Weekend Preview:  NI & Ulster Senior XC Championships and more…

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Weekend Preview:  NI & Ulster Senior XC Championships and more…

After a couple of weeks of exciting indoor athletics action, it’s back to the muck this weekend for one of the highlights of the running year, the prestigious Northern Ireland & Ulster Senior XC Championships – it also incorporates the final fixture of the well-supported Athletics NI XC League 2017/18.

The event has attracted approximately 500 competitors and is the highlight of the fixtures over the coming days.  Although it isn’t the only one, there are several other good quality events taking place this weekend.

The Resolution Run 10k & 5k, the Born 2 Run ‘Run Forest Run’ 10k & 5k and the Run Kirkistown Half Marathon, 10k & 5k are other highlights.  There’s also the Slieve Gallion Challenge and the Xplore54 Omagh 10k to look forward to… and not forgetting two excellent Junior XC Series’.

Local athletes will also be in action at the prestigious Muller Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow, Scotland.

Our preview will cover the events we have been provided with information for – we’ll also provide as much information as we have on the other events taking place this weekend.

Northern Ireland & Ulster Senior XC Championships 2018:

Reigning Champions Aaron Doherty (City of Derry AC) and Jessica Craig (North Down AC) will return to defend their titles as nearly 500 athletes descend on Lurgan for the NI & Ulster Senior XC Championships this weekend (Saturday 24th February 2018).

Once again, Northern Ireland’s largest urban park, Lurgan Park in County Armagh, will play host to the Championships, organised by Athletics Northern Ireland. The picturesque park has proved a popular choice of venue with competitors over the last number of years.

The Senior Ladies 6k will kick off proceedings at 1:30pm and the Senior Men’s 12k race will follow at 2:15pm.  The event also incorporates the final fixture of the Athletics NI XC League 2017/18.

Going into the last event of the eight race League, Foyle Valley AC (180 points) top the men’s table with a slender lead over Springwell Running Club and North Belfast Harriers, with both teams currently on 170 points – Willowfield Harriers are still in the mix with 163 points. North Down AC (172 points) lead the ladies league from Foyle Valley AC (149 points).

In 2017, Northern Ireland international Jessica Craig made her intentions clear from the off, producing a dominant performance to take the win ahead of North Down AC club mates Rachel Gibson and Jodi Smith.  All three ladies should toe the line, as should Sarah Lindsay and Rio Catney, which means the North Down club will be in the hunt to defend their team title.

Despite being in good form of late, with wins at the Mathieson Cup and Stormont XC, Jessica may have a battle on her hands if she is to defend last year’s gold medal, with Ann-Marie McGlynn, the Letterkenny AC athlete who captained Ireland to a team bronze medal at the Euro XC Championships (2014), set to compete.

Ann-Marie has faced some unfortunate injury woes over the last year but stormed back to competition late last month with an excellent win at the Raheny 5 mile road race, were she recorded 26:44.

Dromore AC pair Rebekah Nixon and Laura Bickerstaff will also contest a podium place, and their high finish positions may help Dromore in their quest for team silverware.  Recently crowned NI & Ulster Masters XC Champion Catherine Diver (Beechmount Harriers) will also place well, as will Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers), Ciara Toner (Springwell Running Club), Esther Dickson (Newry AC) and Kerry Bamber (Ballymena Runners).  Patricia O’Hagan (St Peter’s AC) is also a welcome addition to the starting line-up.

Other ladies to look out for include Paula Worthington (Ballymena Runners), Kerrie McIlmoyle (Springwell Running Club), Gerrie Short (Beechmount Harriers) and Ciara Coffey (Newry AC).

In the battle for team honours, the aforementioned North Down AC and Dromore AC teams will be there or there abouts, while Ballymena Runners and Beechmount Harriers should also be in the mix.

In the men’s race, Aaron Doherty (City of Derry AC) will fly in from his Madrid base in the hope of securing a hat-trick of NI & Ulster Senior XC titles having struck gold in 2016 and 2017.  The Spartan athlete fought hard to see off Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers) and Conor Duffy (Glaslough Harriers) twelve months ago and he will once again come up against the hard working Mark McKinstry, who will undoubtedly play a major part in proceedings.

Neil Johnston (Springwell Running Club) has been in good form recently, impressing as part of Northern Ireland teams at the Armagh 5k (14:35) and the Antrim International XC (17th place).

Decorated cross country athlete and winner of the Senior XC title in 2015, Declan Reed (City of Derry AC), is also due to race and will be another man to look out for at the front of the field – if his 24:30 at the Raheny 5, 14:57 for 5k in Armagh and top twenty place at the Antrim International XC is anything to go by, the Vet40 athlete will be a real contender.

