Christmas Cracker Preview – Bigger and better than ever

A preview of the 33rd Castlewellan Christmas Cracker race by Bogusboy

mathers-and-mcneillyIt’s selling out as fast as Guns n Roses at Slane! Additional places were added to the record 426 that took the line last year. At present there are just over 580 teams registered and with the limit set at 600, the event is sure to sell out – probably before this article hits the newsstands. Once again a record number of teams will take to the start for the 33rd Castlewellan Christmas Cracker pairs’ race on Tuesday 27th December. The market town will be awash with colour as 1200 competitors, many of whom will ‘dress for the occasion’, take to the streets. Ciaran Og Mussen in reducing the pressure on himself by agreeing to run in fancy dress, ‘sure they don’t expect you to win if you look daft’! This year it will as an elf, next year, who knows!!! The race has grown exponentially since it was taken over by Newcastle AC and relocated 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 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.’

What’s it going to be like?
The race itself is a multi-terrain event over approximately 8.5 – 9 miles 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 short and sharp climbs and a great advert for the stunning scenery of rural East Down! It will be a case of up close and personal and those with eagle eyes will be able to see the food on the Highwayman’s table if they look long enough! With the Bog of Donard Two and 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 been a couple of ‘dry runs’, but they men charge have reliably informed me that there will be an unexpected twist – or two!

It’s a fair test of running
Part of the beauty of the race is that the race is run in pairs, so you are only as good as your partner; a harsh fact of life that I learn every December and invariably forget by the following year. This year, to save myself tears, I am avoiding the galloping Landlord! Alliances made in September can seriously backfire at the end of December when one partner might be going slightly or a lot better than the other. Equally fascinating is the fact that, while the race remains around 8-9 miles in distance, the course is always different and runners have come to expect the unexpected.

Who will win it?
totten-and-monaghanLast year the young gunslingers, Totten and Monaghan recorded a very impressive win, beating defending champions McCluskey and O’Hanlon, the pre-race favourites. My sources have confirmed that both teams are not starting. This leaves the door firmly open for the North Belfast/Newcastle duo of Mark McKinstry and Seamus Lynch to be the men to beat. However, there will be plenty out to challenge them, with the host club lining up a few highly respectable pairings. Laura Graham and William McKee have paired up for the mixed event and they should be far too strong for the other mixed teams – I would not be surprised if they finished close to the top 5 overall.

Race numbers can be collected in the clubrooms of Castlewellan GAC from 11.45am, with the race starting at 1pm. The race starts on the main street at the mini roundabout and moves towards the Drumee Road. Spectators will see the athletes again as they come back up the Newcastle Road before entering the Forest Park at the bottom of the town. From there the course takes in some great paths and trails before finishing on in the field on the main entrance to the park. There will be refreshments in the clubrooms after the race and the presentation of prizes will be at around 3.30pm. Come out on Tuesday and witness what will be a spectacular occasion.

2015 Category winners

Position Time Runner 1 Club Runner 2 Club Category
1 50.54 Eoghan Totten Newcastle AC* Andrew Monaghan Lagan Valley AC* Male Under 80
2 51.22 Brian McCluskey North East Runners Gary O’Hanlon North East Runners Male 80-99
9 58.14 Deon Mc Neilly Newcastle AC* Dale Mathers Newry AC* Male 100-119
13 59.29 Shalene McMurray Newcastle AC* David McNeilly Newcastle AC* Mixed  Under 80
52 66.18 Shileen O’Kane Lagan Valley AC* Gerry O’Doherty Springwell* Mixed  100-119
54 66.30 Peter Fleming Ballymena Runners* Jim Moore Ballymena Runners* Male  80-99
59 67.18 Gillian Wasson Springwell* Mark Alexander Ballymena Runners* Mixed  80-99
74 68.54 Amanda Perry Ballydrain Harriers* Denise Logue Ballydrain Harriers* Female 80-99
78 69.22 Thomas Simmons North Belfast Harriers* Kelli Kemp Unattached Mixed Under 80
104 71.56 Leslie Wilkinson North Down AC* Gary Swear Ton North Down AC* Male 120+
117 73.26 Sharon Harvey Ballymena Runners* Paula Mcallister Ballymena Runners* Female Under 80
196 80.46 Fiona Mc Court Team Runwell Jimmy McFadden Team Runwell Mixed 80-89
221 83.11 Marguerite Robinson Murlough AC* Ann George Murlough AC* Female 100-119
286 90.20 Stephen Garland Belfast Running Club* Helen McClements Belfast Running Club* Mixed  Under 80
320 95.08 John Neeson Ballymena Runners* Brigid Quinn Ballymena Runners* Mixed  120+
347 98.23 Jill Burgess Ballydrain Harriers* Claire Harrison Ballydrain Harriers* Female 120+