Tag: county down

High on a Hill – The Mourne Walking Festival 2017

High on a Hill – The Mourne Walking Festival 2017

So with Derry Marathon now confined to the memory bank, it was time to find myself again for a few weeks before launching into another marathon training phase.

Not one to stick with the mundane, I set myself a challenge on a whole new level. The Mourne Walking Festival. Lets face it, I love the mountains, I’ll never run in them but I do love getting lost in my thoughts as I trek my way over them, never walking the same step twice.

It might sound a bit odd that I would take myself off on a walking festival- sure is it not for retired people? WRONG! I arrived to be greeted by those who like me just wanted to get up the mountains. People from all over the country, from across the water in England, Belgium, Germany and even as far afield as the US.  It was very multicultural and with that came the mutual respect for everyones beliefs, values and a common goal to enjoy the experience.

Being my first walking festival I was feeling very out of my comfort zone surrounded by people I didn’t know and no idea what lay ahead in the coming days.

Day 1- Spelga over the Mourne Way to Rostrevor.

So after a cracker few weeks weather’s.. .the weather gods decided it would be perfect to open the heavens and let it rain.

Standing at Spelga it was minging. But the Mourne Way was calling and with a spring in my step I was off. It wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded by those who were my pace and unlike running, I was in the lead group.

  I am convinced that I couldn’t even get that wet in the shower. However the craic was mighty, the stories and journeys of those out enroute where interesting and as we came down of Rocky (the mountain that I had a few weeks earlier watched runners catapult themselves down) I knew the track ahead well having run it a few times, including in pitch black at the 26 Extreme 10k Night Race in January. 


With it being a mixed ability group we stuck together between the guides. But day one was done and that evening I had the best shower ever! 

Day 2 Carricklittle Annalong to Ott car park, Slievenaman Road.

So this was the big Challange of the weekend. Right across the heart of the Mournes from one end to the other. There was going to be some big climbs but as always I kept in mind what goes up must come down.

Day 2 started with seeing all those drier versions of the people I had spent the previous day with. The sun had come out and knowing the route I couldn’t wait to get to Binnian and look over the middle of the Mournes. By far my favourite mountain ever.

We set off and as the first hour passed the group split up into those who where out to walk and those who where out to walk and take in the views and photo’s. A natural split in the group was welcomed and as we sat on the side of Binnian overlooking Ben Crom eating lunch, I felt that mountain moment set upon me. I relaxed, I felt calm and counted myself lucky to be apart of this festival. I love how the mountains are able to do that to your mind.

Discovering the actual way down from Binnian to Ben Crom was a tick on my list of things I wanted to figure out but the descent was short lived as we began the ascent back up at the other side of the Dam on the approach to Doan. 

Over marshland we went, navigating the bog cotton, hidden trenches and rivers we arrived in what I would say is the heart of the mournes as we where surrounded by the main mountains associated with the Mournes. On the climb to Loughshannagh the sky was clear and the rain from the previous day had left the ground green and glowing. 

Adding on an additional 2 peaks to the original route was welcomed by me as we climbed Carn and Ott before descending onto the Slievenaman Road. 

Growing up at the other end of the the Slievenaman Road it made me think about why it took me so long to get up the mountains in the first place. Maybe having them as your back garden I took them for granted but finishing that day I knew that I’d be back on that route again soon. 

The walk was finished off with a cool bottle of locally brewed beer with thanks to Mourne Mountains Brewery.  Perfect end to the day.

Day 3 The Rostrevor end of the Mournes

There was a choice to go for as multi peak walk on the Sunday but I had enjoyed the weekend so much and with an impending half marathon in 5 days I opted for the moderate walk and this time I had brought along Michael for company.

Lesson learned…never take someone with fresh legs with you on the last day of a walking festival. He was motoring up the tracks and cross country mountains with ease and although my legs where still hanging in rightly. I was glad when he finally took the pace back and realised it wasn’t a race and more an experience. 

With some members of the group recovering from the blister ball the night before and others who had been by my side for the past few days. 

As we made our way from Ballintur to Knockshee across the skyline we could see Slieve Martin in the distance. Again another hill and Dale classic where I wondered what lay beyond Fiddlers Green that had runners looking so ruined on the way back down. Although the weather wasn’t as nice as the previous day, the ground was still tight and as we went up and over many smaller hills and mountains it was let’s say, refreshing. 

With views out into Carlingford Lough to one side and the whole collection of the Mournes to the other. We could see the Tors of Binnian, the scene of the previous days adventure. And across the way Slieve Gullion poked out from behind the Cooley mountains. 

As we descended down past Cloughmore stone and into Kilbroney I was saddened that after nearly 5000ft in elevation gain and over 20hours out in the mountains that the weekend was coming to a close. 

Of course we finished the day off with another cool one and toasted a successful weekend where new places where visited, new friends made and where I saw through a challenge which was not only tough going  but enlightening and restored peace in my mind and body. 

Remember that time is ticking on the chance to vote for me in the Dublin Rock n Run Idol competition. As always scroll to the bottom and vote for Siobhan Grant!

http://www.runrocknroll.com/dublin/rock-idol/

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MAC Does Hill & Dale 2017

The Series race reports – to be added to weekly after each race

Hill and Dale, Race 10, The Meels

The Thursday evening tradition of Hill and Dale continues. This week it was race 10, the penultimate gallop for the MAC Mountain goats this series. It was just a little matter of 3.5 miles and 1800 feet of elevation between the start and the finish. With the route requiring an ascent of both Meelmore then Meelbeg from a starting position on the Trassey Road. I have always found it strange that ‘The Meels’ themselves offer their own quintessential Irish charm. In that Meelmore (Big Meel) is lower than Meelbeg (Little Meel) by no less than twenty five feet, discuss.

