Photos by Paul Fegan
A number of titles decided with 2 races to go.
The Loughshannagh Horseshoe – Hill & Dale Race 8 by Bogusboy
Loughshannagh is undoubtedly the most challenging of the Hill & Dale courses, characterised by steep climbs and sharp rough descents on entirely unpredictable ground. Whichever way it tackled, it presents a very good test of mountain running ability. This year, the challenge saw the race record entry of 208 take on the 4-peak loop in an anti-clockwise direction, summiting Carn first and Ott last. Unlike previous years, conditions were benign and the race directors were encouraging competitors to carry water and sun cream rather than the more traditional full body cover. This was a far cry from previous years when competitors were rounded up by sheep dogs such was the extent to which they were lost! The Prophet had arrived early, armed with three fish suppers that were devoured in minutes by the organising team at just after 5:30. It looked like a plague of locusts of Biblical proportion had descended on the car park! Then, it was down to business to get the marquee erected and the registration area established. Thankfully the ever reliable Cairns and Rice had arrived by this point and produced a range of power tools to ensure the job was done correctly. It was like Changing Rooms meets DIY SOS and there were infinitely more Chiefs than Indians. Needless to say the job was done and in typical fashion there was a call for tay as all stood back and admired their craft. The Bohemian ambiance was completed when Rice produced two plastic chairs from the back of the van, one of which was broken!
It is more efficient than ever
It was not long before the athletes rocked up to be processed using the new streamlined entry system. Despite the speed and accuracy of the process, many have complained that they no longer get lambasted by the entries management team in this new age of uber-efficiency. Many have called for a return to the ‘old days’ where pre-race insults and sledging were included in the entry fee! Needless to say, there was value for money this week as the race organisers hurled mild abuse at those who wanted it and those who did not!
Why is my name not on that cup?
In the middle of all of this who should appear but the formidable figure of Mary Mackin with the opening gambit of, ‘I have a complaint to make. Well, actually, I have two!’ Unlike Mary to complain about anything! Firstly she wondered about her series completion prize from two years ago! Having exhausted her luck on that one she proceeded to point out that her name was not engraved on the trophy she was awarded last year. This too was quickly rebutted by the RDs observation that it was her responsibility to engrave the trophy! Mary declared that she had no further complaints. Mary had a super run and won her category, and with 4 wins out of 4 races completed to date is odds-on favourite to retain her title if she completes the last two races of the series. At least she will know to have the trophy engraved!
Dickson is home and hosed
The destiny of the ladies 2018 title has been looking secure for Esther Dickson for a few weeks now. This week, with her 6th win of the season in her 6th outing in the series, she made sure that she could not be caught. She came home in an impressive 20th overall and with 83 seconds to spare over Shileen O’Kane. The increasingly impressive Sarah Graham of Mourne Runners was third lady. Dickson’s dominance has been impressive as she has retained her title in some style. No doubt she will be working as hard to secure victory number 7 in Race 9.
Lynch impresses even more
Readers of last week’s edition will recall that the in-form Seamus Lynch won at Millstone and then went on to win the IMRA race in Kerry less than 48 hours later. Surely all of this would render him tired and vulnerable at Loughshannagh. The arrival of another of his great rivals, Ian Bailey thickened the plot. McKee had chosen to sit this one out, but undoubtedly Bailey, a man who loves this race, would be stern competition. Opinions were divided at base camp, with opinion equally divided about the outcome and the reasons at to which one might prevail over the other debated at length. Of course Wonderwall was ready to go out and run the legs of both men! From Morgan’s whistle it was full steam ahead for both as they battled ferociously over the first two peaks. In the final analysis, Lynch proved too strong and 25 seconds to spare at the line. Bailey was impressive in 2nd and Hicks stole a march on Murtagh in the battle for the v35 category with an excellent third ahead of Jonny ‘The Steede’ Steede. Murtagh was 5th in a race that was invented for Spartans!
Other categories decided
As well as the two main prizes, other athletes also became unbeatable in their category in securing a 6th race win. Well done to Aine McNeill, Karen Wilton, Neil Carty and Deon McNeilly, all of whom will be collecting silverware at the end of the series on 22 June. Some other categories could be decided at the Meels, while others still will go right down to the final race and maybe even count back.
View from the funnel
Morgan had built a finish funnel to maximise value for money for spectators. With a bog 50 yards before the finish and a really sharp 90 degree turn right on the line, there was great amusement as many fell foul of the seemingly engineered hazard before their race was run. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the arrival of Sean Milligan. Milligan, who has found H&D very much to his liking in recent years strode purposefully down the final hill before disappearing into the aforementioned bog. He emerged unscathed, but remained where he was. Then he started to dig in the mud. Seconds later, he emerged triumphantly holding aloft as trophies, not one, but both of his shoes. Realising that the hoards were closing in on him, he bolted for the line without the recovered shoes and finished with his shoes above his head. A serious contender for a silly boy award!
No limit to their talents
One of the highlights of this race is the mandatory visit to the Horseshoe Bar for analysis and discretion of performance. As always, there is always a bit of food to replenish lost carbs and provide ballast for the stout. The Race Directors had worked feverishly, ably assisted by the Angels, in the McCann scullery the previous evening to produce a menu of finely cut artisan sandwiches designed by the Prophet. The following were typical of the eclectic blend of fillings on the menu; Cheese & Beef, Beef and Cucumber with an onion marmalade, Ham & Beetroot caressed with a reduction of balsamic vinegar, tuna & egg with tomato and Irish stew & toffee (ok, the last one is made up!). All were demolished as the presentation went alfresco. Thanks to Rita who provided more traditional and less controversial hot food to accompany the gourmet butties. This week the distribution of souvenir mugs was predicated on the criteria ‘if I like the look of you, you can have one!’ – as good a reason as any other, one suspects! A special word of thanks to the many volunteers who ensure the safety and well-being of our competitors each week. Thanks to those who managed the entries and processed the results, stood on mountain tops or acted as sweepers. We are indebted to you all.
Race 9 – Meelmore/Meelbeg
Thursday 14 June is the penultimate race of the series, the Meels, organised by the El Dude brothers, McCrickard & McMurray. We ask that people car share where possible as parking is limited at the Happy Valley. Please follow the directions of the parking marshals as they try to ensure the road is passable for other users not involved in the series. There is an expected downward turn in the weather, so please come prepared for the worst. If the weather is good, don’t forget the midge spray as it might just save you from a load of bites!