Successful Maiden Voyage at Hill & Dale for many Newcastle Juniors

Report by Siobhán Grant

One would have anticipated that the heavens would open and pour upon over 340 runners who had made the trip to Castlewellan as Newcastle AC rolled out Race One of this years Hill and Dale Series. However there was a change in the daily weather storyline as the grey clouds dispersed and Castlewellan Lake glistened under clear blue skies. However the weather in recent days had held itself within the ground and runners were quickly reminded of this at different points throughout the route when they skidded around corners and searched for any grip on the grass.

Always a popular race with the trail and mountain runners alike, Race 1 also opens itself to those who tentatively want to dip their toes in some off road adventures, maybe inspired by their participation in December’s Christmas Cracker, with the stunning backdrops of the forests and mountains of South Down surrounding them. They either finish and have caught the bug or decide spectating is way more fun.

This year it seemed that there were to be many new faces from our Junior Squad who would take their maiden voyage around a Hill and Dale course in addition to our hard core and ever faithful U18 mountain runners. The addition of a mini U16 series spread across 4 of the traditional race routes saw a few brave enough to take on the huge demand of the Hill and Dale routes.

The Castlewellan route is the only route that would be slightly adjusted to accommodate the U16 runners who joined the main body of the race after approximately 2k following the first major climb, soon embarking on the relentless climb to Slievenaslat less than half a km into their race. Baptism of fire to say the least but their determination and belief in their abilities was second to none and they embraced each climb wholeheartedly demonstrating that they have no fear at all even when they know what lies in front of them isn’t the easiest of miles.

It has to be highlighted that the support from the other runners out on course was instrumental for many of the junior runners. Noticing the fresh faces and younger complexions of those running alongside them, they encouraged and supported them through tough sections of the route. Again highlighting the inclusive nature of the whole running community.

It was 14 year old  Euan McIntosh who was the first U16 to cross the line for Newcastle AC. Pushing right to the line and making a very definitive mark on his early Hill and Dale career crossing the line in 22.03 . He was quickly followed by Karim Jaidine who glided over the final hill as he made his bid for the finish line 22.50

Callum Flynn continued to show great promise with a time of 23.28 displaying a natural talent for the hills.

Emily McMullan soon put her pre-race nerves to bed as she navigated the trail and hills of Castlewellan Forest Park. The magnitude of what this young lady achieved on the night hit her pretty quickly after crossing the line in 27.11. There was never a doubt that she was physically fit for the route, though this was a substantial mental win for the 14 year old who now knows she definitely can!

The Under 18 squad were offered no respite at all and were thrown in the deep end with all the “big people.” Needless to say, with the outstanding performance of the 2022 Series Winner Tom Crudgington, as a MJunior, there was a high bar set for this year’s U18s to aim for. Yet it wasn’t too long though before that high bar was smashed as Ethan McMullan was not just the first Junior to cross the line but the first Newcastle AC runner, taking 3rd place in 25.36 for the gruelling 5.2 mile route. He wasn’t waiting about too long before training partner and friend, Patrick McDaid, who has gone from strength to strength this year, joined him at the end of the finish funnel securing a top 15 finish in 37.04.

Yasin Brannigan continued his recent fab form by switching back to the trails and completing the route in 40.28, a very talented runner both on and off road and one to watch. Sophie Neill continued to demonstrate how her hard work and determination in training can result in a strong race. She was supported by the experienced NAC and NI XC Masters runner, Ernie Hall in her final climb, crossing the line in 51.48. Ellen Watsons smile shone as she crossed the line in 55.28, a superbly managed run where she took advantage on the downhills and has set Ellen up for a strong assault on this year’s series.

The full Junior squad are eligible to take part in Race 2 at Tollymore on Thursday night. There will be no adjustments to the course so the Under 16 runners will set off towards the Drinns with the main race.