We welcomed bigger numbers back to the mountains this week with over 180 toeing the line. The impending heatwave promised by Barra Best had still not landed fully in the Mournes by then however we welcomed nine members to the race including Colm Devlin and Judith Robinson who are the only MACs to have completed all races so far. It was Stephen Cassidy who crossed the line to take the accolade for first MAC home. Coming in 88th place, he clocked a 45.09. He was soon followed by Declan McCormick fresh from his assault on the Mourne Way Marathon five days earlier. For someone who doesn’t know why he is continually turning up to each race, it is clear that not so deep down, he is beginning to really love the mountains.

There is a tale to tell of the next two across the line. After such camaraderie at Donard, Laura Lynch and Colm Devlin battled it out at the top of Meelmore. During the descent they both took different routes. As they flew down the side of the mountain it was the agile form of Laura who took first MAC lady home and just under 40 seconds advantage over Colm. I wonder has she let him forget it yet? Colm clocked an impressive 49.42.

Dave Fulcher, also fresh from his return to marathon life last weekend, tackled the Meels with gusto alongside the relentless figure of Judith Robinson who yet again tackled another route, giving everything she had. They finished in 52.52 and 53.20 respectfully.

Without a doubt, Liam Smyth does do the best mid-race pictures. As we were all treated to the reality of life mid-race during Hill & Dale courtesy of Liam, he finished in 55.37. We also welcomed back Andy Spence to the series and he held his own and took advantage of the fast finish to cross the line in 57 dead. A huge well done to Lorna, new to the series this year, she has come out time and time again and tackled new challenges and never once faltered in her performance taking proceedings home for Murlough in 59.51.

Afterwards, Colm took great pride in accompanying everyone back to Greenans for the post race refreshments. As people praised the spread as being “one of the best,” Colm reminded them that they were eating in Kilcoo and there was no better place!

This week we are all a bit emotional as we approach the last race of the series, Race 11- Drinnahilly, what will we do on a Thursday night now?  Moving to a Friday night this week and as always entry is a donation towards the two chosen charities this year, Mourne Mountain Rescue Team and Mourne Hertiage Trust. The series presentation will take place afterwards in O’Hares.

Hill & Dale Race 9 Loughshannagh

The weather wasn’t kind to the Mournes last week as the rain poured and filled the undergrowth of Loughshannagh for Thursday’s Hill & Dale. Notoriously the most challenging race of the series and it also being a NIMRA ‘short race’ added to the occasion.

 With numbers beginning to dwindle as some sense begins to return to the mountain running community now that they have completed the required amount of races for their spot prize. Others turned up just because they love a good mudbath up the mountains.

After Donard, the just over 4 mile route this year took and anticlockwise direction Carn as the first peak followed by a steep descent into the Mournes beach at Loughshannagh and onto Ott for a quick finish. 

There were only 2 MAC who were brave enough to take on the Challange along with the 156 others. With the MWM  featuring as a race to complete this weekend, many of our mountain goats sat this one out.

 Colm Devlin on course for a series full house donned his well crafted buff hat to take on the race. For the ladies Judith Robinson stepped up to the Challange together showing that there is nothing to fear from a wee jont out with Hill & Dales finest.

Colm put in a fantastic second half to cross the line in 1.10 minus the full face mask he is infamous for wearing at such mudslide events. Judith, equally mucked to the eyeballs put in a vallient effort to finish in 1.20. 

Hill & Dale Race 8 Millstone

So race 8 takes us back to Donard Park. 

If there was ever an advertisement for the bipolar nature of the weather in Northern Ireland, this years Hill and Dale series would be it. Last week the sun couldn’t shine any more, this week it was wet, miserable and in line with the rise of local sales of Jungle Formula, the midgies where out in force.

10 MAC took to the start line, some to make up the race numbers to 6, some to complete their score card and others because well…they just love a wee mountain.

In the shadows of Slieve Donard lies Millstone. Towering over the Granite Trial and home to nesting Buzzards. There where a few health and safety concerns after sightings and attacks from the resident Buzzards. However opting not to reroute this year the runners motored on up and back down again to what I can say was the best finish of the series so far. Just when you think people have nothing more to give, they pull out spectacular finishes, none more so than the immense finish by Newcastle ACs John O’Higgins.

As bodies were like ants crawling across the ridge and looking like they were tumbling down the side of the mountain, it was Mourne Runners William McKee that took the race win. 

For MAC, OC Young was first home as he stormed across the line in 41st place in 47.15. He was followed by Eddie Murnin who has now openingly admitted to enjoying the mountains and clocked a great time of 51.50.

A fantastic finish by Stephen Cassidy saw him take 91st place and tick another race off the list for this series in 53.05. Declan McCormick who managed to turn up with his vest on the right way round and his number in the right place continued his ‘I’ve no idea why I am doing this’  campaign and finished in 57.13. 

Colm Devlin continues to rack up a full house of races this series and gained himself an ‘airborne’ photo as he finished with style in 58.25.

Dave Fulcher also continues to put in strong performances mid week as well as at a plethora of local events at the weekend finishing in 1.02.

We also welcomed back Michael Neeson to the series as he gets back on track. Smiling the whole way to the finish, maybe a smile of loving life or one of relief or a mixture of both, he clocked 1.04 and another 1 down.

Nicola Mathers was first lady home for MAC. Although she looked like she had had a mud bath by the time she finished, it was actually a whole extended family of midgies that covered her and not dirt. She crossed the line in 1.05. 

