Special ‘New Year’ Preview:  Bringing in the New Year with some ‘cracker’ races…


Special Preview:  Bringing in the New Year with some ‘cracker’ races…

After an excellent few days of racing over the Christmas holidays, it’s now time to turn our attention to the events will take us into 2018… and as always, there are a few ‘crackers’.

The Castlewellan Christmas Cracker returns, as does the Lough 5 and then Race Over The Glens brings in the New Year.  There are several other decent events taking places as well, including the flat and fast Kirkistown 10k & 5k races.

We’ll kick off this special preview with an excellent piece on the 34th annual Castlewellan Christmas Cracker, an event hosted by Newcastle AC.

Castlewellan Christmas Cracker (preview by Newcastle AC):

It sold out almost as quickly as Ed Sheeran! Additional places were added in a ‘Black Friday Sale’ on 8 December and they went within hours of release. At present there are 700 teams registered for this ever popular highlight of the Christmas holiday sporting calendar.

Once again a record number of teams will take to the start for the 34th Christmas Cracker pairs’ race on Saturday 30th December 2017. The market town of Castlewellan will be awash with colour as 1400 competitors, many of whom will ‘dress for the occasion’, take to the streets. The race has grown exponentially since it was taken over by Newcastle AC and relocated to Castlewellan in the early ‘noughties’.

It remains one of the most unique and popular races in the annual ANI calendar. Building on the success of previous years, there are more mixed teams and more all-female teams than ever. One recalls clearly the 2004 race when 54 teams finished. This stands as irrefutable evidence of the amazing popularity of running at present and the desire among athletes of all abilities to get out there and compete. For some it will be to win a category or record a fast time, while for others it will be the joy of finishing and the sense of accomplishment that comes from simply being able to say, ‘I did it.’ With bespoke medals proffered to all finishing teams this year, there is an extra incentive those on the hunt for a piece of unusual bling.

What’s it going to be like?
The race itself is a multi-terrain event over approximately 8.5 miles and is suitable for runners of all abilities and levels of experience. The course changes from year to year and this edition has been described as ‘plenty of opportunities for good running, a short and sharp climbs and a great advert for the stunning scenery of rural East Down!’  I am reliably informed that there will be a hill or three, a wet field or two and a glimpse of some equine stock for those with a penchant for the nags! With the Bog of Donard One and the Prophet involved in the course planning, you can expect something a wee bit different. The Prophet was rumoured to be clearing forests, hanging gates and ‘making a straight path for the runners’ – surely he is taking the time of Preparation that is Advent just a little too seriously. Part of the tradition is that the Race Directors hold something back as a little surprise on the day. To date there have been a dearth of ‘dry runs’, but the men in charge have confidently informed me that there will be an unexpected twist – or two!

It’s a fair test of running…
Part of the beauty of the race is that the race is run in pairs, so you are only as good as your partner; a harsh fact of life that I learn every December and invariably forget by the following year. This year, to save myself tears (see what we did there!), I am avoiding the galloping Landlord! Alliances made in September can seriously backfire at the end of December when one partner might be going slightly or a lot better than the other. Equally fascinating is the fact that, while the race remains around 8-9 miles in distance, the course is always different and runners have come to expect the unexpected; this year will be no different!

Who will win it?
In 2015 the young gunslingers, Eoghan Totten and Andrew Monaghan recorded a very impressive win, beating defending champions Brian McCluskey and Gary O’Hanlon, the pre-race favourites. Last year NAC athlete Seamus Lynch teamed up with Mark McKinstry to form an unbeatable alliance, beating the NBH duo of Andrew Annett and Lindsay Gordon by over a minute.

Neither pairing is together this year so we will have a new name on the list of winners. However, there will be plenty out to challenge them, with the host club lining up a few highly respectable pairings. Mourne Runners duo Laura Graham and William McKee have paired up for the mixed event to defend their title and face a battle against North Belfast Harriers’ Andrew Annett and Gladys Ganiel for the mixed team title.

