Race Report by Hill Runner
Race 3 of the NIMRA championship took place on Saturday July 17th, in stark contrast to what the Annalong Horseshoe was like, Spelga was an absolute scorcher. Race director, Mark Hopkins, did an excellent job transporting water and supplies to Deers Meadow, helped by a team of marshals from BARF club who organised the event. His briefing at the start wisely advised that anyone feeling the effects of the heat should consider retiring, an option some took at the Deers Meadow road crossing.
The race starts at Spelga Dam and straight into the first climb of Butter Mountain before dropping down to cross the road at Ott car park. Here begins the long climb up Meelbeg to C.P 1 on the summit, followed quickly to C.P 2 on top of Slieve Loughshannagh, then a long ascent to C.P 3 at Slieve Muck. A steep descent brings runners down to the road crossing at Deers Meadow where there was a very welcome water station. From here it’s the same route as the Hill & Dale to the summit of Slieve Moughanmore, and then another sharp drop before crossing a river and heading to Pierce’s Castle. Long grass and heather with lots of hidden boulders and holes make this section a lot harder than it looks. From here the next C.P is on top of Rocky, from the summit of Rocky you can see exactly how far you have left to go! Just another 2 mountains and I’m home! The long descent off is quite rough too, followed by another river crossing (bath) and onto the Hen track. A nice grassy trail brings runners to the summit of Hen Mountain followed by one of the toughest climbs of the day, Cock Mountain. A hard mountain to conquer on its own, never mind climbing it at the end of a race in scorching temperatures, that’s a slow, painful experience! Upon reaching its summit it is downhill all the way to Spelga’s dam wall, where runners climb the 28 steps of hell to reach the finish line.
The race got underway at 11am starting in waves of 20 in line with Covid regulations, first man to the top of Meelbeg was Scottish Dental Runners’ Ryan Stewart with a minute and a half lead on Mourne Runners’ Timmy Johnston and Glens Runners’ Johnny Steede, all 3 of them setting off in the first wave up Butter at break neck speed. They were closely followed by Mourne Runners’ duo Johny Scott and Adam Cunningham, and Glynn Johnston, unattached.
By the time they reached Muck summit Stewart was going that hard he forgot to cross the style and dib in at the summit checkpoint, despite the good nature of his closest rival Timmy Johnston shouting at him to dib in he continued on down the mountain oblivious, and subsequently completed the course missing a few more checkpoints along the way.
In the 2nd wave of runners it was Newcastle’s David Hicks who led the way, 9th at the top of Meelbeg and with a few quick descents getting him to 5th by the top of Muck. Newcastle lost a couple of runners at the Deers Meadow, Catherine McIntosh and Eugene McCann, feeling the effects of the extreme heat they called it a day along with several others who knew if they continued on there was no easy escape.
The ladies race up to this point had Newry AC’s Esther Dickson leading with North Belfast Harriers’ Martsje Hell and Jog Lisburn’s Debbie McConnell keeping the pressure on.
As the race continued towards Moughanmore the lead runners started to slow, all but Johnston, who continued to climb hard in the hot conditions. Hicks slowly began to catch runners as each summit passed. Dickson still leading the ladies by a comfortable margin and Hell was in 2nd with a 6 min lead. A lot can change in the latter stages of a race, particularly in the longer ones and Spelga was no different. By the time the finish line was crossed Johnston had a comfortable win in 2:40:54, Hicks moved up to 2nd in 2:57:53, taking the MV40 and the quickest descent of Muck too and Scott finished the podium 3rd in 3:08:17. Dickson took an excellent win in the ladies 9th overall in 3:24:29 and 2nd quickest descent of Muck too, McConnell stayed very strong through the latter stages eating into Hell’s lead to take 2nd in 3:43:07 and 15th overall very closely followed by Hell in 3rd, 3:43:24 and 16th overall.
Newcastle’s other finishers, all 3 running very steady and consistent races were Pete Grant 21st, 3:48:46 and getting his MV50 category too, Declan McElroy 34th 4:21:34 and Gerry Kingston 42nd in 4:37:08.
Definitely a day that won’t be forgotten for some time. Getting to the start line can be a job on its own, with all the kit check and registration one can often forget something. Surely not your water bottles on such a hot day, a quick phone call home and a last minute dash was all that was needed to keep things cool! McIntosh owes someone a Big favour!
Thanks again to host club BARF for being able to organise this race in the current circumstances, next NIMRA race is The Fallows in Rostrevor on Saturday July 31st. Also 3 Hill & Dale races coming up, first one Loughshannagh on Thursday August 5th, all races are pre entry online only.