Special Preview: NIMRA to host British Fell Running Championships opener this weekend!

Mourne Highline Mountain Race ( Round 1 – British Fell Running Championships 2018):

Top class mountain runners from all over the UK and Ireland will descend on the stunning Mourne Mountains this weekend, as the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) host the first race of the 2018 British Fell Running Championships (Saturday 14th April 2018).

The Mourne Highline Mountain Race will see competitors summit some of Northern Ireland’s highest peaks as they make their way from Spelga Dam to Newcastle in the quickest possible time.

This point-to-point course was designed by the NIMRA to provide a testing ‘medium’ distance fell race specifically for the British Championship Series.

The race will start at the scenic Spelga Dam and finish in the well-known Donard Park.  Covering 15.3k in distance, with 1300m of ascent, the route offers a challenge to both the new and experience mountain athlete.  In terms of an overview, the course will take in many of the areas tallest and most challenging peaks before descending all the way to the finish in Donard Park (sea level).

The course:

Participants will be dropped off at Spelga Dam car park (Map ref 267274). From the Start (Map ref 268274), runners will take on short grassy climb to the summit of Slievenamuck (Map ref 275279), followed by a quick descent to the road crossing at Map ref 281279.  From the Road crossing, it’s a testing, heathery, climb to the summit of  Slieve Meelbeg (CP1 – Map ref 301279). The route then follows the Mourne Wall in an clockwise direction, from Slieve Meelbeg onto Slieve Meelmore Tower (CP2 – Map ref 306287).

Having crossed the Mourne Wall (stile) at Meelmore Tower, a steep rocky technical descent follows, before another steep climb to the Summit of Slieve Bearnagh (CP3 – Map ref 313281), then a long and at times slippery descent into ‘Hare’s Gap’. From Hare’s Gap,  the route again follows the Mourne Wall to Slievenaglogh Summit (CP4 – (Map ref 327291) and onwards to Slieve Corragh, before the final climb to the summit cairn of Slieve Commedagh (CP5 – 150m North East of the tower, Map ref 347288). From Checkpoint 5, the route is predominantly downhill to the finish in Donard Park.

Prior to reaching the finish area, runners must dib at CP6 (Map ref 362296), a stile on the edge of the forest, before entering Donard Wood. From the stile, a firebreak leads to a forest road and descends on small paths through Donard Wood to the finish in Donard Park (Map ref 373306). This section of the course from the stile at CP6 to the finish will be marked.

In normal circumstances, Carnethy 5 Hill Race (Scotland) and the Black Combe Fell Race (England) can be considered as relevant in terms of current form, given the distances, terrain and climbing.  That said, the English Championship opener at the Edale Skyline fell on the same weekend as Black Combe and subsequently attracted many of the top level competitors but would still be a true indication of current ability.

The Ladies:

The ladies race will see top mountain stars, such as the Carnethy Hill Running Club’s Jasmin Paris and Helen Bonsor, Eryri Harriers Bronwen Jenkinson and Miranda Grant, as well as the experienced Mercia Fell Runners duo Mel Price and Emma Gould battle it out against the evergreen Sharon Taylor (Helm Hill).

Other top ladies set to start include Caitlin Rice (Ribble Valley Harriers), Judith Jepson (Dark Peak Fell Runners) and Michelle Foxwell (Ambleside AC).

Northern Ireland athletes Shileen O’Kane (Lagan Valley AC), Ciara Largey (Lochaber AC), Esther Dickson (Newry AC), Megan Wilson (Dark Peak Fell Runners), Martsje Hell (North Belfast Harriers), Jackie Toal (BARF) and Mourne Runners pair Sarah Graham and Charlene Haugh, amongst others, will ensure the eventual victor will have to work hard for it.

Jasmin Paris was quite simply exceptional in 2016 into 2017, competing strongly against both male and female competition.  In what some would describe as an ‘untouchable’ year the Carnethy HRC athlete, was crowned Champion of the Skyrunning Extreme World Series, as well as smashing records at the three iconic UK ‘Rounds’, The Bob Graham Round, The Ramsey Round and The Paddy Buckley Round.

In 2017 Jasmin and partner Konrad welcomed their first child into the world and this will be Jasmin’s first real competitive event since.  Jasmin’s presence on the start line always brings some pressure, but ultimately, it will be great to see her return to Northern Ireland and compete against an array of British mountain running talent.

Bronwen Jenkinson is an obvious contender in our eyes.  The youthful Welsh star is the current British Fell Running Champion (including the U23 category). The Eryri Harrier is a past winner of the British and Irish Junior Mountain Running Championships, finished 2nd in Home Countries International and took a fantastic 3rd in the World Mountain Running Championships (Bulgaria).

