Ben Nevis 2017: Rubber Trouble

by Sheugh-hopper

Like all pilgrimages, this one has its rituals; the trip to the foot of the fabled Ben always the first – maybe it is just to check that it is still there but tradition dictates that all will jog to the first bridge. On this occasion the elite squad took off in advance, in pursuit of Mikkelson-Barron, brows furrowed at the prospect of barbed wire interfering with the traditional route.

The captain of the Mourne Runners cyclocross section lagged behind though, keen to regale all who would listen with tales of his exploits on the first race of the season and by the time the runners returned 40 minutes later none of the assembled throng at the Ben Nevis Inn could quite understand how he hadn’t won it.

The guns

Puzzled faces peered out from under the covers on Saturday morning; not only were there blue skies and not a breath of wind but no sign of rain. The dire predictions of mist, storms and torrents came to naught. A unique experience for most would follow – a Ben race where the course was visible from top to bottom.

But first the vital pre-race preparation with porridge and eggs on the menu. A well-known national pub chain seemed to do its best but even Oliver Twist wouldn’t have been asking for more of the gruel and the scrambled eggs seemed to have been devised in the Goodyear school of cooking.

So it was a mean and hungry looking bunch who took their places behind Lochaber Pipe Band for the nerve jangling shuffle to the starting pen. At the gun the McKees moved effortlessly along the Achintee Road with William reaching the gravel track in 6 and a half minutes and David hard on his heels.

On to the steep and rough terrain above the Red Burn and a group of Mournemen, Jonny Scott, Richard Hanna and Garth McGimpsey traded places with eventual ladies’ winner Diane Wilson also in the mix. The duel continued on the descent with Scott eventually leading the trio home with a slightly battered Hanna just 25 seconds adrift. A superb run by McGimpsey saw him improve on his 2016 time by a remarkable 12 minutes, proving that all those years of sharing with Ricky have finally paid dividends with some of the stardust drifting down from the bunk above. With all three within 2 and a half minutes of the coveted two hour mark, 2018 must be the year.

Tough work

Sam Herron, after a season spent nursing a persistent niggling injury which allowed little or no mountain training, showed his class with a finish on 2.11 with Richard Bell just five minutes behind.
Further down the field there were rubber problems of a different variety with Darren’s soles not up to the demands of a storming descent where he made up a ten minute lead to catch the chairman just below the river crossing and leading to an appointment with his new best friend in the beautician’s following up last week’s wax with a pedicure. There was much learned debate about the speed of his descent with club scientific adviser McAleenan noting that the force of the impact was equal to mass multiplied by velocity and while there was some control over the speed there wasn’t much that could be done about the weight.

Prior to the race Herronsports were offering attractive odds on the chairman returning to Claggan Park with at least one limb either a different shape or in more than one piece but after a rash of bets the bookies took a hammering with Bell arriving home at a leisurely pace but intact.

Dead beat

Of the race virgins Jonny Scott was first home in an excellent 2.01, Clare Withers, unflappable as ever showed no fear on the lengthy run down, shadowing specialist descenders Ciaran McAleenan and 14 times veteran Ricky Cowan off the summit but wisely backing off on the craggy rocks half way to the Burn. McAleenan flew off the summit matching Cowan step for step until the stile.

Back at the sharp end William McKee was the top Club finisher in a brilliant 15th place with David just over five minutes behind, iodine patches doing the trick, on a mountain that neither of them had ever seen before.

The star of the show this year though was the weather with a treat for those travelling slowly enough on the descent to be able to lift their eyes. The Halfway Lochan sat shimmering in the middle distance against a backdrop of an azure sky and the mirror-like Loch Linnhe beyond. If you were taking it seriously though you might not have seen any of that with more than one Mourne runner heard to remark afterwards, “What Loch, I didn’t see one”.

In keeping with tradition, post-race celebrations were muted with Horlicks the predominant beverage of choice. Ricky Hanna in particular needed to keep his wits about him as he stalked race winner Finlay Wild around town hoping to extract training tips, eventually cornering him in the Pizza Corner where his favourite toppings were carefully noted. Anne is now under strict instructions that the Hanna Sunday lunch from now to next September must be Hawaiian with extra pineapple.

Results were carefully digested in Glasgow airport en route home and the club performance director pronounced himself well satisfied with the outcome, especially the team result which saw Mourne finish in 5th place ahead of several legendary hill running clubs including Clayton le Moors and Helm Hill whose team included former winner Rob Jebb. There was heartfelt concern that the best Fell Running Club in County Down could only manage 32nd place although at least it was an improvement on 36th last year.

A postscript was a bit more rubber bother on the road from George Best to the Kingdom with the Honda limping to a halt suspiciously close to Brennans. Is it true that they serve pizza at 1am?

