Can anyone stop Bailey as he bids for 5 in a row??

72nd Slieve Donard Race – Preview by Bogusboy

The annual Slieve Donard race, Race 6 of the Hill and Dale will start at 2:00pm on Saturday 20 May at the Newcastle Centre, with the leaders returning to the Newcastle around 2.55pm.  Amazingly within one hour the leading athletes will have climbed the 852 metres to the summit and returned to the point from whence they came.  The course follows along the main street with a marked route to the summit and the same back to Newcastle Centre – a temporary departure from the traditional ‘free choice’. A few will display the cuts and bruises to show that they have raced to the highest point in Northern Ireland and back. Never was this truer than in 2012 when the ‘Prophet’ returned with a hole in his hand.  Not to be worried by such a mere bagatelle he ran his hand under the tap and shored up the gaping wound with a bit of electrical tape – emergency first aid at its very best!  The next day when he peeled back the inch of flapping skin he found a compass, a whistle and a pound coin! The pound coin was deposited in the piggy bank where, five years later, it still remains a prisoner!


A brief history

The first race was held in 1945 and 35 different runners have added their name to the illustrious list of winners; Ian Bailey being the most recent when winning for the first time in 2013 in a new course record of 53:45. Bailey was defending his 2014 title and was in sparkling form on the day, climbing like a Sherpa to reach the summit in 37 minutes dead, over a minute clear of Seamus Lynch, who on any other day would more than likely have won the race. Lynch would descend quicker than his rival, but the gap at the top of the mountain was too great and Bailey is no fool when it comes to getting of a mountain in speedy quick time.  Lynch would recover 16 seconds, but nowhere enough to eat in to the 72 second gap at the summit. William McKee was beginning to emerge a serious talent in the hills and his third place would be the platform for him to go on to greater things ever since. While Bailey is the firm favourite, he still has a long way to go to eclipse the achievements of Newcastle’s Deon McNeilly. With an amazing tally of 9 victories and numerous minor placings, he remains the most successful competitor in the race’s distinguished history.


Looking back

For a number of years the course went via the Bloody Bridge with a 2 mile run along the road to finish. James McKenny recorded 6 consecutive victories on this course between 1953 and 1958. In the 1998 the decision was taken for safety reasons to revert to the original up and down route starting at the Newcastle Centre and back to Donard Park. However in 2002 a further route change took the finish back at Newcastle Centre to allow more spectators to witness the spectacle and savour the atmosphere of this wonderful test of strength, stamina and endurance. For many years Mike Short held the record with his 1977 run via the Bloody Bridge in 1 hour 4 min 14 seconds. The 2000 race was also a British Championship Race which was won by Ian Holmes in 50mins 10 seconds, the fastest ever up and down but the finish was in Donard Park. However adding a notional 2mins 30 seconds (the usual time taken by the elite runners like myself!) to Holmes’ time for the run from Donard Park to Newcastle Centre would give him a time of 53mins and the outright record, but only narrowly in light of the performances of local athletes in recent years. Since the route has been extended back to the Newcastle Centre, Scottish International runner John Brooks set an impressive record with 56 mins 34 seconds in 2004. Brooks’ record stood until 2008 when Woods shaved off an impressive 49 seconds on his way to his first win. Amazingly he went even better in 2009 and set a new standard by breaking the 55 minute barrier in an amazing 54:49. Amazing that was until Cunningham lowered the mark by a further 16 seconds in 2010 to set the current fastest time of 54:33. Bailey lowered the mark to 53:45 and has since lowered it to 53:40 when winning his fourth consecutive title in 2016.


Who will win?

It would be a brave person to bet against Bailey as he goes for a fabulous 5, but one should not discount totally the form men; William McKee, Zak Hanna and David McKee. IMRA could produce a serious challenger, depending on who makes the trip north in search of international selection. The race has attracted a lot of interest from IMRA runners in recent times, with the event counting in the Irish Championships. In both 2015 and 2014. IMRA men have placed in the top 10, Jason Kehoe, Robert Cleary & Bernard Fortune in 2015 and the same three along with Stephen Cleary in 2014. Among these Brian Furey, the Irish champion in both 2010 and 2011 is the most serious contender, but there are other equally serious contenders in Ian Conroy, Tom Blackburn and Peter O’Farrell, all of whom have enjoyed considerable success recently.  Bernard Fortune was the best placed IMRA man in 2016, but at 62 minutes he was well of the pace needed to mount a serious challenge. It will be interesting to see the best of IMRA line up against the best of NIMRA to tackle the steep climb and sharp descent.


Five in a row for Wilson too?

The ladies race in 2015 was a much closer affair than in previous years. Newcastle’s Shalene McMurray had a tremendous lead at the top of the mountain, but was reined in by the excellent descending ability of Diane Wilson. Wilson would win by 40 seconds, overturning a 3 minutes 23 seconds deficient at the summit.  2016 saw a return to normality as Wilson had 6 minutes to spare over the gutsy Shileen O’Kane with Mari Troeng a further 3 minutes adrift in third place. However, despite not racing too much in the Hill & Dale series to date few would bet against her joining Bailey in making it five in a row as well. Shalene McMurray and Charlene Haugh may think otherwise, but both would have to be on top of their game to beat the wily Wilson.

The race is a tremendous spectacle with stunning views of the mountain (weather permitting!!) as the runners tackle the challenge.  So bring you binoculars and come down to the Newcastle Centre where there will be a lively atmosphere from 1pm onwards.

Top 10 in 2016

Position Name Time Summit Descent Category Club
1 Ian Bailey 00:53:40 00:37:07 00:16:33 MV35 Newcastle AC*
2 William McKee 00:56:29 00:38:38 00:17:51 MOpen Mourne Runners*
3 Zak Hanna 00:57:19 00:37:04 00:20:15 MOpen Newcastle AC*
4 David Hicks 01:00:34 00:41:50 00:18:44 MV35 Newcastle AC*
5 Colm Murtagh 01:00:44 00:41:58 00:18:46 MOpen Newcastle AC*
6 Barry McConville 01:01:17 00:42:58 00:18:19 MOpen Newcastle AC*
7 Timothy Johnston 01:01:21 00:42:29 00:18:52 MOpen Mourne Runners*
8 Bernard Fortune 01:02:02 00:43:01 00:19:01 MV45 Unattached
9 Colum Campbell 01:02:23 00:42:37 00:19:46 MV40 Newcastle AC*
10 Paul Carlin 01:02:57 00:43:25 00:19:32 MOpen Newcastle AC*


Top 3 Ladies in 2016

Overall Position Name Time Summit Descent Category Club
23 Diane Wilson 01:06:53 00:46:19 00:20:34 FV45 Dromore AC*
45 Shileen O’Kane 01:12:06 00:48:09 00:23:57 FV45 Lagan Valley AC*
59 Mari Troeng 01:15:04 00:51:45 00:23:19 FOpen Newcastle AC*