This year, Bronwen has already competed in Northern Ireland, showing good Cross Country speed at the Antrim International XC Event in January (15th – 5.5k 21:50). In 2017, Bronwen took an impressive 3rd place at the Donard Challenge.  In taking the 2017 British title, the Welsh women has proven her class over various distances.

Caitlin Rice (Ribble Valley Harriers) won the recent Pendle Hill Fell Race in England and took 6th in the English Championship opener at the longer Edale Skyline in March.  Caitlin is a true competitor and could make the podium here. Mirana Grant took 2nd place at Donard Challenge in 2017 and went on to compete well in the overall Championship. In February she claimed 6th in what was a talented female field at Carnethy 5.

Emma Gould (Mercia FR) cannot to be discounted over this route either.  Also attached to the well-known Birchfield Harriers AC, Emma has recently shown good form over shorter, faster terrain but has fantastic experience in testing conditions and will enjoy this course, given the amount of ‘running’ involved.

Carnethy HRC athlete, Helen Bonsor is more accustom to longer, multi-day events but has also shown that she can compete over this kind of distance and terrain.  Although a former champion at Transapline and Salomon 4 Trails events, Helen has raced well over shorter, technical fell running courses.  In July 2017 Helen broke the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Tranter’s Round in Scotland (63k / 6100m).

Mercia’s English international fell runner Mel Price, a former V40 Champion is another contender, but her competitiveness in the open female category is what makes her worthy of mention.  Mel’s expertise lies in this type of course – the veteran star showed good form in a previous visits to these shores, taking 5th place at the longer Seven Sevens event in 2015. The 2016 British Fell Running Silver medallist will be a podium contender.

Likewise, V50 British Champion Jude Jepson (Dark Peak Fell Runners), has ran well in the Mournes before and will enjoy this course in current conditions. Sharon Taylor took 4th at Edale and 2nd second place at Howgills Fell Race in March and could lead this talented group of veteran athletes home.

Notable absentees include the likes of Nichola Jackson (Ribble Valley Harriers), Tessa Strain (Hunters Bog Trotters / Highgate Harriers) and Hannah Russell (Helm Hill), who have all shown good form in recent months.  If any of them do find themselves a place on the start list, they should be considered as contenders.

At local level, the outstanding Esther Dickson will be looking to lead the Northern Ireland contingent home again.  That said, the Newry AC star will have to hold off impressive Shileen O’Kane, Ciara Largey and Jackie Toal, as well as Sarah Graham, who has shown significant potential in the last year.  Esther won the opening round of the NIMRA Championship at Glenariff Mountain Race in March, whilst Shileen, took a good 4th place.

International athletes Megan Wilson and Charlene Haugh will compete well, both have previously shown quality against talented opposition.  Martjse Hell won the Maurice Mullins 25k Trail Race last weekend (1000m Ascent), and like Esther, Martsje’s combination of speed and climbing power could prove a big asset over this course.  Could we see a Northern Ireland female winner?

The Men:

Although the 2018 Northern Ireland leg of the British Championship start list doesn’t boast regular names such as Scottish international mountain runner Finlay Wild (Lochaber AC), former English Fell Running Champion Simon Bailey (Mercia FR), regular travellers such as Morgan Donnelly (Borrowdale FR), Tom Addison (Helm Hill Runners), Jethro Lennox (Shettleston Harriers), nor the Isle of Man’s popular Lloyd Taggart of Manx Fell Runners, it does contain an outstanding crop of international fell running talent.

The main contenders are likely to be Rob Jebb (Helm Hill), Carl Bell (Keswick AC), Rob Hope (Pudsley and Bramley AC), Danny Hope (Horwich RMI Harriers), Kim Collison (Borrowdale FR), Rhys Findlay Robinson (Dark Peak) and Joshua Jardine (Helm Hill), amongst a few other notables.

Calder Valley Fell Runner Ben Mounsey, Martin Mikkel-Barron (Borrowdale), the speedy Sam Stead (Keswick AC) and the ever present veteran Karl Gray (Calder Valley FR), as well as Northern Ireland men Jonny Steede (Glens Runners), Seamus Lynch (Newcaslte AC), Gavin Mullholland (Calder Valley FR), Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC) and Ryan Stewart (Shettleston Harriers) will also be at the sharp end of the field.

Breaking it down, former (four times) British Champion Rob Hope, the classy Yorkshireman Rob Jebb and current (joint) British Champion Carl Bell look like the favourites for us.

Each of the three have shown some form in recent months, but it’s Carl who has impressed most.  The Keswick man started his 2018 off with a win at the Classic Carnethy 5 Hill Race in the Pentlands (Scotland), then in March he took victory at the Edale Skyline, before securing top spot at the recent Coledale Horseshoe event, two minutes ahead of Robb Jebb.

