34th Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryri – Race Report: Nelson goes one better as Bentley rolls to a popular win

After the deluge of 2015 yesterday’s 2016 Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryri went off under grey, but generally dry skies in Llanberis, and with no real wind of note conditions were pretty much perfect for the 2200 runners who took to the start line for the 34th running of this iconic Welsh sporting event.

Local man Russell Bentley took advantage of the perfect conditions as he sprinted in for a popular win, in a super-fast time, as 2015 second-placer Joanne Nelson returned to Snowdonia to win the ladies crown and break the course record into the bargain.

As the race unfolded over the early miles and the climb to Pen y Pass it was Bentley who started to apply the pressure in the men’s race, setting a steady pace on the steep uphill section, establishing a lead of around 40 seconds of cushion as they crested the first climb at around 5 miles. Though the competition was fierce for the placings, this was a lead which the Kent AC man wasn’t to relinquish for the rest of the race. Behind Llanberis man Math Roberts, Sale Harrier Callum Rowlinson, Team Bath runner Daniel Jones and race-regular Phillip Eccleston chased.

In the women’s event it was to be a very different story. 2015 winner Tracy McCartney set a pace few could live with on the first 5 mile climb, reaching Pen y Pass in 32:47, some 25 seconds up on the chasers, which included Marathon Eryri first-timer Carla Molinaro, Joanne Nelson and 2014 women’s winner Andrea Rowlands.

As the men’s race unfolded over the next miles to the halfway point in Beddgelert, Bentley emphasised his supremacy and went through with a healthy two-minute cushion over Roberts and Jones. Mile 13 to 20 did little undermine that fact as far as 35-year old Bentley was concerned, his smooth running style and unerring gaze of concentration still as strong as when he rolled out of Llanberis some 2 hours previously.

Unfortunately for Roberts it was at this stage that a shin injury put paid to any hopes he had of catching Bentley. Coming into the race the kinesiology tape across his lower leg indicated that he wasn’t 100%, and so it proved as he withdrew from the race at around mile 17. This left Bath man Jones in a clear second, and as they approached the ‘wall’ that is known as Bwlch y Groes he was beginning to reel in Bentley too.

Back up front in the women’s race the lead had by now changed hands three times as first Molinaro overtook McCartney on the descent to Beddgelert, which McCartney then took back as they climbed from mile 13-15, only for herself to he be hauled in by Darwen Dasher Nelson, who strongly and assuredly overtook McCartney as they approached 22 miles and the village of Waunfawr. 2015 winner McCartney had slowed so dramatically by now that by the time the leading ladies started their ascent to Bwlch y Groes and mile 23 she was reduced to a walk and Andrea Rowlands seized her chance sweeping past McCartney into a now clear second place behind Nelson.

In the men’s race Russell Bentley held his nerve on the long, technical and at time slippery descent, but behind Daniel Jones was chasing hard. So hard in fact that in the last 3 miles the Team Bath athlete was to reduce Bentley’s lead from 3 minutes to under 2 minutes.

However, over the closing mile Bentley demonstrated just why he was the first Welsh finisher at this year’s Snowdon Race, as he sprinted in to the village of Llanberis rounding the final corner and into the high street to cross the line in a very quick 2:35:05. A time on this course second only to his team mate, and 2015 winner, John Gilbert, who had given up his place to Bentley through injury.

Behind Jones ran a brilliant second half of the race, vowing to return in 2017 to try and go one better, as he claimed the runner-up spot in a fast 2:36:48.

At the finish line a clearly delighted Bentley was presented with the amazing Snowdonia Marathon Eryri trophy, and the gravity of his achievement dawned, he commented:

“I am so pleased. But that was tough. It was the toughest race I have ever done! I’m delighted to win and I wasn’t aware that they were closing in on me at the finish. But hey, I’ve done it. It means so much for me to win this race, I live locally and my children are growing up in Wales, learning Welsh, so today I am very, very proud!”

2013 runner-up Rob Bridges stormed through on the second half, overtaking 4th placer Darren King on the last climb to mile 24. The Manchester Triathlete finished third in 2:46:09, just 6 seconds up on King (2:46:15). Burnden runner Phillip Eccleston took a strong 5th in 2:47:56

By now Joanne Nelson was more and more looking like the 2016 champion elect. Her fluidity and strength was really beginning to show as the 45 seconds lead she held over Rowlands at mile 24 had stretched to over one minute as the finish on Llanberis High Street approached. Racing to the win in a superb new course record of 3:03:59, Joanne was ecstatic as the realisation of her achievement became reality:

“Wow! It’s an amazing feeling to know that I have won this race. After last year I thought I really wanted to come back to try and win it, and I have! Plus I have taken the course record too. It just feels so good. The race is just fantastic, the course, the weather today was brilliant too and the support all the way around is unbelievable”.

2014 women’s champion Rowlands showed her strength and class, also inside Christine Howard’s 2010 course record of 3:05:15. Andrea’s time of 3:05:00 was also her fastest time ever on this classic 26-mile race. Completing the podium was McCartney. Obviously tired, and stating afterwards that her legs had gone by mile 10, she held on for a very creditable third place. Nerys Jones and Carla Molinaro completed the top 5.

Race organiser Jayne Lloyd was rightly proud of how the race had gone and the level of the performances on the day.

“I’m absolutely delighted for Joanne. The women’s course record was a very good one, so well done to her. Russell also showed why he is considered one of the best Welsh marathoners at the moment. Most of all I am as always delighted and humbled by the support and feedback from the running community and local people involved in this race.

“The day of festivities also included juniors races which received a record number of entrants. With Over 90 youngsters racing the streets of Llanberis as a prelude to the main event – that is great to see as they are future of the sport! 

“Every year the support gets better on the route, every year I am astounded by how much effort people put in to make it happen, and every year I think that we have the most awesome bunch of runners in the world taking part. Diolch o galon!”

Men’s top 5

1 Russell Bentley 2:35:05 Kent AC

2 Daniel Jones 2:36:48 Team Bath

3 Rob Bridges 2:46:09 Man Tri

4 Darren King 2:46:15 Clowne RC

5 Phillip Eccleston 2:47:56 Burden Runners

Women’s top 5

1 Joanne Nelson 3:03:59 Darwen Dashers RC

Andrea Rowlands 3:05:00 Eryri Harriers

3 Tracy McCartney 3:09:28 Nene Valley

4 Nerys Jones 3:15:47 TROTS

5 Carla Molinaro 3:16:29 Windsor & Slough

Full results via the TDL Event Services website here http://tdleventservices.co.uk/race-results.php?event=2468