went out hard, taking the lead and holding a strong advantage through Beddgelert (13 miles) over 2011 5th placer Claire Phillips, San Domenico runner Sally Wilder, and Welsh ultra running international Gelder.
However, as the runners approached the climb to Rhyd Ddu and the feed station, Mudge dropped out of the race after suffering with what she later described as 'drained and heavy legged', and Wilder took the lead. Still, there were to be many twist before the leading lady came into Llanberis, as Phillips overtook Wilder around the 18 mile mark, and then as they climbed Bwlch y Groes and descended into the finish, it was Gelder who took her chance, overtaking Port Talbot Harrier Phillips with just a mile to go.
From that point Gelder plummeted into Llanberis, to take a famous win by over 90 seconds in the end. Speaking after crossing the line the Dulwich Runner said:
"I am so happy. This is an amazing event, and to win it means so much to me as a Welsh runner. I just kept going really, and actually felt a little sorry for Claire to overtake her at 25 miles! Still, it is a race and I just went for it over the last mile. Amazing!"
The quality of the women's race was also underlined with all of the first four runners finishing within 4 minutes of each other.
Race organiser Jayne Lloyd was rightly proud of the racing, and the overall event success, stating:
“What a great race! Especially the women's race, which was of a very high standard today. Our winners were of such a high calibre once again, cementing the event as one of Wales’ premier road races. 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. 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 too, 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 get better and better every year!"
Report by Matt Ward.