Robb Jebb, now running for Helm Hill Runners, took 5th place at Carnethy, before a below par performance at the English Championship opener in Edale (12th).  Rob then impressed with an emphatic victory at Howgills Fell Race  (30th March) before taking 2nd at Coledale last weekend.  Helm Hill Runners normally travel in mass, this event looks to be no different.  Another standout athlete on their team sheet looks like young Joshua Jardine.  Joshua came to light early in 2017, then took an impressive 3rd place at the Donard Challenge and subsequently went on to win the U23 British title. JJ claimed 6th position at the challenging Edale race in March, but we believe he could go better than that this weekend.

International Mountain Athlete Rob Hope, raced to a clear victory over the short Pendle Fell Race last weekend. Other than that, the accomplished veteran has been keeping a low profile of late! Is this weekend his time to come to the fore?

2016 British Championship winner Rhys Findlay-Robinson (Dark Peak Fell Runners) always has a strong run in a talent packed field like this.  Rhys took 7th in the Donard Challenge in 2017, but should go better over this course, given the nature of it. A 4th place at the competitive Coledale Horseshoe shows that he’s in relatively good form.

Calder Valley Fell Runners, Karl Gray and El Capitano Ben Mounsey may not be in contention for the win, but will be looking for a podium spot. Karl, a V45 World Champion Mountain Runner finished in 7th at Edale, whilst former GB International Ben has been quiet of late, but will undoubtedly be ready for the British Championship challenge.

Northern Ireland man, Gavin Mulholland will be looking for a similar result to his Calder Valley team mates, given his improvements in recent years, the NI international should not be discounted, particularly over this route.

Kim Collison (Borrowdale) is a man known to the local mountain running scene in Northern Ireland.  The GB international trail and mountain star is a previous winner of the Garmin Mourne Skyline Mountain-Trail Race in the Mourne Mountains and followed that up with a win at the iconic Seven Sevens British Championships event.  Kim has the pace and the obvious experience to cope well here.

Three times winner of the gruelling Fellsman Ultra, Adam Perry (Helm Hill) is another man worth considering.  The Inov-8 athlete’s talent over the long distance speaks for itself, he can climb, but will need a turn of pace to stay with the likes of those previously mentioned.

Another man with the ability to make the podium in this classic event is Danny Hope (Pudsey & Bramley). The England International Fell Runner took 5th place at Black Combe in March.

Andrew Fallas (Carnethy HRC) has stepped up a level in recent years, with impressive runs at the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Race and then top finishes at two Syrunning Extreme World Series events, at Tromso and Glencoe, against very talented competition.   The Scottish international runner is good over the longer distance, but we think that this course and distance will compliment his talents.

Borrowdale athlete Martin Mikkelsen-Barron (2nd at the recent Grisedale Grind race), Ski Mountaineer Ben Bardsley (Borrowdale) and Inov8’s Ben Abdelnoor (Ambleside AC) will all be looking for top ten positions – likewise, charismatic Matthew Roberts (Calder Valley FR) will be hoping for the same. Matthew has plenty of experience racing in Northern Ireland and with his pace and ability to descend, will keep those around him honest.

Sam Stead started 2018 on the roads, in Northern Ireland, clocking a 15:00 5k at the Brooks Armagh International Road Race.  Sam then moved into the mountains again, racing at Edale and finishing in 13th place.  Having recce’d this route (in tough conditions), Sam knows what he’s in for and that could be a big advantage with the different aspects to this course.

Last but by no means least, are the Northern Ireland hopefuls.  Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC) has returned to fell running having spent a few years racing on the roads.  Seamus has won two out of two NIMRA Championship events so far in 2018 (Glenariff and The Fallows).  Only last weekend the Newcastle man won the European Championship Ireland team trial race in Tipperary against a strong field.  Jonny Steede, who like Seamus, is a former NIMRA Champion and recently took a break from the mountains, has returned and shown that he still has the qualities to compete at the highest level.  The international mountain star will run well here.

Ryan Stewart, a Larne man competing for Shettleston Harriers, is a very strong climber, likewise Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC), both also have pace.  When it comes to descending, there’s room for improvement, but these young men will relish this competition and it will bring the best out of them.

Allan Bogle (City of Derry AC) is another participant who runs best against top quality competition.  It was only a few years ago that the Northern Ireland international won the home leg of the British Championships, in what has been the toughest conditions in some years (remember the ‘fog year’?). Allan will be amongst the top NI runners and a contender for the top ten.

Note:  NIMRA have advised that no on the day entries are available for this event.

Our normal weekend preview will be online tomorrow morning (Friday 13th April 2018).