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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David Bell 2.31.44
Clarke Browne 2.50.25
Stuart McNeilly 2.58.30
Beverley Herron 2.58.35
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.
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.
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.
Joining the run today were myself, the Guns, Man of Stone, Medal Man, the Ardglass Dandy, Baker Bev and the Hoff. Due to mist on the hills the route was changed slightly, starting at Meelmore Lodge, up to Bearnagh Meelmore Col, Meelmore, Meelbeg, Loughshannagh, Meelbeg and back on the Ulster Way. Sadly not one sausage roll to fight over in the cafe but plenty of hairspray to sniff (you needed to have been there). Good craic, good run.
Next week looks like being more like winter so wrap up and join us.