44th Castell Howell International Snowdon Race 2019 Race Report

Douglas and McCormack triumph at Snowdon 2019

 Llanberis, Wales – Scotland’s Andrew Douglas and Irishwoman Sarah McCormack took top honours at the 44th running of the Castell Howell International Snowdon Race on Saturday.

Wales’ highest peak once again provided high drama, as over 600 runners from across the world tackled the steep slopes of this iconic mountain.

2019 also saw Snowdon become part of the WMRA World Cup Series, bringing additional international quality to the race, which saw the fastest winning times for the both the men’s and women’s events for a number of years.

Grey skies and low visibility on the higher reaches of the mountain added to the spice for the runners as they embarked on the challenging 10-mile race, which can be traced back to 1976 when a small group of competitors ran from the centre of the village of Llanberis to the 1085 metre summit and back.

Matching the enormity of the occasion for this historic race, were some of the biggest crowds ever to watch the event, seeing off the runners at 2pm, with race starter Cllr Gareth Thomas, the Gwynedd Council Cabinet Member for Economic Development, getting the race underway

Laying down their intentions from the gun, Douglas, along with Italian twin brothers Martin and Bernard Dematteis and Ireland’s Zak Hanna, hit the front as they wound their way out of the village and onto the early climbs of Snowdon. However, as they reached the first mountain gate it was Scotsman Douglas who had opened up a sizeable lead over the rest, a lead he was never to relinquish.

Andrew came into the race as the current overall leader of the World Cup standings after 3 races and this was also the position for McCormack, having finished 4th the previous weekend at the classic Austrian race Grossglockner Berglauf. And as the women made their way onto the first technical climb of the race, Sarah was looking in confident mood as she led from England’s Hatti Archer and Italian Elisa Sortini, with Mercia’s Emma Gould in 4th and leading the open race.

With both races now settled into a pattern and the race passing the iconic milestones of Hebron, Allt Moses, Clogwyn and Bwlch Glas, Douglas  began to put the hammer down and impose himself on the race as the they raced to the summit. Visibility at the Clogwyn station had by now changed completely with the runners coming from warm, clear conditions into the mountain mist and light rain!

This did little to dampen the pace of the Scot and as the runners crested Bwlch Glas and on to the summit it was Douglas who reached the 3500+ft peak first, with a scintillating time of 40:42, one of the fastest ever ascents on Snowdon.

Behind, Martin Dematteis hit the summit in 42:13, over 90 seconds back on Douglas. Hanna was now in third with Bernard Dematteis in fourth. One thing was for sure, the Italian twins and the Irishman would have to have the descent of their lives to prevent Douglas taking his maiden Snowdon crown!

Meanwhile in the women’s race McCormack and Sortini were having a great battle, and the summit time for the Irishwoman showed that something very fast was the cards in the women’s event as she summited in 48:18. The only question was at this stage was whether McCormack could hold off the charging Sortini (49:08).

All eyes in the men’s and women’s races were now focussed on the bottom of the mountain.

The men’s race was to be far more clear-cut as the quartet of challengers were by now well spaced-out, with the only battle between Hanna and Bernard Dematteis for that final podium spot.

If the pattern in the men’s race was set, the women’s was anything but, especially for the first position. The gap between McCormack and Sortini had closed from almost one minute at the summit to less than 30 seconds at HalfWay House on the way down, and it was evident that this one would go down to the wire.

Into the final 400 metres for Andrew Douglas and the 33-year old started to realise what he was about to achieve. His time as he crossed the line was an incredible 64:04, one of the fastest times ever at the event and the fastest time at the race for almost 25 years.

Behind Martin Dematteis (66:33) held on strongly for second, with brother Bernard passing Zak Hanna on the descent to take third in 66:06.

Hanna improved on his 2018 time by almost a minute to take 4th in 68:09, with Scotland’s James Espie completing the top 5.

In the men’s team race there was a clear win for Scotland with Douglas, Espie and Ewan Brown who finish in 7th.

Meanwhile, in the women’s race McCormack and Sortini were having an immense battle, befitting of a World Cup race. The gap between the two as they hit the tarmac descent of Penceunant and Allt y Parc was minimal, so much so that as they hit the gate off the mountain there was almost a coming together as they squeezed through.

But the former winner from Ireland was not to be denied, McCormack’s running background before becoming a world-class mountain runner was as a track and XC specialist, and she used her redoubtable speed as she descended into the Llanberis village. It was clear also that Sortini was in discomfort as she chased, with TV images at the finish showing a huge blister on the right heel of the Italian!

Crossing the line in an incredible time of 1:14:49, a time bettered only by women’s record holder Carole Greenwood in 1986 and 1992, McCormack was euphoric, but shattered, sinking to her knees with the effort of holding off Sortini, whose time of 1:15:11 was also the fastest ever by an Italian woman at the race, and incredible given her foot issues.

Hatti Archer completed the podium in a highly impressive 1:17:17, with Emma Gould in 4th (1:19:05) and Scotland’s Scout Adkin taking 5th in 1:23:08.

England, with Archer, Kelli Roberts and Jemima Elgood, took the women’s team prize.

Cementing their places at the top of the men’s and women’s WMRA World Cup standings Douglas and McCormack earned themselves 100 points for the Snowdon wins, and must now be seen as favourites to take the seven-round season-long competition.

The day had also seen over 200 junior runners take part in a range of races for under-10 to under-18 athletes. Some of the future winners of the main race have come from these races and the event was fantastically administered by the Cyngor Gwynedd Council Sport for Life / Chwaraeon am Oes team along with their young ambassadors.

Speaking after the event, race organiser Stephen Edwards stated:

“It was another fantastic year from an organisational point of view. To have the World Cup here was extra special obviously, and I personally think that it raised the bar in terms of competition on the day.

“Andrew and Sarah were great champions and their times were phenomenal. There has been talk of a drop in quality at the race, certainly in terms of times when measured against those of the 80’s and 90’s, but this year actually underlines the fact that the quality is still there.

“I’d like to thank all of the sponsors, especially Kathryn Jones from Castell Howell and their generous support as headline sponsor this year. Also inov-8, once again for their kind sponsorship of the prizes for all of our winners.

“A big thanks to Cyngor Gwynedd for their continued support and also to the Snowdonia National Park Authority. It was great to see so many juniors racing and that was down to the hard work of the Gwynedd Council Chwaraeon am Oes team for their organisation. And finally, as ever, I would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all for the volunteers, supporters and of course the Llanberis community for once again making this a day to remember.”

44th Castell Howell International Snowdon Race 2019 – Results

Men’s Top 3

  1. Andrew Douglas (Scotland) 1:04:04
    2. Martin Dematteis (Italy) 1:06:33
    3. Bernard Dematteis (Italy) 1:07:06

Team: Scotland

 Women’s Top 3

  1. Sarah McCormack (Ireland) 1:14:49
    2. Elisa Sortini (Italy) 1:15:11
    3. Hatti Archer (England) 1:17:07

Team: England

Pictures are available by Sports Pictures Cymru