The Christmas Cracker is enjoying a continued renaissance since it was taken over by Newcastle AC and relocated to Castlewellan in the early ‘noughties’ and remains one of the most unique and popular races in the annual ANI calendar. On 27th December 2012 an incredible 292 teams took to the line and 2013 promises to be bigger and better with over 240 teams already registered and still a fortnight to go. Rumour has it that Stevie Rice and Martin Brogan, recent converts to running in the mud, are waiting to see if they can get a discounted price after Christmas day. Sorry lads – no such luck. This year the race is on Saturday 28th December, by which time the turkey will have been consumed under many different guises and attention will be turning to New Year’s resolutions. The race is a multi-terrain event over approximately 8.5 miles and is suitable for runners of all abilities and levels of experience. This year the race is very different and promises to be an enjoyable experience.
Part of the beauty of the race is that the race is run in pairs, so you are only as good as your partner; a harsh fact of life that I learn every December and somehow forget by the following year. Runners like Deon McNeilly, Paul Rodgers (when he was a good runner!) Damien Brannigan, Eddie Hanna, Mark Kendall, Audey McVeigh and more recently Niall Carson have all been unfortunate enough to have been my partner and all cursed the fact as they hollered from the top of the hills that I should hurry. Needless to say that a cheerful individual like Audey, imbued with the Christmas spirit, was always more than charitable in his thoughts and words as he trundled along at a snail’s pace waiting for me to catch up. This year I have developed the best tactic ever: pick a partner who does not run!
Equally fascinating is the fact that, while the race remains around 8-9 miles in distance, the course is always different and runners have come to expect the unexpected. With Commandant McVeigh having plenty of time to ponder the most arduous and painful route possible, he has certainly a few surprises up his well-worn sleeve. They say (who exactly are ‘they’ – one of life’s great mysteries!) that he has been uncharacteristically benevolent this year and the course, while undulating, is more than fair.
Predicting a winner of this event has proven notoriously impracticable given the promises that are made and broken in the weeks leading up to the race and due to the fact that many runners keep their fragile alliances close to their chests: paranoia creeps in when one’s partner is observed talking, never mind running with another athlete! With the McNeilly/McCrickard partnership consigned to the annals of history, a new chapter is yet to be written and there are some interesting pairings from the host club: the Pair of ‘Daves’, O’Flaherty and McNeilly look the most likely to challenge the leaders and both have wintered well. Strachan and Watson lead the Scottish chapter of Newcastle AC while John Kelly will be hoping that his partner does not produce a Quail’s Egg for the ‘Hen’ to look after. Kendall and McVeigh team up again – one good on the flat and one good on the hills – regrettably it is Kendall that is good on both!!! The Prophet and DJ Normski look a well paired duo and will undoubtedly finish in 56:21 as Jerome has forecast. Could Martin Rea and Gladys Ganiel be the first mixed team to podium? I would not be surprised and Jerome concurs!
Rumours also abound that East Down’s Brendan Teer and Liam Venney will be taking the line again as they go for three in a row. Teer has been flying in recent weeks, recording a new PB at the Seeley cup and if the lesser spotted Venney has any format all they will be well near impossible to beat.
Registration will take place in the clubrooms of Castlewellan GAC from 11.45am, with the race starting at 1pm. There will be refreshments in the clubrooms after the race and the presentation will be at around 3.30pm. Online registration is free and the entry fee of £25 per team will be collected on the day. Registration will close on Christmas Eve and there may be some limited spaces on the day at an increased fee (£35 per team); however as registration is free there is no reason for not signing up well in advance and help the organisers in ensuring that there is plenty of food and water for everyone. Register now at newcastleac.org. There will be plenty of vantage points for spectators and a walk of less than a mile will enable you to see your favourites at three different points in the race.