Pilgrims And Pioneers At The Rocky Race
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Altataggart, or the mountain of the priest, in the townland of Leitrim just outside Hilltown is well known locally for its stone altar where masses where celebrated during the penal times. Less well known is the timed pilgrimage to Rocky, Tornamrock and Pierce’s Castle, a tradition which has been growing in popularity over recent years. This year’s pilgrimage took place last Thursday evening and was made extra special when one devout man arrived back barefoot to the finish accompanied by 151 other less respectful pilgrims. The occasion, race 9 in the 11 race Hill and Dale Race Series and the pilgrim, feet encrusted with sharp grit and gravel, tiptoed gingerly across the finish line carrying his fell shoes, to a warm welcome and a place in the Hill and Dale history books.
This year’s race climbed in a clockwise direction to Pierce’s Castle and returned home via the fast track from Altataggart. Indeed it was on this fast track section that Newcastle’s Mark Kendall, whilst listening to the TT practice on his earphones, lost his rear wheel and without his race leathers administered severe road rash to his shoulder, the speed trap having just clocked him at 170mph. When interviewed at the scene Mark just shrugged half a pair of shoulders and said ‘too much wind in my back…tyre’.
With the overall Ladies title already parcelled and tied with blue and yellow ribbons, Charlene Haugh, running for fun, smashed the ladies course record and at the same time finished 9th overall – a truly remarkable achievement. Alwynne Shannon , the previous record holder, also ran well to finish second lady with Diane Wilson third. Also worthy of mention is Martina Elliot who, at registration was heard to say,’ I can’t remember my name, sorry number’ and they say this is a relaxing and stress free pastime.
It is very pleasing this year to see young men finishing well and perhaps beginning to dispel the long believed myth that this is an old man’s sport. The race was won by young Eddie Hanna who edged closer to the overall title while the youthful and fresh faced Stephen Cunningham finished second. There the trend ended with the aging Neil Carty third and first Vet 40 having overhauled David O’Flaherty on the fast run home. The everlasting Deon Mc Neilly finished fourth and first Vet 45 while Andrew Niblock completed the top five. The first junior runner this week was Omagh’s James Speight while Daisy Murray from Rostrevor was first female Junior.
2009 is the 21st year of the Hill and Dale Race Series and the years have brought many changes not least the large numbers who continue to be attracted by this unique Thursday night challenge . This year the organisers have introduced digital camera technology to assist with recording runners out on the course and at the finish. This has proven very useful and although very simple to set up and even simpler to turn on, it is not always easy to prevent people walking in front of the camera at crucial moments as noted in our Race Director’s handbook by Deon Mc Neilly (Hill and Dale Director of Technology) .This week it was a man who was reported to be in Germany who was keen to be seen on camera and it is rumoured that he may in fact be a double agent. The camera has now been handed over to Interpol.
Throughout the field every runner fights their own battle with those in front and behind and the challenge and reward for everyone is the same no matter what their ability and no matter where they finish. This was clearly seen when Gareth Mc Keown and Peter Mc Clennaghan who despite racing all the way to the line for 65th place could not be separated and then Edward Cooper and Hugh Suffern crossed the line tied for 118th. When the dust settled and with a handshake later there is always next week.
A very successful evening‘s racing was concluded when the race marshals returned and all competitors were declared home. Many thanks to all the summit marshals and helpers at registration and the finish. Thanks also to Doran’s Pub,Hilltown who hosted the prize giving. Next week’s race is over Meelmore and Meelbeg from the Happy Valley and registration opens at 6.15pm as usual.
Finnally it was noted in last week’s report that Mourne Runner’s had received a ‘send to many’ text regarding food intake. It now appears that this has been followed by another directive which instructed the faithful to drink less. A very disciplined unit from the club resolutely stood outside Doran’s pub in Hilltown, where the prize giving took place, and resisted all temptation to cross the threshold, instead holding conversations through the open windows with those of weaker resolve. It now remains to be seen if these new club policies will be in evidence at the end of series smorgasbord.