This coming weekend the eyes of the mountain running (and Skyrunning) world will be on Northern Ireland as the final race of the Skyrunning UK National Series takes place in Northern Ireland – that is of course NiRunning’s own Garmin Mourne Skyline Mountain-Trail Race.
A race preview, supplied by published writer and well known photographer Ian Corless is available below. Given our commitments this weekend, this weekend’s preview is specific, focussing on the major events, including the AAI Autumn Open XC Festival in Abbotstown (Ireland) and the NIMAA XC in Belfast.
Please read on…
The Skyrunning UK season concludes in Ireland this coming weekend (Saturday 21st October 2017) with the Garmin Mourne Skyline MTR. What a year it has been! From the very first edition, the GMSMTR has sold out and demand continues to exceed places available. It’s a testament to the team behind the race.
The 2016 edition was won by Germain Grangier in a time of 3:49:39 and the ladies’ race was dominated by Jasmin Paris running 4:30:02. However, the ladies course record still stands with USA based runner and Salomon athlete, Stevie Kremer.
Ian Bailey, former course record holder at the Garmin Mourne Skyline MTR returns in 2017 and will not only be looking for victory but dipping under the 3:49:39 set by Grangier last year.
Skyrunning UK Series champions will be confirmed in Ireland. The battle is on for a male champion, Tim Campion-Smith is the odds-on favourite with a convincing 25-point lead. Jason Millward, Tomasso Migliuolo and Jonathan Palmer are in with a shout. Tim Campion-Smith will not run in Ireland, however, Jason Millward will! With a 20% bonus at stake for the final event, if Millward wins or places 2nd, he would leapfrog Campion-Smith for the 2017 overall title by dropping his lowest ranking points (9th at Ben Nevis Ultra) and replacing them with points from the Mourne Skyline MTR – 1st would provide 30 points, 2nd 26.4 points and *3rd would provide 22.8 points.
It is likely that Jonathan Palmer will move from equal 3rd to 3rd overall after the Mourne Skyline MTR. Of course, if Millward has a poor run and Palmer has a great run, this could change!
*3rd place would not be enough for overall victory, it would provide a total of 45.8 points to Campion-Smith’s 48-point tally.
The ladies race is wide open! Kirsty-Jane Birch currently leads the ranking with 11 points but it looks like she will not race in Ireland and therefore she will not have three qualifying races. This leaves the door open for 2nd placed Rebecca Morgan who has 5 points and will race at the Mourne – in many respects, she just needs to finish the race but a top-10 would guarantee overall victory.
As in previous editions, there is a wealth of talent toeing the line. Look out for:
Seamus Lynch, Jonathan Palmer, David Hicks, Barry Hartnett, Ryan Stewart and Shane Donnelly.
Linda O’Connor, Megan Wilson, Martsje Hell, Elizabeth Wheeler, Karina Jonina, Jacqueline Toal, Shileen O’Kane, Hazel McLaughlin and importantly Janne Geurts who placed 2nd at the V3K but this is only her 2nd Skyrunning UK race and therefore cannot qualify for the Series despite having the most points.
Owned by the National Trust, the Mourne Mountains are an area of outstanding beauty, it includes Slieve Donard (850m), the highest mountain in Northern Ireland and Ulster and as such it provides a perfect location for a mountain race.
Among the more famous features, the Mourne Wall is a key element of this region and a key aspect of the race. Comprised of forest path, fire roads, single track, granite trail and tough uneven broken fell, the race is a tough challenge. In just 35km the course has a brutal 3370m of ascent and no less than 9 peaks, the highest being Slieve Donard at 850m.
The coastal town of Newcastle hosts the start of the race and a short section of road leads into Donard Park via the promenade entrance and the ‘Granite Trail’ awaits for a long and relentless climb. Dundrum Bay is visible to the west, before a fast-downhill section to a climb of the stony and challenging Glen River Path to the Col between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh.
At Hare’s Gap, the first major peak awaits, Slieve Bearnagh, first passing the North Tor before reaching the summit quickly followed with the technical ascent of Slieve Meelmore. The Mourne Wall becomes a key feature of the race and for the first time the runners follow its line for just 0.4km before veering right and descending towards The Mourne Way path.