Fionnuala Simmons is living for Drinahilly so she can hang up her mudclaws (for another year) and wear her hard earned H&D gilet with pride. In order to do so she took on Millstone and made great time on the descent as it seemed like the ground came up to meet her feet. She completed the course in 1.06. Judith Robinson, again took to the line after a busy weekend of running. She encouraged and came home 10 seconds behind Fionnuala to finish proceedings for MAC.

Next week there is no telling what the weather has in store but either way the crew from Newcastle AC will be at Loughshannagh at 6.30 checking your kit and offering a fresh mountain challange for all the mountain goats.

Hill & Dale Race 7 Slieve Moughanmore

This week we returned to the heart of the Mournes for Moughanmore, a Hill and Dale stalwart that has taken a few years off. An out and back affair with runners passing over Pigeon and then onto the summit of Moughanmore and back again. With some legs weary after the Donard Race 5 days earlier, other legs where raring to go. Unlike the bipolar weather conditions endured the previous Saturday where all kit was essential to cope with the changing conditions, the addition of Factor 50 was added for this race as temperatures soared into the mid 20 and we had guaranteed blue skies and sunshine for the whole event. 
Measuring 3.25 mile and 1560 feet of a climb, 205 runners toed the line and in amongst them were 11 MAC members. Leading the charge home in 42nd place was Kieran Young, finding his groove again back in the mountains clocking 40.26. He was the first of five runners in the club to make the top 100 in the event, the clubs biggest top 100 finish this series. Hugh pushed hard and took 67th place, sporting his new sunglasses bought specifically for running. Looking like a smaller version of the Terminator, he crossed the line in 42.57.
Sean Armstrong stayed hot on Hugh’s heels over the first climb much to the shock of the Coach when the photos emerged after the event. Sean took an admirable 81st place in a fantastic time of 44.59. He was soon followed by Stephen Cassidy who returned to the series and took 85th place in 45.35. Declan Mc Cormick, after braving Donard and upgrading to the full marathon at Mourne Way, must have been feeling invincible as he cruised home in 90th place in 46.20.
Colm Devlin proved his worth by even turning up to the race after a hot, humid and tough race the night before at the Bann 10k. After facing the sweltering conditions the previous night, he did it all again with a few bigger hills thrown in for good measure finishing in 48.48. Gerard Rowe and Dave Fulcher were next home in 50.33 and 53.57 both finding the heat adding to the challenges of the course. 
Judith Robinson was the first MAC lady home. Back on her home mountain turf, Judith dug deep to come home in 57.22. It was a series return for Liam Smyth, it was great to have him back in the mix and he completed the course in 58.51. Lorna Fitzpatrick completed the MAC proceedings for the day in 1.02 keeping her focus and drive with a quick return leg.
Next week we return to Newcastle for the Millstone. With warning signs out about Buzzards around the Granite Trail area, runners may be prepared to tackle more than a few 100 feet in elevation!

Hill & Dale Race 6, Donard

Marking the half way point in the H&D series was the infamous, Donard Race. This year due to it being an IMRA trials event, participants had to take on a different route, avoiding the Black Stairs and heading to the summit over the Saddle. The public walking route offers tricky challenges of its own, with the granite steps to the saddle posing hazardous to the average walker, never mind the seasoned mountain runner passing two fold as one goes up and one comes down, at speed.
It was a race of four seasons. It started out a glorious race as 258 runners toed the line on Main Street Newcastle. The streets where lined by family, friends, club mates and tourists who where amazed that these runners where about to run up “that big mountain, up there.” In amongst the mix where 12 of MACs finest Mountain Goats, of course lead by Kieran Young who had a score to settle with Donard after his last trip up.

With the summit clearly visible in the distance, it was looking like yet again it was going to be a scorcher of a day. However as runners began the main accent up past the Ice House, the clouds started to set in. It wasn’t long before the blue skies where replaced by heavy grey clouds which brought with it hail that you would expect on a stormy January afternoon, not the last week in May. This made for an even trickier decent than normal as footwear choice could have made the normal ground feel like ice beneath them. It didn’t deter an on form Zak Hanna from taking a home win as he cruised home to victory under the hour in 59.24, closely followed by William McKee in 1.01.

Leading his troops home was Kieran Young who was first home for MAC. Proud of all the Donard first timers and the fact his positive and slightly unhinged influence may have been the cause of many of them embarking on the Hill & Dale series this year, Kieran crossed the line in 1.20, putting to bed any hard feelings he had after his last race up Donard a few months back.

Eddie Murnin continues to amaze everyone as he made himself look like he has been running mountains for years instead of a few weeks. Even the hail that stung when it hit you didn’t deter him from crossing the line in 1.24. Another mountain newbie, Declan McCormick, who still wonders why he is lining up every week, pulled out a blinder of a decent in 37minutes to finish in 1.32. Proving that he has nailed his downhill technique or that he closed his eyes and hoped for the best as he made his way through the rocky terrain of the forest.

Turning up to the race in her Flip Flops, to ensure an automatic win in the MAC “Tourist spotting” game was our leading MAC lady, Laura Lynch, she did thankfully opt for a change of tyres for the actual race. Going from strength to strength, Laura kept her focus and with promise of her beautiful cupcakes at the end she powered home to continue her rein as first MAC lady home in 1.38. Joining Laura at the finish was Colm Devlin, who on reaching the summit together claimed “we are at the top together, we will finish together” And together they stayed to the bitter end. Laura was grateful for the experienced company and the craic was mighty even if the descent ahead was daunting. A true example of MAC teamwork at its finest

Again the race of pairs continued as race veteran Dave Fulcher coached first timer Fionnuala Simmons down the mountain for them to cross in 1.47. Next home was Nicola Mathers although not new to the series, it was the first time she was tackling the Donard race. Standing at the foot of Donard after the race she said “I will never look at that mountain the same again” knowing she had conquered it in 1.51.