Times and places…
Race numbers can be collected in the clubrooms of Castlewellan GAC from 11:45am, with the race starting at 1pm. The race starts on the Main Street at the Market House and, if my sources are to be believed move towards the Newcastle Road before swinging back across towards the clubrooms and progressing in the general direction of Clarkhill – that is as much as has been revealed to me at this point!!!.

There will be opportunities for spectators to see their favourites before the race goes ‘off the beaten track’. Once in the park, whenever that may be, the course takes in some great paths and trails before finishing on in the field on the main entrance to the park.

There will be refreshments in the clubrooms after the race and the presentation of prizes will be at around 3:30pm. Come out on Saturday 30 December and witness what will be a spectacular occasion.

Lough 5 mile Road Race:

On Sunday 31st December 2017, hundreds of athletes are expected to turn out for the traditional New Years Eve classic, the Lough 5 mile road race.  In previous years, this event has attracted a plethora of talent, and this year is expected to be the same.

Just looking back at the male and female top 50 fastest times on this course (available HERE), it shows the respect that this event has earned.  Last year, City of Derry AC’s Catherine Whoriskey set a new ladies course record of 28:07, with Acorns AC’s Eoin Hughes winning the men’s race in 27:22; the men’s record is 24:42, set by Eddie McGinley (Annadale Striders), in 2011.

This year, Eddie’s former club mate and the second fastest man ever over this course (24:53), Paddy Hamilton (Slieve Gullion Runners), could well challenge for top honours.  The Northern Ireland and Ireland international is likely to be joined on the start line by previous winners Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley AC) and Stephen Duncan (Omagh Harriers).  Other previous champions, like Chris Madden (City of Lisburn AC), Gareth Hill (Ballymena & Antrim AC) and Paul Barbour (Unattached), could all return for what should be an excellent race.

In the ladies event, Greencastle 5 winner Emma Mitchell (QUB AC) may start and the Commonwealth Games bound athlete will be chasing down the current course record (28:07).  Breege Connolly (City of Derry AC), winner in 2014, and Cathy McCourt (Unattached), winner in 2010, could also compete.  Previous winners, Heather Foley (Unattached), Pauline McGurren (Sperrin Harriers) and Michelle Sturm (Omagh Harriers) will also contest the top prize should they decide to race.

Kirkistown 10k & 5k Road Races:

Also on Sunday 31st December 2017, NI Duathlon will host another of their popular 5k and 10k race days in support of their Belfast Tandem Cycling Group.

Registration will be open from 1pm with both races starting at 2pm on Kirkistown Racing Circuit (130 Rubane Road, Kircubbin, Co. Down, BT22 1AU). Earlier this month, a dry run of the races on this course produced several notable new PB’s for competitors – and of course, the initial course records! This event is suitable for both new and experienced runners.

The 5k and 10k are both officially measured road races around the flat, 1.5 mile Kirkistown Track with timing mats at the end of each lap and on the finish line. Entry is £20 online HERE or you can pay and enter on the day. The 5k is open to ages 11+ whilst the 10k is open to ages 15+ (Under 16’s can enter with an adult on the day).

Each race has prizes for the top three male and female finishers, prizes for first place in each age category, chip timing, bananas, water, 10% off at Athlos Triathlon store and either a medal (up to 100 are available) OR a FREE entry to the ‘Beer Mile and a half’ afterwards (see Facebook event page). Check HERE for race details.

Proceeds (plus any additional donations) will go towards growing the Belfast Tandem Cycling Group for blind and partially sighted cyclists. You may have seen the group on TV too and they are also seeking a few more sighted ‘pilots’.

