Race 7 of the NIMRA championship was held on Saturday 28th of July, the Slieve Bearnagh Fell race. Approximately 4 mile long taking in the summits of Meelbeg, Slieve Bearnagh and Meelmore before finishing back at the Happy Valley Carpark.
Guts, determination and NIMRA points were the only reason most people got out of their cars as they pulled into the carpark for the 11am start. For the previous few months the Mournes have been basking in sunshine as rivers turned into streams and lakes started to dry out. Standing on the start line looking around I noticed everybody still had the thoughts of warm weather and sunshine on their minds, armed with nothing more than shorts and racing vests. Although raining at this stage it still felt quite warm, perhaps even gentle relief from the suns rays, this all quickly changed. As the runners made their way to the summit of Meelbeg, a long steep trail passing through a couple of boulder fields, it quickly sunk home that this was going to take everything to make it to the finish. The wind speed had suddenly picked up as a squal blew in from the Irish Sea, bringing with it sideways hailstones and a bitter chill. If ever there was a reason for the mandatory kit requirements then this was it. Runners everywhere desperately tried to pull on waterproofs as race marshals sheltered where ever they could until it passed. But it didn’t pass! Soon afterwards thunder and lightening struck all over the Mournes, a dangerous place to be, although it did not deter the hardy souls who ventured out to race. Unfortunately a few people succumbed to the horrendous conditions, many competitors sacrificing their own race to help others.
At the business end of things a group of 5 containing NAC’s David Hicks pulled away towards Meelbeg, Hicks was 3rd man to the top with seconds separating everyone. Some quick descending saw him take the lead here, and hold it to Slieve Bearnagh summit then Meelmore. The long descent from here to the finish is tricky to get right at the best of times, never mind in heavy fog whilst getting pelted head on with driving hail and rain. Guided by his compass he picked up the path and held the lead to finish 1st in 49:29, closely followed by Mark Stephens of Lagan Valley Orienteers in 50:47 and Mourne Runners’ Timmy Johnston 3rd in 51:03. At this point Hicks noticed he no longer had said compass, his hands so numb he never realised he dropped it! I can now safely report that after a 2hr walk over Meelmore, albeit not until Sunday afternoon, the compass is now back in Rostrevor.
Getting a top 10 position was NAC’s Pete Grant who had an excellent race finishing in 55:41 which seen him win the v50 category also. Gary McEvoy was next home for 20th in 1:03:32 followed by Ryan McDonald who was 29th in 1:09:35 and Nigel McKibben in a time of 1:55:37.
In the ladies race NAC’s Grace Neville and Dub Runners’ Bernadette O’Kane chased Shileen O’Kane up Meelbeg and over to Bearnagh before Neville was driven by pure adrenaline, Tollymore brownies and the electrifying weather to take the lead and win in 1:08:23. It was reported at the finish line such was the excitement everyone thought she had been struck by a fork of lightening! 2nd place went to Bernadette O’Kane in 1:09:13 and 3rd lady was Kathleen Monteverde from BARF in 1:10:41. Taking an excellent 5th place was NAC’s Bronagh McInerney in 1:19:30, enough to see her win f45 too.
Thankfully everyone made it back safely, where Race Director David Bell and his team of Mourne Runners volunteers had an excellent spread of food with copious amounts of tea to satisfy the weary.
Saturday July 4th sees the next round of the championship take place, The 7×7’s. Full details and results of the Bearnagh race available online.
Quote of the day has to go to Ryan McDonald who described that trying to get the dibber into the timing box at each checkpoint with cold, wet, numb hands reminded him of “trying to get the key in the door after way too many”.
By Hill Runner