Drama At The Flagstaff
FLAGSTAFF TO CARLINGFORD 2023 RACE REPORT (FROM ARMAGH AC)
The annual Flagstaff to Carlingford Mountain race this year wasn’t just a race with two halves but more a race that presented new challenges from checkpoint to checkpoint as the weather abruptly changed from sun to dense mist cutting visibility to nil at times.
The runners set off from near Flagstaff in bright sunshine tinged with overwhelmingly humidity but perfect visibility. By the first checkpoint on Anglesey manned by Armagh AC club secretary Mark McKeown the visibility was down to a few yards. Armagh AC’s Paul McAnespie led the charge through the first and second checkpoint at Clermont Mountain still enveloped in dense mist and was still leading in bright sunshine by the time checkpoint 3 at Clermont Cairn was reached.
Checkpoint 3 was manned by Club treasurer James Vallely and his daughter Brenda and all the runners emerged from the mist into brilliant sunshine at the cairn. Armagh AC runners Paul McAnespie first through closely followed by Keith Johnston 5th were going well team wise with Lorcan Vallely 9th. Further back Padraig Muldoon and Ronan McBride were running strongly.
However Glens runners Jonny Steede and John Mars were coming through but it was Shane Lynch of Glenmore that looked most dangerous despite having just recently completed the arduous ultra mountain race the ‘Iveragh Traverse’ in County Kerry in 16 hours. Another runner and potential winner Adam Cunningham of Mourne Runners was 6th at this stage. Adam had just represented Ireland in the World Mountain Running Championships in Innsbruck – Austria the previous week running the 45Kms race with 3000 Metres of climb but looked very strong as he came through in 6th just behind Armagh’s Keith Johnston.
Eventually all 63 runners successfully passed through checkpoint 3 and the race headed off in sunshine to the 4th checkpoint at Carnawaddy manned by Armagh AC athletes Shauna Daly and Stephen Boyd. By this stage the biggest issue for the runners was the stifling humidity with little wind to freshen the turgid conditions.
Then it was an abrupt turn to run almost due east downhill from Carnawaddy to Checkpoint 5 near ‘The Long Woman’s Grave’ in The Windy Gap. The navigation across the Cooley Mountains is fairly complex in the mist and even in clear conditions present lots of challenge particularly on the descent from the cairn. The relatively mild winter and early spring meant the mountain undergrowth of heather, gorse/whins and ferns was fairly challenging to get through.
Checkpoint 5 marks an escalation in difficulty for the runners as the course runs almost vertically from here up the side of the Foxes Rock and round the Ravens Rock before the final arduous slog to the summit of Sl Foye the highest point in the race. This checkpoint just above the Windy Gap was manned by Armagh AC members Martin McKenna and his wife Phillipa and the lead runners at this stage were Jonny Steede of Glens Runners, Shane Lynch Glenmore AC, Paul McAnespie Armagh AC, Ryan Stewart an unattached runner, Andrew Tees BARF, Keith Johnston Armagh AC, Adam Cunnigham Mourne Runners, Mark McElroy Newry AC and Lorcan Vallely Armagh AC.
DRASTIC CHANGE IN WEATHER
Within minutes of beginning the ascent into the final mountain section the weather changed with an impenetrable mist enveloping the entire terrain. With visibility at nil the dynamics of the race changed utterly. Athletes went seriously astray on the climb up to the summit of Sl Foy and once there found the checkpoint with difficulty. Getting off the mountain the runners in many cases became completely disorientated with some even heading down the west slope and having to climb back up while others ran past the checkpoint and had to try and get back.
Shane Lynch Glenmore AC who also won the Sl Gullion Mountain race earlier this year was first over the line in Carlingford in a time of 1 Hour 47.29 minutes. Ballymena man Jonny Steede of Glens Runners was second 21 seconds back in 1 hour 47.50 minutes. Andrew Tees BARF was third in 1 hour 49.43 minutes. Ryan Stewart unattached was 4th 12 seconds later while the early leader Paul McAnespie of Armagh AC was 5th 19 seconds later. His clubmate Keith Johnston came through in 6th 9 seconds later.
Markethill woman Esther Dickson of Newry AC had yet another superb race to finish first of the women in a time of 2 hours 10.29 minutes. The second and 3rd placed women were respectively Alexa James Carmen Runners – Carrickmore Co Tyrone in 2 Hours 22.30 minutes and Ciara Coffey Newry AC in 2 Hours 48..31 minutes.
Donal Mc Morland of Glenmore AC was first unplaced MV40 in 7th place in a time of 1 hour 57.33 minutes. Maurice Harte Newry AC was 1st MV 45 in 2 Hours 18.10 minutes. Paul McAnespie Armagh AC was 1st MV50 and 5th overall. The MV 55 winner was Stephen Hoey Jog Lisburn in 2 hours 11.23 minutes. Colin Brennan of Springwell Running Club was 1st MV60 in 2 hours 25.06 minutes. Former Chairman of NIMRA Ricky Cowan was 1st MV70 in 3 hours 53.18 minutes while the NIMRA President Ian Taylor was 1st MV75 in 4 hours 45.52 minutes.
The unplaced Veteran Women awards went to Carolyn Crawford Springwell Running Club FV 40 in 3 Hours 43.32 minutes, Sharon Dickenson Mourne Runners FV 45 in 3 Hours 44.54 minutes and Adele Tomb Springwell Harriers in 3 Hours 43.32 minutes.
Four complete men’s teams scored with BARF coming out on top with Andrew Tees 3rd, Jonathan McCloy 9th, Jack Proctor 11th and Ronan Davison-Kernan 13th scoring 36 points. Glens Runners led by Jonny Steede 2nd, John Marrs 8th, Dominic McLarnon 17th Niall Wheeler 18th were second team on 45 points. Armagh AC were 3rd team with Paul McAnespie 5th, Keith Johnston 6th, Lorcan Vallely 16th and Padraig Muldoon 33rd scoring 60 points. With 107 points Mourne Runners were 4th scoring team led by Adam Cunningham 10th, Sam Herron 23rd, Craig McAuley 36th and Laurence Dorman 38th.
HEROES OF THE DAY
The heroes of the day were the Sl Foy summit marshals Conor Hamilton and Kevin Clarke who headed up the mountain at 11am and stayed at their post until the last runner went through at 3.45pm.
Eithne and Maire Vallely along with Margaret Muldoon kept the runners supplied with tea, sandwiches and cakes following a tough day out in the mountains.
JAMES CARR did his usual job of meticulously recording times, split times and tracking of runners throughout the race.