Everything is in place for the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker

A preview of the 34th Christmas Cracker race by Lotsamud

It sold out almost as quickly as Ed Sheeran! Additional places were added in a ‘Black Friday Sale’ on 8 December and they went within hours of release. At present there are 700 teams registered for this ever popular highlight of the Christmas holiday sporting calendar. Once again a record number of teams will take to the start for the 34th Christmas Cracker pairs’ race on Saturday 30 December. The market town will be awash with colour as 1400 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 to Castlewellan in the early ‘noughties’. It 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 than ever. One recalls clearly the 2004 race when 54 teams finished. 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.’ With bespoke medals proffered to all finishing teams this year, there is an extra incentive those on the hunt for a piece of unusual bling.

What’s it going to be like?
The race itself is a multi-terrain event over approximately 8.5 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! I am reliably informed that there will be a hill of three, a wet field or two and a glimpse of some equine stock for those with a penchant for the nags! With the Bog of Donard One 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. To date there have been a dearth of ‘dry runs’, but the men charge have confidently 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 (see what we did there!), 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; this year will be no different!

Who will win it?
In 2015 the young gunslingers, Totten and Monaghan recorded a very impressive win, beating defending champions McCluskey and O’Hanlon, the pre-race favourites. Last year NAC athlete Seamus Lynch teamed up with Mark McKinstry to form an unbeatable alliance, beating the NBH duo of Annett and Gordan by over a minute. Neither pairing is together this year so we will have a new name on the list of winners. 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 to defend their title and face a battle against Andrew Annett and Gladys Ganiel for the mixed team title.

Times and places
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 Market House and, if my sources are to be believed move towards the Newcastle Road before swinging back across towards the clubrooms before progressing in the general direction of Clarkhill – that is as much as has been revealed to me at this point!!!. There will be opportunities for spectators to see their favourites before the race goes ‘off the beaten track’. Once in the park, whenever that may be, 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 Saturday 30 December and witness what will be a spectacular occasion.