Scotland’s Ross Gollan and England’s Hannah Russell took top honours in hot conditions at the 45th running of the Castell Howell International Snowdon Race.
Gollan stopped the clock at 1:09:22, whereas Russell crossed the finish line with a time of 1:18:49.
Wales’ highest peak once again provided high drama, as over 400 runners from across the world tackled the steep slopes of this iconic mountain race, which can be traced back to 1976 when a small group of competitors ran from the centre of the village to the 1085 metre summit and back.
There was an emotional send-off for the runners as father of the late Chris Smith, winner of the race in 2016, got the race underway along with the now retired race doctor Dr Robin Parry.
With clear skies and temperatures in the mid-20s centigrade, conditions were hot for the runners making their way out of the village of Llanberis as they embarked on the challenging 10-mile race at the traditional start time of 2.00pm.
As is customary there was a fast start to the race, with international athletes from Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Italy rubbing shoulders with top club runners from across the UK, and it was once such club runner Nathan Edmondson who was in the mix as the runners made their way onto the mountain.
The Ilkley Harrier was registered in the Open race but was showing the sort of class it takes to gain an international vest as he passed half-way with Italy’s Luca Merli, with them both enjoying a small lead on Gollan.
In the women’s race pre-race favourite and three-time winner Sarah McCormack had pulled out of the race with just an hour to go, citing illness. This ensured that the race would now be far more open with athletes from England, Scotland and Italy in with a chance of taking the Snowdon crown.
As the women made their way onto the first technical climb of the race Scotland’s Kirsty Dickson was showing great climbing form alongside England’s Sara Willhoit and Italian Alice Gaggi, with Russell and Scotland’s Holly Page in close attendance.
Reaching the peak
With both races now settled into a pattern and the race passing the iconic milestones of Allt Moses, Clogwyn and Bwlch Glas, Edmondson began to put the hammer down in that men’s race as they raced to the summit, reaching the 3560 ft peak first in 40:42, with a 30-second lead on Scotland’s Gollan.
Meanwhile in the women’s race a great battle was emerging as recent Snowdon Twilight winner Willhoit summited first in 51:17, ahead of Dickson and Page, with Russell around one minute adrift of the lead at this stage.
All eyes in the men’s and women’s races were now focussed on the bottom of the mountain as the large Llanberis crowd waited for the champions to return, and one thing was for sure, we were to have new winners of the race 2022.
By now Gollan was making his move and as the men reached Clogwyn on the descent the long-striding Scot was eating into Edmondson’s lead, with Merli in third.
As they reached Half Way house Gollan was now 20 seconds to the good and looking strong, merely needing to hold it together in the final couple of miles to follow in the footsteps as such Scottish mountain running greats as Colin Donnelly, Murray Strain and Andy Douglas who have won this race.
As he breezed into the final mile Gollan started to realise what he was about to achieve – the biggest win of his career.
His time as he crossed the line was 1:09:22, not one of the fastest winning times ever in this race, but certainly an indication of just how tough the race conditions had been in the heat.
Behind Merli (1:10:05) came through strongly for second, with Edmondson eventually taking a fantastic third in 1:10:20. Michael Cayton (1:11:27) was fourth and Englishman Ben Rothery (1:11:50), a club teammate of Edmondson’s at Ilkley, rounded out the top five.
In the men’s team race there was a clear win for England with Rothery, Mark Lamb (sixth) and Finlay Grant (eighth) all packing well.
Russell and Willhoit battle
Meanwhile, in the women’s race Willhoit was descending strongly, so much so that by Clogwyn station on the descent she had opened her lead to over one and a half minutes on the rest. However, charging behind was Russell.
The Englishwomen’s home turf are the steep Lake District fells and she demonstrated those descending skills needed by hunting down Willhoit over the next mile, so much so that by the time they reached the final mountain gate on the downhill section she had turned the 1:33 deficit into an 8-second lead – with Willhoit later describing being passed by Russell as “incredible to watch!”.
Behind Page was also charging and she was now in a clear third position as they all made their way back into Llanberis and that famous finish line.
Crossing the line to take the Snowdon 2022 title in a brilliant time of 1:18:49, Russell was euphoric, but shattered, sinking to her knees with the effort of holding off Willhoit whose time of 1:19:13 was just 23 seconds down on the top spot.
Page completed the podium in a highly impressive 1:19:28, with Gaggi in fourth (1:20:59) and England’s Sharon Taylor taking an excellent fifth in 1:24:37.
England, with Russell, Willhoit and Taylor, easily took the women’s team prize.
45th Castell Howell International Snowdon Race 2022- Results
Men’s Top 5
1. Ross Gollan (Scotland) 1:09:21
2. Luca Merli (Italy) 1:10:04
3. Nathan Edmondson (Ilkley Harriers) 1:10:19
4. Michael Cayton (Salford Harriers) 1:11:26
5. Ben Rothery (England) 1:11:49
Women’s Top 5
1. Hannah Russell (England) 1:18.48
2. Sara Willhoit (England) 1:19:12
3. Holly Page (Scotland) 1:19:27
4. Alice Gaggi (Italy) 1:20:58
5. Sharon Taylor (England) 1:24:36