Weekend Preview: A weekend of big events ahead for NI athletes…

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Weekend Preview: Slieve Donard Classic, Highgate Harriers 10,000m, Loughborough International and more…
Another busy weekend lies ahead for the local running fraternity, with a number of fixtures listed on the official Athletics NI calendar. However, the most prominent race of the weekend will be a few not listed – the 72nd annual Slieve Donard Mountain Race will be the highlight of the local action, while local runners will also be in competition outside NI, at the prestigious Highgate Harriers Night of 10,000m Personal Bests and the Loughborough International.

There will also be hundreds of junior starts travelling from all over the province to the Ulsters Schools Track & Field Championships at Antrim Forum – although, as an organisation, we do not cover schools athletics, we provided a short preview for Athletics NI; it is available on their website HERE.

Aside from previewing the above mentioned races, we’ll list all of the other events taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend.

Slieve Donard Mountain Race – Hill & Dale Series (Race 6):
On Saturday 20th May 2016, Newcastle AC will host Race 6 of their ongoing Hill & Dale Series in Newcastle, County Down. The Series, which usually takes place on a Thursday night has proved as popular as always, and therefore a large turnout is expected for this race.

The Slieve Donard race, one of the country’s iconic running events and also part of the NIMRA Championship, measures approximately 5.5 miles in distance and takes competitors from Newcastle Main Street to the top of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain (Slieve Donard), which stands at 850 metres.

Aside from the start and finish along the Main Street (via Donard Park), competitors are free to choose their own way to the summit and back, with some opting for the Black Stairs and others, the more runnable Glen River Path.
Newcastle AC provided us with the following race preview… it is important to note that Ian Bailey will NOT return to defend his title because of injury.  Also, an excellent addition to this years line-up should be Newry AC’s Esther Dickson.

Newcastle AC host 72nd annual Slieve Donard Race:
The annual Slieve Donard race, Race 6 of the Hill and Dale will start at 2:00pm on Saturday 20 May at the Newcastle Centre, with the leaders returning to the Newcastle around 2.55pm.

Amazingly within one hour the leading athletes will have climbed the 852 metres to the summit and returned to the point from whence they came. The course follows along the main street with a marked route to the summit and the same back to Newcastle Centre – a temporary departure from the traditional ‘free choice’.

A few will display the cuts and bruises to show that they have raced to the highest point in Northern Ireland and back. Never was this truer than in 2012 when the ‘Prophet’ returned with a hole in his hand. Not to be worried by such a mere bagatelle he ran his hand under the tap and shored up the gaping wound with a bit of electrical tape – emergency first aid at its very best!

The next day when he peeled back the inch of flapping skin he found a compass, a whistle and a pound coin! The pound coin was deposited in the piggy bank where, five years later, it still remains a prisoner!

A brief history
The first race was held in 1945 and 35 different runners have added their name to the illustrious list of winners; Ian Bailey being the most recent when winning for the first time in 2013 in a new course record of 53:45. Bailey was defending his 2014 title and was in sparkling form on the day, climbing like a Sherpa to reach the summit in 37 minutes dead, over a minute clear of Seamus Lynch, who on any other day would more than likely have won the race. Lynch would descend quicker than his rival, but the gap at the top of the mountain was too great and Bailey is no fool when it comes to getting of a mountain in speedy quick time. Lynch would recover 16 seconds, but nowhere enough to eat in to the 72 second gap at the summit. William McKee was beginning to emerge a serious talent in the hills and his third place would be the platform for him to go on to greater things ever since. While Bailey is the firm favourite, he still has a long way to go to eclipse the achievements of Newcastle’s Deon McNeilly. With an amazing tally of 9 victories and numerous minor placings, he remains the most successful competitor in the race’s distinguished history.

Looking back…
For a number of years the course went via the Bloody Bridge with a 2 mile run along the road to finish. James McKenny recorded 6 consecutive victories on this course between 1953 and 1958. In the 1998 the decision was taken for safety reasons to revert to the original up and down route starting at the Newcastle Centre and back to Donard Park. However in 2002 a further route change took the finish back at Newcastle Centre to allow more spectators to witness the spectacle and savour the atmosphere of this wonderful test of strength, stamina and endurance. For many years Mike Short held the record with his 1977 run via the Bloody Bridge in 1 hour 4 min 14 seconds.

The 2000 race was also a British Championship Race which was won by Ian Holmes in 50mins 10 seconds, the fastest ever up and down but the finish was in Donard Park. However adding a notional 2mins 30 seconds (the usual time taken by the elite runners like myself!) to Holmes’ time for the run from Donard Park to Newcastle Centre would give him a time of 53mins and the outright record, but only narrowly in light of the performances of local athletes in recent years.

Since the route has been extended back to the Newcastle Centre, Scottish International runner John Brooks set an impressive record with 56 mins 34 seconds in 2004. Brooks’ record stood until 2008 when Woods shaved off an impressive 49 seconds on his way to his first win. Amazingly he went even better in 2009 and set a new standard by breaking the 55 minute barrier in an amazing 54:49. Amazing that was until Cunningham lowered the mark by a further 16 seconds in 2010 to set the current fastest time of 54:33. Bailey lowered the mark to 53:45 and has since lowered it to 53:40 when winning his fourth consecutive title in 2016.

