Newcastle & District AC Weekend Racing Notes

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Zak Hanna excels again – this weekend at the Italian Mountain Racing Championships

Three weeks after his brilliant racing weekend in Malonno, Lombardy in Northern Italy, with a 3rd in Piz Tri Vertical Kilometre (Saturday) and a 5th in the Fletta Trail (Sunday), Newcastle & District AC’s (and Dromara’s finest) Zak Hanna made the trip back again to Northern Italy. This time it was for the 32nd Version of the Challenge Stellina in Susa, northwest of Torino (Turin). Along with Sylvain Cachard (France) and Miran Cvet (Slovenia), they were the only non-Italians in the race in this the strangest of years. The race was also the ‘Campionato Italiano Senior di Corsa in Montagna’ or the Italian Mountain Racing Championships.

The font of all knowledge of mountain racing Italian style is ‘corsainmontagna.it’ and their race preview suggested that Cesare Maestri (2nd in the World Mountain Racing Champs) and Francesco Puppi (2nd in the World Long Distance Mountain Racing Champs) would be the ones to beat. Also mentioned were Henri Aymonod (the Italian with a French name), winner of the Piz Tri Vertikal three weeks ago, Alex Baldaccini, winner of the Stellina in 2015 and 2017, the Dematteis twins, Martin and Bernard, former European Champions and Cachard and Hanna.

A two-hour flight on Friday morning, having battled from 3am in the autumnal storm to Dublin, and Hanna landed in Milano Bergamo where the first thing he noticed was that it was sunny and warm. Trains from Milano to Torino and then up the Susa Valley and around 6 hours later he was installed in Susa where it was 29C. With a weekend of unbroken sunshine ahead of him, he reflected on how lucky he was to have a love of the mountains and be able, especially in the middle of this difficult year, to be able to compete like this.

The race itself promised 22C in the shade at start time Sunday – 9:15am.

The profile above shows nearly 2k almost flat through the town of Susa before the climb begins and it is steep. With a little respite around 6.5km, the climb between 2km and 11.75km (just under 10km) is 1,500m or just over 4,900 feet or 500 feet more than Ben Nevis or nearly twice (1.75 times) the height of Donard. After all that, there is nearly another 3km where the runners have to find their running legs again. In all 14.3km to a mountain top finish with climbing of 1,630m (5,348 feet) and descent along the way of 210m.

Race day dawned without a cloud in the sky and with the temperature already soaring, Hanna joined the front row of the ‘formula 1’ style grid designed for social distancing wearing his mask. The mask was obligatory for the first 500m. Hanna tucked into the front bunch that was a who’s who of Italian mountain racing. Just in case anyone thinks that mountain racing is only for slouches the first 2km of this race was basically flat through the town of Susa – Hanna covered the first mile in 5:09 and then at 2km the race turned steep. He climbed well, as ever, encountering a difficult patch around the middle and then at about 9.5km he spotted Baldaccini ahead of him, a past winner in 2015 and 2017.

The end of the hurt locker for Hanna – destination achieved – only 24 years of age and reputation building…

By now Hanna was in 10th place and with his climbing legs feeling good again set about moving up the field. He caught Baldaccini and kept pushing and onto the final 3k, with false flats and true flats at over 6,000 feet altitude, Hanna surged to cross the line in a brilliant 8th place. In the process he had taken the scalps of not just the former winner of the race Baldaccini but also Puppi, 2nd place in the 2019 World Long-Distance Mountain Racing Championships and Bernard Dematteis former European Mountain Racing Champion.

An Irishman abroad, only 24 and a big reputation building…

A sign of the times – the podium guard of honour 6,000 feet up for the Italian Champion – Hanna 3rd from left

32nd Challenge Stellina (Italian Mountain Racing Championships) Results

1st Cesare Maestri (ITALY) 1:20:51

2nd Sylvain Cachard (FRANCE) 1:21:19

3rd Martin Dematteis (ITALY) 1:22:20

4th Henri Aymonod (ITALY) 1:22:32

5th Luca Cagnati (ITALY) 1:24:55

6th Daniel Pattis (ITALY) 1:24:57

7th Miran Cvet (SLOVENIA) 1:25:28

8th Zak Hanna (IRELAND) 1:25:57

9th Alex Baldaccini (ITALY) 1:26:21

10th Alberto Vender (ITALY) 1:26:34

 

Newcastle & District AC at the Races

The sound of hi-tec racing flats reverberated around the horseracing turf of Down Royal on Saturday as the ChampionChip Ireland Road Race Series continued following its event at Eikon Balmoral three weeks ago.

