Impressive Totten is Northern Ireland and Ulster Champion, while King, McInerney and Wallace complete a monumental mountain challenge

An unbelievable week for NAC by Bogusboy

I thought this would be a quiet week and Sunday evening would be free from the usual bashing of the keyboard. My first mistake was sending out the email asking if anyone had raced in the week that was. My second mistake was returning to the computer to check for responses. A seemingly quiet week, with apparently few fixtures, turned out to be a week of great success and achievement for the NAC members in all forms of the sport!

On the track – NI/Ulster 10,000 Track Championship

Firstly, congratulations to Eoghan Totten and David O’Flaherty who finished 1st and 2nd respectively in the NI/Ulster 10000m Championship on the track. The event took place on Saturday (8th July) morning at the Mary Peters Track in sunny and quite calm conditions in temperatures that were pretty much ideal for distance running (20C). Totten came home in 31:29 to win from O’Flaherty in 32:05, which is a track PB.


Letterkenny International Track Meeting

In Letterkenny on Friday (7th July) evening at the 5th International Meeting, Kerry O’Flaherty came home 6th in the Women’s 3k Steeplechase. O’Flaherty was on Commonwealth Games qualifying standard pace of 9:54 with 3 of the 7.5 laps to go but found herself isolated and came home in 9:59.46 – a second sub-10 minute clocking in a row. She moves on now to the Folksam Grand Prix in Gothenburg (11th July) in the quest for qualifying times.

British Milers Club Meeting – Loughborough

New club recruit 17-year-old Patrick McNiff set a big new personal best over 5000m on the track at the British Milers Club meeting in Loughborough on Saturday (8th July). He came home in 15:15.7 some 30 seconds inside his previous best and hot on the heels of his 8:48.42 for 3000m, a PB by over 4 seconds, at the Belfast International Meeting on Wednesday (6th July).


On the road – Greyabbey 10k & 5k

There was a very good turnout for the Greyabbey 10k and 5k on Friday 7 July. 203 took part in the 10k race, won by Newcastle’s David Simpson in a quick time of 33:54.the course was a typical Co. Down road race, with hills followed by hills and a few hills thrown in for good measure – all good training for when civilisation collapses! East Down’s Dee Murray, now in his 50th year had an excellent run to finish 3rd (37:52); Montgomery and McCann can only look on in admiration as their current nemesis continues his rich vein of form. Nicky McKeag recorded 45:58 to finish 62nd overall and 9th lady – watch this space to see her times improve in the months ahead. In the 5k, times were impressive. Ronan McVeigh was the only NAC athlete in the field and ran an impressive 18:30, a time good enough for third overall and second Junior behind Aaron Harrison of Ballydrain Harriers.

The Great Rossa Run

The Great Rossa Run in Ardboe, Co Tyrone has a 5k, 10k and half marathon; something to whet the appetite of most within the running community. This was evidenced by the fact that over 600 people ran the various distances. It was a warm, breezy afternoon on the shores of Lough Neagh. The races had various starting points, but had the same finish line at the Ardboe Parish Hall. There were many rolling hills to test the legs along the way. A very steep hill at mile 5 was labelled “The Duff’s Destroyer”. It was short but steep. Then the last mile was all uphill, labelled “The Endless Mile”. It was soul destroying on fatigued legs. 169 ran the Half Marathon, won by Pierce McCullagh of Sperrin Barriers in 1:15:12. Newcastle’s only representative was Thomas O’Gorman who finished an excellent 4th overall in a very commendable 1:19:15 given the nature of the course. In the other events, 269 people ran the 10k, won by unattached athlete Vincent McAllister in 33:47. A further 218 ran the 5k, won by Aaron Meharg of Acorns AC in a speedy 16:36.


In the Hills – European Mountain Running Championships

The 16th European Mountain Running Championships was held on Saturday 8 July in the mountainous region of Velicka Planina in Kamnik, Slovenia. Newcastle AC’s Zak Hanna travelled over as part of the Irish Mountain Running Team after winning the trial race at Slieve Donard. He was accompanied by team mates Ian Conroy, Mark Ryan and Brian MacMahon.

The race itself was an uphill only 13km with a 1375m elevation starting in Kamnik and progressing up through the very steep and rocky terrain of the Kamnik Alps.
Racing the best in Europe is never easy and Zak finished in 53rd place after a hard day on the mountain, with the finish of the race sitting at 1700m above sea level, twice the height of Slieve Donard! Temperatures soared to 34 degrees during the race, but the steepness of the climb was the main challenge faced by the majority of the runners. It was another good learning experience for Zak in his first European Championship race for Ireland after racing in the World Championships in Bulgaria last September.

Next on the racing agenda for Zak is the World Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy at the end of July, again running on the Irish team. This race is an ‘up and down’ race this time round and will feature the best Europeans plus the addition of the Africans and Americans to add to the fierce competition on the international mountain running stage.


