Photos by Ryan McDonald
Report By the big fellows, fellow’s
Glorious sunshine greeted the hundreds of spectators and competitors that turned up at Tollymore forest park on Thursday past. Two hundred and forty three runners entered the main senior event, the Monument race, and 75 children took part in the primary and secondary school races. Added to the participants you also had wives, husbands, siblings, granny’s, grandads, cousins and doting parents and suddenly Tollymore was a hive of activity.
Not a place to rest.
The Monument race was reintroduced this year after an abstinence of a few years and hopefully it will remain in place for a while as it offers a bit of something for everyone, from the road runners, the trail runners to the more mountainous types. The start of this race sits on a beautiful elevated site with a stunning backdrop of the Pot of Legawherry, a place our very own Paul Og hopes, when he passes on, can have his ashes scattered. However at least for the sake of the race directors he was still available this year to help with the marking of the course. Talking of the other world, the Monument it self was also built by Lord Roden in memory of his son who died in 1800’s.
Apparently the course offered such a wide variety of terrain that some athletes even needed the assistance of their extended family to help select the appropriate footwear for the race, a selection of shoes had been brought to suit every type of terrain from fell studs, trail and racing flats that it proved almost impossible to choose the correct foot wear to cope with the wide range of under foot conditions.
Health, safety and warnings lights!
A slightly different start to the race was used this year for health and safety reasons due to the growing popularity of the series, which meant the race began with a very fast downhill sprint. When the starter Frank Morgan blew his whistle all 243 athletes took off down the grass monument field and along the river, but as the saying old goes “what goes down, must go up” and in true hill and dale spirit by the time the competitors were directed right at the “bomb hole” by Marshall in charge Mr Lawrence Hamilton a few oil lights were already beginning to flicker.
Just when you thought it could get worse?
The race then turns sharply towards the uphill section along what is affectionally known as the “Chute” to one of the highest points in Tollymore forest park called “Curraghard viewpoint”. No time for sight seeing here though, instead it’s a fast run and over the stile onto the open mountain, known as the White Plains. The runners then had to negotiate the small but tough mountain at the back of the forest park and after summating this, it’s all flat out running back over many different surfaces from open mountain, stoney trails, grass and of course plenty of deep mud. At last and just when the athletes thought they had finished they where turned right and onto the final section and the famous “green rig”, a really steep grassy bank which was still decorated with broken egg shells from the Easter egg rolling races last Sunday.
Where the equals stand out?
This year, may well be the year that Newcastle AC’s David O’Flaherty proves that all men are born equal, it’s just that some are more equal than others. There is no doubt David has a special talent and can make the art of running look easy. Although there may have been a few of the usual big hitters missing at race 2 due to the Northern Ireland mountain race being held on Saturday, David is still the man in form, and from the off, he was in the lead powering his way around the course to once again win in fashion and make it 2 out of 2 so far in the series.
Newcastle have great strength in depth this year after the club proved this after having a very successful cross country season under the tutelage of David Mc Neilly, who we also hope will be back in action soon. Another Newcastle AC athlete, David Steele who again is having a brilliant season, shows he is not only Steele by name but also has a steely determination coming home in second place adding another podium position in this years series. Mr Consistent, Neil Carty, arrived home to take third. It is great to see three North Belfast Harriers in the top seven, showing just how popular the hill and dale series has become by attracting people from all art and parts of the country. Fourth and maybe the find of the season was Colm Murtagh, who in a previous guise was a very talented footballer, Colm again proves some are more equal than others.
Paul Watson had his best ever Hill and Dale result in ninth although this effort may have been gained from a training regime spent more on the bicycle than from running. The residents of Castlewellan must get their mail early than most other towns as in eleventh place, was Michael King who surely most be the fastest postman in the area.
Three Mourne runners filled twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth positions with a fine run from Richard Bell who finished just a head of his two team mates, Eddie Hanna and Gary Bailey, two past masters of the hill and dale series. It was fantastic to see these two great athletes back in action and back in contention.
