Inter-Counties 2023 Race Report

The plan for the NIMRA team’s trip to Sedbergh for the British Inter-Counties Fellrunning Championship race was well laid… Six of us (Aine Gosling, Bernadette O’Kane, Ciara Coffey, John Marrs, Joshua McAtee and Andrew Tees) would fly from Belfast City to Manchester on Saturday morning, rent a couple of cars, then rendezvous with Jared Martin and Jack McKenna in Kendal. We’d have a leisurely jog around the race route, followed by some food, then get to the hotel early for a good rest ahead of race day on Sunday.

Some army general once observed that any plan of operations rarely survives first contact with the enemy… Well, first contact came in the form of a text message from Aer Lingus at 7.30 on Saturday morning to say that our 10am flight (and the subsequent flights) to Manchester were cancelled without explanation. After some frantic rebooking, we all had seats on a much later flight at 4.20pm. Not ideal. Eventually making it to Kendal about 8pm, we met team manager Ian Taylor in Pizza Express and managed to get some pre-race carbs into us.

Sunday dawned grey and drizzly, the Howgill Fells nowhere to be seen in the mist. Compared to recent races in the Mournes, where hypothermia and drowning had been realistic possibilities, a bit of mist and drizzle seemed like quite amenable racing conditions! After a service station breakfast we headed off to Sedbergh, where the sun was starting to break through the clouds and the mist was beginning to burn off. There was a good buzz around the village, and as we got registered, photographed and warmed up, the hills above us gradually emerged from the murk.

The course for the day was to be two loops of 7km, comprising a 4km/350m climb to the summit or Arant Haw, followed by 3km of grassy, flowing downhill, interrupted only briefly by a short climb over the summit of Winder. As well as being the Inter-counties championship, this was also the  selection race for the World Mountain Running Champions in Innsbruck, so the field was stacked as the cream of UK fell-running lined up to fight for a GB vest.

The NI/Ulster team L-R: Jared Martin, John Marrs, Joshua McAtee, Jack McKenna, Ciara Coffey, Andrew Tees (C), Martsje Hell, Bernadette O’Kane & Áine Gosling

By the time we got to the start line on the side of Winder, conditions were sunny and warm, with only the tops still in cloud. At 1pm the women’s race got under way and we watched them head off and begin the grind up the first steep section of hillside, then within fifteen minutes we were following them. The course was all very runnable (at least while legs were fresh on the first loop) and the ground was grassy and dry with hardly a rock in sight (nothing at all like mountain running in Ireland!). As the race went on, the skies cleared further and things got uncomfortably warm on the second loop, but thankfully it remained cool and breezy higher up.

Áine in action

In the ladies team, Aine was proving she could mix it with the best by climbing strongly to be well up in the field early on. She was to hand a few places back on the descents, but with only a handful of mountain races under her belt, it was a phenomenal effort to finish 17th/65 amongst a top class field. It was a great showing from the whole team, with very little separating Martsje and Ciara who finished in 31st(1:22:59) and 33rd(1:23:45) respectively, with Bernadette not far behind either in 48th(1:28:42). The ladies finished an impressive 8th out of 17 teams.

Joshua & Andrew

Amongst the men’s team, a lack of hills around Oxford didn’t seem to have affected Jared too much, as he had a storming run to finish in 21st/87(1:02:42) and take 3rd place in the U23 category, an amazing achievement! Further back, the rest of the boys were all fighting hard for places in the middle of the pack. Joshua had a strong second lap to gain several places, just pipping Jack on the final descent, to finish 34th(1:06:39), with Jack just seconds behind in 35th(1:06:52). Andrew 38th(1:08:22) and John 57th(1:13:21) were not far behind. The men’s team finished a very respectable 9th/20 teams.

Jared Martin en route to claiming his bronze medal

Despite the travel disruption, it was a great weekend away and a very enjoyable race! Well done to both teams, and congratulations to Jared on his podium finish. Thanks go to NIMRA for the opportunity to race and represent NI, to Ian Taylor for making the journey and cheering us on from the summit of Winder, to Anne Sandford for organising, and to Aer Lingus for absolutely nothing.

The women’s race was won by Philippa Williams of Yorkshire in 1:04 and the men’s race was won by Scotland’s Andrew Douglas in 56:00.

A full race report can be found here:

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