73rd Slieve Donard Race – Preview

The annual Slieve Donard race will start at 2.00pm on Saturday 12th May, on the main street in front of the Newcastle Centre as usual but this year will finish on football field in Donard Park making for a more relaxed environment for both competitors and spectators. The route also changes out on the mountain, with a checkpoint at the Saddle on the way the way to the 852-meter summit. On the descent, checkpoints must be visited at the Quarry and the first bridge on the Glen River.

Interestingly, whilst the Slieve Donard race route has changed over the years this is the first time the route will not be “out-and-back” for 20 years, earlier being via the Bloody Bridge. Of course, for a number of years there was free route choice on the open mountain; however, the majority of runners opted for the shortest and most direct route via the Black Stairs. This means that this year runners will not be able to gauge their race position against their peers coming off the summit and navigation skills may be required if the cloud is low.

A brief history

The first race was held in 1945 and won by S McAteer in a time of 1hr 59min. 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 up and down route starting at the Newcastle Centre and back to Donard Park (cutting out the long road section from the Bloody Bridge). However in 2002 a further route change took the finish back at Newcastle Centre to allow more spectators to witness the race. For many years Mike Short held the record with his 1977 run via the Bloody Bridge in 1 hour 4 min 14 seconds. In the 70’s & 80’s, the British Fell Championship format included all mountains in the British Isles hence the reason for more visitors, this later changed to 4 nominated races each year. In 2000 the British Championship included Slieve Donard as the N. Ireland race in the new format. The race was won by Ian Holmes in 50mins 10 seconds, the fastest ever up and down, although the start was on the Main Street the finish was in Donard Park, if Ian had run on to the Newcastle Centre, he would have taken less than 2mins 30 seconds and a sub 53 minute up and down time. The race is now part of the Ireland Mountain Running Championships, which includes the highest peaks in the four Provinces and one of the reasons why the date was moved to May.From 2001 onwards, the route was 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. In 2010 Cunningham lowered the mark by a further 16 seconds to record a time of 54:33. Bailey lowered the mark again to 53:45 in 2015, and again by a further 5 seconds to 53:40.

In 1980 women first started running the race, the first lady crossing the line that year was Beth Stevenson. Since then the number of ladies competing in the race has increased from 3 to a record 51 in 2017 – showing how more and more women are getting involved in mountain running.

Arguably the most successful competitor in the race’s long history is Newcastle’s Deon McNeilly, having won the race a record 9 times. In the lady’s race, it is a much closer affair, with Mary Havern, Shileen O’Kane and Diane Wilson all with 4 wins to their name.

Last year

In 2017 the route changed to follow to Glen River and the saddle to the summit and back, to accommodate the Irish Mountain Running Associations selection race for the European and World Mountain Running Championships, and as such, attracted a quality field. The race was won by Zak Hanna in 59:24 – the only runner to finish under the hour, followed by William McKee and Andrew Annett. The lady’s race was won by Irish International Sarah McCormack followed by Charlene Haugh and Esther Dickson.

This year – who will win?

The men’s race should be one of the most strongly contested races for years, with Seamus Lynch returning to mountain running with a recent win at Slieve Martin, William McKee also with H&D wins and both Zac Hanna and Ian Bailey in great form following recent Irish selection race successes, it will be a hard one to predict. In the lady’s race with Diane Wilson still recovering from injury, Esther Dickson should be favourite having won every mountain race in N. Ireland so far this year.

Ladies Trophy

Although women have been competing in the Slieve Donard race since 1980, it was only in 2000 that a shield was created to recognise the achievements of female winners. As such, the names of the ladies who won the race before 2000 never had their names on the shield. After a bit of sleuthing we have been able to find the names of the most of previous winners. 2018 will be the first time the shield will be presented with all the names on the shield. Thanks to the Mourne Observer, Anne Sandford, Richard Rodgers and Brian Ervine for helping us with our research! There are still a few names missing so if you have any information please contact Newcastle AC.

Report by Sam McNeilly

Year Name Time
1980 Beth Stevenson
1981 Pauline Smyth
1982 Gwenda McNeilly
1983 Pauline McNaulty 1 hr 53 min 18 sec
1984 missing
1985 Heather Stewart
1986 missing
1987 Angela Donnelly 1 hr 24 min 55 sec
1988 Paula Hawtin 1 hr 37 min 26 sec
1989 Paula Hawtin 1 hr 22 min 03 sec
1990 missing
1991 Mary Havern
1992 Mary Havern 1 hr 57 min 09 sec
1993 Stephanie Pruzina
1994 Mary Havern
1995 Anne Sandford 1 hr 37 min 47 sec
1996 Mary Havern 1 hr 54 min
1997 Anne Sandford 1 hr 39 min
1998 Anne Sandford 1 hr 23 min
1999 Valene Murney 1 hr 17 min
2000 A Mudge 1 hr 1 min 9 secs
2001 S O’Kane 1 hr 16 min 44 sec
2002 C Galbraith 1 hr 30 min 32 sec
2003 Violet Linton 1 hr 21 min 17 sec
2004 S O’Kane 1hrs 11min 17 sec
2005 A Shannon 1hr 23min 26 sec
2006 S O’Kane 1hr 12min 31 sec
2007 Tish McCann 1 hr 13 min 07 sec
2008 Shalene Ward 1 hr 9 min 09 sec
2009 Charlene Haugh 1 hr 5 min 26 sec
2010 Alwynne Shannon 1 hr 8 min 54 sec
2011 S O’Kane 1 hr 11 min 17 sec
2012 Ciara Largey 1 hr 4 min 56 sec
2013 Diane Wilson 1 hr 10 min 57 sec
2014 Diane Wilson 1 hr 9 min 28 sec
2015 Diane Wilson 1 hr 9 min 49 sec
2016 Diane Wilson 1 hr 6 min 53 sec
2017 Sarah McCormack 1 hr 9 min 10 sec