A preview of the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker
sponsored by Hill Trekker and Classic Mineral Water
Advent, traditionally a season of waiting and preparing for the big event: Relatives to be visited, presents to be bought, trees to be decorated, turkeys to be stuffed, cars to be washed, mince pies to be looked at but not consumed, lawns to be cut to 5mm and cards to be delivered and all of this before Damien goes for his run at 9.06am precisely. The same meticulous preparations have been made by the organising committee of Newcastle AC for the now traditional Christmas Cracker. The course is set, the numbers ready, the marshals waiting to be sent to post and the post race celebrations booked. All that is now required is for the usual posse and hopefully a few new and brave souls to turn up and compete. Spectators to cheer on the fearless athletes are equally desirable and greatly appreciated.
Since its relocation from Comber six years ago the event has grown in stature and is now one of the most popular events in the calendar. Run in pairs, an anomaly in itself, over approximately 10 miles the race has something for everyone; roads, fields, scenery, forest park trails and the odd ditch here and there. An interesting and memorable experience awaits all those brave enough to take up the challenge of the run or the walk (of which more later!). Director Sportife Martin McVeigh has as usual come up with a cracker course (no pun intended!!!) that will prove to be as enjoyable as it challenging. The fact that he has completed it himself a couple of times this year is proof that with resolve and commitment anyone can do it.
A new innovation introduced this year is the charity walk starting at 11 am in aid of the Neo-Natal Special Babies Unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital. The 7 mile marked course around forest lanes and trails in Castlewellan Forest Park is suitable for walkers of all ages and abilities and there is the option of a shorter walk. Entry fee is by a minimum donation of £5 and all proceeds are in support of a very worthy cause. Runners in the main race may also make a donation to the charity. There will be full changing facilities in Castlewellan clubrooms on the Circular road and light refreshments available afterwards. Further details may be obtained from email@example.com
Last year the race was dominated from start to finish by the big fella (Deon McNeilly) and his fella (Eamon McCrickard) who obliterated the rest of the quality field with a devastating turn of speed and tremendous resilience over the tough climbs. However this year with McNeilly injured McCrickard will be hard pressed to defend his coveted title. Having said that he has found a redoubtable partner in Dale Mathers, another man in form enjoying some great success in recent weeks. These two will certainly be in the shake up for the overall win.
My contacts around the local clubs reassure me that a strong representation of local runners will be taking the line. This is evidenced by the high numbers turning up each and every Sunday morning since Halloween to get a run over the course. Murlough will be impressive in their numbers, but more impressive in their post race publicity. Rumours abound that Tatler will be covering the race for them and a 10 glossy spread will follow featuring most of their members in an array of beautiful poses. East Down will be equally well represented and Joe Quinn and Brian ‘Hammy’ Hamilton will start strong favourites in the vet-160 category, while Philip Vint will be aiming for one hour and one second in preparation for his next marathon. Mourne Runners’ PRO was unavailable for comment but a reliable inside source informed me that ‘there will be a quare few boys running the cracker the year’. So we can take that to mean that there will be quite a few Mourne Runners in the race. Depending on how they deploy their troops, Mourne could easily provide the winning pair. Des Woods has been going well all winter and Stevie Cunningham, Gary Bailey and the current Hill and Dale Champion Eddie Hanna are all potential partners for the Donard record holder. Whatever formation they decide to select they will certainly be very strong and difficult to beat over the hill climbs around Castlewellan Forest Park. The host club are a little lighter on talent this year and will struggle to produce a top pairing. Recent sightings of a ‘flying’ (thanks to Sally and Mary for the undercover work!!!) Dave McKibbin around the roads of Clanvaraghan and Drumnaquoile count for little if he in not joined by his big (in the loosest possible sense of the word) brother. The aforementioned Brannigan might run, but then again he might not, so in all probability he wont. I am awaiting an email of confirmation form his mentor and brother Ian any day now. The flying Scotsman (Big Alan Strachan) will be on the piste for a week before so his partner Paul Rodgers can relax and enjoy another turkey or two. The Kendall/McCann combination failed to impress last time out and are considered rank outsiders by everyone including themselves. The clever each-way money is on Brendan Quail and his partner Paul Maginn, both of whom have impressed in the recent winter series and could find the going to their liking on this particular course. Eugune McCann will also be in contention as he plans to win the 2010 Hill and Dale title. His partner, perhaps the now well covered Mr Brannigan, will be in for a treat as his quiet dulcet tones and abundance of choice phrases would brighten any dark winter’s day. There could even be a ‘rarer than hens teeth’ racing appearance from Audrey McVeigh, but don’t hold your breath as he was overheard confessing to his soul mate and mentor Pocky ‘Ross Kemp’ Toner ‘Sure I couldn’t do that.’ That’s the positive spirit we have all grown to love! I must also mention John Kelly. There is nothing interesting to write about this man, but at least I did mention him!
There are also those who turn up on the day from far and wide. North East Runners were rewarded for the long journey south last year when Eamonn McMahon & Nicholas McGuinness and Malachy McAteer & Byran McCrystal claimed second and third places respectively. Omagh Harriers also had two teams in the top 10 and rumours abound that some of their leading runners including the excellent Stephen Duncan will be racing in Castlewellan.
Away from all of the serious business of winning and personal bests the event is an ideal opportunity for all locals to compete in a personally challenging race. Entries are welcome from those of any or indeed no sporting persuasion. It was noted that many of the Burrendale country Club staff toned down their traditional festive celebrations due to their commitment to succeeding at the cracker and some even stayed at home!!!
All in all the race will be a spectacular event with an array of talent on show. We look forward to seeing as many as dare take up the challenge in Castlewellan on the 28th December. Registration is from 12.00pm at the Castlewellan clubrooms on the Circular Road and the race starts at 1pm sharp. There will be refreshments for competitors and spectators at 3.30pm in the clubrooms, by which time John Taylor should have finished and Garry McLoughlin’s wounds will have been bandaged up.