Knockdhu Christmas Fell Race 2015
After a hiatus of 6 years the classic Knockdhu fell race returned to the calendar this Saturday. This race used to be a regular international fixture with folks flocking from all over to run, but for reasons better left in the past it stopped. Local girl, Hazel McLaughlin, resurrected it from the dead to raise funds for Cancer Focus and to have some festive fun with her fell running buddies.
The terrior of the glens has it’s own unique characteristics; the hills are short and sharp, the ground tends to be more argicultural with the associated machinery ruts, fences, and animals and the grass has a mossy note which leaves it slippy when wet.
The course parcours held all the magic ingredients for a great fell race; starting in a field beneath the crags of Knockdhu we headed across a couple of fields before a really short sharp climb from which we descended back onto the path that we had followed in. This led to the first climbing of Knockdhu which was runnable at first but hands and knees stuff near the top.
On the crest we ran across along the cliff top before cutting across the plateau and over a wall. We were now faced with sharpest descent of the day which dropped off the other side of the hill down a steep moss laden grassy chute. The field we crossed at the bottom felt very cross country and led you to a climb which was described as a mini ‘VK’.
The ‘VK’ was a hands and knees path snaking between gorse bushes with the added complication that every time you put your hand in the grass you had a good chance of grasping a handful of thorns from the gorse. After a few minutes climbing you were back on the top of Knockdhu. Once again the route dropped us back into the cross country field before taking us back up the longest climb of the day which led us up that first steep descent. The finish was a lovely grassy run down and off the plateau all the way home.
When the race started there was a strong bunch led by Larne man, John Neill. John has been one of Ulster’s best amateur cyclists for the past 25 years so I was watching with buy meds online great interest to see how he fared.
It was only on that first climb up Knockdhu that things started to shake out with Sam Herron leading Dale Mathers followed by a group including Thomas Leitch, Emmet McAllister, Clive Bailey, John Neill and myself.
The run along the top was straight into a head wind and just a case of digging in with the head down. On the first steep descent Dale passed Sam and there was chaos in the trailing bunch with bodies sliding everywhere and feet flying all over the place. At the bottom Dale had a slight lead but there wasn’t much to separate the group.
On the VK Dale, Sam and Clive broke away from the rest of us and had a decent lead going into the descent to the back fence. At this stage Thomas and Emmet had got a fraction from John and I but still seemed catchable.
The pattern of the day was re-enacted with Sam getting to the top ahead of Dale followed closely by Clive. Thomas, who has been climbing well, had a gap on Emmet, followed by myself and John.
On the run back Sam was once again passed by Dale, but still in contention. The coup de grace came at the last fence. Sam headed for the stile but was shocked to see Dale hurdling the fence to make a clean break for the finish. Clive, my Christmas Cracker partner (god help me), was close behind to make it a Mourne Runner hat trick.
At the top of the last climb evergreen Shileen O’Kane caught John Neill and they had there own battle down the plateau. John edged it, but Shileen finished well winning the ladies race. She was followed by Gillan Wasson and Jackie Toal.
After the last runner had been cheered in everyone headed down to Mattie’s pub in the shadow of Knockdhu for some well earned mulled wine and mince pies.
This was a great race and I would love to see it back as a regular fixture.
Thanks to everyone who organised and helped out. See you next year – hopefully.