Current NI & Ulster 10k (Road) Champion Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley AC) and NI & Ulster Masters XC Champion Ian Bailey (Newcastle AC) both have the potential to challenge for honours, as does cross country specialist Chris McGuinness (Foyle Valley AC).  Zak Hanna (Newcastle AC), JP Williamson (City of Derry AC), Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC) and Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers) will all be worth watching.

In the men’s team competition, reigning Champions City of Derry AC have significant strength in depth, with Allan Bogle, Kyle Doherty, John Lenehan, Greg Roberts and Emmet McGinty potentially joining the names already mentioned.  North Belfast Harriers, Newcastle AC and NI & Ulster Intermediate XC Champions Foyle Valley AC will also have high hopes of lifting the spectacular NI & Ulster Senior XC trophy.

Born 2 Run ‘Run Forest Run’ Castlewellan 10k & 5k:

Also on Saturday 24th February 2018, Born 2 Run will welcome approximately 700 competitors to the final race of their ‘Run Forest Run’ Series, the Castlewellan 10k & 5k races.

It’s fitting that one of the Series’ top performers, Vincent McKenna (QUB AC), will take to the start line in an attempt to add another victory to his list, in the ‘curtain closer’ of the popular Series.  The QUB AC athlete has really come to the fore throughout the Series and looks to have an exciting future off-road.

However, he may have to work hard if he is to secure top honours.  Given the location, there is a possibility that Mourne Runner trio William McKee, David McKee and Timothy Johnston may make use of the on the day entry option.  All three have dabbled with the Series and impressed greatly when they have; the trio will therefore be considered as favourites should they toe the line.  Martin Rea (North Belfast Harriers) is another athlete to look out for.

In the ladies event, outstanding performer and candidate for the most impressive individual performance in the Series, Gladys Ganiel O’Neill (North Belfast Harriers), is also due to race.  In the Tollymore 10k, the Northern Ireland and Ireland international won the ladies race convincingly and claimed fourth place overall.  It will be a similar situation here, with Gladys likely to dominate the ladies race and possibly claim a podium spot in the overall race.

Cathy McCourt (Unattached), a consistently impressive performer (and winner) through the campaign may make use of the on the day entry and will secure a top three prize if she does.  Jana Ross (County Antrim Harriers), Joanne Graham (Mourne Runners) and Zara Baird (St Peter’s AC) will all place well.

Other events taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend…

Sunday 25th February 2018:

  • Resolution Run 10k & 5k – Queen’s Sport, DUB Playing Fields, Belfast – 11am (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)
  • Run Kirkistown Half Marathon, 10k & 5k – Kirkistown Racing Circuit – 2pm (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)
  • Slieve Gallion Challenge – Longfield Lane, Desertmartin – 10am (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)
  • Omagh 10k Xplore54 – Fit 4 Life Gym, Gortin Road, Omagh – 10am (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)
  • McGrady Junior XC Series – Tollymore Forest Park, Newcastle – 1pm (This is an INVITATIONAL event only!)
  • East Coast AC Junior XC Series Grand Finale – Sandy Bay Playing Fields, Larne – 11am (Entries AVAILABLE on race day to JUNIOR ATHLETES only!)

Other events taking place outside Northern Ireland this weekend…

Müller Indoor Grand Prix 2018:

Local stars Adam McMullen (Crusaders AC / Alan Kennedy) and Megan Marrs (City of Lisburn AC / Jerzy Maciukiewicz) will be hoping to continue their recent personal best form as they compete as part of a star-studded line up at the Müller Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow, Scotland (Sunday 25th February 2018).

Some of the best athletes in the world, including a host of stars from the 2017 IAAF World Championships, will compete at the glittering Emirates Arena.

Last weekend, Long Jump star Adam McMullen leaped closer to the famous 8m mark when he reached 7.99m to secure the AAI National Senior Indoor gold medal.  The Crusaders AC man will again compete against top British jumper Greg Rutherford, who beat him to top honours at the British Athletics Indoor Championships (also last weekend), were Adam reached 7.75m for second place.

Megan Marrs excelled at the aforementioned British Athletics Indoor Championships, taking the 60m hurdles title in 8.16. This was a personal best and enough to see the fast-improving star come within 0.02 of the IAAF World Indoor Championships standard of 8.14.  Since the start of 2018, Megan has slashed 0.44 off her 60m hurdles personal best.

Parkrun:

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.