O’Flaherty wins on Misty Millstone
by the BIG YIN
Thursday 7th June 2012 was scheduled for the 2nd ever running of the Deon McNeilly designed Millstone Race. The weekend before had seen plummeting temperatures, the rain started on Tuesday and had not ceased all through Wednesday and Thursday. Winter had returned. The original design of Millstone Race starts in Donard Forest on the forest trails out onto the Mournes, tracks the wall to an ascent onto Millstone Mountain, descent to the quarry and back through Donard Forest. This 4 mile route with 1500 feet of climb requires the runner to possess speed, endurance, climbing/downhill skills and knowledge of the terrain. Clearly a race suited to Deon McNeilly of Newcastle AC who was hopeful of his 1st Hill and Dale win in 2012. Forest paths had become icy streams by Thursday afternoon. The ‘environment’, but not rain friendly, sawdust markings laid (taking three men three hours!) on Wednesday had washed away and the rain still persisted. By 6pm the mountains were mist covered and the Glen River was lapping the sides of its banks. Much to race designer McNeilly’s annoyance, the just formed health and safety section of the Hill and Dale race committee made a late call to remove the Millstone Mountain section from the race route. Most were relieved. By 7.30pm the marshalls were in their spots on the mountain, the forest section markings re-set and the race began on schedule.
The fair weather runners did not show but the Hill and Dale stalwarts – 112 in number – did not let the weather conditions deter their journeys from Belfast, Larne, Castleblaney and maybe even further afield. These are the tough men and women of fell running.
Race control at sea level were informed that David O’Flaherty was first to the quarry and held a 8 second advantage over Neil Carty and David McKibben who were together at this stage of the race. Leg speed is the name of the game from the quarry home. With these three all known for their 10K speed, it was predicted by the time keeping contingent in Donard Park that the winner would come from this grouping.
First out of the mist in Donard Park was David O’Flaherty who powered to a fine victory with a huge smile on his face; this was Newcastle AC’s 2nd win in the 2012 Hill and Dale series. The revised course probably suited David more than others and his turn of speed was demonstrated on the forest trails out to the mountain and the descent back from the quarry. Yet again Neil Carty of North Belfast Harriers produced a quality performance and picked up another podium finish in 2nd place. Despite some ankle and knee trouble, David McKibben of Newcastle AC passed a late fitness test and secured a well earned 3rd place. David was spotted out on the course the night before the race going round in the opposite direction. It is still not clear whether this was a deliberate ploy or a navigational error (no wonder we were worried about loss of runners with low visibility!). Newcastle AC runners placed well with 6 runners in the top 10 ie O’Flaherty (1st), McKibben (3rd), David McNeilly (4th), Deon McNeilly (5th), McGreevy (9th) and Campbell going well in (10th).
Shileen O’Kane was first lady home in 30th place, managing to hold off Diane Wilson in 32nd place by only 10 seconds. Shileen and Diane run for Lagan Valley AC, they are great competitors with Shileen hard to beat on the climb and Diane fearless on the downhill. No doubt their battle will recommence at Rocky. Gillian Wasson of Springwell had another fine run and was 3rd lady home in 41st place. Ann Sandford had a fine performance finishing top 50 and winner of her category.
Racing was tight all through the field and none more so in the positions between 10 and 20 with only seconds between the places. PJ McCrickard (12th) had a great performance despite some early week reluctance to run. He managed to edge out on this occasion his usual competition ie Eugene McCann (15th), Pete Grant of Newry City Runners (17th), Colin Pascoe (18th), Jerome McCrickard (19th), Nathan McCombe (20th) and Richard Bell of Mourne Runners (21st). Runners love to share their running highs and lows with anyone who will listen and often those who won’t. PJ is putting this return to form down to a carefully selected pre-race lunch of a full helping of chicken curry and rice. The finish team are hopeful that this continues to work for PJ and that he does not share his lunch with the time keepers on the finish line (aka doing a ‘Joe McCann’).
David Smyth from Seaforde, who has been an occasional runner on the Hill and Dale circuit and other local races for a couple of years now, produced a stunning performance to finish in 7th place. Many of you will have been passed by David going at great speed only to re-take him when he is walking and getting ready for his next burst of pace. When asked about this unusual but effective style of racing, David explained that he comes from a boxing background and is trained to go hard for 2 minutes and rest for 30 seconds!! Well its certainly working for David and if he could just cut back on the rest section and go a full round, he’ll be a serious contender. One to watch out for the future. He has been approached by Newcastle AC talent scouts who are in pre contract negotiations with him and a winter training program is already being worked on.
Most of the field reported tough but exhilarating conditions with some reporting how much ‘fun’ it was wading through icy water and sliding down forest paths.
Many hands needed
Big thanks to all who helped make this event take place. Joe McCann’s “event management team” processed the entries, Barry Wells for course marking twice (Barry sorry you missed the race), Mountain marshalls Jim Patterson/Paddy McCartan/Pascal Toner/Brian Steele, Donard Forest marshalls Moya and Andrew Watson, timing and results team (Frank, Marty, Brian and Bridgit) and results processing expertly handled by Mark and Darragh. Thanks also to our photographer Dave Goddard, who had brought underwater equipment and was snapping at the finish line / operating video camera and Martina for managing our website. A word of thanks to PJ McCrickard for organising promotional flyers.
A great crowd of runners and marshalls went back to O’Hares in Newcastle. The log fires, complimentary hot snacks and great atmosphere were enjoyed by all. Many thanks to Jack O’Hare and staff for their hospitality and service.
Next up is Rocky
Race 9 of the series sees the action return to the open mountain with the athletes taking on the Rocky Mountain. 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 Leitrim Lodge Car Park from 6:15 pm onwards and competitors are asked to car share where possible.