Tales of the Unexpected

A preview of the 35th Castlewellan Christmas Cracker by Bogusboy

It sold out almost as quickly as Westlife and there have been calls for additional dates!  After long negotiations with key delivery partners, some additional places were made available by the race committee, making this the largest field in the events long established history.  Consequently, record number of teams will take to the start for the 35th Castlewellan Christmas Cracker pairs’ race on Saturday 29th December at 1pm. The market town will be awash with colour as almost 1500 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 from Comber to Castlewellan in the early ‘noughties’ and 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. I recall clearly the 2004 race when there were 54 teams finishing. 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 (some individuals carefully select a partner to maximise their chances in an age category – all perfectly legal!) 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’ and proudly wear the bespoke finisher medal.


What’s it going to be like?

The race itself is a multi-terrain event over approximately 8 miles (the distance depends on the benevolence of the course setter!) 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 series of short and sharp climbs and a great advert for the stunning scenery of Castlewellan Forest Park’! With 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. There have no ‘dry runs’ this year, but the men charge have reliably 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 (always good to throw in a Christmas lyric!), 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.


Who will win it?

Last year old age and treachery overcame youthful exuberance as the pre-race favourites, Lunch and Bailey, recorded a very impressive win, beating Hanna and McGrady by a minute and a half. With Lynch and the in-form Hanna, recently crowned Irish Novice Champion in Navan on 15 December, a confirmed pairing, it would be difficult to see anything but a red and yellow victory. However, there will be plenty out to challenge them and make sure they do not get an easy trip. There should also be a lot of competition in the ladies and mixed events with final bragging rights of the year up for grabs. All in all it promises to be a great day of racing.

Race numbers can be collected in the clubrooms of Castlewellan GAC from 11.45am, with the race starting at 1pm. Final instructions will be given to competitors at registration and if my sources can be taken at face value, the finish will be in the Park. I am also reliably informed that the course offers a number of opportunities for spectators to cheer and see their favourites on more than one occasion. Full details for the post-race refreshments and prize-giving will be posted on the club website in due course. Come out on Saturday 29 December and witness what will be a spectacular occasion.

Runner 1 Name

Runner 1 Club

Runner 2 Name

Runner 2 Club




Seamus Lynch

Newcastle AC*

Ian Bailey

Newcastle AC*

Male Under 80



Zak Hanna

Newcastle AC*

Aaron McGrady

East Down AC*

Male Under 80



Ian Conroy

Raheny Shamrock AC

Killian Mooney


Male Under 80



Russel Hughes

Willowfield Harriers*

Duncan Bell

Willowfield Harriers*

Male 80 – 99



Joe McKevitt

Slieve Gullion Runners

Don Travers

Newry City Runners*

Male Under 80



David McNeilly

Newcastle AC*

Brendan Teer

East Down AC*

Male Under 80



Colm Murtagh

Newcastle AC*

Patrick Higgins

Newcastle AC*

Male Under 80



Dessie Duffy

Baileboro AC

Killian Heery

Baileboro AC

Male Under 80



John McAuley


Andrew Tees

Orangegrove AC*

Male Under 80



David Turtle

East Antrim Harriers*

Steven Beggs

East Antrim Harriers*

Male 80 – 99