Clubman of the month and more

Clubman of the month

The Clubman of the month in May is being ‘presented’ to Laura Graham. You must have been visiting Mars or grounded in your bedroom with no tv if you have failed to see that Laura was the first local to win the Belfast marathon in 18 years.

Your eyes don’t deceive you, that is a Mourne vest in the London Marathon elites

A week after lining up with the elites at the London Marathon Laura ran a personal best time of 2 hours 41 mins 47 seconds to win the Belfast Marathon. It is fair to say that you could consider that to be a quare run.

Photo from NIRunning of the finish

Other News

It’s great to see a sea of blue shirts running and spectating at the Hill and Dales. The past couple of years it has felt like Thursday nights have been dominated by the red and yellow of team Newcastle but in 2017 there have been a lot of old and new faces out giving there all for the Mourne vest.

Ricky and Chazzy duking it out
Good to see John and Johnny back.

Lastly a big shout out to my number 1 fan – Pamela Herron – without her support I just wouldn’t be able to get round on a Thursday night. I owe you a Nugey pot.

Eeh Up (and Down) Lads

by Sheugh-hoppper

What else but a glass of Wainwright Pale Ale to set up the three Mourne Runners for the epic challenge of the ‘Marathon with Mountains’, the Three Peaks Fell Race. Somehow it seemed appropriate to honour the legendary fellsman as they contemplated the 24 miles and 5279 feet of climbing that lay in store the next morning. Just one though, enough challenges awaited.

The Guns and The Chairman
The Guns and The Chairman

The masses gathered at Horton in Ribblesdale bright and early and the wise heeded the organisers’ advice not to attack Pen-y-Ghent too vigorously. The first climb took the runners along the gradually steepening climb and half way up the leaders on their descent came into view with Tom Owens 20 seconds ahead, clearly a man with victory on his mind. From there the long undulating path to High Birkwith, the day cool, the cloud high and the friendly Northern runners free with their advice and encouragement.

The heat is on
The heat is on

But what is it with Mourne Runners and young women – is it the blue vest, the accent or perhaps the physique? As Richard Hanna strode towards the Victorian masterpiece that is the 24 arches of Ribblehead Viaduct his eye was caught by a young brunette.” Hi Ricky”, she fluttered and the normally unflappable Hanna, no stranger to admiring glances from the ladies was momentarily nonplussed. Who is she? How does she know my name? How can I get her number? The mystery later solved by a combination of Sarah’s Facebook page and the race commentator.

The Ardglass Dandy
The Ardglass Dandy

Fifteen minutes later David Bell arrived at Ribblehead in the company of Wendy Dodds who did her best to chat about how she had enjoyed the Donard Challenge race a few weeks previously but the best the Mourne man could manage in response were a few incomprehensible grunts as the crossing of Force Gill and the steepening climb onto Whernside took their toll. Clarke Browne arrived at the viaduct hot on Bell’s heels just over three minutes adrift.

The guns finds his towels
The guns finds his towels

Some hands and knees ascent led eventually to the Whernside summit at 736 metres and the rocky run off towards Chapel le Dale, the forbidding menace of Ingleborough-or was it Mordor- looming large on the skyline.

At this stage the sharp end of the race took a dramatic turn. Tom Owens, a minute ahead at the top, took a wrong turn on the Whernside descent allowing Murray Strain to reach the Ingleborough summit in the lead and come home in a superb 2.49. Victoria Wilkinson took the ladies prize, smashing the record held by the Czech Republic’s Anna Pichrtova since 2008 with a time of 3.09.
From the Hill Inn the run towards Ingleborough was fast at first, through the pastures and along the solid Yorkstone flags but the gulley knocked the notion of speed out the field and as the slog up the face and along the rocky ridge unfolded the organisers’ words about the canny start echoed in the ears of the runners as they gratefully dibbed at 724 metres.

As Hanna completed the steep descent of Ingleborough then sped across the Sulber Nick crags he glanced up and spied the finish marquee in the distance. A check of the watch showed 3.54 and a helpful marshal encouraged him onward with, “Eeh lad, if you really go for it, tis 10 minutes to ‘t finish from ‘ere”. AAAAARGHNEOOOOO! came the anguished roar in response as the marshal cowered, the sheep scattered across the Dales and Hanna moved up two gears, nothing but the four hour target in his head. The birds fell silent, mothers shepherded their children inside, pulled the curtains and hid under the beds, fathers locked up their daughters and the crowds looked on in awe as the man in blue, as if possessed, stormed off the hill, the oaths and profanities reaching a terrifying crescendo as he was confronted by the steep incline after the railway underpass. Would he make it….the spectators held their breath as he crossed the line in 3.59.17 and the sigh of relief was audible from Horton to Aughnahoory.

