Anything but a walk in the park in Tollymore
by the Great and the Good
The Tollymore race, or the ‘Azalea Walk’ as it was christened by former directors the McCrickard brothers, has evolved over the past few years to become one of the more challenging of the Hill and Dale races. With some steep climbs and sharp fast descents it presents a serious challenge to even the most seasoned campaigners. Notwithstanding this fact 236 athletes registered for the event, eclipsing the 2012 record by 6 and becoming the best attended race in the long history of the series. 2012 witnessed victories for Jonny Steede and Ciara Largey, the eventual ladies’ champion. Men’s champion Andrew Annett had finished third behind Deon McNeilly in second place.
Race director Wells had made some adjustments to the course to offset the potential bottlenecks and in light of the prevailing bad weather that had characterised the period leading up to the start of the series. A slight variation to the 2012 course took the racers up-stream on the North side of the Shimna River, to cross at the Boundary Bridge. From the Boundary Bridge the course steepens quickly. This is where the balance swings in the favour of the mountain runner and the lactic begins to build up in the legs.
So far it is a steady, fast, clean run with a few undulations and a gain of 100ft. Now comes the first climb. Up, out of the Shimna Valley. Still on Forest trails, the climb starts steep at first then settling down to a long drag of about 1/4mile until the first of the main single track climbs. A half mile climb through the forest follows.
Out of the single track and on to the road again, briefly and back into the second climb of the race. This follows a rough forest trail to the top of the new park at Turner’s gate. A fast descent down the zig-zags follows, giving the lungs a chance to recover: but not for long. As all too soon there is yet another climb through the trees, shorter, but by now with legs tired and pulses racing every bit as punishing. A short 200 yard break, then the penultimate climb following a long steep mountain bike trail to the top of the Drinns.
From the highest point on the course, the final run for home commences. Just over a mile to the finish. The leaders will be covering this distance in under 5minutes. At the bottom of the Azalea Walk the final climb saps every last ounce of energy from already exhausted bodies. No rest here for the runners as the supporters encourage them to make a final effort to reach the finish line where they are welcomed with a Red Carpet reception (courtesy of the Weir household – though there were tears at bedtime when Jason’s daughter noticed that a strip has been removed from under her bed!) and a refreshing bottle of Classic Mineral Water.
As the race got underway a group of four got away from the main field. Leading them out and with some considerable style was Newcastle AC’s Ian Bailey, a man on a mission. He was closely followed by the evergreen McNeilly, last week’s winner Bogle and the ‘never too far away man’ Carty. However as things transpired all four did not complete the correct course and were unable to be included in the results. All four were gracious in accepting this and undoubtedly all will have a strong say in the eventual outcome of the series. This meant that Mourne Runners’ Stephen Cunningham was the winner of the race. Shileen O’Kane of Lagan Valley maintained her excellent start to the series in winning the ladies, leaving her nemesis last week, Jack O’Hare a long way behind. Not too far behind in 227th place was Mary Knight who will hopefully be mentioned in every article in the series. Mary is a product of the sound coaching strategy and aggressive youth policy of Castlewellan AC under the ever-watchful eye of Ned McCartan. Mary is an unsung hero of the Hill and Dale, who, when not running (and even sometimes when she is), is always available to take entries of record the finish – your efforts are very much appreciated.
As always there was an abundance of ‘yarns’ circulating in the Avoca Hotel as the post-race ablutions were attended to. First man to be slated in abstentia by his peers was Newcastle AC’s own John ‘Hen’ Kelly. Hen had bemoaned the fact that he had to stop and tie his laces twice last week in Castlewellan which meant that Gareth Toner beat him by a technicality. This week Hen’s devoted wife tied his laces for him before he was allowed out and sent him on his way. This tactic proved decisive as Toner was left trailing in his wake as Hen had 48 seconds to spare over his club mate. The problem arose after the race when Hen couldn’t get the shoes off and had to retire to has abode early; one of the weaker excuses for not going to the pub. Before leaving the subject Gareth Toner took his race no home with him for the second week in a row, thus adding to the workload of the race director in emailing him to remind him of his folly. Silly boy!
In other breaking news Eamon Campbell was lifted off the steps on the Azalea walk by Jack O’Hare after he caught his toe and went down. A very sporting gesture from the all-round good egg (and I do not mean the shape of his head before anyone starts!!!).
Last week Pauline Carson let Monica McCrickard slip in in front of her to finish 1 second ahead. This week Monica opened the gap on Pauline to 13 seconds. Is there a trend developing? More impressive was the fact that Jerome ‘the Prophet’ who finished 49th had produced a page at the start naming in the correct order the 48 who would finish ahead of him.
Christine Murray of Co. Antrim Harriers came down to compete in her maiden Hill & Dale race. She finished the course in 175th place in a highly respectable time of 58.15. In the immediate aftermath and undoubtedly overtaken with fatigue she admitted that she didn’t realise just how demanding the terrain would be. As she left her race no back in the box she was adamant (not to be confused with the 1980s new romantic!) that she would never be running another hill race. The race director spoke to her an hour later after she had got cleaned up, had some hot food and even won a spot prize. In this short time her opinion had changed and she, in a dramatic u turn confessed that she is already looking forward to Slieve Martin.
Race 2 of the Series will take place on Thursday 18th April 2013 in Tollymore Forest Park. Junior races will take place prior to senior races – Details
*** Remember that you only have to register ONCE for entire Series. ***
There will be a run over the race course on Monday 15th April. There will be two groups and start times.
A slower run for beginners and less experienced runners will leave from the lower car park at 6:15pm. Joe McCann will be leading this run.
A faster group, led by John ‘Hen’ Kelly will depart from the same starting point at 6:30pm.
There are some very minor adjustments to the course so it would be good to get a preview before Thursday.