Rodgers rolls back the years and holds back the tears in Tollymore Trail Marathon

Paul Rodgers under the watchful eye of Wonderwall.

Paul Rodgers under the watchful eye of Wonderwall.

26.2 miles with over 5000 feet of climbing makes the Extreme26 Tollymore Trail Marathon ‘a fair test of running’. Thankfully conditions were ideal and the wind and rain of the Friday evening had abated to enable the 742 athletes taking the line for four different races (Ultra Marathon, Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K) to complete the courses in relative calm. Newcastle AC had two competitors, both taking on the challenge of the full marathon, a 13.1 mile loop twice. David Hicks ran a great race to come home in 4th place overall, missing a podium by just under 3 minutes.  He was strong in the first half, recording 1:30:55 for the first lap, a time many would be happy with on a pan flat road. Invariably the second half becomes tougher and the climbs more challenging as fatigue sets in. Few athletes would record the elusive negative split on a course like this. Notwithstanding this, Hicks worked extremely hard in the second half and came home in 3:12:09 – a time he can be very proud of.


Not bad for a ‘newbie’

Trail marathon ‘newbie’ Paul Rodgers also took the line. Aiming for two sub-2 hour loops to bring him home around the 4 hour mark, he set off confident in the knowledge that an army of adoring disciples were strategically placed en route to provide technical support and proffer words of wisdom – something that many of the NAC faithful excel in. Wonderwall took up the role of ‘chief supporter, pacer and all round good egg’ in the opening stages and was full of wisdom; regrettably he never acts on his own advice in races! The ‘Big Engine’ was firing on all cylinders as he passed through the first half checkpoint in 1:47:57, much to the chagrin of his new coach who was repeating a well-rehearsed mantra – ‘keep her steady’. With Rodgers safely through the first half the cheering posse withdrew to Newcastle for some much needed sustenance before picking up their man in the later stages to bring him home strong. During their temporary sojourn he was joined by the ‘lonesome bikeman’, who, like so many others in the club had plenty of advice to offer to anyone who would listen. Rodgers had more sense and feigned interest by nodding occasionally. Big Jarlath was also out on the course to lend his words of encouragement – Aunt Sally would have been very proud of her favourite adopted nephew! Despite the challenge of the ‘long haul’ at around 22 miles and the final climb up to the Barbican Gate, Rodgers hung in superbly and came home well ahead of target in 3:48:22, a time good enough for 23rd place overall. Well done to both men on great performances.


Percy Pacer

A major milestone in many a runner’s career is to ‘Break the 40’ for a 10k and for Frank Cunningham this has been a target that up to now has eluded him. On several occasions this year alone he has got to within 30 seconds of this magic target, but has ran out of steam in the closing stages each time. At the Belfast half he comfortably offloaded another monkey by comfortably beating the 90 minute mark for 13.1 miles. Drastic action was needed to secure the sub-40 and a plan was hatched by his long suffering Coaching Team to head to the Holywood Exchange on a cold windy Sunday morning on 6 November to compete in a low key Decathlon 10k. This flat course was the perfect opportunity to cut the 30 seconds needed to break the 40. Coach Carson was nominated and sent down with strict instructions from Coaches Higgins & Murtagh to pace Frank for the first mile.


Slow down, you move too fast!

Race morning arrived and Frank got to the start line with only one thought in his head, ‘If Ireland can beat the All Blacks, I can break 40’. Whilst this positive thinking is actively encouraged, on this occasion it threatened to push the carefully rehearsed race plan from Frank’s mind and as the race started it took Coach Carson’s best efforts to catch up to Frank and convince him to slow down. But slow down he did and with Carson’s job to pace the 1st mile at 6.15 done he dropped back and watched as Frank steadily pulled away. At the turning point he was still on target and even the stiff headwind on the home straight couldn’t stop him as he cruised home to smash the 40 minute barrier. His finishing time and new PB was 39:43 – job done! Onwards and upwards now, next target the 3 hour marathon?


Racing ahead

The next few weeks will be busy for the club with the Acorns XC in Cookstown on 19 November, the Seeley Cup in Ormeau Park on 26 November, the Malcolm Cup XC in Ballyclare on 3 December and the Gridle in Saul on 4 December.


Jim Patterson won the M70 category in the British & Irish Masters International Cross-Country in Tollcross Park in Glasgow. Patterson came home in 23:59, 12 seconds ahead of his nearest rival Ireland’s Frank Reilly with Scotland’s Stewart McCrae 3rd in 24:25.


Another Newcastle & District AC clubman running in the International was Francis Tumelty who was 4th Northern Ireland man home in the M45 category in 28:14 just ahead of Omagh’s Martin Wilcox.