In the 5k race, Matthew Devlin and Diarmuid Logan (Acorns AC) may retain their top spots while Kelly Neely (City of Lisburn AC) and Jessica Craig (North Down AC) may go for gold in the ladies race; both will place well overall should they run. In the 10k race, Peter Gilmore (Narrows Tri Club) will be worth watching, while other possible runners include James Budde (North Down AC), Declan Leung (Termoneeny Running Club), Davy Foster (East Down AC) and Simon Doyle (Belfast Running Club). The 10k may also tempt Jenny Black (Victoria Park and Connswater AC) and Debbie Matchett (Ballydrain Harriers). Like last year in Victoria Park, it will attract others!

Entries are available on the day (and online until midnight on Saturday) and it looks like there will be a good field in both distances, with runners of all levels keen to bag a PB on a totally flat course for New Year’s Eve – it may also suit those interested in a qualification time for the Armagh International Road Races.  Registration opens at 1pm with parking inside the track. The races will be popular, arrive on time to avoid a queue!

Race Over The Glens Trail Race:

On New Years Day (Monday 1st January 2018), Ballymena Runners will host the 22nd annual running of their ‘Race Over The Glens’ trail race, which takes place in Glenariff Forest Park in the heart of the scenic Glens of Antrim, just outside Waterfoot (County Antrim).

Interestingly, in its first ever running in 1995, the race attracted just twenty-five runners; more recently, many more competitors have shown discipline, forgoing the most popular party night of the year (New Years Eve) to ensure they are in tip-top shape to toe the line in the hope of kicking off the New Year in style.

At the start of 2017, the race moved to the 2nd January, but this year makes a welcome return to New Years Day! There will be entries available on the day for those who still haven’t made their mind up.

At the head of the pack, former Champion Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers) should lead the way.  However, the always impressive Glenwherry man will face some tough opposition – this could include the man who beat him here in 2017, Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC) – 30 seconds split the pair when Zak claimed victory twelve months ago.

Jonny Steede (Glens Runners), James McIlroy (Larne AC) and Jarlath Falls (Ballymena & Antrim AC), all previous winners and athletes who have a strong connection with this event, could toe the line.

In addition, Mourne Runners’ Timmy Johnston and North Belfast Harriers duo Joe Malone and Kent Swann, should place well.  Jason Wilson (Ballymena Runners), Alex Brennan (Springwell RC), Oliver Cooke (PACE Running Club) and Justin Maxwell (East Coast AC) should challenge for a top ten place.

Reigning ladies Champion Martsje Hell (North Belfast Harriers) should return to defend her title – 2017 has been an excellent year for Martsje, and it all started at this event, so the Northern Ireland international will be keen to kick start 2018 in similar fashion.  Gillian Wasson (Ballymena Runners), Shileen O’Kane (Lagan Valley AC) and Jana Ross (County Antrim Harriers), will be amongst those who will battle it out for a podium place.

Former AAI National 24hr Champion Louise Smart (County Antrim Harriers) will also race, as will Nicola Wylie (PACE Running Club), Sam McNeilly (Newcastle AC) and Janice Plumb (North Belfast Harriers).

Other events taking place in Northern Ireland over the coming days…

Saturday 30th December 2017:

–       East Antrim Marathon Series – Carrickfergus Castle, Carrickfergus – 8:30am (No further entries available!)

Sunday 31st December 2017:

–       East Antrim Marathon Series – Greenisland Golf Club, Greenisland – 8:30am (No further entries available!)

Monday 1st January 2018:

–       New Year’s Day Rock Run – Rock Football Club, County Tyrone 12pm (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)

Outside Northern Ireland…

England based Northern Ireland man, Paul Pollock (Annadale Striders), will be in action in at the San Silvestre Vallecana 10k in Madrid (Spain) on New Years Eve (Sunday 31st December 2017).


All of Northern Ireland’s twenty five parkrun events will be running on Saturday 30th December 2017, some may also run on New Years Day.  We would recommend that you check with your local parkrun to confirm local arrangements.  For more information on parkrun, or to locate your nearest event, please visit our dedicated ‘parkrun’ section within our fixtures page.