Clarke Browne was dashing off the final summit over the treacherous limestone terrain when the dreaded cramp struck him down but once again the Mourne magnetism worked wonders as two Yorkshire masseuses came to his aid. As one offered water the other set to work on the locked calf. What was the attraction you may well ask, was it that blue vest again although a group of onlookers was overheard to remark that in this case it perhaps wasn’t the smouldering film star looks or the rugged physique that enticed the girls but maybe they needed their boiler serviced. Whatever the motive the lasses soon had Clarke back on his feet and after politely declining an eyebrow wax and pedicure he was off again to finish in 5.27.

While Richard Hanna was searching the First Aid tent and ringing the local hospitals David Bell finished, miraculously in one piece, on 4.44.

Celebrations that evening were informative with the trio now convinced that, when the knees finally give up, they will have an exciting new hobby in speed sheep shearing following a lengthy monologue on the subject in the Lion from a local farmer and father of the world champion. The sheep on Bignian might now have another reason to feel nervous.

Most certainly an event on the bucket list for any mountain running enthusiast with the combination of steep climbs, both gentle and technical descents, tracks, roads and lengthy undulating sections providing a real challenge. The event is a masterpiece of organisation, supported by Innov8, there were 200 marshals on duty from clubs all over Yorkshire and Lancashire with the dibber data fed back instantaneously by Raynet to Race HQ, allowing supporters to follow the action on large screens in the marquee. With the large and enthusiastic crowds providing food and encouragement all the way it’s a memorable and manageable trip for anyone from Mourne.

A Wicklow Picnic

by The Chairman

Leopardstown usually hosts thoroughbreds of the four legged variety but as the first sun of Spring warmed the snow-capped Wicklow hills the blue vests set out from the racecourse to Ballinastoe where 16 miles of mountain and trail led back to Johnny Foxes.

Tastes like victory
Tastes like victory

As the assembled throng awaited the starting gun that breed apart, the ultra-runners, hove into view at their half-way point. Leading the local charge was Dale Mathers with barely a sweat broken and in fact so relaxed that he was able to distribute crisps and chocolate from his stash to the waiting trail runners hoping to shadow him on the return journey.

The gradual gravel climb through the forest spread the field and at the sharp right onto the railway sleepers the real business began. As the runners slogged upwards, some enjoying the view of Lough Tay far below, Stuart McNeilly made a move off the sleepers to snatch a few places but a slip ensued and in a clash with CIE’s best the knee was always coming off worst. Undaunted though and sporting a gash that would have put a Newcastle man on the sick for a month he headed off at a brisk trot, his only regret that the arc welder was in Ballymartin and not at hand to cauterise the wound.

The Baker had been given strict pre-race instructions by the Club tour guide to pause on the descent to Crone Wood and enjoy the view of the spectacular Powerscourt waterfall but no, having spotted the dashing blue headgear of the Dandy, she took off in hot pursuit the only thought in her mind to overhaul the Ardglass man on the forest track. No slouch himself though, Clarke was at full tilt down the hill and at the water station was tucking in to a well-deserved multipack when Beverly shot past. It is a measure of the man’s true dedication to the sport that he dropped the half eaten Milky Way and the pursuit was on.

The duel continued along the tranquil and sparkling Glencree river, the runners enjoying the birdsong and the warming sun – on another day surely the perfect picnic spot- but that would have to wait. Browne eventually overtook Beverley on the long climb to Prince William’s Seat, following David Bell in to the finish at Glencullen with the Baker and Stuart coming in together a few minutes later.

Having completed his 32 miles, Dale dispensed some medicinal Head and Shoulders and McNeilly emerged from the shower with a knee fit for public view again.

The main purpose of the trip, the visit to the Applegreen picnic area beckoned and Beverley’s bacon and egg sandwiches soon ensured that the rigours of the day were a distant memory. An added bonus was the unavoidable absence of the Aughnahoory bun eating Champion which ensured second helpings of cake for all and it was a contented quartet who returned across the border to fulfil the prediction that none would need much rocking to sleep that night.

Trail:
David Bell 2.31.44
Clarke Browne 2.50.25
Stuart McNeilly 2.58.30
Beverley Herron 2.58.35

Ultra:
Dale Mathers 5.25

Sunday Mountain Run 22/01: Lambinnianini

On the start line today: Bandana man, The Guns, Man O Stone, The Hoff, MR wannabee, the Team Baker, Mountain Man, Shoe Fetish Bailey, the Ardglass Dandy, myself and the two Davy’s. Shanti manned the pits. Repping the dogs we had Max, Coops and Oscar.

The team
The team

Surprisingly mild for this time of year we toured over Lammigan and Binnian, apart from McKee who did a double Binnian. On Binnian we met The Hoffs sister….you know Charlene you may as well just start running with us on a Sunday.

Refueling
Refueling

Afterwards we continued on the tour of cafe’s in the Carrick Little Cafe. A great little spot for a coffee and some fireside craic.

Next week the tour of cafes moves to Kilbroney.