Who will win?
It would be a brave person to bet against Bailey as he goes for a fabulous 5, but one should not discount totally the form men; William McKee, Zak Hanna and David McKee. IMRA could produce a serious challenger, depending on who makes the trip north in search of international selection. The race has attracted a lot of interest from IMRA runners in recent times, with the event counting in the Irish Championships. In both 2015 and 2014.

IMRA men have placed in the top 10, Jason Kehoe, Robert Cleary & Bernard Fortune in 2015 and the same three along with Stephen Cleary in 2014. Among these Brian Furey, the Irish champion in both 2010 and 2011 is the most serious contender, but there are other equally serious contenders in Ian Conroy, Tom Blackburn and Peter O’Farrell, all of whom have enjoyed considerable success recently. Bernard Fortune was the best placed IMRA man in 2016, but at 62 minutes he was well of the pace needed to mount a serious challenge. It will be interesting to see the best of IMRA line up against the best of NIMRA to tackle the steep climb and sharp descent.

Five in a row for Wilson too?
The ladies race in 2015 was a much closer affair than in previous years. Newcastle’s Shalene McMurray had a tremendous lead at the top of the mountain, but was reined in by the excellent descending ability of Diane Wilson. Wilson would win by 40 seconds, overturning a 3 minutes 23 seconds deficient at the summit. 2016 saw a return to normality as Wilson had 6 minutes to spare over the gutsy Shileen O’Kane with Mari Troeng a further 3 minutes adrift in third place. However, despite not racing too much in the Hill & Dale series to date few would bet against her joining Bailey in making it five in a row as well. Shalene McMurray and Charlene Haugh may think otherwise, but both would have to be on top of their game to beat the wily Wilson.

The race is a tremendous spectacle with stunning views of the mountain (weather permitting!!) as the runners tackle the challenge. So bring you binoculars and come down to the Newcastle Centre where there will be a lively atmosphere from 1pm onwards.

Highgate Harriers ‘Night of 10,000m Personal Bests’ (England):
In North London (England) on Saturday 20th May 2017, a number of runners from Northern Ireland will be in competition against some of the best distance runners in the UK at the prestigious Highgate Harriers Night of 10,000m Personal Bests, which also incorporates the British 10,000m Championships and the trials for the Great Britain & NI IAAF World Championships team.

Rio Olympian Paul Pollock (Annadale Striders) tops an impressive list of local runners who will be out to secure personal bests against top quality opposition. Recent NI 5,000m record breaker and NI & Ulster 10k (Road) Champion Emma Mitchell (QUB AC) will also be aiming to better her current 10k best of 33:57.
Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC), Kyle Doherty (City of Derry AC), Ann-Marie McGlynn (Letterkenny AC), Declan Reed (City of Derry AC), David O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC), Danielle Fegan (Armagh AC), Aaron Doherty (City of Derry AC) and Eoghan Totten (Newcastle AC) are also included on the pre-event start lists, which are available HERE.

Loughborough International Track & Field Meeting (England):
Also in England, on Sunday 21st May 2017, there will be a host of local stars taking to the start line at the prestigious Loughborough International Track & Field Meeting.

Leon Reid (Menepians AC) will take on the 100m and 200m, while Derry Track Club’s Adam Kirk-Smith will go in the 3,000m Steeplechase. North Down AC’s Andrew Mellon, Crusaders AC’s Ben Maze and Ballymena & Antrim AC’s Craig Newell will race over 400m and 4x400m. Jason Harvey (Crusaders AC) and Christine McMahon (Ballymena & Antrim AC) will take on the 400m hurdles, while Shercock AC’s Garbhan McKenna (110m hurdles), City of Lisburn AC’s Megan Marrs (100m hurdles) and Gloucestershire University’s Mollie Courtney (100m hurdles) will also be in action over the jumps. City of Lisburn AC’s Ben Fisher will represent GB & NI (Under 20) in the Long Jump.

Other events taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend:

Friday 19th May 2017:
– M5M – Maguiresbridge Controlled Primary School, Maguiresbridge – 7pm (Entries AVAILABLE on the day!)

Saturday 20th May 2017:
– Knockevin 10k – Knockevin School, Downpatrick – 12pm (Entries AVAILABLE on the day!)

– Lough Neagh Rescue Charity 5 mile Race – Lough Neagh Rescue Station – 11am (Entries AVAILABLE on the day!)

– Mountfield 5 Mile & 5k Run – St Brigid’s PS, Omagh – 11am (Entries AVAILABLE on the day!)

Sunday 21st May 2017:
– Lislea 10k & 5k – Ballyards Road, Armagh – 11am (Entries AVAILABLE on the day!)

Parkrun:
As always, Northern Ireland’s twenty four parkrun events will take place this weekend, for more information on these, or to locate your nearest event, please visit our dedicated ‘parkrun’ section within our fixtures page.