Judith Robinson, armed with her glasses this race, enjoyed the climb to the summit which towers 850m above sea level. Seeing clearly on accent was not the story for the way down as the glasses where popped on the head and experience took her down the mountain in 1.54. Sean Looby, always fond of a great race picture smiled for every camera on the way up. His return to the series post marathon was marked with a 1.58 finish. Coming in under the two hour mark, Sean did say that the marathon was an easier challenge which highlighted the 6.5 mile tricky route and bi-polar weather conditions that runners had to endure on the day.

Making a return to the series and competitive running, Andy Spence crossed in the line in 2.09. It was the now regular H&D pairing of Colette McBride and “The Butcher” that swept around the final corner of O’Hares car park to finish in 2.16. It never ceases to amaze me that Colette enjoys every step of every race, putting faith in her own abilities and never being daunted by the challenge ahead. An inspiration and bench mark for other runners not just in Murlough but further afield that taking the plunge into the unknown at H&D isn’t actually as scary as it looks, after all the mountain can only go up so far and what goes up, has to definitely come back down again.

In five days time, its time to pull on the Mudclaws again as we head back to the heart of the Mournes for Moughanmore. If legs have recovered remember to bring your number and a full kit inspection will be in place, if you are to learn anything from Donard, it is that in the mountain, you need to prepared for everything changing in a matter of minutes.

Hill & Dale Race 5, Rocky

Thanks to Paul Fegan for the photo.

We’ve had Slieve Martin and Slieve Binnian, so to the rookie Hill and Daler, “Rocky” didn’t seem like too bad an idea, having conquered just one peak, a race, in the previous weeks. However it’s actually the Rocky Horseshoe by name and encompasses four peaks which show off the Mournes from the opposite side from last week.

As the cooler weather began to set in on Thursday evening, the 225 runners where given a break from the midgets for a change and conditions where perfect with little wind and great visibility. This race also offered spectators the opportunity to see runners at almost every part of the course and the clear evening allowed for you to see runners making their way along Altnataggart, Pearse Castle, Tournamrock and finally the summit of Rocky and down.

The course allowed for a fast start and finish, that’s if you had anything left after the previous 3 mile and it was clear the competition between McKee and Hanna was fierce as they merged onto the track to climb Altnataggart, shoulder to shoulder. It was a treat for those watching on as they were treated to runners hurtling themselves down the side of Rocky back onto the track, having to make a quick decision to find the best line down. McKee gave everything he had to ensure victory was his after the smart winning tactics from Hanna last week was evidently still raw in his mind.

MAC came out in force yet again and it was Eddie Murnin who was the first MAC to be spotted coming down Rocky with Hugh Oram hot on his tail. At 43.45 and 43.51 respectfully, the two men quite literally emptied the tank and made up places on the final 200m. It is also to be noted that Hugh, who hasn’t tackled Rocky in seven years, was able to boast about a 3 minute pb and proves the Coach is just like a fine wine, as his performances improve as the years go by.

Next to come hurtling down the mountain in 46.28 was the ever agile Stephen Cassidy, as he had every foot placement on point throughout the final descent to secure a top 100 place. He was closely followed by Sean Armstrong in 46. 44 who picked an excellent line down Rocky to arrive alive and smiling at the finish. It seemed that the MAC runners came in pairs on Thursday, Declan Mc Cormick and Colm Devlin followed next in 48.20 and 48.40. The pair were being hunted down by the ever impressive Laura Lynch as she held onto her crown as first MAC lady home in 49.01.

Gerard Rowe, like a mountain pro, clocked a 53.47 and just behind him, Nicola Mathers, who was assured by the fact that she had survived this race in previous years, tackled the descent with ease to come home in 55.49. Judith Robinson took on some of her favourite peaks in this race and clocked a 57.25.

Just over the hour, we welcomed Lorna Fitzpatrick and Sarah McKay safely across the line. Continuing to tackle the unknown and improving race on race, the hills are definitely building in the legs of these ladies and the Hill and Dale force is definitely strong within these two.

As high vis became evident on the mountain, in amongst them was Colette McBride bringing the race proceedings to an end for the evening. Colette, surrounded by the legendary Butcher and The Prophet himself, offered her thanks for the support, encouragement and of course craic had with the men as she made her way across the 4 peaks. She was quick to point out that without them, she would probably still be up there. A testament to the organisation and marshalling of the series and also a warning to both men, Colette is ready to take on Donard next week.

With the midway point in the series nearly upon us, we take this Thursday off to prepare for the highlight of the series as runners take on Slieve Donard on Saturday at 2pm. This year with Donard being a IMRA trial for the European and World Mountain Running Championships and as a first round of the Irish Mountain Running Championships, we expect a considerable field of elite athletes toeing the line in hope to be selected to represent their country alongside our own MAC Mountain Goats who will be out in force to tackle the biggest mountain in NI.

 

 

 

Hill & Dale Race 4, Binnian to the Top

All roads lead to Slieve Binnian on Thursday night for the infamous Binnian To The Top, Hill and Dale Race. Race 4 of the series seen over 250 runners take to the start line at Willies Field. A route which took you up a gradual climb along a gravel path to the foot of the mountain with a hundred metres of respite before you climbed over the Quarry and headed up along the wall, was not to finish at the Stile which was in sight on the accent. As the lungs burned and you had seriously questioned your sanity, the route took runners over the stile and left up to between the first Tor, finishing with spectacular views over the middle of the Mournes. 

