Donard Challenge Report – Mayhem in the mist
On Saturday March 29th the first round of the British Fell Running Championship took place on the slopes of Slieve Donard. This episode was to be a short category race which would see competitors run from Donard Park, through Donard Wood to the quarry and onto Millstone Mountain, up Donard and back down to the other quarry, before a fast dash through the trees. That was the plan anyway.
Upon arriving in Donard Park the first thing that struck us all was that Newcastle was flat and there was in fact no mountain range - well ok it was just extremely well hidden by thick mist. Aside from this conditions were reasonably mild and the cold winds that have been raking this part of the world seemed to have eased.
There were around 250 competitors, and several dogs, from all over the uk and beyond milling about the sign on and warm up areas from early doors. The vibrations were good in the camp and everyone seemed keen to getting cracking. After the race director, Ricky Cowan, had given a safety briefing it was all stations go for a quick kit check before putting our toes on the line.
At this point I will describe my race a little as I feel this will give the reader a better appreciation of the race conditions. To put my experience in context; I am a local runner who actually photographed and described the race route for the NIMRA web site.
As expected, the race took off quickly. Once into Donard Wood the field started to thin out, especially as the path kicked up towards the first quarry. At this point I was really enjoying the grind and the day thinking about how my race report might reflect on the scent of the pines and atmospheric mist.
On Millstone summit we dibbed and set off for the easy run over to Donard…...two minutes later faced with a wall of mist I heard someone say ‘Does anyone know the route?’.
This led me to make the decision that my group was going the wrong way so I branched out on my own, with no compass bearing, and set off for victory. Sometime later this great track I had found to ascend Donard started going down and down. Feeling this wasn’t correct I whipped out the map to determine that I was on the west of the mountain heading for the bloody bride - we were supposed to be south east. I then bumped into Kate from Ambleside AC. After a study of the map we set off over some unpleasantly rough ground for what we hoped would be the top of Donard.
At this point runners were scattered all over the mountain with people reportedly running over Millstone three times. Occasionally out of the mist you could hear people struggling to navigate their way up, down and around the mountain.
On top the hardy marshalls were doing sterling work guiding people between the the two summit cairns before shouting a bearing at them to use on the descent. At this point I met Jenny from Cheshire Hill Racers and a couple of guys. Together we banded together like the heroes in a disaster movie and struggled down the mountain.
Eventually the wall of mist lifted slightly and it looked like we were approaching the quarry at checkpoint 3, alas we were once again in the wrong place and had landed on the black stairs. A bit of traversing and many moons later we finished out the route.
It is safe to say that this describes the day for a lot of racers with a lot locals left red faced after finishing way down the field, but not everyone got lost and there was still some cracking race at the front.
The ladies race was a tight affair. On the top of Millstone Jackie Lee, Emma Gould, Claire Green, and Mel Price were all in a biggish group with local runner Shileen O’Kane following close behind. Jackie Lee was first to the top of Donard, followed by Emma, Claire and Mel. In the mist Emma and Claire ran as a pair with Mel and Jackie somewhere out in the murk. At this point Mel and Jackie had the edge on the other two. Somehow Mel missed checkpoint 3 and had to double back on herself. This allowed Emma and Claire to move into podium positions as they pursued Jackie. Jackie held on for the win and Emma out fought Claire for second and third positions, respectively.
The men’s race progressed up Donard from Millstone with no hitches. On the summit a group of two arrived just ahead of the next five. I believe these groups contained some of the hot favourites including Rob Jebb and Northern Irish men Allan Bogle and Iain Whiteside. As these runners passed the lower cairn Finlay Wild was still coming up which came as a surprise to some of them, perhaps Finlay had his own misty mayhem.
On the descent the two groups merged and eventually they ended up - yeah you have guessed it - at the top of the black stairs. Once down the stairs five of them decided to navigate along the tree line to checkpoint three, whilst Allan and another cut across the mountain. At the checkpoint Iain Whiteside was leading with 10 seconds on Allan Bogle. Allan gave chase through the forest catching Iain as they hit the grassy section coming into the finish. Fired up with adrenalin Allan stormed through to take a great victory, followed by Iain and Neil Northrop in third.
Another enjoyable day in the hills. Thanks to everyone who travelled over, made a cup of tea, stood on a hill and joined in the craic.
Photos and full results to follow.