International Snowdon Race 2022 Report
We knew it was going to be hot. In the days leading up to race weekend, the news had been full of dire warnings about the impending heatwave… “a danger to life” warned the NHS… “avoid strenuous activities”…
Thankfully the peak of the heatwave wasn’t due until Sunday and Monday, and geographically Snowdonia was outside of any warning zones, but it was still too hot for comfort at 2pm on Saturday afternoon as we shuffled forward to the start line for the 2022 International Snowdon Race. On the Northern Ireland team along with myself (Andrew Tees) were Adam Cunningham, John Marrs and Jack Proctor, and the ladies team consisting of captain Martsje Hell, Esther Dickson, Elizabeth Wheeler and Karalee McBride.
We’d arrived at the race hotel on Friday evening, after meeting up in Dublin port for ferry across to Holyhead. The race organisers kindly sent a bus to pick us up, along with the Irish team and delivered us to Llanberis. We’d had a gentle recce of the first part of the course on Friday evening and found some very steep tarmac sections just out of the town. The agreed wisdom amongst the team was to take it easy here, and save the legs and lungs, so that we would be able to push on when we got onto the mountain trail, where the angle becomes more amenable.
There was a fantastic buzz on the Saturday morning around the hotel and start area. After breakfast, we had the excitement/embarrassment of filming a segment for Welsh language TV channel S4C, where Martsje, Esther and Adam bravely (or reluctantly) took on the interview duties. The producers refused to be drawn on whether Esther’s interview would be subtitled for the UK audience. With TV duties done, we focussed on fuelling and hydrating as best we could before heading down to the start area to try to perform the improbable task of warming-up whilst staying cool.
After a minute’s applause for the late Chris Smith (a Team GB athlete and former winner of the Snowdon Race, who died while out on a mountain run in Scotland in 2020), the starting whistle was blown and we were away, through Llanberis and towards the highest point in Wales.
Going easy in the first section of a big race is easier said than done, and I was definitely more puffed than I’d have liked when I left the road onto the rocky Snowdon trail. After a few hundred meters the trail flattens out for a mile or two and becomes very runnable. Here, runners can see the path snaking across the hillside ahead before bending left and disappearing out of sight, then reappearing higher up as it curves around the upper mountain towards the summit. Mercifully, there was water supplied (did I mention it was hot?) at the first railway underpass, and again at Halfway House, the conundrum was whether to drink it or pour it over yourself. Any ambitions I had of running the steep steps up to the second railway crossing had evaporated in the sunshine, and it was a slog up this next section, under the railway line and up, until finally the angle eased again. The last section turns from wide gravel trail to narrow rocky path up the ridge to the summit cairn, which looked impossibly far away after turning the final corner on the hill. But as usually turns out in mountain races, you get there eventually. Adam was first to the summit in 53:54, followed by John, having a strong run, in 57:23. I finally reached the top just under the hour with Elizabeth not far behind in 1:01:16. Martsje was next to the summit (1:03:22) followed by Esther (1:04:47), Jack (1:04:58) and Karalee (1:07:11). Five miles is a long way down and gives good descenders an opportunity to gain some places, but the climb and heat had taken their toll, and my ambition had been reduced to just making it to the finish line without collapse or injury. As it was, the order amongst the team stayed as it was at the top, with Adam was first home in 1:21:47 (28th overall), followed by John in 1:28:57 and myself in 1:30:36. Elizabeth was first of the NI ladies home in 1:34:45 (14th female). Esther had obviously measured her effort well on the climb and was able for a strong descent, finishing just behind in 1:35:26. Jack, who stepped in as last-minute injury cover for Jonny Scott and is still in his first full season of mountain running, came home in 1:37:00 followed by Martsje (1:38:39) and Karalee (1:42:59).
After suffering under the glare of the sun for the last couple of hours, the race was done, and we could enjoy the weather with a much-needed dip in the lake followed by well-earned drinks in the beer garden back at the hotel. On Sunday morning there was just time for a recovery run around the lake before breakfast and the bus back to the ferry.
Despite the tough conditions on the day, it is a great race and a special occasion. It was a fantastic experience to be part of it and to represent NI. Many thanks go to NIMRA for the opportunity, to Anne Sandford for organising, to team captain Martsje for all the positivity and to the whole NIMRA team for the good company and craic over the weekend.