Fofany Dam precludes the only road section of the course which leads to the Mourne Wall and the style between Ott and Slieve Loughshannagh. The climbs and summits come thick and fast now; Slieve Loughshannagh, Slieve Meelbeg and the course continues to follow the Mourne Wall leading to a repeated climb of the technical and challenging Slieve Meelmore, this time in the opposite direction. The toughest climb of the day follows, Slieve Bearnagh.
Passing around the North Tor it is downhill towards Hare’s Gap and a steep climb next to the Mourne Wall towards Slievenaglogh and Slieve Commedagh, Northern Ireland’s second highest mountain. It is ironic that Slieve Commedagh should lead into Slieve Donard and the highest point of the race. On a clear day, the views are magnificent out over the sea, inland towns and villages are visible and of course, the Mourne Mountains. From the summit, it’s all downhill to the finish via the rocky Glen River Path and a fire road that leads into Donard Park and the finish.
AAI Autumn XC Festival:
A host of local talent will travel to Abbotstown (Ireland) for this weekend’s Autumn Open International Cross Country Festival (Sunday 22nd October 2017).
The event will take place over a purpose built cross country course at the National Sports Campus and will showcase Ireland’s talent from junior level right up to the masters along with a selection of international runners.
The combined Ladies race of juniors, seniors and masters (including Vet65+ Men) kicks off at 2pm with respective distances of 4,500m (junior and masters 65+) and 6,000m (seniors and masters 35-64). Then the junior, senior and Vet35-64 Men follow at 2.45pm, with the junior men covering 6,000m and the senior and masters 7,500m.
Derry Track Club’s Adam Kirk-Smith will hope to continue the form that saw him claim victory at last weekend’s Metropolitan XC League as heads the local challenge for honours.
Newcastle AC’s Zak Hanna and Glaslough Harriers’ Conor Duffy should also feature prominently in the senior men’s race. Derry/Londonderry based Kenyan star Gideon Kipsang will head the international field, while AAI National 10,000m and Half Marathon Champion Kevin Dooney (Raheny Shamrock AC) will be keen to impress as top Irish finisher.
Former NI & Ulster Senior XC Champion Teresa Doherty (Finn Valley AC) and North Down AC’s Jessica Craig, who finished as runner up to Breege Connolly (City of Derry AC) at last week’s Comber Cup XC, will toe the line in the competitive senior ladies race. The opposition will include Rio 2016 Olympian Michelle Finn (Leevale AC) along with fellow cross country internationals Ciara Durkan (Skerries AC), Siobhan O’Doherty (Borrisokane AC), Laura Crowe (An Riocht AC) and Shona Heaslip (An Riocht AC). International athletes include Jenny Nesbitt (Wales), Mhairi MacLennan (Scotland), Becky Straw and Georgia Malir (both England).
Established XC star and 2015 NI & Ulster Senior XC Champion Declan Reed (City of Derry AC) will race in the masters competition, where he will be joined by fellow NI men Paddy Hamilton (Slieve Gullion Runners) and Francis Marsh (North Down AC). The local duo will face Raheny Shamrock AC’s Ian Conroy.
In the Under 20 junior races, Patrick McNiff (Newcastle AC), Craig McMeechan (North Down AC), Fintan Stewart (City of Derry AC) and Rio Catney (North Down AC) should all place well.
Closer to home on Saturday 22nd October 2017, masters athletes will be battling it out for places on the Northern Ireland team at the upcoming British & Irish International XC as they take on the Northern Ireland Masters Athletic Association (NIMAA) XC at Dub Road Playing Fields in Belfast.
Chris McGuinness (Foyle Valley AC), Allan Bogle (City of Derry AC) and Jonny Steede (Glens Runners) will feature in the men’s event, while Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers), Cathy McCourt (Unattached) and Karen Alexander (Acorns AC) will challenge for the ladies top prize.
As always, Northern Ireland’s twenty five 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.
To check out what other races are taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend, click HERE.