David is ‘King’ in the horizontal hail
Conditions could not have been any worse for the fifth race of the Up and Running sponsored Hill and Dale series. At 5.30pm as the race organisers left calm and sunny Newcastle nothing could have prepared them for the conditions that would face the runners at 7.30pm. As the starting crew set up camp at the Deer’s meadow the winds were already beginning to howl and ominous looking clouds were beginning drift over the mountain tops. The possibility of strong winds and rain failed to deter the queuing masses as they collected their race numbers. Well there was one exception to that statement – Des Woods, winner at race 2 in Tollymore who looked at the mountain and decided not to bother; by all accounts a wise decision and such sagacity could make him the new ‘Prophet of Mourne’, dispensing wisdom to all in that kingdom. By 7.35pm this had proved to be the most prudent decision since Damien Brannigan bought his beige chinos and black suede shoes early in the 1980’s!
In light of the rapidly deteriorating conditions runners were obliged to carry body cover throughout the race. This equally prophetic decision caused a minor discomfort for some of the more experienced brethren, who felt this was an over-cautious step for a 30 minute race (a time that none of the 155 runners in the field even got close to!). However rules are rules and all set off, some more willingly that others, under the threat of disqualification if they decided to jettison their waterproofs en-route.
No sooner had the race whistle sounded than the heavens opened. It was as if the gods of fell running were punishing the disbelief of those who felt that a vest would suffice. Horizontal hail joined forces with the wind and rain to toughen it up a bit for our intrepid competitors. The finish marshals hastily retreated to their cars, turned on their heaters full blast and hoped that the storm would abate before they had to get out and count the runners home.
The early action was dominated by evergreen McNeilly who led the troops over pigeon rock. Close on his heels were Cunningham, defending champion McKibbin, O’Flaherty, Carty and Hanna, albeit temporarily (more of that later!). It was noted that Cunningham had started very quickly. It was suggested that this was a deliberate ploy to get away from his former coach Jim Patterson and his inane ramblings. The series is more finely poised than ever and a second victory would give a huge advantage to one of the main title contenders. Cunningham seized the initiative and was leading by the top of Moughanmore. However the main challenger (minus Hanna, but more of that later!) were still in contention. As the leaders approached Pigeon on the way home Cunningham and O’Flaherty were clear and the latter timed his challenge to perfection to narrowly deny Cunningham and claim his maiden Hill and Dale race victory. McKibbin came home third almost a minute back, a result that could still be useful to him in defence of the title. McNeilly and Carty were inseparable as they crossed the line and were joint fourth while Kris Muldoon completed the top 6 in his first outing of the season.
At the beginning of the season O’Flaherty was certainly one of the favourites and this victory will certainly boost his confidence for Hen and Cock, a similar type of race that should favour him. However in this topsy-turvy season the commentators curse may prove fatal. The series remains as open as ever and with 5 different winners in the 5 races to date anything is possible in the weeks ahead.
Despite the inclement conditions Newcastle AC is not afraid to break new ground. This week two shiny video cameras were on display and were used to capture the agony and the ecstasy of the runners at the top and at the finish. Rumour has it that the boys at the top of the mountain lost valuable time in trying to locate the socket for the plug – silly boys! It may be early days for the Newcastle film making crew, but Dave Goddard is already drawing up a short list of potential stars to play the parts of some of the runners in the forthcoming release of Hill and Dale –The Movie and staking his claim for the director’s chair.
In the ladies race Charlene Haugh tightened her grip on the title with another emphatic victory, coming in a minute and a half ahead of the second placed lady, Ciara Largey of FERMO (sounds more like a contraceptive than a running club!). A minute further back Shileen O’Kane was third lady. Further down the field Izyna Kennedy crossed the line shouting which direction is Kilcoo – was she delirious? Had she heard about the post-race pub and the fine array of sandwiches prepared with loving care? Had she heard there could be £2000 prize money waiting for her? It remains a mystery.
It is a well known fact that runners suffer a lot in pursuit of excellence in their sport. The long hours of training, the stress of pain and injury, the careful attention to diet (well for some!) and the negotiation of treacherous terrain in the mountains are but a few of the occupational hazards of the fell runner. Add to this the awful weather and it does not get any tougher. Testimony to this is the sentiments of Pockie Toner who in his post race musing and reflection observed that in his long and illustrious career he had never trained or played football in such conditions. Still he concluded philosophically ‘It’s all part of the fun and something to tell the grandchildren about! What a paragon of wisdom! The example of two of the more experienced of the Mourne Runners’ crew this week shed further light on the issue of pain. Firstly there was Gary Bailey, on his day the most awesome descender in Northern Ireland, who did a ‘Dr Foster’ and got stuck in a hole and came up with a bit of wound that was not for the faint hearted. Good Samaritan Darren Herron brought Gary back to the marshals before continuing the race. His good deed will be rewarded by a few yards of carpet from El Presidento WJ. Gary was helped to the finish by Hugh Suffern, Brendan O’Hagan and WJ Brown himself who obviously could not leave a wounded comrade on the battlefield and all completed the race. We wish Gary a speedy recovery. Another type of pain was felt by Eddie Hanna who was unable to untie the knot in his waterproof coat once the hail started to hurt his arms. Apparently the knot was too tight and his poor wee hands were too cold. McNeilly, the scoutmaster, has offered lessons in simple but effective knots and Hanna has promised to think about it. Perhaps some of these rugged men are made of mourne granite while others are ……. not!!
Finally a special word of thanks to all those who helped out by taking the entries, marshalling the traffic, manning the summit points and processing the results; without your untiring efforts there would be no Hill and Dale Series.
Race 6 of the series is Hen and Cock. Registration will begin at 6.15pm and competitors are reminded that if the conditions require it all runners will again be expected to carry full body cover, a whistle and a compass. Be safe rather than sorry and come prepared for the worst, which lets face it, is more that likely to be reality.