Llanberis, Wales – Despite some of the worst weather conditions on the highest mountain peak in England and Wales for a number of years, the 2016 41st Elim Peugeot International Snowdon Race / Ras Rynglwadol yr Wyddfa produced a race filled with drama, seeing a familiar face holding the women’s trophy and new name on the men’s.
With many international teams and athletes making the trip to Wales, the continental flavour was in abundance as ever as runners from Italy, Ireland and much of Europe, lined-up with the home country athletes. And as the race culminated some 80 minutes later, it was Italy’s Chris Smith and Ireland’s Sarah Mulligan who emerged victorious in the men’s and women’s races.
Once again the Llanberis community came out in style as hundreds lined the streets to see off the 650 runners as they headed out in light rain at the traditional 2pm start time. As the race unfolded and the runners made their way past the iconic milestones of Hebron, Allt Moses, Clogwyn and Bwlch Glas it was the brilliance and dominance of Smith and the grit and determination of Mulligan that was the most impressive.
The day had started with the now traditional Snowdon Super Cup / Cwpan yr Wyddfa – this its fourth year. Starting at 10.30am and featuring some of UK’s top mountain running talent in both the men’s and women’s races the Super Cup is a simple format – from the race field to the summit and the Hafod Eryri cafe, as fast as possible. The event was once again kindly sponsored by the Snowdonia National Park.
Amongst the runners lining up were 2015 winner, Max Nicholls, Irish international Brian MacMahon and Scottish international Louise Mercer.
It was evident that Salomon athlete Nicholls was in no mood to hang about as he pushed on from the outset. The 20-year old started to pull clear around 2 miles into the 5-mile event and didn’t really look back from here, passing the halfway house point with a 45-second lead on MacMahon in a very swift 18:06. Behind recent Twighlight race winner Dave Archer was in third. The women’s race was also proving to be a race dominated by a youngster as Edinburgh University Hare and Hound runner Mercer passed halfway in 22:40, over 45 seconds clear of Hannah Jarvis.
This is how it stayed through Allt Moses and Allt Goch to the summit, with Nicholls and Mercer maintaining their dominance to the finish line in thick mist and rain. Nicholls’ time of 42:40 almost a minute quicker than his winning time of 2015.
MacMahon (43:01) finished a strong second, with Hallamshire runner Archer making up the podium in 44:53. In the women’s race Mercer was a clear winner, in 52:25, over 90-seconds clear of Jarvis (54:00), with French athlete Julia Combe (54:41) in third.
The Super Cup was, however, a mere hors d’oeuvre for the main course that is the Snowdon International, as 60 international and elite runners lead the masses up this mountain which has been graced by the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest mountain runners since its inception in 1976. It was perhaps apt therefore that the person behind that first race, Harvey Lloyd, was joined on the start line as the official co-starter along with Sylvia Disley the wife of the former race president, the late John Disley CBE.
Internationals from across Europe, including 2004 runner-up Julien Rancon from France, packed onto the start line and headed out of Llanberis at a furious pace and it was clear that the rain wasn’t going to deter the runners’ traditional lung-busting gallop over the opening flat 800 metres.
As the runners wound their way out of the village and onto the early slopes the men’s and women’s contenders showed well to the fore. None more so than England and GB international Chris Smith. Living in London 39-year old Smith spends much of his week training on the flatlands of the South-East, however most of his racing miles are in the hills and mountains and only recently he was part of the bronze medal winning GB team at the European Mountain Running Championships in Arco, Italy.
Chasing Smith were Italians Luca Cagnati and Nicola Pedergana, Frenchman Rancon and England’s Chris Farell, Rob Hope and 2015 third-placer Ben Mounsey. As the race passed halfway Smith was piling on the agony for the chasers, passing almost minute clear of Rancon. It was going to take a mammoth effort to haul back Thames Valley Harrier Smith as the race took in the steep, unrelenting slopes of Allt Moses and Allt Goch on their way to the summit.
Ireland’s Sarah Mulligan had been only the first Irish woman to win the race in 2013 and as she headed onto the mountain path it was apparent that she was also intent on continuing the legacy of Irish winners in the women’s event over the last four years, establishing a good early lead. Behind it was young Cumbrian Heidi Dent in the English vest chasing, along with Lou Roberts and Katie Walshaw. Mulligan, with her trade-mark short steps passed the Half Way house station with a lead of a minute on Dent as the rain and visibility became steadily worse.
