Hope and Dent win at Donard Commedagh 2016
Last weekend the weather in the Mournes was mixed, with most of that mix involving rain and hill fog. However after a week working with Barra Best and his Aztec shrine race organiser, Ricky Cowan, managed to pull a day of sunshine out of the bag. It was with glad hearts that visitors and locals awoke on Saturday morning to see the tops of the Mourne peaks encased in a blue blanket.
A tweaked course
The Donard Commedagh race is a regular fixture on the NIMRA calendar, but in keeping with the tradition of creating bespoke routes for the British Championship the race organising committee made a few tweaks.
The new route saw competitors running from sea level in Donard Park, through forest paths to the traditional quarry (Checkpoint 1). A gate at the quarry led them out onto the open mountainside and into a steep rock covered climb. This mellowed as they followed the path of a brook and across the plateau of Thomas’s mountain before a steep climb which picks its way through boulder fields to the top of Slieve Donard (Checkpoint 2) with a height of 850m.
Breaking from the traditional route at this point, runners headed down the other side of Donard on the tricky technical descent to the Bog of Donard before crossing the stile (Checkpoint 3) to the Brandy Pad.
After a fast lash around the ‘flat’, but far from tarmaced, Brandy pad the challengers headed up some pre-historic granite steps to the col between Beg and Commedagh (Checkpoint 4).
Now with tired legs competitors had to take on a very steep, nearly hands and knees stuff, 200 metre climb to the Mourne wall on the top of Commedagh. It was a short run out to the cairn (Checkpoint 5) before the fast, scenic if they were looking, grassy descent to Shan Slieve and back to the stile at Donard Wood (Checkpoint 6).
In Donard Wood there were a series of meandering, soft underfoot, mountain bike trails which took them all the way down before depositing them on the last short stretch into the finish.
In total 249 mountain loving runners lined up at 11am to take on the first round of this year’s British Championship. After some last minute instructions the race was underway. The colourful swarm of runners from all over the UK and Ireland headed quickly out of Donard Park.
War of attrition in the Men’s Race
Local man, Allan Bogle (City of Derry AC), led a large pack of runners through quarry, but once onto the mountain proper some of the favourites started to show their class.
Sam Tosh (Rossendale Harriers) led a small group include Rob Hope (Pudsey and Bramley AC), Rob Jebb (Bingley Harriers), Andrew Fallas (Carnethy) and Rhys Findlay-Robinson (Dark Peak) over the top of Donard.
The race was moving so fast that the sun had not yet had to time to melt the ice off the Donard descent which made a tricky descent harder than usual and there were falls and blood a plenty.
The front five had become four by the bottom of Donard with Jebb slipping thirty seconds behind.
After the fast run to Beg only 5 seconds split the front four. The steep climb to Commedagh can be a shock to the system at this point but all four men were still in touching distance at the top.
Rob Hope led the men on the fast descent towards Donard Wood. Just before Donard Wood Sam Tosh was his closest competitor, but a section of tricky ground saw Tosh falling and by this point Hope had it in the bag. He was followed by Tosh in second and Findlay-Robinson in third.
Battle for second in the ladies race
In the ladies race Heidi Dent (Howgill Harriers) led from start to finish for a great win. Behind her there was a nip and tuck battle for second and third places.
Lou Roberts (Ambleside) was second lady to the top of Donard followed a minute and a quarter later by Helen Berry (Holmfirth Harriers) and just behind was Sharon Taylor (Helm Hill Runners).
Lou continued to lead on the descent off Donard but the other two women had quick descents to eat into her advantage.
As they ran to the bottom of Commedagh Lou maintained a gap of around 30 seconds which she extended to over a minute on the climb; but what goes up must come down.
On the descent Sharon Taylor assumed pole position and had a 30 second lead on Lou and Helen going into the wood which she held to the finish, followed by Lou in third.
Allan Bogle was first local male home in ninth place, followed by William McKee (Mourne Runners) in eleventh. A great run from the ever improving Paul Pruzina (Ballydrain) saw him place 19th.
The local ladies were led by stalwarts Diane Wilson and Shileen O’Kane with Gillian Wasson, from the ever expanding Ballymena ladies division, coming next.
Hawkeye in the house
Bearing in mind that there has been an awful lot of rain over the past few weeks the mountainsides were drier than might be expected; however the ice on Donard and the always greasy descent of Shan Slieve meant that plenty of runners were coming back head to toe in muck with a little bit of blood for good measure.
It was lucky for them that Peter ‘Hawkeye’ Howie had set up a M*A*S*H tent at the finish and was attending to their wounds; although I have heard no reports that this was done with a cocktail to hand.
A big shout to the club’s standing on the mountainsides manning checkpoints: Ballydrain (Checkpoint 1), Newcastle AC (Checkpoint 2), BARF (Checkpoint 3), East Down (Checkpoint 4), Murlough AC (Checkpoint 5) and Mourne Runners (Checkpoint 6).
When the dust settled
After the race everyone got together in the registration hall for a great spread of soup and buns courtesy of the Bryansford Ladies. I can report the homemade tray bakes and cookies were so good, that I ate like I was at a 6 year old’s birthday party, ie, until I felt sick.
Thanks to the Sponsors
Thanks to Cotswold and Hill Trekker for sponsoring runner prizes. O’Hares Bar provided one lucky runner with a meal for two. Pre-race porridge was provided by White’s and post race recovery drinks by Dale Farm.
Thanks to everyone who travelled, helped out and made the day another great occasion. See y’all next year.