Now don’t be fooled by the pictures, with the evening sun setting over Rostrevor, the climb up Binnian was all in the shade with a wind that would cut you in two. Runners scrambled for position at the start knowing it would be tough or taking your own life into your hands to try to pass runners on the climb. It was Newcastle ACs, Zak Hanna who made the break just before the stile as William McKee and him fought to the bitter end for first position.

On arriving across the finish line you were greeted with the very reason many people do the Binnian Race – the view. As beyond the finish line the wind that had whistled across the final accent was non-existent and basking in the evening sun, runners who had given everything took in the views of the valley and the middle Mournes.

It was the familiar face of our officer in command, Kieran Young that was first across the line in 32ndplace in 28.10, over a minute quicker than last year. He may have his sights set on Engeria 24 in July, but he is still MACs top Mountain Goat.

However, three days, post sub 4 marathon at Belfast, it was Eddie Murnin who was the next MAC home. With the attitude of “I’m going to give it a go” Eddie scaled the side of Binnian with relative ease and came across the line in 30.40 and 75th place.

It was the award winning off road runner of the year who was next to pop up on the summit of Binnian. Sean Armstrong took 86th place in 31.19 and was soon followed by Hugh Oram in 32.05. Declan McCormick narrowly missed out on a top 100 place however to finish in 33.40 for a man new to the series was admirable.

Colm Devlin didn’t just stop at the finish line in 34.10, straight after the race he was seen on top of the Tor looking down at the runners still to come and fully embracing the 360 degree views. Gerard Rowe and Stephen Cassaidy came in next as the sun began to set. Laura Lynch powered up the final accent to maintain her winning streak as first MAC lady home in 35.47.

She was followed by both Michael Neeson and Michael Power in 37.10 and 37.45 respectfully. I am sure team support was aplenty between Nicola Mathers  and Judith Robinson as they climbed the final few granite rocks to finish 11 seconds apart in 39.59 and 40.10.

The now Hill and Dale regulars who are training hard for the Mourne Way Marathon, Sarah McKay and Colette McBride, reached the summit unscathed. Both ladies have proven that mountain races are a battle of the mind and if you believe you can, you will. With fantastic times of 45.43 and 47.56, they are ones to watch as their confidence grows.

Lorna Fitzpatrick, who threw herself in the deep end last week at Slieve Martin come out again this week and closed proceedings for the evening with a huge smile, probably of relief, in 48.51. Also a huge welcome to the two honoury MAC members Fiona Kenna from Star of the Sea and Padraig o Connor Balbriggan Road Runners who braved Binnian under the leadership of our OC.

The MAC Mountain Goat contingent continues to grow and it was heard on the descent that “Those Murlough are everywhere.” Well what else would you be doing with your Thursday night? Next week Race 5 takes us to other end of the Mournes to Leitrim Lodge for Rocky. Remember as always, don’t forget your number and to have all essential kit with you.

Hill & Dale Race 3, Slieve Martin

You know when you are surrounded by special people. These are a whole new level of special people. Those who think a Thursday night is best spent running up and down mountains, defying death pretty much. I’m still to get the reason why people love to do this but I tell you this, I love watching it.

This week we headed for the first open mountain race of the 2017 series. A calm evening which didn’t feel as warm as an April evening should, mad people, I mean athlete’s, gathered at the foot of Slieve Martin in Kilbroney Forest Park. Amongst those ready to embrace it where the MAC mountain goats without their fearless leader.

249 runners took to the start line and as usual on time they set off at 7.30 for what I heard be described as a brutal race incorporating 4.25 mile, over 1700 ft and the first taste of open mountain.

The first half mile told the story. As the field of runners lead by Willie McKee took on the first climb the air of ‘why am I doing this’ filled the forest. They had started and they where going to finish. As the field left the forest and on to the final climb to the top of mountain it was Hugh who was leading the troops.

The descent was to be tricky and the fear of putting one foot wrong, did become a reality for a few. Yet for those in the club new to the series, they embraced it and cursed it all at the same time. In the absence of our officer in command who is saving himself for his favourite mountain next week, Coach Hugh was first MAC across the line in 93rd place in 46.53. He was followed by the smiling Sean Armstrong who on the last stretch of the race was loving life back in the mountains in 47.50.

In quick succession we welcomed Colm Devlin, Gerard Rowe and the first MAC lady home, Laura Lynch all in the 51st minute. Newcomer to the series this week, Declan McCormick was next to cross the line in 52.28 who was totally perplexed by the fancy dancey vest pins supplied on the day.

Michael Neeson made it 3 in a row with a 52.30 with Dave Fulcher and Michael Power taking it home for the boys in 54.10 and 54.55 respectively.

Judith Robinson embraced the descent after a tough climb and clocked an impressive 55.30. Nicola Mathers, who was disappointed that she didn’t get to take all her kit with her on the run but nonetheless delighted to finally have the coveted MAC jacket in the right size, colour and trim, crossed the line in 57.09.

A story could be told about Fionnuala Simon’s race that’s for sure. Missing a turn off, her and 2 other runners veered off track and without a reliable human sat nav like the club’s own Caitriona Carr who masterminded her way round 3 different cheer points at London last week, found themselves at the other end of Kilbroney. However even with that slight scenic detour she clocked a 1.03 and is delighted to see she continues her series run of 3/3.

Sarah McKay continues to impress as she crossed the line in 1.06 on her first open mountain experience. Lorna Fitzpatrick was embracing her first Hill and Dale experience and really did choose the hardest race as her first. It didn’t deter her though and she pushed through to finish in 1.07.

Collette McBride was sure to keep on going and had earned that post race cocktail sausage coming home in 1.13 to bring the evening to a close.

