Binnian – the ‘High Point’ of the Series
Race Report by Deputy Dog
The planning for each race in the Hill & Dale Series starts well before actual race day. With participant numbers so much higher than than the early days nearly 25 years ago, there are two different people, ‘The Race Directors’, who are furnished with the ‘bible of details’ weeks before – proper forward planning. This year, however, there has been some ‘date swapping’ (no, not a variant on the popular App ‘Tinder’) for some of the races but that should work alright, in theory. Well I said it should – until I discovered that my organising partner for Binnian had sent round a Google Map Reference for the registration field in the deepest South Mournes from high up in the Pyrenees – apparently he was on a road trip (also being referred to as an Elite Training Camp) with an Olympian and a Plumber where the daily Strength & Conditioning Sessions included demolition and the construction of a shower unit. Binnian to the Top is the ‘High Point’ of the Series but this Race Director had truly been left with the steepest mountains to climb.
So to Race Day and the weather was not being favourable, but with the help of an army of willing volunteers (without whom the Series could not take place – thank you to every single one of them), the pre-race arrangements had been put in place and necessary infrastructure had been installed in Mourne Runners’ stalwart Willie Marks’ field. All great plans need to be flexible and after the first 5 cars skidded and slid into the sodden field, there was a quick consultation of the ‘bible of details’ to look for ‘Plan B’. ‘Plan A’ would required a Tow Truck and so having left his team of trusty disciples at the registration table, Joe McCann was commandeered to devise a new solution for the parking issues. To be fair he did handle the mini-crisis reasonable fashion and within the hour he was at the front of a record crowd to provide race instructions and safety briefing. He then set the 231 runners off up the road and onto the mountain lane towards Binnian.
It was a fast start with people elbowing and nestling for position early on with the conditions wet and muddy underfoot and misty and damp overhead – let’s hope Binnian was up there somewhere. In fact it’s been such a wet winter and spring that there was water where there normally wouldn’t be – a fast running stream across the lane, meaning that feet were sodden before even reaching the mountain proper. It was a long snake as they reached the mountain gate and onto the mountain proper heading for the disused quarry. It was a grassy bog and visibility soon reduced to only five metres. There was a hope from the masses that the leaders knew where they were going for if they didn’t then nobody would be anywhere they should be…
As they climbed, visibility was becoming more and more of an issue, breaths were being gasped and the lungs started to burn as the heart pumped harder. Runners veered to the left and the right looking for the better ground and many slowed to a walk as the terrain got steeper. At the front and thankfully seeming to know where they were going, Mourne Runners’ Willie McKee led out Newcastle & District AC’s Seamy Lynch and Zak Hanna. As they reached the stile with over 15 minutes of running behind them already, Hanna had stolen a 15 metre lead on the other two. With visibility poor the runners trusted their instinct and just kept climbing hoping that the summit funnel would appear soon. One mistake and their race would be over, but Hanna pushed on for glory. He wasn’t to be beaten and crossed the line to win like last year in 21:24 with Lynch in 2nd in 21:43 and McKee 3rd in 21:48. A little further back the Spartan, who is in the shape of his life, was working his way through the field to finish in a fantastic 4th position in 22:52 with Mourne & Newcastle Runners making up the top 11. The overall men’s series is still wide open after 4 races with McKee with two victories and Lynch and Hanna with one each.
The first lady home was North Belfast Harriers Martsje Hell in a fine 23rd overall in 27:00, closely followed by Mourne Runners’ Sarah Graham in 26th overall in 27:35. Karen Wilton from Jog Lisburn made up the podium in 31st overall in 28:19. Hell went on two days later to win the Annalong Horseshoe (a marathon not like this sprint) with Lynch winning the men’s section.
One by one the 231 runners made it to the 2,000 feet plus summit with no one lost in the fog and all with a story to tell. Thanks to the registration team and and all of the marshals who stood out in what were not very pleasant conditions for quite a long time and also another thank you to Willie Marks for the use of his field, which keeps the road safer for all. Also thanks to the Avoca Hotel in Newcastle for its post-race hospitality.
This week the series takes a mid-week break and the Annual Classic Donard Race (not part of the Series this year) takes place on Saturday 12th May starting at the Newcastle Centre at 2pm (registration from 1pm – please bring your Hill & Dale numbers with you as they will be used for this race).