Newcastle AC unveil plans for 2017 Hill and Dale Series

An overview of the 2017 series by Bogusboy

Newcastle AC is please to reveal the races in the 2017 Hill and Dale Series. The 11 race series begins in Castlewellan on Thursday 13 April. This race and the following event in Tollymore are considered to be a gentle easing in for the athletes. Both races are within the confines of the forest parks and while there is invariably some steep climbing, these tend to be short and sharp. Navigational ability is not essential as these are marked courses where the runner must follow the prescribed route at all times.

Race 3 takes the field to Rostrevor for the first taste of the open mountain. Slieve Martin begins and finishes in Kilbroney Forest Park, but climbs past the Cloughmor Stone and on to the summit of the mountain. From the top is the sharp steep descent on all possible terrains that takes the runner back to where they started. With the legs now used to climbing Race 4 puts this to the test with the unique climb to the summit of Binnian. While this might be the shortest race of the series at just under 2 miles it is certainly one of the most challenging. From the start point on the Head Road it is uphill all the way to the summit finish. For many this is a favourite of the season and conditions always play their part. We have been blessed with glorious evenings in recent years, but the threat of sudden cloud is ever-present; this is one of the reasons for the stringent enforcing of kit regulation. The safety of the runners is the primary concern at all times. For the elite athletes the climb can be done and dusted within 25 minutes. The climb is well worth it for the stunning views (weather permitting!) and many great team shots have been taken from the summit.

As May progresses and the evenings elongate the action moves back towards Rostrevor for the Rocky Horseshoe. Leitrim Lodge is the perfect backdrop for the event and spectators can see the runners for much of the race. Rocky is good preparation for Loughshannagh with 4 peaks to be negotiated. This year the course is anti-clockwise. Altnataggart is the first marshalled point to pass on the way to the final checkpoint on the summit of Rocky. From here the view is stunning, but runners have no time to savour it as the dash for home is about to begin with athletes breathing down each other’s necks in the frenetic charge for the line.

Thursday in week 6 is a rest night as the tradition of the Slieve Donard race being at 2pm on Saturday afternoon is upheld again in 2017. This year the race but is being used by the Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA) as their trial for the European and World Mountain Running Championships and as the first round of the Irish Mountain Running Championships. This will guarantee a considerable filed of elite athletes hoping for selection and act as further incentive motivation for current champion and record holder Ian Bailey to be in tip top shape for the race. As this race has been run since 1946, there is a lot of kudos to be gained from winning the event – something 9 time champion Deon McNeilly will attest to. This year Bailey goes for his fourth consecutive victory, having set a course record in 2015 and broken it in 2016. This year the race will follow a marked and marshalled course via the Glen River to the Saddle on the way up and follow the same route on the descent.

Slieve Donard Winners since the Millennium

Year Winner
2000 I Holmes
2001 B Ervine
2002 D McNeilly
2003 D McNeilly
2004 J Brooks
2005 D McNeilly
2006 A McKibbin
2007 D McNeilly
2008 D Woods
2009 D Woods
2010 S Cunningham
2011 D Woods
2012 A Annett
2013 I Bailey
2014 I Bailey
2015 I Bailey
2016 I Bailey

There will be less rest than usual for those looking to complete all 11 races as five days later Race 7 is Moughanmore – a Hill and Dale stalwart, reintroduced this year after a well-deserved rest. This is the only ‘out and back’ race of the series – Hen and Cock is taking a year out in the rotation system (a policy borrowed from the Premier League!) – with the athletes climbing Pigeon before proceeding the summit of Moughanmore. From there it is the same in reverse all the way to the finish at the Deer’s Meadow. Race 8, Millstone is a relative newcomer to the Hill and Dale family and has been at the centre of re-routing on at least two occasions – one due to arguably the worst night of weather the series has ever seen and the other due to the desire of the organisers to prevent ‘buzzard dodging’ as an additional race hazard. By now many will have completed the 6 races needed to claim the much sought after series prize, but will still take the line for arguably the most challenging test of the series – Loughshannagh. Moreover, the inclusion of this race in the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) Championship as a ‘short race’ will add to the occasion. This year the anti-clockwise direction means that the first summit will be Carn. From here it is a very sharp and steep drop to the sandy beach (unbelievable in the middle of the mountains!) of Loughshannagh. The climbs keep on coming before the field passes over Ott and makes the short descent to the finish. Notwithstanding Slieve Donard, this is the longest race of the series and definitely is a ‘marmite’ event – you either love it or hate it, but even those who hate it enjoy it and are proud to have taken it on and beaten it. Race 10 is another challenge with sharp climbing. This year it is Meelmore first. After the first summit there is some relief for the legs before the second much shorter climb to Meelbeg. From here it is downhill all the way to the finish. In comparison with what has gone before, Drinnahilly appears to be akin to the ride to Paris on the last day of the Tour De France. In recent years the title has been decided for both the men and the women and this final night flourish for charity has that end of season carnival feel. Nonetheless it is fast and furious and contains some good climbing. Times will be fast over the 3 mile course and most will turn out to support the designated charity. In recent years around £1500 has been raised through donations in lieu of race entry fees.

Registration for the series will open on Friday 24th February 2017. Visit the Newcastle AC website to Register Online. Registration for the series is free and does not oblige any athlete to complete a set amount of races. Entry fees of £8 for NI Athletics affiliated club members and £10 for unattached runners is payable at the registration of each race. It is important to note that registration on the night will not be possible for any of the 11 races. Registration will remain open until Tuesday 11 April, but runners are asked to register as soon as possible to assist the club in the task of administrating the allocation of numbers. Numbers issued at the beginning of series are retained by the runner for the entire series and registration and results are processed using a bar code system. More details of this process will be available on the club website.

Hill and Dale Calendar 2017

Date and Time Race Registration Venue
April 13th 19.30 Castlewellan Life Adventure Centre
April 20th 19.30 Tollymore Tollymore Barn
April 27th 19.30 Slieve Martin Kilbroney Forest Park
May 4th 19.30 Binnian Marks’ Field
May 11th 19.30 Rocky (Anti-Clockwise) Leitrim Lodge
May 20th 14.00 Slieve Donard Newcastle Centre
May 25th 19.30 Moughanmore Deer’s Meadow
June 1st 19.30 Millstone O’Hare’s
June 8th19.30 Loughshannagh (Anti-Clockwise) Ott Car Park
June 15th 19.30 Meels (Clockwise) Happy Valley
June 23th 19.30 Drinnahilly O’Hare’s