It is a long standing tradition for members to take part in the annual 5 mile handicap race in the lead up to the festive period. This year the posse braved the elements to run from the bin on King Street to the bin just opposite the Burrendale Hotel (two well established local landmarks!) via Tullybrannigan and MargueritePark. On a mild, but damp evening the conditions were much more favourable than in 2010 and perhaps this led to a higher than usual turnout of athletes. However, there was discord within the ranks and a renegade section met for an alternative run in Tollymore Forest park and there were a few late withdrawals, some citing as their excuse leg pains brought on by extensive periods of dancing with the Murlough ladies.
First off was defending champion Marty McVeigh, who grumbled and bemoaned the fact that he was considered the worst athlete on parade. On reflection the handicapper had not been generous enough and McVeigh trundled home in last place, having been overtaken by the entire field. However, in typically philosophical fashion, he commented that he had performed to the best of his ability and was using the event to springboard his speed training in preparation for the track season.
First over the line was Barry Wells, who recorded a second victory in this prestigious event. Barry had started relatively early and had few to chase along the road. However as he approached the last half mile only Marty McMullan, himself having a stormer, lay between Wells and victory. Wells put in a decisive kick as the pair passed a well known food retailer and held on to win by a few seconds.
The idea of the club handicap is that an official handicapper is appointed; there are usually few takers and no interviewing is required for the post. The handicapper than assesses the form of the entrants and decides a fair, but challenging target for each athlete. This usually works well and everyone, whether grudgingly or not, accepts this decision as final. Well, that is the theory. Then Damien Brannigan comes along, claiming that he has not ran in a week, is feeling under the weather and is not capable of a fast time. ‘I’ll just run with you Joe’ was his comment when his official handicap was announced and he incredulously examiner the start list. Not wanting to cause undue grief at a time of worldwide celebration, Brannigan’s request was granted. I reminded him that I was not going well and that we were not suitably matched, but my protests fell on deaf ears. We set off and within 30 seconds Brannigan was gone. He posted a highly respectable time, not much over 30 minutes, trashed me by a minute and a half and ostensibly crossed the line in third place. Well, that was until race directors Paul Rodgers and Ross McCrickard entered a judge’s huddle and decided to re-handicap the self-handicapped Brannigan, demoting him from 3rd to 16th place. Brannigan made no protest as he was over the moon with his run. He later apologised for running away from me saying, ‘sure you know how it is when you feel good’. Unfortunately I could claim any such knowledge.
Dave McKibbin, who posted the fastest time of the evening was promoted from 4th to 3rd; a just reward for his highly impressive net time of 27:07. To put this in context he started 12 minutes before McVeigh and caught him before the 4 mile marker! Does this mean that he will be turning out for the cracker on Tuesday 27th December? Equally impressive was club 10k champion David O’Flaherty who posted a time of 27:26 as he finished just after McKibbin. One by one the athletes came home in a steady procession which revealed that the handicappers were not too far out in their setting of the times. Recent club signings Aidan Brown and the Prophet had strong runs, vindicating their decision to join the club in search of fame and fortune. Regrettably there were no female athletes taking part, perhaps a first for the event.
A word of thanks to Paul Rodgers (who was pleased to have an excuse for not running) and Ross McCrickard (who could be in line for the young race official of the year award, if such an award existed!) for managing the start, recording the results and processing them. Thanks also to Dave Goddard who took photos throughout on a night that was not best for camera work. The presentation was held in the comfort of the Burrendale hotel where the athletes were treated to hot beverages and an assiette of festive sweet treats. Thanks to William for looking after us so well and ensuring that the coffee flowed steadily. All in all a great evening of running and craic which was enjoyed by all.