Saturday 4th May saw race 3 of the NIMRA championship take place, the Annalong Horseshoe. Whilst Newcastle basked in sunshine it was a different story further round the coast. Thick fog hung low on the Irish Sea and up into the Annalong valley requiring runners to keep their map and compass to hand.
The race measures 13.1 mile in distance with over 1300 metres of ascent. Starting at Dunnywater the first checkpoint is on Chimney Rock Mountain. From the whistle a group of 4 runners containing NAC’s Seamus Lynch broke away and made a hasty ascent to the summit. Getting their navigation perfect in the fog saw them waste no time here and they quickly sped towards Slieve Commedagh summit for checkpoint 2, where conditions were perfect with clear skies and sunshine. A steep descent off Commedagh and on to checkpoint 3 takes runners onto the summit of Cove Mountain. The group of 4 were still together but things were about to change. Checkpoint 4 on the top of Slievelamagan is a short climb from Cove, but the descent on the other side requires a wee bit of local knowledge as to what is the quickest way down. Lynch seen his opportunity here and quickly turned it to his advantage, with one runner going off course and one starting to fatigue he put in a final effort on the long climb up Slieve Binnian for the 2nd time in as many days, as he also ran Thursday nights Hill and Dale race. A gap was forced between him and Glens Runners’ Jonny Steede, and after checkpoint 5 on Binnians summit began a 2 mile descent on treacherous terrain before the final mile along the road back to Dunnywater. Lynch maintained his lead to win in a time of 2:06:09 followed by Steede in 2:08:07.
The chasing group of 3 contained NAC duo David Hicks and Colm Murtagh, 2 runners who have been doing close battle in recent months, and Mourne Runners’ Timothy Johnston. Going slightly off course on the way to the 1st checkpoint, they quickly recovered with no further mistakes for the remainder of the race. With the leading group of 4 now within sight half way up Commedagh it was going to be hard to close the gap. The 3 of them pushed each other hard, and as is often the case in Fell running, anything can happen. By the time they reached Slievelamagan Hicks was starting to fade, Murtagh and Johnston pushed on hard towards Binnian where fog was still lying. Not being able to see any other runners it was hard to tell what positions they were in, they descended well and headed for the finish line at Dunnywater. The original lead group of 4 had lost 2 runners in the fog around Binnian leaving the final podium spot up for grabs, it was Johnston who just pipped Murtagh to take 3rd in 2:12:59 followed by Murtagh in 4th in 2:13:21. Hicks finished 6th in 2:19:29, nearly not making it to the line as with about 2 foot to go he took a serious cramp in his leg, much to the amusement of the marshals. The remaining NAC athletes all had many stories to tell of the great race they had, many of them doing Annalong for the first time. Stephen McNally finished 26th in a time of 2:52:31 followed closely by Ryan McDonald in 2:57:55 for 32nd and just outside the 3hr mark was a very satisfied Declan McElroy finishing 40th in a time of 3:03:01. Starting off well was NAC’s Stephen Graham who had a consistent race but failing to reach the final checkpoint saw him not getting placed, something I’m sure he will aim to improve on next year.
The ladies race was won by Martsje Hell of North Belfast Harriers in 2:50:22, 2nd place went to Ballymena Runners’ Gillian Wassan in a time of 2:57:03 and 3rd place was Newry AC’s Esther Dickson in 2:58:05. Just missing out on the podium was NAC’s Grace Elizabeth Neville finishing 5th in 3:13:08, followed by Bronagh McInerney in 3:40:29 and 2nd FV45, and Linda Rogan in 4:19:15. Prize giving was held afterwards at Dunnywater where everyone was very well fed and watered thanks to BARF, full results and splits available on NIMRA Web page. No Hill and Dale this Thursday as Saturday sees the annual Slieve Donard mountain race take place at 2pm from Newcastle’s main Street.
Report By Hill Runner