What a Cracker as McGrady and Barrington triumph on the Playrock

The Castlewellan Christmas Cracker by Bogusboy

It was one of the best kept secrets in history. Even his wife did not know the course. His close friends and running colleagues tried every trick in the book to ascertain the route for the annual Castlewellan Christmas Cracker, but uncharacteristically the Prophet remained tight-lipped and taciturn. The usual platitudes and prosaicisms were thrown out by way of appeasement, but they threw no light on the course that has been in the planning since January 2019. Phrases like, ‘there is something for everyone’, ‘there will be a few good climbs’, ‘we will go through a field or two’ and ‘I still have a few ditches to clear’ served only to add intrigue and mystique to the potential route.

From 11am, parking spaces were snaffled up as the growing crowds made their way to collect their numbers, totally unaware of what lay ahead, another unique characteristic of this now iconic event. When we go to races we usually know what lies ahead as it will be the same as the previous year: not so with this one. This led to great speculation at registration and the passing of spurious rumours, ‘I’ve heard it is Foxes green first’, ‘Bunker’s Hill is the first climb’, ‘the gates at Niall King’s place are open and that can only mean one thing!’ Those unwise enough to listen were tormented, while the more sanguine took it all in their stride realising that what would be would be.
The atmosphere in the GAA club was electric and filled with excitement as every little corner became a changing space and in the middle of all of this Stevie Rice had set up a stall and had created a monopoly on udderrmint – an essential for the discerning runner! With space at a premium, one team had pre-booked the VIP changing facilities in Ned McCartan’s front room. Here the gracious, ebullient and effervescent host provided valet parking, bespoke carb-rich pre-race food, handed out warm fluffy towels and proffered words of wisdom and encouragement. The 5* package was completed with optional dog therapy – petting Socks!!! Continue reading

Four hundred teams registered in less than a week

An update on the 2019 Christmas Cracker by Bogusboy

The Castlewellan Christmas Cracker has become one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the NI running Calendar. This year, within one week of going live, over 400 of the 750 team entries have already been snapped up. Before long, the event will sell out and disappointment will reign supreme as many will miss the opportunity to take part in the most colourful spectacle of the festive period. Our advice is simple, book now to avoid disappointment. Please note that teams can be amended closer to race day if circumstances change for a registered team.

Why has this event become so popular, one might reasonably ask? I can recall travelling to Comber in the past (and finishing second with my erstwhile running partner Damien Brannigan) when there were very few teams taking part, despite the unique paired format of the race. However, since the event was re-invented and rebranded with a Newcastle AC twist, it has quickly established a cult status. There is certainly something for everyone. It is a fair test for the elite athletes, an opportunity for inter-club and intra-club bonding, an excuse to get some dubious fancy dress out and overall a great day of craic that ends with a bit of festive socialising.

Part of the charm is the unique opportunities afforded by Castlewellan to host an event that can be totally different every year and provide a few surprises. The Forest Park has the potential for a myriad of routes and retains the perennial element of surprise. This year’s course has already been decided and according to my sources will include ‘a few hills’. The Prophet has been spotted clambering over ditches, talking to local farmers over 5 bar gates, cutting back brambles and strimming lanes for a number of months. I have bought him coffee and scones in a stealth move to ascertain information that I can share with two types of people – those who ask and those who don’t!  Alas, my best efforts have been in vain and he is being extremely guarded and tight lipped and just chuckles dismissively when I make suggestions as to where we might be going. ‘Sure, you’ll enjoy it more on the day’ is the now industry standard reply to my persistent pursuit for information.

If previous years are any barometer, we will find ourselves in places that we never though feasible and we will enjoy every minutes of it. There will be a great atmosphere as the market town is festooned with colour and costumes of all varieties. We look forward to seeing everyone for what promises to be a great race – as long as you have an entry!!!

Online Registration and Full Race Details

Tales of the Unexpected

A preview of the 35th Castlewellan Christmas Cracker by Bogusboy

It sold out almost as quickly as Westlife and there have been calls for additional dates!  After long negotiations with key delivery partners, some additional places were made available by the race committee, making this the largest field in the events long established history.  Consequently, record number of teams will take to the start for the 35th Castlewellan Christmas Cracker pairs’ race on Saturday 29th December at 1pm. The market town will be awash with colour as almost 1500 competitors, many of whom will ‘dress for the occasion’, take to the streets. The race has grown exponentially since it was taken over by Newcastle AC and relocated from Comber to Castlewellan in the early ‘noughties’ and remains one of the most unique and popular races in the annual ANI calendar. Building on the success of previous years, there are more mixed teams and more all-female teams. I recall clearly the 2004 race when there were 54 teams finishing. This stands as irrefutable evidence of the amazing popularity of running at present and the desire among athletes of all abilities to get out there and compete. For some it will be to win a category (some individuals carefully select a partner to maximise their chances in an age category – all perfectly legal!) or record a fast time, while for others it will be the joy of finishing and the sense of accomplishment that comes from simply being able to say, ‘I did it’ and proudly wear the bespoke finisher medal.


What’s it going to be like?

The race itself is a multi-terrain event over approximately 8 miles (the distance depends on the benevolence of the course setter!) and is suitable for runners of all abilities and levels of experience. The course changes from year to year and this edition has been described as ‘plenty of opportunities for good running, a series of short and sharp climbs and a great advert for the stunning scenery of Castlewellan Forest Park’! With the Prophet involved, you can expect something a wee bit different. The Prophet was rumoured to be clearing forests, hanging gates and ‘making a straight path for the runners’ – surely he is taking the time of Preparation that is Advent just a little too seriously. Part of the tradition is that the Race Directors hold something back as a little surprise on the day. There have no ‘dry runs’ this year, but the men charge have reliably informed me that there will be an unexpected twist – or two! Continue reading