The Bob Graham Round – the Lake District

At 5:30pm on Friday 7th July the intrepid trio of King, McInerney and Wallace, aka the Newcastle Ultramen, set off on an epic trek in the Lake District. The Bob Graham round is a 66 mile race to completed in a 24 hour time period. Simple enough one might think until one realises that there are a few additional factors that make it all a little more of a challenge. Firstly, there is 28,000 feet of climbing along the way – equivalent of 8 climbs of Slieve Donard or almost the height of Everest, from sea level!!! Secondly, there are 42 different peaks to be navigated over 5 legs of varying distances and no paths to help guide your way – it is all about decision making and navigation to secure the best line between points to minimise the distance travelled. such are the physical and mental demands that entries are only accepted by a team of runners who can guarantee a support crew or around 20 runners and helpers to be available throughout the event. Last Year our lads were part of a support crew that enabled another team to complete this very challenging trek. Navigators are necessary to plot the course, guide the runners and set the pace for the team. Helpers were assigned the duties of preparing the food and clothing changes for the runners and navigators during each leg. As well as running part of the way, helpers were expected to travel between checkpoints and have food and clothing ready. Checkpoints were used as hand over points and roles were often exchanged – the only constant variable being the three runners who were completing all 66 miles. As a safety precaution all runners carried a tracker on their pack which was usually carried by one of the support crew. As well as monitoring the progress against the agreed target of 23 hours and 30 minutes, it enabled the support crew to effectively plan for the checkpoints.

On Sunday evening King reported that the boys had completed the challenge in 23 hours, 27 minutes and 10 seconds, just under three minutes inside their target. He described it as a brutal, but fantastic experience. The three managed to stay together for the duration of the round which they believe helped them greatly. They were further aided by conditions which he described as perfect and were buoyed on by the unexpected sighting of a truck in worse condition than Stevie’s! Finally, they would like to express their sincere gratitude to the team of 20+ that were instrumental in their success, describing their efforts as ‘humbling’.

Croagh Patrick

Closer to home was the annual Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo attended by Paulette Thomson (1:17 – 4th lady and 1st F40), Sean Rice (1:25) Martin Brogan (1:28) on Saturday in the sweltering heat. Prayers were said at the top for guidance to the next mountain Ben Goram and in anticipation of sustenance proffered at Campbell’s pub in the form of Guinness.  The Lord did indeed provide a most positive response!


On the trails – Stormont and Knocknacara Parkruns

A regular feature of NAC life these days is a visit to one of the 24 Parkruns available throughout NI each and every Saturday at 9:30am. Parkruns are free; you just have to register once online, print off your barcode and turn up to any event worldwide and run. They are suitable for runners of all abilities and are characterised by a great spirit of camaraderie and friendship. As a ‘Parkrun tourist’, I feel welcome and at home no matter where I choose to run.  The volunteers do an amazing job and deserve the highest praise. Parkruns are an ideal opportunity to test where you are at for speed or to enjoy a recovery run. This week Stormont was the chosen venue and Michael McKenna, despite suffering from a ‘tummy bug’ recorded the fastest time of the morning with an impressive sub-19 run. Further afield Jack O’Hare visited the Galway event and would finish first. Both athletes are firm believers in the fact that such events are great for improving fitness and racing speed and, given their recent performances, few could argue with them.


Stairway to Heaven – Enniskillen

Saturday also saw 50 runners reaching for the hard rock at the inaugural ‘Stairway to Heaven’ race up Cuilcagh Mountain in Fermanagh, organised by County Down based Atlas Running Group. Ironically, this race climbs to a height of 666m to finish right on the border between Fermanagh and Cavan, showing potential as a great way to smuggle Hokas across the ’border’ post-Brexit. This is a race which will soon be on many people’s bucket list – climbing steadily on 2.5 miles of gravel track before taking to the purpose built boardwalk for over a mile. This boardwalk protects the blanket bog in the area. The sting in the tail is the aforementioned ‘Stairway’ which climbs 450 steps over 36 flights towards the top of Cuilcagh. Newcastle’s David Simpson, fresh from a win at the Greyabbey 10k the previous evening and managing to get his vest washed and dried in double quick time, toed the line. Had this been a straightforward race he would have Led Zep from gun to tape. However, in order to allow for the narrow boardwalks and the wealth of walkers who swarm over the area each weekend, runners were set off from the start at minute intervals. Simpson, 6th starter, easily recorded the fastest time of the day, 4 minutes clear of 2nd in 28:47. Paul Rodgers, these days an occasional racer, remained unalarmed by the bustles in the hedgerow and declared himself happy with 15th place overall.

Racing ahead

This Tuesday there is an opportunity to put early summer speed training to the test with the Shore 10k in Killough. This is one of the flatter runs in the area and good times should be the order of the day. The countdown is now on to the Bryansford 5k on Saturday 22 July. This is a fast and furious dash around the town as evidenced by the winning times of Andrew Monaghan and Laura Graham last year. Big numbers are expected and NAC are organising a paced pre-race run around the course on Tuesday 18 July with 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30 and 9:00 minute mile groups leaving the park at 6:30pm. This will be a great opportunity to get a feel for the event before race day. Everyone is welcome and there will be changing and showering facilities available.