Temperatures soar as Annett turns up the heat in sun-drenched Tollymore
Incredible as it may seem, the 2012 Newcastle AC Hill & Dale series has already passed the halfway point after the sixth race, the Monument, in the beautiful setting of Tollymore Forest Park on a warm summers evening (cue Kenny Rodgers!) on Thursday 24th May. It did not take much of a ‘Gambler’ to know that Andrew Annett would be odds on to record his third win of the series. To add to the occasion, the second junior race, sponsored by Toscano Pizzeria attracted 60 Primary and post-primary runners who departed from the Monument to whet the appetites of the large crowds of spectators.
Do we have to wear sun cream?
On arriving in a sun-drenched Tollymore, I was greeted by the team of helpers and marshals who would ensure the smooth running of the event. Paschal, without shirt, looked a menacing figure as he left with an ebullient Audey on a light jog that would take them to the furthest point of the course, where they would join Danny Johnston and Paddy McCartan in ensuring that all athletes went through the only mandatory checkpoint of the night. Back at base the entries team was in full flow. Nicola and Alana Wells, two seasoned veterans of Hill and Dale entries, were joined by rookie Dearbhla Knight in registering the awaiting masses. Well done ladies for a most efficient job. Obviously many of the athletes had spent some time in the sun that day and their condition ranged from medium rare to exceptionally well done. Jerome ‘the prophet’ assured me that he had lashed on the factor 50, but the red lines from the builders vest remained clearly visible. Thankfully this man is made of stern stuff and a little sun would not deter him. This was one rare moment in Hill & Dale history where sun cream was the only pre-requisite kit to be worn. However, this could not be enforced as none of the committee, myself most definitely included, were less than willing to stand and sniff the oxters of the assembled mass!
Carty shows his class
At 7:30 a large crowd of spectators, many of whom had remained in situ after the junior races witnessed the awesome sight of 201 eager athletes plundering their way from the Monument in the general direction of the Iveagh Bridge. From there the race rises steeply and a long climb has to be negotiated before traversing the wall and on to the open mountain towards the top of the White Plains. By this point Annett had lived up to his pre-race favourites tag and was out in front. The chasing pack was led by Simpson, making a welcome return and Deon McNeilly, who is never too far from the leaders. Carty and O’Flaherty were lurking close behind and it was the former who would finish strongest and claimed a season’s-best second place. This is a race that theNorth Belfastman clearly relishes as evidenced by his 2009 victory when the newshound ‘Podge’ reported that ‘Carty sidesteps Marty for a Monumental Party.’ Indeed in keeping with his perennial bridesmaid reputation, Carty was also second last year. However, given the wealth of talent on display Neil can be very proud of his achievement and will no doubt have enjoyed holding off his life-long nemesis McNeilly up the final hill and secure his habitual place.
Almost a new record for dominant Annett
As this drama was unfolding Annett was already enjoying his well-earned bottle of Classic Mineral Water having descended superbly well and romped home in 29:07, beating the winning times of the last three years and just 7 seconds outside Alan McKibbin’s course record. With some tough open mountains to come, Annett must now be confident in his ability to become the youngest ever Hill & Dale champion and cap a remarkable season that has already seen him claim a maiden Slieve Donard title. It will certainly take an unpredictable twist of fate to deny him from here onwards.
The chasing pack came in thick and fast. Simpson managed to hold off a fast finishing O’Flaherty in the battle for fourth and fifth. Ian Bailey produced a storming run up the ‘Green Hill’ to overcome David McNeilly for 6th place and Gary Bailey was just behind the latter in 8th. Dave McKibbin made it 5 in the top 10 for Newcastle and Clive Bailey, another man having an excellent series, completed the top 10 for Mourne Runners.
Hen joins the ‘46 Club’
Next man home was John ‘Hen’ Kelly who celebrated his 46th birthday in some style, recording an excellent 32:25, beating his training run time of the previous evening by around 20 seconds and shaving almost half a minute of his time recorded on Tuesday evening. In fact Hen has broken 33 minutes on each and every one of his 15 runs over the course in the last three weeks – a remarkable achievement for a man who does not run that much!!! Methinks that people have wised up to that old chestnut! At the finish, Hen was asked to explain his great performance. With typical modesty he commented that this was his home event and he had been training on it for the past few months. Quick as a flash the other John Kelly retorted, “Sure I thought you were injured for the last few months.” Notwithstanding such criticisms, Hen is running superbly well and is more than able to mix it with the best of the fell running firmament. He has already told me his strategy for overcoming his great friend Audey at Loughshannagh, but of course I will not reveal this to anyone who does not ask! Horns will most certainly be locked in race 7.
Colin Pascoe was another local athlete who had a great run. Colin has developed a particular penchant for a negative split in that he goes out relatively steady and then storms through the field in the second half of the race. Club vice chairman Paul Watson thinks that if Colin could sort out the UTV scheduling earlier in the day he could make it to the start line with more time to warm up thus making his first half faster and his overall placing higher.