So next week it is not a case of what goes up, must come down. Race 4 will see runners take in the only way is up Binnian Race. Of course you will have to come back down but you are not required to run as it doesn’t count.
Hill & Dale Race 2, Tollymore

On Thursday, focus returned to the second race of the Hill and Dale series in our own backyard of Tollymore Forest Park. It doesn’t matter how many times you run around Tollymore, there is always a hill that you have chosen to forget existed until you are half way up it and cursing your great idea to follow this route.

The 4.5 mile course known as the Monument Route, differed slightly from last year but requests prior to the race from the coach himself to have the clubs new defib on hand was worrying regarding what shape some of the runners where going to cross the line.

For MAC there were many to brave the challenge of the second race, seen more as a warm up before hitting the open mountain next week at Slieve Martin. We welcomed back 11 of last week’s ‘victims’ and added in Collette Mc Bride, Michael Grant and Michel Power to the mix.

As the race set off which can only be compared to a stampeded of wildebeests. The thud upon the ground vibrated right around Tollymore as 278 runners jostled for position.

As runners went beyond the Boundary Wall they welcomed knowing that after 2.6 mile it was all downhill from there minus that hill at the end that many have erased from their memories from previous years.

It was the familiar outline of Kieran Young who was the first to approach the final hill for MAC in 39.48. Delighted to know that after this, the next 10 weeks he enters into his comfort zone where I am sure he will retain the glory of beating the now yellow and red clad Kenny.

Not far behind was Hugh Oram in 40.16, who chased his rivals up the hill displaying flawless hill technique to make a few places up on the final push.

Eddie Murnin took the race easy with his impending marathon but still came in strong in 40.50. With all three men coming in the top 100.

Sean Armstrong continues to quietly work his way up the standings in 42.34, with Colm Devlin not far behind in amongst one of his favourite training grounds in 44.05.

Michael Neeson return this week continuing to question his sanity on why he got himself mixed up in the series. However with an impressive 45.42, there is nowhere else he should be.

Dave Fulcher and  Michael Power took the race in their stride finishing in 48.29 and 49.08 respectfully.

It was the determined running of Laura Lynch that brought it home for the MAC ladies in 46.41 retaining her title as first MAC lady. She was followed by Fionnuala Simons in 51.09 and Judith Robinson in 51.49 who kept within a comfortable distance of each other throughout the race. The girls made perfect markers for Michael Grant as he embraced H&D for the first time claiming that the climb isn’t the problem, it’s the downhill, crossing the line in 52.45.

Also returning after their maiden voyage last week was Sarah Mc Kay who although fully aware now of what lay ahead was a lot more relaxed and smiled through the exhaustion as she came up the last hill in 58.08.

It was the relieved face of Collette Mc Bride who after last year’s final assault on the series finished proceedings for MAC on the night in 1.01.

Next week we head for the open mountain at Slieve Martin in Rostrevor. Runners please remember to bring along your numbers and mandatory kit – its not optional, its essential.

 

Hill and Dale Race 1, Castlewellan

13.04.17 MAC Group Photo

Thursday saw the return of the ever growing and popular Hill & Dale series.  A race series masterminded by neighbouring club Newcastle A.C. who not only know how to entice some of our members to their dark side but also know how to put together a gruelling and unconventional route for runners of the adventurous kind, maximising the stunning backdrops of the forests and mountains of South Down. 

As anticipation for the event mounted amongst the MAC virtual clubroom, it seemed that there were to be many new faces to take their maiden voyage round a Hill and Dale course in addition to our hard core and ever faithful mountain runners. 

With Race 1 being within the grounds of Castlewellan Forest Park it was showcased as one of the ‘easier’ routes of the series. When we say easier, that translates to 5.2 mile encompassing 3 hills that amounted to over 1000ft. Definitely not for the faint hearted but Team MAC fielded 14 members including 4 H&D first timers in Eddie Murnin, Michael Neeson, Fionnuala Simmons and Sarah Mc Kay.

It was the continuing formidable form of Hugh Oram that was the first MAC across the line in 42.31. Needless to say Hugh embraced those hills and added to his 2017 collection of personal bests and a top 75 finish for the Coach.  

It was the H&D newbie, Eddie Murnin who powered his way up the Castle hill next in 44.10. Proving that he is just great at everything, it seems, a proactive post race recruitment drive from fellow team mates was rife trying to commandeer him for mad mountain expeditions, in realising his mountain goat potential. 

Kieran Young, still carrying an injury from last weekend’s Donard race, gritted his teeth and showed why he is regarded as our Hill and Dale Officer In Command getting across the line in 45.05.

Next, we welcomed our Hill and Dale veterans across the line with Sean Armstrong, Colm Devlin, Sean Looby and Gerard Rowe pulling off fantastic performances to show that they have no fear at all even when they know what lies in front of them isn’t the easiest of miles.

Laura Lynch stood out throughout the race at all points and with that, was the first of the MAC ladies home. Digging deep on the hills and gaining ground at every opportunity to finish in 51.39, Laura’s return to impressive form continues to produce yet another stunning performance off the back of a 10k personal best in Hilltown.

New comer Michael Neeson showed great promise after the pre race nerves settled, to come home in a 51.51 and was followed by Dave Fulcher in 53.14.

However the rarely heard phrase around any trail race of ‘I really enjoyed that’ was said by one Nicola “I don’t know if I’m fit to run until I do” Mathers only 4 days post Paris Marathon. It seemed she was fit to run after all as she pulled on her freshly washed vest and put in an unwavering and what she obviously thought was an enjoyable race to come home in 53.16.