As the men neared the summit Smith emerged from the mist to hit the peak and halfway turn around point in a superb 41:28, some 90 seconds clear of the chasing group of Pedergana, Rancon and Farell. All minds were focussed on the bottom of the mountain now, and Smith looked ever more comfortable as he danced his way around the wet rocks and walkers. If his descending ability was anything like his formidable climbing ability he would simply need to keep focussed now to claim the Snowdon crown.
Following a terrific ascent of the mountain Sarah Mulligan was also safe in the knowledge that a steady descent into Llanberis would also secure her another race win. Her summit time of 50:39 was super-fast, and her lead of 1 minute and 36 seconds was surely too much for England’s Dent to overhaul. However, admitting after the race that she was nervous coming down the mountain it was clear the race was not over as Mulligan turned for home. With every step of the 5 miles leading back down the mountain fell running specialist Dent was gaining on the Irishwoman.
Back in the men’s race Smith was not to be denied, as he stormed back past the halfway and Hedron stations and onto the quad-sapping tarmac plummet to the finish line with a clear lead, rounding the corner into the finish line with a big grin and fist-pump as he claimed his first win of this classic race in a fast 1:05:48. Behind a fast-finishing Farell (1:07:14) made it a 1-2 for the England team, as Italian Cagnati claimed a close third in 1:07:17.
Speaking immediately after crossing the line a delighted Smith said, “I have been wanting to run this race for years. It’s every bit as exciting and tough as it looks on the TV and I am really pleased to win it!”
In the team race England packed well with Smith and Farell being backed up by Rob Hope in sixth and Mounsey seventh, to easily win the prize.
Meanwhile, as the men gathered their thoughts the battle was still on in the women’s race as Mulligan was being chased by Dent and her lead had been slashed to less than 30 seconds as they entered the last 2 miles of the race. However, the line came too quickly for the Englishwoman as Mulligan held her nerve to claim yet another Snowdon win in 1:20:52 as she added the title to her win of three years previous. A relieved Mulligan said afterwards:
“I was really nervous coming down and it was very tricky on the rocks with all of the rain and mud. I took a couple of tumbles and I knew that they would be catching me behind. My legs had gone as we came onto the tarmac too, but I am delighted to hang on for the win.”
Dent (1:22:11) closed to within 19 seconds by the finish line, showing that she has the class to be a future winner of the race. Scot Stephanie Proven (1:23:54) also produced a demon descent to claim a brilliant third place.
In the team race Dent led the English women to the win along with Lou Roberts in 4th place with Julie Briscoe finishing 10th.
Speaking after the event race organiser Stephen Edwards was once again delighted by the day’s events:
“Another great race I have to say. The weather was against us, but this is Llanberis and we have come to expect anything on race day. The runners all coped with it very well I have to admit, and Chris Smith and Sarah Mulligan were very worthy champions.
“I’d like to thank all of the sponsors, especially Ian and the team at Elim Peugeot for their generous support, Salomon for their kind sponsorship of the runner t-shirts and the prizes for all of our winners, the Snowdonia National Park Authority, Cyngor Gwynedd Council 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.”
41st Elim Peugeot International Snowdon Race 2016 / Ras Rynglwadol yr Wyddfa 2016 – Race Results
Men’s Top 3
1. Chris Smith (England) 1:05:48
2. Chris Farell (England) 1:07:14
3. Luca Cagnati (Italy) 1:07:17
Women’s Top 3
1. Sarah Mulligan (Ireland) 1:20:52
2. Heidi Dent (England) 1:21:11
3. Stephanie Provan (Scotland) 1:23:54
2016 Snowdon Super Cup / Cwpan yr Wyddfa 2016
Men’s Top 3
1. Max Nicholls (Salomon UK) 42:40
2. Brian MacMahon (Ireland) 43:01
3. Dave Archer (Hallamshire Harriers) 44:53
Women’s Top 3
1. Louise Mercer (Edinburgh University) 52:25
2. Hannah Jarvis (Dorking Mole Valley AC) 54:00
3. Julia Combe (France) 54:41
Full Snowdon Race race results are online at the TDL Events Services website here.
Full Super Cup race results are online at the TDL Events Services website here.
Race images via Sport Pictures Cymru can be viewed here.
Race highlights are online via S4C’s Clic service for 30 days here.