Heat takes its toll in Llanberis

NIMRA took a squad of 16 athletes to the recent British and Irish Mountain Running Championships on 21st September in Llanberis (Wales), with positive results from each of the teams. The presence of teams from each of the home nations as well as the race’s status as British trial for the upcoming Mountain Running World Championships meant that the races were highly competitive affairs.

Setting out from Sprucefield on Friday morning, the athletes had a long but enjoyable journey, eventually arriving in Betws-y-Coed by nightfall. With the race the next morning, there was a tangible feeling of nervousness, but also excitement throughout the group as we steeled ourselves for battle against the very best British mountain runners in the morning.

Race day arrived and the nerves increased. After an early breakfast, we made our way to Llanberis to get ourselves settled and have a look around the course.

Set in the scenic surroundings of Snowdonia National Park, this year, the course took athletes up to the summit of Moel Eilio before a long, fast and grueling descent back to Llanberis. The route involved a steep start, followed by a more gradual, yet constant uphill which gave the athletes the opportunity to recover slightly before another steep and seemingly unending climb to the summit. Confidence, nimble feet and an alert brain were then needed to tackle the steep descent to the finish, a descent that some athletes described as “vertical”, with a steep tarmac section that even the most experienced athletes found almost unbearable.

Girls team pre-race

In stifling heat, that really took its toll on the athletes, the first race of the day began with the U17 and U20 Females. First up and down the mountain, in a time of 37.22, was Lauren Dickson of Scotland, taking the U20 win. She was followed 38 seconds later by the U17 winner, Eden O’Dea from Wales. First home for Northern Ireland in the U17 race, with a time of 41.32, was Amy Greene in 7th place, an exceptional performance in what was her first mountain race. She was followed by experienced mountain runners, Sorcha Mullan and Rebecca Magee, who took 12th and 13th place respectively. The U17 team was completed by Amelia Tyler, who fell victim to the gruelling course and heat, and suffered a collapse 800m from the finish line. Thankfully, the team bus driver and coach, Declan, was on hand to make sure she got the help she needed and to her credit, Amelia managed to cross the finish line some time later. Two other athletes, Tara McDonough and Eimear McBrian, participated as a NIMRA development team, with Tara finishing in a time that would have placed her 14th in the championship race had she been a scoring member. Unfortunately, Eimear was forced to pull out due to injury. In the U20 event, Ella Quinn ran a well-judged race to lead the team home in 13th place, in a time of 46.15, followed by Niamh Heaney in 18th and Aoife McGrath in 19th position. Looking back, Sorcha described it as the “hardest race of her life, tougher than the European Championships in July”.

An hour after the female race, it was time for the U17 and U20 male race. With all four athletes from Great Britain’s recent European Championship winning team competing, standards could barely be higher. First to complete the 7km race, in a time of 30.27, was Joseph Dugdale, the reigning European U20 champion. Following in a time of 32.22 was Fraser Sproul, the first U17 athlete, from England. In the U17 race, Northern Ireland was led home by 15 year old Tom Crudgington, who beat many older athletes in his first international event to finish in 11th place, with a time of 37.21. Tom was followed by Sean McGinley in 13th, Luke Kelly in 16th and Joe Haynes in 17th position, all strong results for a young team still fairly new to the sport. In the U20 race, Ronain Maguire produced perhaps the performance of the day, storming to 5th place overall in a time of 32.27. He was backed up by Jared Martin in 13th position, an improvement on his 17th place finish in 2018, and Matthew Neill in 16th place. Reflecting on his performance, Ronain described how he “climbed very well, keeping steady and not losing any places”.

Each of these performances resulted in Northern Ireland placing 4th across the board out of the five home nations present, a real achievement given its status as the smallest country present and the star-studded quality of the field.

Each of the athletes should be hugely proud of themselves, having pushed themselves to their limits (sometimes quite literally!) and delivered many excellent results. With almost the whole team eligible to compete next year, and with Northern Ireland hosting the event, NIMRA looks forward to another set of fantastic performances next year.

NIMRA would also like to take the opportunity to thank Jackie Newton of ANI and Declan Rice of Newcastle AC for their support and invaluable help taking these young athletes to this competition.

Report  by Jared Martin, Sorcha Mullan & Amelia Tyler

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