Fionnuala Simmons showing great promise on the hills on her first attempt at Hill and Dale with a strong finish up the final hill in 53.35. Judith Robinson was relentless on the climb to Slievenaslat making up several places on the assent. Testament to the potential she has for the future open mountain races in the series, definitely one to watch.

It was the sheer determination of Sarah McKay that captured the essence of the Hill and Dale series. New to the series, Sarah has had her sights set on doing a H&D race for a few months now. Not unnerved by the quick pace set from the off, Sarah stuck to her own plan and pace, putting faith in her training. She finished the race to rapturous applause from the Team as she took on the final hill in what was a journey that was more a battle in the head than in the legs and resulted in a commendable 1.02 finish. A great show from MAC both in the field and supporting.

Tomorrow (Thursday) we will be at Tollymore Forest Park for Race 2 of the series. All race details can be found on the Newcastle A.C. website. 

 

Hi ho, hi ho,  it’s up the mountain we go

Hi ho, hi ho,  it’s up the mountain we go

OK so next quest is the Christmas Cracker. 

Run by neighbouring club Newcastle AC, the route is nothing short of challenging.  Each year the route changes and spans anything from 8 to 10 miles. 

That’s alright if on road but since its Christmas, it’s a bit of Craic and sure we’ve plenty of hills on our doorstep they might as well throw in Slieve Na Slat and some muck too. I imagine this may be on par with Causeway Coast and as a Christmas Cracker Virgin I say this might just be the death of me.

Also the great thing about this race is the fact you do it in pairs! So who else fits the bill other than similarily mental running buddy extrodinare, Caitriona who I am desperate to get off the bench and back out there doing crazy things with me.

So the only way to train for this is really to embrace the hills. I’m still trying this embracing concept. In fairness I like hills and mountains and have walked too many of them the past few years. However I just don’t think I’m cut out to run up them. 
Though when has that ever stopped me from doing something?

So a Saturday night chat with Caitriona resulted in us deciding that instead of going round the lake to break her in again…we’d go up Slieve Na Slat. Sure it’s only 220m elevation. Not a patch on Donard or the likes more of a hill.

So as I woke on Sunday morning and looked outside, a heavy frost had descended upon  Castlewellan and it was starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Though the clear blue skies meant that on a hill you’re sure to get great views so in a bid to take advantage of the weather and get back up where I am happiest the time was set and at 10.30 Caitriona was there ready to rock n roll.
Layered up and ready for a few hours passing a Sunday morning. We headed for the hills. It had been brought to my attention that Caitriona had never been up SlievenaSlat so I was looking forward to the stark realisation of what exactly the cracker was asking of us as we began the short but steep climb to the top.

It wasn’t long before her face was as picture. Each corner brought another even steeper hill and even though I’ve been up it a hundred times it never gets any easier. 

Though as the tough bit was over and more stunning views came into full view, she began to see the reason why it’s worth it.

It was like a winter wonderland. The trees where thick with ice and as the ground began to thaw you could hear the leaves crunching and crackling. Icicles fell like rain drops and as you looked up beyond the trees there was a low mist engulfing the foot of the mountains as they towered above the white fields surrounded by cleat blue sky.
That’s it right there. That’s the feeling I love. Nothing beats being up the mountain..fact. Standing there, there was no denying the existance of a God. There was no way this can all coincidently occur at the same time. 

The walk was finished with all wee tour round the hills and down into the Cyprus Pond finishing the lake. 

I returned home less than 2 hours later; refreshed, content and realising I’ve a hell of a lot of work to do for the Cracker in 5 weeks. 

The Road to Rose

So I’ve been a bit side tracked the past few weeks.

In early March after a Friday Funday, where we nearly got stranded on Newcastle Beach as the tide came in, Lauren announced she was going to be a part of the Down Rose this year.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the Rose of Tralee, it’s basically a festival which goes on down in County Kerry every year where over 60 different centres send a young lady to represent their county/centre.. So we have 32 here in Ireland then the others are all over the world.

The winner embodies all that is pure and beautiful about Ireland. Everyone in Ireland has watched it at least once, it is pretty much part of religion to sit down and watch it in August with your granny.

However as a prestigious competition there are careful selection processes in place to determine who represents each centre. For the Down Rose Centre …that was 6 weeks of fantastic outtings and opportunities to try new things, make new friends and have the best of craic.

I’ll admit I was envious of seeing and hearing about where the Roses where now but it was a nice type of envy as I heard about the friendships and the laughter, wondering to myself the whole time…I knew I should have entered this when I was 21.

I was lucky enough to get to go along to a fabulous event at Jack Murphys Jewellers on Thursday after our breakfast hike up the mountain. I got to meet most of the girls and try on items of jewellery that would pay off my mortgage (yes I’m that old and sensible). I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t have married for love…money would have been better. (Only joking Iove is better. ..but love with money is a bonus)

I was blown away by an abundance of beauty and more so the cracking personalities that the 2016 Down Roses had. Each one of them special and unique yet equally full of the joys of life.

Behind the well posed pictures where a group of now friends for life, just out to have a good time and broaden their horizons.

I seen first hand why every young girl should be part of this process and was welcomed with opened arms to join them for some food after wards.

When I say food…I mean fast food, yes they were all human with good appetites. All dressed in the best of frocks we went from a high class jewellers to Friar Tucks and everyone sat down to chips and chicken. It was awesome.

As they chatted about the selection night, plans for gifts for the organiser and important items to pack, I actually felt like I needed to be packing a bag and joining them. I laughed and I also cried inside. All of these girls had their own reasons for doing this and it amazed me how fabulous and selfless they each where. Here were girls barely in their 2os making a huge impact on society daily beyond the normal daily grind.

