Lough Shannagh Horseshoe – Confusion Reigns
By The 2 Americanos
Yet again we’ve reached the point when we visit the High Mournes for the Mountain Race of the series, the Lough Shannagh Horseshoe. This year the route reversed, following the clockwise order of Ottt Mountain, Slieve Lough Shannagh,Doan Mountain,Carn Mountain and home. Although a more pleasant start, it does come with the sting of the steepest ascent last and for those with no prior route experience, an absolutely soul destroying experience.
This year as with all the series races, a record turnout registered with a total of 165 runners. In a normal year that’s good but in a recession that’s shows an excellent growth rate! The usual well seasoned Hill and Dale runners are drawn back as always, albeit a few notable absences, as well as several for whom this was their first ever Mountain Race.
The weather in the preceding week had been excellent and although it deteriorated in the run up, there’s no doubt that it was still exceptionally kind. That said, in any Mountain Race what comes from above is only part of the problem and given the mix of terrain in this race, rarely does a runner finish without a truly wholesome coating of earthly substances.
As the runners toed the line a surprise debate ensued as to whether the route was a traditional horseshoe or a more modern linear format. Many were oblivious to the value of the debate and unaware of the potential benefits of the latter. With the absence of the ever decisive Mc Veigh an impromptu Hill and Dale committee meeting and the imminent race start forced a breakthrough – a horseshoe is circular.
From the outset a fast pace was set with runners only settling into their stride on the descent from Slieve Lough Shannagh. However unlike many races where places could be attributed early on, this race with its length and exceptionally varied terrain can throw up many opportunities for runners and surprises in results. Battles between runners took place constantly on the route with many places only taken on the final descent to the finish.
Hill and Dale stalwarts, Mourne Runners Stephen Cunningham and Newcastles Deon McNeilly battled for the entire route with Mc Neilly eventually conceding to the relatively youthful Cunningham. Finishing first in 41.13 Cunningham took a lead of 36 seconds over McNeilly who held a very credible second place in 41.49. Third place was also taken by a Hill and Dale household name, North Belfast Harriers Neil Mc Carty, finishing in 42.02 only 13 seconds behind Mc Neilly and 29 seconds ahead of Newcastles new boy Ian Bailey clocking an effortless 42.31 and finishing fourth. It shows that the Newcastle talent spotters haven’t lost their touch and if Bailey ever decides to break sweat, things could get pretty tough at the top!
Another battle was also underway in the Ladies category and more specifically the Lagan Valley Ladies Shileen O’Kane and Diane Wilson. O’Kane had a good lead but again with the mix of terrain Wilson was able to work it to her advantage.Wilson proved her increasing ability by coming from behind and taking a 4 second lead over O’Kane finishing first Lady in 51.02. O’Kane finished as another very credible second in 51.06 and undoubtedly down but certainly not out. Third Lady home was also a Lagan Valley Lady, Anne Sandford in 54.42 and worthy of note is fourth Lady, a nonLaganValleyand ever improving Physio and Co’s Helen Cassidy who finished in 59.02.LaganValleycertainly delivers in the Ladies category but rumour has it that it’s still the Newcastle influence that produces the winning edge!
On another club note, apart from overall race performance, every club seems to have its various race rituals that can be observed pre, during and post race ranging from pre race insults to post race Champagne. This weeks observation worthy of note has to go to Banbridge who handle the matter with military precision. In the interests of competitor preservation they drive their runners direct to race registration, register and then depart to a secluded area for pre race prep before being driven back just in time for the race start. It should be clear though that very often race rituals although worthy of note have little or no influence on the results page!
Out of all the series races Lough Shannagh seems to cause the greatest confusion when race organisers and the race itself start to ask for a little more than normal. Race rules for a Mountain Race may require runners to carry everything from Map, Compass, Whistle and of course the ever contentious Full Body Cover.
With any Mountain environment, competitors can be exposed to poor visibility and it’s therefore important to have some idea of where the race goes. Most carried neither and even some of those that did, agreed that they didn’t know how to use either. Fortunately for all involved the race organisers on the night agreed to waive the Map and Compass rule given the kinder weather conditions and the realism that it just wasn’t going to happen anyway. Among many, the aforementioned Lagan Valley Runners where found asking this years race route and then subsequently which mountain was which and then the direction in which the first mountain may be found. O’Kane later reaffirmed her commitment to Mountain Running by announcing that she has invested in both a map and compass and in due course is intending to learn how to use them. It should be pointed out that on the night visibility couldn’t be better and even though if it wasn’t for the kindly directions of race marshalls, runners could be seen running aimlessly in every direction. Certainly on the last peak with an element of delirium, many runners completed a few circles before being pointed in the right direction for the final descent. One runner from local club Murlough AC must have thought he was both further up the field and closer to the finish as he undertook to complete what could only be described as a lap of honour.
Likewise with any Mountain environment, competitors can be exposed to severe weather without warning and as such all are required to carry ‘Full Body Cover’. On the night it was decided to enforce this requirement given the severity of this particular race and the potential for deterioration in the weather. The prerequisite of ‘Thick Skin’ is for a totally different reason and should not be confused! Although the ‘Full Body Cover’ rule has been about for many a year, and purely for the safety of competitors, it still seems to cause mass confusion when enforced. Yet again this year there where advanced warnings, on the series entry forms, in the papers, on the internet, announced at races, on signs on the night and even announced at the start of the race and what happened? You guessed, competitors still didn’t know what it was exactly, asked if they really needed it or just hadn’t brought it along at all. Eventually most complied with Castlewellan AC noted for their valiant effort at a protest but let down by other club members who exceeded all requirements by not only wearing their full body cover for the entire race but being visible from space – the day-glow twins!
Thanks again to the runners for turning up and participating and a special thanks to those that where agreeable to the requests of the organisers and the others that amuse us! Thanks to all those that helped from entries to marshals on the summits and even though Joe ‘Baby’ McCann came out of his corner, he was limited to causing minor confusion and insult. And finally thanks to Mary Margaret for what has to be the most hospitable post race venue ever.
Next weeks race is Millstone, registration from 6.30pm with a 7.30pm sharp start. This race will be preceded by a Junior race starting at 6.45pm sharp.