At the weekend two Newcastle AC members Pete Grant & Colm Murtagh made their way out to the west of Ireland to take part in the 3rd race of the IMRA Irish Championships, Mweelrea, which also doubles up as part of the Connacht Championship. The Connacht Championship is run over two days back to back with the Nephin mountain race completing the championship. With a couple of good performances in the IMRA championship races to date hopes were high amongst the two that podium places and category wins were there for the taking.
With a height of 814 metres or 2670 feet if you prefer, Mweelrea is the highest point in the province of Connacht overlooking the Atlantic coast. The race starts on the picturesque Silver Strand beach with runners having to suffer 1km on tarmac before they hit the open mountain where the real racing can begin.
Mweelrea is a mountain that is known for the weather conditions changing very rapidly and Saturday was no different. As the runners set off at the start of the race the mountain was basked in glorious sunshine with a clear view to the top however shortly after the start a stubborn low lying cloud moved in which was to prove problematic for the runners on the way back.
When the race started Murtagh made his way to the front of the field where he disputed the lead to the top reaching the summit in second place. A strong decent on the first half of the mountain so him move into the lead and clear of the chasing pack as he made his way of the mountain towards the low lying cloud. Don’t go left to early was the instructions from everyone at the start so with this in mind Murtagh headed to the right across the mountain through the cloud hoping to come out above the gate to signal the way back. Much to some other runners bewilderment Murtagh kept going right and almost nearly ended up in the nearby village of Louisburgh before correcting himself and making his way back to finish in 9th position.
Grant meanwhile was having a strong decent himself a well in contention for the V50 prize but remarkably he made the same mistake as his Newcastle AC teammate and took a wrong turn in the cloud which put paid to his hopes of claiming the category prize allow he still had a fine run just finishing behind the local runner in the field Newry AC’s Cathal McGreavey.
After a dip in the Atlantic Ocean it was all back to Westport where the post mortems began over a few pints of Guinness as athletes refuelled themselves for the race the next day.
On looking out the window on Sunday morning the glorious sunshine that has spoilt Ireland for the last 10 days had been replaced with a thick blanket of heavy black cloud which reflected the mood amongst the athletes after some of them had one to many refuelling drinks the night before. After a quick stop to take a photograph at a well-known tourist attraction it was out to Nephin they went.
Nephin is Connacht’s second highest peak standing at 806m and is translated from Irish as “heavenly”. Well there is nothing heavenly about it with its steep sides and loose scree making it the hardest 5km run in Ireland.
40 hardly souls took off in the rain and mist with the Newcastle AC athletes again in the leading bunch. It was nip and tuck between the two of them the whole way to the finish with Grant just letting Murtagh pull away at the finish to claim a podium place with Grant getting second. Cathal McGreavey had a strong determined finish to hold of IMRA vet Alan Ayling to claim a top 10 finish.
After a cup of tea and a slice of banana cake it was all off back up the road home to reflect on a god weekends racing but most importantly a great weekend’s craic. Definitely a weekend that should be included in all mountain runners calendars for next year.
Report by The Spartan