It was only the 22nd of August but could easily have been mistaken for late autumn as the blustery conditions from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ellen continued to cause havoc in the quest for personal bests – but testament to the consistent running many had done during lockdown and throughout the winter before, there were many personal bests achieved.

First up was the 5km at 10am, won by Mourne man Andrew Annett in 15:03 in a sprint finish with Annadale’s Eskander Turki (15:04). Three weeks ago, David McNeilly, who now graces the ranks of the M40 category, ran a 10k PB of 33:03 (nearly 2 minutes inside his previous lifetime best) and came home today in 16:09 for a PB of 50 seconds dating back over 7 years.

Next clubman home was Niall Goodman in 16:53 just 3 seconds outside the time he set at Eikon, he was slightly disappointed but the run consolidates the improvement he has made this year. Ever improving Francis Tumelty is now in the M45 category and after just missing out on his 5k PB three weeks ago with a 17:24 clocking in Eikon, he smashed his 17:22 from the Bay Road 5k in 2015 with a 17:11 PB here at Down Royal – will he get under 17 minutes in the near future?

Still just 15 years old, Tom Crudgington doesn’t much like running on the flat, instead he loves the hills and mountains. However, he’s learning that he needs to improve his running on the flat to take it into the mountains and today he set a PB by around a minute with his 17:23 clocking – with a bit more pace control it’ll not be long before he goes below 17 minutes.

Three weeks ago, Phil Murdock who since last December has graced the M50 category, ran a massive 10k PB of 36:39 having also set a new half-marathon best in March of 1 hours and 23 minutes. Today he broke the 18-minute barrier for the first time clocking 17:57, another big improvement.

Mark Holland has shown steady improvement in training and is another who is getting faster as he gets older, now in the M50 category. With a previous best of around 19 and a half minutes, he smashed that today with a brilliant 18:31clocking, a fine product for all the work done.

Mark Holland heading into the finish

Nichola Watson has had injury troubles but over the past couple of months has been training consistently again. Wondering beforehand if she would be strong enough to dip under 20 minutes, she put any doubt to rest with a brilliantly paced race to record a lifetime best of 19:44. Also returning to racing, this time less that 6 months after giving birth to baby Rónán, Ashlene Mussen surprised herself in recording a very strong 21:23.

The 5k Mob & Guest – Front Row: GMAC with his angels (Gerard McAuley with Nicola Watson & Ashlene Mussen): Back row – Tom Crudgington, Niall Goodman, Mark Holland, Phil Murdock, Richard Rodgers (20:23) & David McNeilly

Next up was the half-marathon and as ever a glutton for real punishment, Thomas O’Gorman toed the line on the back of his 1:16:28 PB at Eikon three weeks ago. Today, with conditions a bit harder, he had to settle for 1:17:40 and 6th place.

The final race of the day was the 10km where Lisburn AC’s Chris Madden won in an excellent 30:17. Three weeks ago, Aidy Brown was gutted to run 10 seconds outside 34 minutes and 1 seconds outside his best and he vowed to return today and put the record straight. He ran brilliantly to record a big PB of 33:56 and dip under the 34-minute barrier for the first time.

James King has been a revelation over the past year and after a wee hiatus during the first half of lockdown has put in a very consistent block of training. He was rewarded with a big PB on Saturday of 35:10 and also demonstrated he has learned the art of how to run a quick time – 17:42 for the first 5k and a swifter 17:28 for the second half.

At Eikon three weeks earlier, Frank Cunningham had run a PB of 36:29 and today came back and blew that out of the water to record 36:19 and a PB by 10 seconds. Also competing, were Paul and Áine Gosling with Paul aiming to help Áine break 40 minutes. It turned out to be a very tough day at the office with the pair coming home in 41:13 & 41:14 respectively – really disappointing for Áine after all the excellent training, but tomorrow’s another day.

After a lean spell of racing that even led him to vow maybe to never run another 10k, Gerard McAuley or GMAC to his acquaintances demonstrated that he was getting back to good fitness with a well-judged 42:02 (a 21:28 first half and a 20:34 second half) – congratulations to him.

Race Report by BOGBOY