The Donard Challenge 2017 – British Champs
Doing this race was really about meeting up with an old friend in Belfast and conveniently wedging in a race up a mountain just a few feet short of 3,000.
There is a modicum of club interest in this British counter as there are two Bowland runners taking part and one of us is a special talent; but that’s enough of me.
Slieve Donard is Northern Ireland’s highest peak; part of the Mourne mountain range in Newcastle, Co. Down.
The last time I climbed up a hill in this area was with a group of thirty from school back in ’76. Somehow four of us, two boys and two girls, got ourselves detached and took the wrong way down off the slieve we’d climbed and arrived back to base hours after everyone else had returned. The bus had gone and a car had waited back for us. In holy, catholic Ireland I’m afraid everyone jumped to the one conclusion; the wrong one as it happens, says I regretfully, as I really did fancy that bonny lass Carmel. The car journey back was made in a stony, pious silence.
After all the horror stories of this race in 2014 and not being able to recce the route beforehand I spend ages looking at the map. My old mucker, never having heard of this hill running sport thinks I’m being a bit precious about it all. And the price of him putting me up for a few nights is to have a round of golf with him the day before. I’m rubbish at that too but the ‘crack is mighty’ as they say.
Its not till he and his wife are approaching Donard in the car that they begin to understand the scale of what fell running ‘eejits’ do. Have you got a warm coat and a warm hat; you’re not going up in shorts are you; why are you doing this; have a go at yoga instead.
The day is bright and sunny but there’s still a chilly sea breeze. And all the runners are in singlets and shorts as its a first class day for a race of this import. Most of the top runners are present; and yes, one of them is our own Chris. This is really going to test his mettle in a different way. There is a bit of flat running at the start and end but its all about the up and the down; especially the down. This will be a descenders race I think.
When we arrive in the car park we see the ever upbeat smile of Darren F. And for a great description of the course you should read what he’s written on the Fellrunner Forum.
Eighty percent of runners here are English; most faces are familiar but its a slightly more competitive field being as its a British Champs. Chris is a definite contender to win but it is going to be very close. He’s getting a name for himself is Chris; Steve Smithies asks me where that young fellow has sprung from out of the blue; he’s winning a lot of races, isn’t he?
I say to myself that finishing top half will do me right, and I’ll have to work hard to manage that.. After the first runnable two miles, its just a head down painful walk, run, walk, walk to the top and then walk some more – about forty minutes of it. Then its a rocky, boggy, technical descent all the way to the bottom again. Oh to have more bottle than I’ve got.
I meet Chris descending, he’s in second behind Tom Addison, some ten seconds. I give a weak shout, any distraction could end in injury for him. The top five spots are keenly contested but Tom stays in front to the end and Chris finishes second. Yet another outstanding performance from our man. Yes he’s good at the flat stuff; he’s even better at climbing and this proves he can descend with the best too. Take a look at the splits – checkpoints 2-3.
He comes up to me after the race and asks me how I got on; brilliant, I say. I just creep into the top half, goal achieved. My climbing is turning into my strength; same effort, just seem to be doing it quicker. Looking at the results I can see that Neil Hardiman was chasing me down big time, he’s good at that descending malarkey.
My mate Paddy quietly tells me that we won’t have that second round of golf after all when we get back later; methinks he has a different view on this obscure and quaint sport.
The race is organised superbly; efficient, friendly and professional. The false start at the beginning just giving it a nice touch.
Performances of note:
– Tom Addison; you can hear his effort as he goes past you in an out and back – almost squealing in pain
– our Chris; because he’s second and because he pushed Tom all the way
– that lass from Lagan AC; what gritty determination
The two compadres – Chris, nuff said; Darren had a blooming great run as well