The 65th birthday of the Sl Donard race was celebrated on last Friday night, among the many guests were – 115 runners, hundreds of spectators on the street, dozens of the more energetic who climbed up to the ice house, 2 mountain bikers (more on them later) and the star guest, (who made a late decision to attend), Sky Sports. Yes the Sky Sports outside sports team, that had been looking to cover the Hill and Dale series, rolled into town with 4 cameras on the mountain and 1 at the start/finish outside the Newcastle Centre. As word spread, many of the runners panicked with the thoughts of being on “the box” and had a pre race shower, redesigned hair styles, added a little blusher, added some new lippy and that was just the men. Mourne Runners, I suspect had some inside information, as they arrived in their recently acquired tops and some of them even looked (from a distance) to be clean.
At 7.30pm the runners headed off down the main street with the excitement of the kids heading to last week’s concert, but the more experienced watchers of this event and there are a large number of regulars, knew that the return journey would be somewhat different for many of them.
As expected it was local runner and 9 times winner Deon Mc Neilly that led the runners in the direction of Donard Park, from where the runners can then decide what route to take on this “go as you please” race to the summit of Donard. When they reached the Ice House it was last year’s winner Des Woods that was now in the lead and it was to be a lead that he was not going to lose.
It is at the Ice House that usually the field splits, with some going via the black stairs and those with something left in their legs heading up the Glen River towards the saddle. This year the pre race recce of the course came down clearly on the side of the shorter but steeper Black Stairs route. So with sounds of the Kendall pipers drifting up the valley, this would be there last touch with civilisation for the runners until they hit the top. What they encountered at the top was a frightening experience for many of them.
Ex Newcastle runner and former Croagh Patrick champion, Brian Mc Burney was located at the top with pipes at the ready. Brian had been jamming with the Kendall clan at a number of the Hill and Dale races and had improved so much that they allowed him to play with them, albeit 2 miles and 700 metres further up the mountain.
Woods was 1st to the top over 90 secs clear of Carty and McNeilly with the top 200 metres now covered in misty the early arrivals have the advantage of using the later runners as a hand rail back down out of the mist, while the late comers either resorted to a compass or a prayer.
Back at base camp Sky Sports were interviewing ex winners, people who claimed to have ran the race before, any of the important race officials (yes I was included in that) children eating ice creams but even with the addition of a florescent jacket “Father” Joe Mc Cann was not called to the pulpit.
With just over 53 mins on the clock Woods was spotted on the main street and gathering strength from the crowd and the boost that you get from being the lead runner Des crossed the line to retain his title from last year and to set a new record of 54.49. This was a time that 40 in the field would fail to beat to the top of Donard but with all of the field at the top in under 66 mins these folk have to be admired.
1st lady back was Charlene Haugh in 19th place, (with Newcastle AC runners Damien and Barry acting as minders) and a new Ladies record into the bargain.
As the large field made their way back up the main street many of them look the worse for wear and if anyone had been coming back from the gig in the park the previous week there would be no concert next year. As some of the tail enders were making their way down through Donard Forest our 2 bikers were offering lifts down on the bar of their bikes, strangely some of these mountain bikes did not seem to have a bar.
It was good to see a number of the “ex” Tollymore footballers taking part but for guys that have spent so much time on the playing fields in Donard Park their sense of direction from the top down to the park was not very good.
There was a real buzz at the après run, with stories of the pupil, John Kelly beating his coach Packie and with Packies coach and V50 winner Dominic having to rush off for his taxi the V50 prize money was shared out between his mates.
I know the report is a bit light on race details but the stats provided in the results sheets should give hours of reading for you all.
Finally thanks to all those that helped to make the event such a success – Down District Council, PSNI, summit marshals and O’Hare’s Bar.