Russell Bentley and Anna Bracegirdle were decisive winners at the Snowdonia Marathon Eryri on Saturday. For Bentley it was a repeat of his 2016 victory and a masterly demonstration of front running. For Bracegirdle it was to be a maiden marathon victory and one that saw the Welshwoman storm through in the last 2 miles of the race to take a historic win.
Starting under clear skies, a stiff northerly wind greeted runners as they headed out of Nant Peris for the 36th running of this classic marathon. With temperatures of around 7 degrees celcius Snowdonia 2018 was going to be a cold one, however as the day developed bright sunshine and large crowds ensured that conditions for the 2500 runners were just about as good as it gets in autumn marathon running.
If the weather wasn’t going to be too much of a factor the route certainly was, and some of the toughest roads and tracks in Snowdonia would once again demonstrate why this iconic marathon is considered the UK’s toughest.
From the gun Russell Bentley was intent in taking the race to the others as the 37-year old Kent AC man headed to the first climb of the day to Pen y Pass. As he crested the first timing point at mile 5 his lead was almost 90 seconds, ahead of Salford man Gary Priestley and Welshman Daniel Bodman.
Russell Bentley @Sport Pictures Cymru
In the women’s race early leader Emma Wookey was in equally determined mood as she led 2017 3rd placer Sarah Cumber and Lauren Carly Draper through 5 miles.
Liswerry runner Wookey had finished 5th in 2017 and was intent on bettering that position in 2018 as she continued to mile 8 and mile 13 with a clear lead. Cumber was holding her second position, but the Halifax athlete was starting to show the effects of a cold as she indicated to the TV cameras that she wasnt feeling too good at this stage. Through halfway 2014 winner Andrea Rowlands was third, with the first sight of eventual winner Bracegirdle in 4th.
In the men’s race there was no indication from Bentley that he was slowing down.
In fact such was his performance to halfway, he was inside 2015 winner John Herbert’s course record schedule and held a massive 3-minute lead over North Wales Road Runner Martin Green who had now moved into second place. Bodman was still third with Priestley in 4th.
2017 winner Daniel Jones was running comfortably in 5th, but not quite showing the power on the Snowdonia course that he did a year earlier.
Continuing through 20 miles Bentley was beginning to drift off the course record schedule, this was explained by the fact that runners were now running straight into that cold northerly wind. Behind Green and Bodman were battling it out with Priestley for the podium places, with eventual 3rd placer Rob Weekes beginning his charge in 5th.
If the men’s race winner was looking clear cut the women’s race was anything but, as Wookey’s 2-minute lead over Bracegirdle at mile-14 was reduced to just 12 seconds at mile 22.
It was clear a mammoth battle was now on as they turned at Waunfawr and headed to the highest point of the race at mile 24, almost 380 metres above sea level and an ascent of over 200 metres in just 1 mile!
Whilst the women battled it out, Bentley was cruising to his second Snowdonia victory. Descending back into Llanberis after conquering the Bwlch y Groes climb, he danced his way into the high street and the finish to take a highly-popular win in 2:38:21.
Speaking to the crowd as he crossed the line, a tired but elated Bentley said:
“Wow, I am so pleased to win this race again. It’s an amazing event, so hard, so much support, I absolutely love it.
“It was tough out there today as I was on my own all the way, and the wind coming back over mile 18-20 was really buffeting me and had to fight to keep my form and concentration. It’s true that I did have my good friend John Herbert’s course record on my mind and at halfway it was on. But I think the fact I had no one to run with over the second half meant it was always going to be hard. Still, I am really happy to win this one again, amazing!”
Behind Martin Green held his nerve and form over the last 2 miles to take a fantastic second place in 2:43:16.
Martin Green takes a brilliant second place @Sport Pictures Cymru
The last 3 miles unfortunately saw Welsh international trail runner Bodman’s race fall apart. After being passed by first Priestley and then Weekes, the Aberdare runner eventually fell to 12th by the finish line.
However, Weekes and Priestley were now dukeing it out for the final podium spot, and it was East Hull Harrier Weekes who took it in 2:45:50.
Whilst Bentley and the lead men took the plaudits of the huge and appreciative Llanberis crowd, the lead women were now entering the last 3 miles and as the hill ramped up at mile-24 Anna Bracegirdle took her chance.
The Liverpool-based radiography student had only one previous marathon under her belt in 2017 and was in new territory as she ran past a now tiring Emma Wookey.
She didnt look back as she began her descent of Bwlch y Groes and extended her lead as she entered the village of Llanberis.
Heading towards the finish line Anna was full of smiles and full of running, breaking the tape in 3:06:02. The time was immaterial as she realised the achievement, her mother embracing her as she raised the famous Snowdonia Marathon Eryri solid silver trophy.
@Sport Pictures Cymru
A tired but delighted winner, Bracegirdle commented:
“I just can’t believe it! My entry into this race was a Christmas present from my mum. I had no expectations of finishing in the top 3, never mind winning it – it’s amazing!
“All round the route people had been shouting ‘4th lady, 3rd lady’ so I knew I was doing quite well and I just kept going really. I also knew that the big hill at 22-23 miles would be one to save something for, so when I saw Emma ahead I just went for it, it’s unbelievable”.
Wookey finished an excellent second in 3:08:53 after leading for 24 miles of this grueling event. After finishing fifth in 2017 this was a big improvement for the Newport woman.
“I’m still pretty happy. When I came here I had a target of top 3, so to finish second is great really”.
2014 women’s champion Rowlands showed her strength and class as she took third, her seventh time on the Snowdonia podium with 3:12:36. Sarah Cumber finished an eventual 4th place.
Race organiser Jayne Lloyd was rightly pleased with what had once again been a great race:
“This marathon never fails to inspire me. It’s my 15th time organising it and each year it still fills me with pride to see the thousands of runners filling the roads of Snowdonia. We saw two great winners in Russell and Anna today, truly brilliant runs. But this day is not just about great winners, it’s about great people, coming together for so many reasons.
“As ever I am overwhelmed by the support and feedback from the running community and local people involved in this race. The effort people put in to make this race happen is incredible, the feed station teams out there made an extra special effort this year and once again the support on the route seems like it has been unbelievable!”
Men’s top 5
1 Russell Bentley 2:38:21 Kent AC
2 Martin Green 2:43:16 NWRRC
3 Rob Weekes 2:45:50 East Hull Harriers
4 Gary Priestley 2:46:10Salford Harriers
5 Daniel Jones 2:36:54 Team Bath AC
Women’s top 5
1 Anna Bracegirdle 3:06:02
2 Emma Wookey 3:08:53 Lliswerry Runners
3 Andrea Rowlands 3:12:36 Eryri Harriers
4 Sarah Cumber 3:16:22 Halifax Harriers AC
5 Emma Williams 3:22:50
Full results via the TDL Event Services website here