Cunningham and Wilson confirmed as NIMRA Champions (report courtesy of NIMRA):
Now that the fell running season is starting to wind down it is time to reflect on the NIMRA championship which concluded after the Bearnagh race on the second last Saturday in August.
The series kicked off on a dank, misty day in Slieve Gullion Forest Park. It seemed that Jonny Steede, just like Chris Froome, had been sitting around the house all winter itching to get going. When the gun went he was off like a rocket into the mist. Unfortunately for The Steede he charged up the mountain, got lost in the mist, never located the summit and was promptly disqualified. This allowed Stephen Cunningham to get the first points on the board closely followed by Deon McNeilly and Neil Carty.
Two of the main contenders for the ladies title were also hampered by the winter weather. Shileen O’Kane and Diane Wilson managed to find the summit, but unfortunately took a wrong turn on the descent and were also red carded. Their rival, Denise Mathers, took the points on this occasion.
The next round started in the Silent Valley. This race was coincidentally scheduled to coincide with our arctic spell when the mountain was liberally carpeted with snow and ice. The route, bookended by Moolieve and Slievenaglogh, took in Binnian, Doan, and the Bann road. Full prizes to all that ran that day as it was definitely one for the hardy fell runner. After a long slog through the snow there were only three minutes separating the top two runners in both races with Cunningham getting the better of Steede and Wilson edging out O’Kane.
Eventually the winter weather receded and the third round on the Annalong Horseshoe took place on a bright, crisp spring day. This long event which takes in Chimney, Commedagh, Beg, Cove, Lamigan and Binnian is a firm favourite on the calendar. On this occasion there was no sign of the Steede as he was off winning the Lost Worlds 100K Ultra Race. This left Cunningham, McNeilly and Carty to battle it out. By the time the runners had reached Lamigan Cunningham had a clear lead on McNeilly which he held all the way to the finish. In the other race Wilson was on a hot streak of form and left O’Kane trailing in her fiery wake.
The first championship race of the summer saw competitors running from Blackstaff to Carlingford. The only point-to-point event on the calendar sees runners navigating their way over a lot of open mountain ground with many different challenges; thankfully, this year, fog was not one of them. In the men’s race Cunningham, McNeilly and Carty took to the starting line; there was still no sign of the Steede after his Ultra race a few weeks earlier. The race kicked off at a fast lick and by the time it reached the top of Slieve Foy McNeilly and Cunningham had an established lead. Cunningham, who runs on all surfaces like they are tarmac, dropped off Foy into Carlingford with typical aplomb to edge out McNeilly. In the ladies event Diane Wilson was, once again, too good for her rivals and finished six minutes in front of O’Kane in second.
The daddy of all the NIMRA fell races, the Seven Sevens, was scheduled as round five. This tough undertaking encompasses the seven biggest peaks in the Mournes. The Steede returned for this race, but the top three men in the championship – Cunningham, McNeilly and Carty – sat it out. From the gun The Steede set a ferocious pace and reached the top of Donard in around thirty seven minutes; try doing that when you don’t have another six mountains and three hours of running ahead of you. Suffice to say he conquered the event followed by Seamus Lynch and Dale Mathers. In the ladies race O’Kane and McLaughlin were off racing elsewhere so this left Mathers and Wilson to battle it out. It may come as no surprize to hear that Diane set a record breaking time en-route to winning the race.
The last obstacle in the series was the wall that is Slieve Bearnagh and it’s race namesake. The podium places in the championship had already been decided by this stage so runners were competing solely for bragging rights and the ‘big’ prize money. From the gun Cunningham and Steede were out the front of the men’s race. As expected the rough ground and steep climbs worked to Cunningham’s advantage and he led over the tops of all the hills and down the slope of Meelmore to the finishing tape. Diane Wilson performed well in the ladies race to beat Anne Stanford by a clear margin.
The NIMRA championship would not be possible without an army of volunteers. Thank you to all those that made a cup of tea, stood on a hill, marked out a course, etc, etc. We salute you!