Photo by www.alisonhillphotography.com
No time to smell the flowers on the Azalea Run
By: The Big Fella’s Fella
This race in a previous guise was the Mountain Centre run, however with an ever increasing number of competitors, for safety reasons and ease of parking the start was moved to Tollymore car park. This race has often been tweaked so this year was no different with a couple of new technical single tracks thrown in. All the other races have a snappy name, e.g. Binnian, The Meels etc, so what better way to christen it than by calling it after its colourful run-in, the Azalea Walk.
Like the insects and bees that live here this race has a real sting in its tale, having emptied the tank for 5.5 miles over testing terrain you get stung by a very steep tarmac finish up the Azalea Walk. For the spectators having views over and around this section you must summon every last ounce of strength to cross the line with any form of dignity.
One lady standing in a daze at the finish line actually thought it was harder than the last six miles of her previous marathon. She may not have hit the wall but her legs and hands covered in mud she obviously hit the ground.
229 runners toe’d the line and incredibly all returned safe although not all returned sound of mind. Where else would you get such an eclectic array of people from all walks or runs of life? Everyone at the finish line chatting of their experiences and of what they had just achieved and indeed they should all be very proud. With increasing numbers of competitors the quality of athlete has improved, most people were claiming to have run a faster race than last year, yet lost several places in the pecking order.
Back to the race and as the runners headed off at a swift pace towards Parnell’s Bridge a group of 9 or 10 began to edge ahead with all the big guns present including perhaps pre-race favourite Allan Bogle of City of Derry AC. Recently Allan won the first N.Ireland championship race at Glenariff and a few weeks ago he competed in a 100k event finishing second in over ten hours of running. Perhaps this was still in his legs as he began to drop off the pace as the climbs continued.
The race eventually became a battle of the young and old. The very elderly Deon Mc Neilly led at the summit of the last climb but with a mile and a half downhill left, the younger Johnny on his trusty steede galloped past him to finish very impressively in a new course record (well it is a new course after all). Johnny Steede has now won two from two which proves no matter what sort of running you do, leg speed is vital.
Over the last couple of years Johnny has focused on 10k and cross country to quicken his pace. Whether he will be able to sustain this performance as we move to more open mountain, only time will tell.
Having witnessed Deon jog home after last Sundays run we thought he may soon require a zimmerframe. What a difference a few short days make. Has there ever been anyone who can attack these hills with such fierce aggression and determination to succeed in his chosen sport. We should all applaud greatness in our midst.
I am not sure if Deon has initial belief in his own ability to win his category this year. Instead of entering MV45 which means male vet 45 he listed himself as LV45 (L for lady). There was nearly a Castor Semenya enquiry and after a quick check he was reinstated as MV45. Having spent a few nights with Deon during the two day mountain marathon in a compact tent, I can confirm his category is correct.
For the second week running the podium remained unchanged as a very young Andrew Annett claimed third spot. Will youth prevail? As the season progresses one senses Andrew can progress as well.
To the ladies and Ciara Largey , Fermanagh Orienteering Club an elite Irish Orienteer reversed last week’s result to claim first place in an incredible 34th overall from Shileen O’Kane. That result means the series is tied one all and with Ciara winning Gullion and Shileen winning Glenariff we appear to have a very competitive battle ahead.
There was a reversal of third and fourth places as well with Diane Wilson getting the better of Gillian Wasson to claim third. In the lady’s vet 45 Ann Sandford is just managing to keep ahead of Virginia Ervine.
This year it is great to see the Mc Kibbin twins David and Alan (Newcastle AC) back in contention at the head of the field, and young aspiring runners could do worse than study their very efficient and fluid style of running.
This race has developed a great debate, ‘The Steps or the Tarmac’, David O’Flaherty is convinced the steps are quicker as he really closed in on David Mc Kibbin who took the tarmac. P.J Mc Crickard reckons he lost a place by going over the steps up the Azalea Walk. The arguments will continue unfortunately, it will now have to wait until next year.
Barry Monaghan has proved this year that not only is he an accomplished cyclist and mentor to Des Woods, but a very good runner in his own right by finishing 7th overall.
Other notable struggles included the battle of the half centurions with once again Dominic Mc Greevy prevailing over Eugene Mc Cann and Jim Brown.
There could be a case of all picture and no sound in Mourne runners over 60 club with Steward Cunningham claiming bragging rights over his training partner, Harry Teggarty. Tune in next week for the latest instalment.
Well done also to one of N. Irelands best mountain running exponents Dennis Rankin, V65, who had to withstand a shoulder charge to hold his place on the finish line.
This intrepid reporter is often given snippets of interesting information and one such fascinating fact was that seven members of the Mc Kibbin clan of car sales fame in Clough took part in the Castlewellan race last week including Fionn who ran in the primary school Hill and Dale. This would almost have accounted for the whole field when the original Hill and Dale series started years ago.
Someone likened this race to giving birth, pain, sweat and tears during, joy and happiness afterwards, I wonder could I get an epidural next week.
Just to clarify a few rules, if you enter online then that is you entered for the series. You don’t have to register online every week (David Steele), but maybe David believes it is better to be sure to be sure. Then again our shoe experts head is elsewhere as he seeks a larger car to hold more kids seats, not necessarily to have more children but apparently he straps his running shoes in safely.
Next week it is rumoured a special guest, Mr Gok Wan will offer advice on clothing issues. With shorts and flesh out the side, out the back and as Joe proved out the front. The next series of ‘How to look good naked’ may be shot on location at our Hill and Dale.
Finally, to get so many athletes around a challenging course over a twelve week period including the Slieve Donard race is a monumental task. This can only be achieved through hard work, dedication, skill and the services of so many people. Registrars, timekeepers, results, course marking, marshalls, etc etc. A lot goes on behind the scenes and your work is truly appreciated. On this occasion young Darragh Mc Crickard under the supervision of Mark Kendall needs special mention as this was his first race doing this. He logged on and produced detailed results of 230 runners within an hour of the last runner crossing the line and not a chip or dipper in sight.
Thanks also to the Avoca, Newcastle for a great welcome and the hot food. To Irish Classic mineral water, who may I say do not produce a Stanley knife proof water bottle as Frank Morgan discovered slicing through several bottles while opening the packaging, it was like the Glen River running round our feet.
Next week half forest, half mountain, the Slievemartin in Kilbroney, Rostrevor. Bring body cover and whistle just in case. Register from 6.15pm onwards.