Fast forward to Sunday. 

I had been getting updates from Lauren throughout the morning and needed to calm my own nerves. I felt so nervous for her and everyone else involved. I know standing  on stage or in front of a room of hundreds of people is something I can do and it doesn’t phase me. However I am 10 years older than most these girls and some where going to be singing and dancing, playing instruments and well Lauren was lifting weights ( classy chick).

I took myself out for a run and thinking about what lay ahead that night I pushed myself to complete my first 10miler. If they could get on stage and do that outside their comfort zone.  I could hit double figures. 

I lay about all afternoon…I felt useless. I could have been helping give them pep talks or being in room entertainment.  It was just awful knowing that between having their hair dragged out of them and make up on. They where having to answer questions and endure interrogation from a panel of judges.

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As I arrived into an sparsely filled room (to be on time, is to be late) the stage area that was to host 17 nervous ladies was luminous. After working in the Slieve for years as a teenager at various events and weddings the room had a completely different feel about it. It was personal now. The Roses would all take to the stage over the next few hours and for one of them the dream would continue on to Tralee.

I have taught many a young person in my time, every single girl who took to that stage was a credit to themselves and their families.  It’s a daunting prospect and they all nailed it. I honestly could have stayed there all night listening to them. Such powerful talents where on display and I am sure Gemma the organiser felt like I do on results day. All her hard work and inspiration clearly had rubbed off on the girls and they delivered.

I didn’t envy the job of the judges. I am sure before anyone took to the stage they were daunted by the task ahead after meeting them all earlier in the day and realising that there was no clear winner.

I was never so glad to know Lauren was 4th on. At least I didn’t have long to wait and as each girl before her came up on stage, I got more nervous.

As she took to the stage she relaxed into the atmosphere. Connor Phillips, the compere for the evening, straight out attacked my hard work in my very homemade banner.  I am not the world’s most artistic critter. ..actually I’m woeful but I put hours of work into it and was more so delighted that it would be more of a souvenir than anything else. The banner made it to the stage and I was totally mortified, yet strangely proud that everyone was forced to admire my hard work even if it looked like 30 kids had made it.

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After the poster hype Lauren was fabulous. She didn’t show any nerves, was clear and precise in her answers and I was so proud of her (I don’t think I can stress just how much so).

Just when the room thought she couldn’t shine anymore she came out to do her talent. I think the whole room was in shock at the little 5ft2 Lauren stepping up to do Deadlifting. 

Working her way up through the weights she was confident in her own ability and made it look effortless. At 110kg (twice her body weight) she had everyone in the room on their feet. I am sure she could have comfortably PB’d on the night had she went up to beyond her 140kg pb as the atmosphere was electric and I am sure the adrenaline was taking over. Though she had no need to, she had put on a fantastic show and everyone was in awe…exactly what doing a talent is all about.

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In the end only 1 could win. I’m sure if many of the other girls where in a different county, they’d have won. The title of Down Rose went to the very deserving Fainche who will do a fantastic job representing the County, I’ve no doubt about that.

I feel very privilege to have been able to be apart of the Down Rose journey and I will encourage anyone who isn’t as old as me, not married and living near a Rose Centre anywhere in the world, to get involved. 

For now though I have my memories and count myself exceptionally lucky to have a friend that rocks as much as Lauren! #alwaysnextyear #dontgiveuponadream

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Moving through the Mournes

I do look forward to Friday Funday every week.

It doesn’t even need to be a Friday…Any day during the week when I am able to get out into the fresh air, leave the headphones behind and enjoy righting the world’s wrongs with Lauren.

Our weekly adventures have had us encounter some near death experiences,  lead way to many awe inspiring ideas and of course the added bonus of spending time in amongst the fantastic landscape that is where we live.

It is a fantastic feeling to stand on Newcastle Promenade and look up to the mountains and say ” I’ve been there and there and there and there” we’ve worked our way up and down the mountains and across them, into the trails and woods that surround them and  beyond.

Ok we’ve been chased by deer, braved the elements and near got stranded as the tide came in but hey its all in a days craic.

This week we took ourselves to the other end of the mountains. Rostrevor is at the far end of the Mournes where they begin. The mountains span roughly 26 miles to Newcastle.

It’s not a place I’ve ventured to much. Let’s face it I was in Kilborney Park for the first time in January when I done a 10k. So was up for checking it out.

I have never encountered such a huge hill. I swear I would have felt safer walking up it than driving it. The car slowly pulled it’s middle class ass up the hill in first and I just hoped to god anyone coming down remembered to follow the one way signs! The laughs and giggles of the two of us as the car climbed.  It was soon becoming evident that this week’s Friday Funday wasn’t going to be about excerise but solely the adventure.

The view of the car park brought relief however even when the car should have been free wheeling it protested at us.

A short 5 minute walk straight uphill lay ahead. I could feel Thursdays circuits class burning in my thighs and being on my toes was the only way I was going to make it. There on the hill stood a big lump of rock, also known as Cloughmore Stone.

For once the views across Carlingford Lough into the Cooley Mountains where clear and you could take in the breathtaking views right as far as Warrenpoint.  It was beautiful and definitely on my list of places to take the kids this summer.

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It wasn’t long before we were back down again and back in the car for what was a downhill haven for the car that worked so hard to get up the hill.

We decided to take the scenic route home and scope out the other possible routes for Friday Funday. Well who’d have guessed we’d bump into Santa and his Reindeers. Santa’s Cottage is on the road and daily the man who plays santa walks the Reindeers.  It was a lovely sight to see on an April morning and nice to be so close to such beautiful creatures.

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So concludes this week’s installment of Friday Funday.

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