Deemed by many to be the toughest, considered by those who have taken part to be the most stunning, the 2015 Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryri was made that little bit more difficult as runners faced the challenge of this classic race under heavy rain. This year once again saw the race rise to new levels of popularity too, with almost 2000 runners setting off at 10.30am just outside of the village of Llanberis in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park.
The inclement weather did little to dampen the spirits of the masses, or the pace of the lead runners, as the men’s course record was smashed by Kent AC man and Snowdonia first-timer John Gilbert, and there was a new name on the women’s trophy too as Tracy McCartney took the ladies’ crown.
The day dawned to familiar weather conditions at this famous event, though the wind was gusty, it was heavy rain which mainly added that little bit of extra spice to the race which takes in almost 3000ft of climbing over its 26 arduous miles. An emotional start line also featured Welsh rocker Mike Peters getting the runners underway. A tireless fundraiser and inspirational speaker, Mike sung a highly charged rendition of his track ‘By Your Side’ to runners at the start. The song provides a soundtrack for his By Your Side campaign which raises funds for cancer care in North Wales.
As the race unfolded over the early miles and the climb to Pen y Pass at mile 5, its was Gilbert – fresh from a very fast clocking of 2:15 in Berlin a month earlier – who stamped his authority on the men’s race, setting a super-high tempo on the steep uphill section, establishing a lead of around 30 seconds over Welshman Mike Kallenberg. This was a lead which he wasn’t to relinquish for the rest of the race.
In the women’s event it was a similar story, as Nene Valley runner McCartney set a pace few could live with on the first 5 mile climb, cresting Pen y Pass in 32:57, some 70 seconds up on the chasers, which included 2014 women’s winner Andrea Rowlands – who had come into the race with a hamstring injury, eventual second placer Joanne Nelson, Caitlin Rice and Mary Grace Spalton.
As the men’s race unfolded over the next miles to the halfway point in Beddgelert, both Gilbert and McCartney emphasised their supremacy. Mile 13 to 20 did little undermine that fact as far as Gilbert was concerned, with Cardiff man Kallenberg remaining strong in second and fellow Welshman Phil Matthews in third. In the ladies race McCartney looked strong and at mile 23 had a lead over almost 3 minutes, but behind Darwen runner Joanne Nelson was on a charge. So much of a charge that by mile 25 she was only around 90 seconds behind McCartney.
In the men’s race Gilbert held his nerve, remained strong, and continued to pull away from his pursuers over the second half of the race. The only question remaining – how close could he get to Rob Samuel’s 2012 record of 2:35:40. As the Kent man plummeted into Llanberis and the finish line is was becoming clear it would be very close, and even more apparent as he crossed mile 25 that the record was very much on.
Entering the village it was obvious he was well inside the course record, rounding the final corner and into the high street to cross the line in a majestic 2:33:38.
Speaking immediately after the race Gilbert said:
“That was an amazing race. Amazing course and amazing support around the whole route. It feels great to win, and of course to break the record, really happy with that!”. When asked how the race compared to Berlin, he added,“…this race is better, different but better!”
Behind 24-year old Kallenberg held his form superbly over the closing miles, coming home in second a little over two mins back on Gilbert and barely 10 seconds outside of the old course record.
“Im absolutely chuffed”, he stated. “It’s great to come here as a Welshman, finish second and run such a surprising time. This is a great stepping stone for the upcoming World 50k champs that I have too. I was impressed by John today, he was too strong for me and well done to him.”
Matthews held on for third, with local man Gwyn Owen finishing 4th and Aberdare man Adam Bull completing the top 5.
The women’s race had by now turned into a nail biting finish, with Tracy McCartney who had led from the start being reeled in with every yard by Joanne Nelson. Unfortunately for Nelson the finish came a little too soon, as McCartney held on over the last mile to take a famous victory in 3:08:47, just over a minute up. Her delight on the finish line was apparent as she said:
“This is just brilliant, I really wasn’t expecting to win this! Wow, what an event, the support around the course is unbelievable, I can see what all the fuss is about surrounding Snowdonia now! I’ll be back next year for sure to try and defend my win.”
Nelson went on to take a very good second in 3:09:56, with 2014 women’s champion Rowlands showing her strength and class, banishing her injury woes, taking a very good third in 3:16:48.
Race organiser Jayne Lloyd was rightly proud of how the race had gone and the level of the performances on the day.
“The feedback from all runners after the event has been absolutely fantastic, I am personally very happy, but also proud of all of the community in Llanberis and the hundreds of volunteers on the route, they are what make this race so great. Hats off to John and Tracy too. Worthy champions!”
Men’s top 5
1 John Gilbert 2:33:38 Kent AC
2 Mike Kallenberg 2:35:50 Cardiff AAC
3 Phil Matthews 2:39:11 Swansea Harriers
4 Gwyn Owen 2:46:24 Eryri Harriers
5 Adam Bull 2:47:38 Aberdare Valley AAC
Women’s top 5
1 Tracy McCartney 3:08:44 Eryri Harriers
2 Joanne Nelson 3:09:38 Darwen Dashers RC
3 Andrea Rowlands 3:16:48 Eryri Harriers
4 Caitlin Rice 3:20:25 Glossopdale Harriers
5 Mary Grace Spalton 3:22:14 Belgrave Harriers