Is a fourth consecutive record possible?
Preview by Bogusboy
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(Go to Results page to view previous years results)
The annual Slieve Donard race will start at 2.00pm on Saturday 2nd July, with the leaders returning to the Newcastle Centre around 2.55pm. Amazingly within one hour the leading athletes will have climbed the 852 metres to the summit and returned to the point from which they left; some of us at ground level will just have managed to go for a coffee (and maybe a sticky bun!!!).
A brief history
The first race was held in 1945 and 32 different runners have added their name to the illustrious list of winners; Stephen Cunningham being the most recent when winning for the first time last year in a new course record of 54:33. Cunningham, who had dominated the 2010 Hill and Dale series was in sparkling form on the day and climbed like a Sherpa to reach the summit in 37:52, almost a minute clear of the 2009 winner Des Woods, who on any other day would more than likely have won the race. Cunningham showed his total domination by recording the fastest descent (16:42) as well to claim the most emphatic victory of his career to date with almost two minutes to spare over Woods. Niblock moved from 5th at the top to third overall to round off a day to remember for the men form Mourne Runners. Newcastle’s Deon McNeilly, with an amazing tally of 9 victories and numerous minor placings (4th in 2010) remains the most successful competitor in the race’s long history. 2011 will witness the 67th running of the race which starts at the Newcastle Centre. The course follows along the main street with free route choice to the summit and any route back to Newcastle Centre. For a number of years the course went via the Bloody Bridge with a 2 mile run along the road to finish. James McKenny recorded 6 consecutive victories on this course between 1953 and 1958. In the 1998 the decision was taken for safety reasons to revert to the original up and down route starting at the Newcastle Centre and back to Donard Park. However in 2002 a further route change took the finish back at Newcastle Centre to allow more spectators to witness the spectacle and savour the atmosphere of this wonderful test of strength, stamina and endurance. For many years Mike Short held the record with his 1977 run via the Bloody Bridge in 1 hour 4 min 14 seconds. The 2000 race was also a British Championship Race which was won by Ian Holmes in 50mins 10 seconds, fastest ever up and down but the finish was in Donard Park. Since the route has been extended back to the Newcastle Centre, Scottish International runner John Brooks set an impressive record with 56 mins 34 seconds in 2004. However adding a notional 2mins 30 seconds (the usual time taken by the elite runners like myself!) to Holmes’ time for the run from Donard Park to Newcastle Centre would give him a time of 53mins and the outright record, but only narrowly in light of Cunningham’s heroics last year. Brooks’ record stood until 2008 when Woods shaved off an impressive 49 seconds on his way to his first win. Amazingly he went even better in 2009 and set a new standard by breaking the 55 minute barrier in an amazing 54:49. Amazing that was until Cunningham lowered the mark by a further 16 seconds in 2010 to set the current fastest time of 54:33.
What can we expect in 2011
So what of the contenders for the title this year? If form is any barometer then Des Woods, fresh from his outstanding series victory in the Hill and Dale will be the man to beat. However Stephen Cunningham, despite not competing in any of the eleven Hill and Dale events, is more than capable of upsetting his club mate and rival and a second successive title would surprise few. Cunningham signalled his intent with a narrow victory over Woods at the Flagstaff to Carlingford event, though there was precious little to choose between them. This year could see the closest finish in many years and spectators should not rule out the possibility of a sprint finish along the promenade. Part of being a pundit is making the call: Woods gets the nod for me, with Cunningham a close second by less than 30 seconds. Newcastle’s hopes of adding to their considerable roll of honour lie with McKibbin and McNeilly. McKibbin has found a bit of form recently and won at the Monument, while McNeilly is still as hungry as ever for the ultimate glory of a tenth title to supplement his existing magnificent nine. Jonny ‘the Steede’ Steede, Andrew Annett (who is certain to improve on his 17th position last year in one of his first ever races), Andy Niblock, David O’Flaherty and Neil Carty (who will probably aim for his usual 2nd!!!) cannot be discounted either and all have given good accounts of themselves in recent weeks. While it is unlikely that Gary Bailey will have the climbing prowess to compete with the top men, he is always a good each way bet for the fastest descent. He was the quickest man off the mountain in 2009 and 4th fastest in 2010.
The leading ladies
Charlene Haugh set a new ladies record of 1:05:26 in 2009, which was not threatened last year by comfortable winner Alywnne Shannon who came home 25th overall in 1:08:54. With neither of the aboving racing at present the door is firmly open for Shileen O’Kane, fresh from an unprecedented sequence of female victories in the Hill and Dale and other NIMRA events, to claim a victory. However she cannot expect to have it all her own way and others like Diane Wilson, Anne Sandford and Ciara Largey possess the ability over the longer race to worry the Lagan Valley star.
Come along and be part of the spectacle
The race is a tremendous spectacle with stunning views of the mountain (weather permitting!!) as the runners tackle the challenge. So bring you binoculars and come down to the Newcastle centre where there will be a lively atmosphere, a bit of music and no doubt plenty of live commentary!