The 78th annual Slieve Donard Race took place on Saturday from its relatively new base at the top end of Donard Demesne in Newcastle, County Down. The early morning fog which had rolled in off the Irish Sea overnight had been reluctant to clear and some runners were suddenly wishing they had learned how to use a compass as the notorious line from the summit of the mountain to the Quarry is very difficult to find in limited visibility. However, just on time, the skies cleared, a beautiful summer’s day emerged providing excellent visibility for the runners.
This is the oldest mountain race in Ireland, with the first race taking place in 1945 for the ‘Newcastle Entertainment Committee Perpetual Challenge Shield’ and has been held every year since. This year was also part of both the All-Ireland Mountain Running Championships and Northern Ireland Mountain Running Championships, with runners traveling from the four corners of Ireland.
The race started at 2pm sharp on the blow of head timekeeper, Frank Morgan’s, whistle. Pre-race favourite Zak Hanna started strongly reaching the summit in just under 33 minutes and still had a commanding lead of more than two minutes on reaching the tree line only to take a fall in the trees. Paul Pruzina, running for Pudsey and Bramley AC, son of local mountain runners Stephanie and Mark and better known locally for his wins in the Mourne Mountain Marathon 2-Day, was on a different line and unaware of Hanna’s turmoil and was shocked to emerge from the trees to take the victory in 51:48 adding a new name to the list of illustrious winners.
In second place was BARF’s Andrew Tees and third Country Antrim’s Glen Runners’ Jonny Steede, with Hanna limping home in fourth place, missing out on a potential 4th victory in the race but at 27 will still have Deon McNeilly’s record of 9 lifetime victories in his sights.
In the women’s race first to the summit was Becky Quinn in just under 45 minutes with IMRA’s Roisin Howley in 2nd, Alexa James of Carmen Runners in 3rd and V50 Dromore AC’s Diane Wilson in 4th in 47:35 and 44th overall. Wilson is a renowed descender, a previous Slieve Donard winner and also Ben Nevis winner. She produced a phenomenal descent of 18 minutes and 20 seconds, the 7th fastest in the race as a whole to come through to 27th place overall and take another win in 65:55.
In the Junior categories Patrick McDaid (68:08 and 32nd overall) and Ciara Savage (90:41 and 117th overall) took the wins both competing for Newcastle AC.
Congratulations to BARF NI who had the first 3 highest placed runners to take the team trophy, which over recent years has been exchanged between Mourne Runners and Newcastle AC.
The oldest runner in the race, multiple World Masters Mountain Running Champion and past Slieve Donard winner Jim Patterson, finished an outstanding 86th in 81:55 at 77 years young, complaining as he crossed the line about many things ranging from the heat, not being given a pensioner’s entry and the fact that Zak Hanna risked all to run, to anyone that was prepared listen. At least he smiled at the presentation on receiving his prize for the Over-75 category win.
Thanks to all the marshals that spent many hours on the mountain and the time-keeping team at the finish that ensured all runners all 169 runners (including 1 DNF) being accounted for.
The next race in the Hill & Dale Series in next Thursday (Thursday 18th May) and all runners are reminded on the need to carry their waterproof and other safety kit regardless of weather.