Over to you ladies
In the ladies competition, pre-race favourite, Diane Wilson, twenty eighth overall may have wanted an easier run as she prepares for Saturdays Commedagh Chase, but this was not to be the case and was pushed hard all the way to the line by the ever improving Catherine O’Connor, thirty first overall with only five seconds separating them. Multiple hill and dale series winner Shileen O’Kane, in forty fifth position, completed the podium places in the ladies race. Not sure what tactics Shileen and hubby Donal had planned when they swapped race numbers before the race start, maybe Donal thought he could confuse the timekeepers and claim a higher placing for himself? but all is well that ends well and the confusion was soon sorted.
Family always comes first.
The Blayney Rockets AC are certainly living up to their name and have taken off in style this year by propelling Francis Nugent to a brilliant fifty fourth place overall. It’s just a pity he couldn’t help fly his brother Conal, leaving him at the back in the airport in 235th position.
It’s Great to see some of the more recent recruits and hill and dale stalwarts still competing hard all through the field with the likes of Denis McKay 220th, Paul Fegan 213th, Fred Strickland 198th, Horace De Courcy Wheeler 163rd, Brain Hamilton 150th Harry Teggarty 112th, Stewart Cunningham 82nd to name but a few, battling hard in this extremely competitive field.
One of the main attractions of the hill and dale series is, no matter where in the field you finish it’s all about the bragging rights from one week to another. This happens between friends and colleagues alike each and every week. If it’s not the race between the “forestry boys,” it’s the inter club races that take place. Rumour has it that it’s not only the premier league teams that are trying to recruit new coaches, but secret coaching sessions are being sought after between the East Down boys, as some believe that Gavin Oakes’s impressive 46th place finish just behind his team mate Philip Vint, was due to the coaching he is receiving from his back room staff of “Rogie, Walter, McAuley, Fitzy and Raymie”.
Neil Mc Veigh in 142nd showed its hard to loose some of the old football tactics by tugging the shirt of Rory O’Hare 143rd as Rory tried to overtake him on one of the descents. It’s a pity however Rory was out of arms reach as he could have repaid this compliment, as Neil was able to just hold him off on the green rig to finish just a head.
When the sun comes out to play, the boys and girls all ran away.
The weather certainly makes for a much more enjoyable event, and I must say it was both a pleasure and honour to witness a great evenings entertainment in tollymore forest park. A massive respect to all 240 finishers as everyone completed a very testing course within sixty minutes, a credit to their preparation and training and each and everyone should be very proud of themselves.
A great deal of thanks must go to everyone who helped in the organisation of the race, both in Seniors and the Junior events. Let us not become blasey to the work of all the marshals, timekeepers, registrars, results compiling etc, without these people races such as these just would not happen. Thanks also to the Anchor bar, for their hospitality and very tasty food at the post race prize giving. It’s amazing what lengths people will go to in order to receive the much sought after Hill and Dale Mug even some claiming to be a first time racer for the 2nd or maybe 3rd time although we won’t mention any names sure we won’t Laura Lynch?
Next week sees the beginning of the more open mountain running at Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, for the beautifully tough Slieve Martin race. Remember to bring your full body cover in a bum bag in case of inclement weather.
** IMPORTANT NOTICE : Any runner who knowingly competes using another athletes race number will be disqualified from the Hill and Dale Series and all future NAC organised events. This could have serious implications for runner, marshals, race organisers and other competitors. **
Race 2 of the Series will take place on Thursday 24th April in Tollymore Forest Park.
– Please be aware that the course is NOT the same as last year and part of the race will be on the open mountain. It will follow the same route as the ‘old monument’ course.
– Please bring full body cover and be prepared to carry it if necessary. An announcement will be made prior to the race start to let you know what kit is mandatory.
– Registration will open at 6:15pm and close at 7:15pm. Race will start at the Monument at 7:30pm sharp.
– If you forgot to hand in your number last week please bring it with you on Thursday night to registration.
– All numbers must be handed in after the race. A container will be available at the finish for collection of numbers.
– Car parking in Tollymore Forest Park will be free for all competitors and everyone is asked to use the carparks. Parking on grass verges is strictly prohibited.
– If you have not already registered please download this Entry Form, complete it and bring it with you to registration.