In other Hill & Dale breaking news Murlough’s best dressed running couple, Stevie Wallace and Mark King have now taken their existing rock solid relationship to a new level. Mark now supplies his running mate with shorts that are as generously cut as his own. Stevie was so chuffed with his new (or maybe not so new) high leg cut shorts that he wore them to the pub as well and certainly turned a few heads and perhaps even a few stomachs (sorry Nathan)! Speaking of kit or lack of, Ken Behan competed without a running top and the dangers of this were revealed at the finish when it appeared that someone had written all over his torso in permanent ink! Was he really running that slow or simply showing off the benefits of his recent training and his latest body art? Eamonn McCrickard, on hearing this, has vowed never to miss a race in the future if he is permitted to run topless and display the body chiselled out of Waterford Chrystal!
Lesser-spotted Damien Brannigan
Organising a Hill & Dale race is an onerous task, requiring the goodwill and generosity of a number of like-minded club athletes. The recruitment formula is quite simple, send out an e-mail asking for help, wait for the inevitable dearth of replies and then beg! Following this formula I was forced to contact my long suffering colleague and occasional running compatriot Damien Brannigan to see what he could offer. My initial shock that he actually replied was softened by his cryptic and evasive response, ‘I will help if I am not running, but I plan to run.’ In cracking the code, I took this to mean that he was doing neither. You can then imagine my shock, when, at 7:20, this fine specimen of an Adonis ambled towards me festooned in full club regalia with a number pinned to his vest – the lengths some members will to go to avoid helping out. Well long runs the Silver Fox!!! Damien had a very impressive run and finished in 20th place. He had certainly emptied the tank on the final climb and was less than Adonis-like at the end. Having said that, I am hardly one to criticise, given my own follies in the same race 12 months earlier! Nathan McComb in 30th place continued his unwelcome habit of sharing the contents of his stomach with the crowds as he reached the line – again I cannot criticise that one – better out than in Nathan!
O’Kane seizes the initiative
In the ladies’ race the absence of Ciara Largey opened the door for Shileen O’Kane and the diminutive BARF athlete availed of the opportunity to claim a win. Diane Wilson finished strongly in securing second place, while Gillian Wasson was a very impressive third, a minute ahead of Anne Sandford who was first LV45, a point never missed by her erstwhile colleagues inNewcastle, but frequently neglected by the PR machine of Lagan Valley AC. Prior to the race Anne presented me with a bag of Newcastle AC ladies kit. I am not sure if there was a subtle subliminal message or if her washing machine had broken down. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I remained silent (for once) and put the kit in the car! I will probably wash and bring it with me next week just in case.
The host club were the winners of the ‘club with the most athletes in the race’ award with 27 of their members on display. Mourne Runners were a close second with 23 and BARF completed the somewhat crowded podium with 21. No doubt Willie John will crack the party whip in the week ahead as Mourne set to overturn the deficient. The high numbers of athletes from the host club has been attributed by some to the benefits accruing from the regular yoga sessions. This combination of flexibility and mental calmness seems to be paying dividends. Dominic ‘Mad Dog Black Foot’ McGreevy, a notable absentee at the Monument commented, ‘Hey man that yoga has left my body and mind in a good place. I fell all chillaxed these days.’ Such was his relaxation at a recent session, Cousin Eugene did not realise that he ‘had let one go’ and wondered why everyone around him was groaning and leaving the hall!
It’s a team effort
My sincere thanks to all who helped make the event a great success. As well as the previously mentioned entry and summit teams it would be remiss not to mention the course markers, Barry, Pol Og and Jason, the finish marshals, the Chuckle brothers (Frank & Marty), the McMullan brothers (Rory & Luke), Brendan and Darragh who processed the results with their usual diligence and attention to detail and all those in the barn including race 7 co-director Laurence who tidied up the numbers and sorted them out in preparation for next week. Thanks also to Des Woods and Brian Steele who were out and about marshalling on their bikes, the ever-reliable Dave Goddard, who was snapping as usual and capturing the essence of the race and Joanne McCartan who made the tay and doled out the biscuits as the clean up operation was in full swing. With Paddy on the mountain and Conal in the race, this really was a case of Hill & Dale being a family affair. A word of thanks to PJ McCrickard who did everything and was omitted from the thanks in the pub, as in my enthusiasm, I was derelict in my duty! Finally thanks to Dorothy, Stephanie and Susan from the Avoca Hotel for feeding us and serving much needed liquid replenishment.
Getting ready for Loughshannagh
Race 7 of the series sees the action return to the open mountain with the athletes taking on the Loughshannagh Horseshoe under the watchful eyes of race directors Laurence Hamilton and Marty McMullan. This is the longest and arguably most challenging race of the series. Runners are reminded of the need for full body cover, a whistle and a compass to comply with kit regulations. In the event of poor weather athletes who fail to meet these requirements will not be allowed to take part in the race. Entry will be at the Ott Car Park from 6:15 pm onwards and competitors are asked to car share where possible and follow the instructions of the parking marshals.