Team Northern Ireland were as always invited to the annual Snowdon International mountain race on July 18th. The event, celebrating its 40th anniversary forms the highlight of a week long festival in Llanberis, the 'outdoor capital of Wales' and is attended by the cream of European mountain runners as well as a fair few 'ordinary' folk. Team NI were in confident mood, boasting strong squads in both the male and female races. The men's team consisted of NIMRA and Hill and Dale champ Seamus Lynch, Slieve Donard winner Ian Bailey, UK based Gavin Mulholland (currently third in the British series) and Mourne Runner's Sam Herron fresh back from success in the Mont Blanc marathon. The women's squad were also looking powerful with NIMRA champ Shileen O'Kane, Slieve Donard champion Diane Wilson and long distance expert BARF's Jackie Toal.
The course itself was reverted back to the original 1976 route, adding an extra kilometre of road running to the usual tortuous ten miles which climbs to 1,085 metres, the highest point in Britain outside the Scottish Highlands, before plummeting back down to the centre of Llanberis. This event truly feels unique for several reasons, the huge and vocal crowds, the brutality of the man made track surface and the buckets of water on hand at the finish line to cool the runner's blistered soles. It's definitely one for the bucket list of any runner and for us NI Internationals it's a chance to compare ourselves to the legendary local hardman Robbie Bryson whose 1985 ascent record still stands.
Conditions didn't help in the search for fast times with a strong and blustery wind battering the competitors with increasing force as they gained elevation. Nevertheless, the pace was predictably brisk through the town and up the 25% gradient road to the Llanberis trail that forms the majority of the route. Rhythm is everything in this race and so our team members tucked in and ground out the ascent in their own styles, mindful of the need to keep plenty in reserve for one of the toughest descents in British mountain racing. For the NI men, Gavin turned at the summit first followed by Seamus, Sam and Ian. In the ladies race Shileen again showed her climbing prowess, topping out before Diane and Jackie. The top half of the descent allowed our mountain expertise to shine against others in the field who were a bit more selective about their foot placements. Split times for the descents show near four minute mile averages down the steeper sections giving an idea of the technical abilities as well as steely mindsets of our Mournes honed athletes! After a quad pounding five miles and in front of a vociferous and already half cut crowd the NI runners made their ways home. Gavin (11th), Seamus (22nd), Ian (31st) and Sam (36th) finished well in a men's field of nearly 500. Diane (10th), Shileen (13th) and Jackie (17th) showed very well amongst 125 female athletes. Not quite enough to secure team medals but a very creditable effort in such high quality fields.
|Post race smiles!|
The next International fixture is the Home International on August 22nd in Betwys-y-Coed.
So that was that! As a postscript to the article, three days later I'm still hobbling around with stiff quads, blistered feet and heavily bruised toenails which will no doubt fall off again. I've also been to the doctors to see about a chest problem that has hindered me for the last few weeks and it's a relief to know there's a reason why I couldn't get going on the climb accounting for my disappointing finishing position. I'm looking forward to getting fixed up and back into the Mournes and a possible Seven Sevens debut.