Collins is the definition of excellence as Haugh continues to shine
Undeterred by the recent inclement conditions and the prospect of a cold and wet evening in Castlewellan, 189 brave souls registered for the opening race of the Newcastle AC promoted Up and Running Hill and Dale race series. This magnificent turnout beat last year’s record entry by 20, testimony to the personal popularity of the ebullient race organiser. At the start there was a surprise for the assembled masses. In their infinite and collective wisdom the organising committee had decided to run the race in reverse, with the runners tackling the long climb to Foxes green first before descending back towards the castle and tackling the summit of Slievenaslat; then followed a long sharp descent to the Spring Gardens before turning for home.
The number would have been one higher had Garry McLouglin arrived on time and paid his money like everyone else. Either Garry is the latest victim of the credit crunch or he is still huffing with his former club mates who have pointed out a number of irregularities vis-à-vis his recent and somewhat controversial defection to East Down AC. Joe Quinn will need the management skills of ‘Fergie’ and the patience of ‘Job’ if he is to be successful in integrating his most recent protégé. Notwithstanding his failure to register, Garry proceeded to run the race and was indignant when told that his performance would not count. After unsuccessfully remonstrating with the marshals, McLoughlin exited the finish funnel uttering profanities. The story does have a happy ending when he arrived at the pub and after a session of counselling with the ‘blaney’ boys was seen hugging the now bemused McVeigh. In this season of Lent, it was strangely akin to the parable of the Prodigal Son.
On to the more serious business of the race where Noel Collins of Omagh was the source of another Hill and Dale first. The talented youngster became the first junior competitor to win a Hill and Dale race. Collins led from start to finish and despite being pushed hard all the way by David O’Flaherty was able to retain a significant gap and stormed home to win by an impressive 25 seconds. This victory will make him the man to beat at Tollymore where the terrain is similar. Less successful was his brother Ciaran, who had to withdraw early in the race. His failure to report to the finish and declare that he had abandoned the race did little to improve his popularity with the now stressed finish marshals.
The newly formed Newry City Runners gave a very good account of themselves in their first official outing in the Hill and Dale and narrowly missed out on the team victory, losing by a single point to the host club. Eamon White led them home in third overall and first V40, while Don Travers, currently preparing for the London marathon was an excellent fourth. Justin Maxwell justified the long trek from Larne in finishing fifth overall and Jonny Steede from ‘Little Ballymena’ overcame the disappointment coming without this partner Mark Alexander (his running partner, lest there be any confusion) to complete the top six. Brain Steele was king of the V35s in seventh overall, holding off the challenge of Alex Brennan who ran very strongly in his much welcomed return to the series. Dale Mathers, Dominic McGreevy, Billy McKay and Joe Quinn were victorious in the V45, 50, 55 and 60 categories respectively.
The ladies race was won by Charlene Haugh, who it would appear from her svelte physique had kept her Lenten promise to stay off the pies (the same could not be said for Connell Nugent, who looked as if he had given up early on Ash Wednesday!!!) and ran very strongly to hold off Angela Speight and win by 11 seconds, finishing 21st overall. This was a remarkable performance given the fact that she had been the first NI lady in the British championship race a mere five days previous. Speight can be equally proud of her performance and it is clear that many close encounters lie ahead as the series progresses. Charlene was the second finisher overall for Mourne Runners who may now be regretting their somewhat premature decision to buy polo shirts for all members. Rumours are already circulating that a consignment of ladies blouses are on order for next year. There were also victories for Dr Shileen O’Kane, Martina Elliott, Marie Therese Speight, Maureen Oliver and Elaine Hall in the ladies categories.
There are many characters that make the Hill and Dale a unique experience, none more so that Wesley Kettyle! The boul Wes did himself some mischief and appeared adorned in a rather fancy sling. He participated in a bit of one armed clapping for his Mourne colleagues, though whether his unenthusiastic applause was down to pain or despair at the quality of his team mates remains a matter of conjecture. The regulars to the post race ablutions were mightily relieved to find that the injury had not effected his drinking and in fact improved his ability to hold a pint. Oh and by the way, he ran the race finishing 116th!!!
Another record was broken by the 10 competitors who failed to return their race numbers, despite the many requests from the organisers. In time honoured Newcastle AC fashion it is only right to name and shame some of the culprits, who really should know better. The naughty 10 included Billy McKay, Pauline O’Hara, Cecil McCullough, ‘Mr Nimra Ian Taylor’, Stewart Cunningham and Harry Teggarty. Is there an age related connection here? All 10 can expect a stern word in their ear as they register this week.
To conclude our round up of the race it must be noted that Audie McVeigh narrowly missed the hat-trick, failing by 16 seconds in the LV40 category, Jess Anderson managed to complete the course and rule himself out of the lost in the mountain category, albeit temporarily, Hugh Oram of the newly formed Murlough AC kept his promise and turned up, finishing one place behind the one armed Kettyle in 117th in his second race of the week and possibly the fourth of his life!, and Declan McIlroy competed at his usual steady pace, despite the added handicap of half a stone of facial hair.
A big thank you to all who processed the entries, recorded the results and contributed to the smooth organisation of a highly competitive and successful race. A final word of thanks to Martin McMullan of Blue Lough who kindly allowed his premises to be used for the race entries; it was much appreciated on a cold, wet evening. Next week the Up and Running Hill and Dale series moves on to Tollymore, with entries taken in the Main Car Park and not at the Mountain centre as previously advertised. Entries will be taken between 6.30pm and 7.15pm with the race starting at 7.30 sharp.