Special Preview: Donard Challenge inc British Championship 2014.

by Ryan Maxwell from NIRunning

This Saturday, the 29th March 2014, the British Fell Running Championship bandwagon will roll into to the coastal town of Newcastle, County Down. The Donard Challenge mountain race is the first event of the four race Series. In addition to this, the event will be used as the English Fell Running Championships ‘away day’, therefore counting in the overall standings across the Irish Sea in England.

This new route, classed as a short race in term of the Championship is, as it says in the title, challenging. Measuring 10k in distance, with over 850m of climbing, the race will take in Millstone Mountain before climbing to the summit of Slieve Donard at 850m, then descending all the way to the finish in Donard Park at sea level. This should make every competitor’s journey well worthwhile and satisfy the most discerning fell runner.

Donard Summit Cairn

Donard Summit Cairn

The event starts in Donard Park and follows forest roads across the Donard Bridge then taking a rough cobbled path on the south side of the Glen River before turning south-east using the forest paths to reach Checkpoint 1(Drinneevar Quarry Wall at 300m. Map ref. 376287). Runners will then ascend on rough steep ground to reach Checkpoint 2 at Millstone Mountain summit (460m. Map ref. 373285). After making a short boggy descent off Millstone, the main climb, to the summit of Slieve Donard lays ahead.

Underfoot the ground is mostly heather turning to grass with patches of boulders as it steepens towards the summit of Northern Ireland’s highest peak (Slieve Donard Summit 850m. Map ref. 358277). From the top the route is all testing downhill to the finish at sea level. Checkpoint 4, at the small gate at the edge of the quarry forest (Map ref. 371293) will be passed as competitors make their way through Donard Wood, into Donard Park and impending finish.

Men’s Race:
Scottish International Mountain Runner Finlay Wild (Lochaber AC) will make the trip to County Down for this Championship opener and will go into the event as favourite. However, brothers Rob and Danny Hope (of Pudsey and Bramley AC) are expected to push Finlay over this course, as will former English Fell Running champion Lloyd Taggart of Manx Fell Runners. The well-known Scot Finlay Wild, can climb fast and descent fearlessly. As well as this, his flat speed makes him the one to beat here. Finlay has won the legendary Ben Nevis race in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. So far this year he (Finlay) finished runner up to Orlando Edwards at Carnethy 5 Hill race in Penicuik (Scotland).

Finlay Wild

Finlay Wild

Former English and British Fell running Champion Rob Hope has started the 2014 season strongly, with a convincing win at the ‘Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round’. The P&B AC runner put a good forty five seconds into Ian Holmes, with Eryri Harriers’ Matt Roberts taking a very good third. In 2014 Danny Hope (Pudsey and Bramley AC) has won the ‘Ashurst Beacon 6 mile Fell race’ (January 2014) and the amptly named ‘Mr Sparkle’s Dark’un’ (5 mile event – February 2014). Although unlikely to match the pace of his brother Rob, or Finlay Wild, Danny will be looking for a podium spot. Matthew Roberts (Eryri Harriers) is quick on the runnable terrain, so the start and finish of this event will suit him. If Matt can stick with the leaders on the climb he could take a podium finish.

Ambleside AC and Inov-8 pair Ben Abdelnoor and Paul Tierney are both in good form, comfortable in the rough ground and have a good turn of pace. Although a recorder holder at the Lakeland 50 event in Lake District, Ben appears to be concentrating on the shorter fell season in 2014. He sat out the ‘Middle-Fell’ Fell race a few weeks ago and will be ready for this one. Paul finished runner up to local athlete Justin Maxwell (East Coast AC) in the Wicklow Way 51k Ultra last weekend; if he has recovered sufficiently, Paul will enjoy this course. Pete Vale (Mercia Fell RC) is a man who always performs to the highest standard and will be there or thereabouts amongst the top vets. Pete ran well at the ‘Edale Skyline’ event last weekend, taking second place behind top Inov-8 and Dark Peak athlete Oli Johnston. Others to watch out for are Richard Roberts of the Welsh club Eryri Harriers and Ian Nixon, another top runner from Pudsey and Bramley AC, who recently took a second place finish at the ‘Sedbergh 3 Peaks’ race. Martin Mikkelsen-Barron (Borrowdale AC) is another who is competitive in this type of event.

On a local front; with Stephen Cunningham (Mourne Runners) expected to be an absentee, the focus will be on Jonny Steede (Ballymena Runners) and Allan Bogle order strattera online (City of Derry AC). Although experienced Northern Ireland international’s living elsewhere, such as Iain Whiteside (Carnethy HRC), Gavin Mulholland (Calder Valley Fell Runners) and Chris Stirling (Ambleside AC) will also be competing for the first NI position. Another Northern Ireland man based on the mainland, Ryan Stewart (Dundee Hawkhill Harriers/Larne AC), is also in good form and will be wanting to make that known on the bigger stage. Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC), Deon McNeilly (Newcastle AC), Justin Maxwell (East Coast AC), Emmet McAlister (Ballymena Runners), Alex Brennan (Ballymena Runners) and David Steele (Newcastle AC) have been running well in the mountains and know this course and will be looking forward to this challenge.

Dale Mathers (Newry City Runners), Richard Hanna (Mourne Runners), Phil Hodge (Murlough AC), Richard Bell (Mourne Runners), Mark King (Newcastle AC), David Gamble (Unattached) Stephen Purvis (Ballymena Runners), Gareth McKeown(BARF), Declan McCrory (Armagh AC), Clarke Campbell (BARF), Andrew Wallace (Ballydrain Harriers), Robbie Evans (BARF), David Bell (Mourne Runners), Ian Bates (Dromore AC), Conor Reid (Ballymena Runners), Pete Grant (Team Purple), Kevin Briggs (Peninsula Triathlon Club), Paddy Ritchie (Ballydrain Harriers), Trevor Wilson (BARF) and the experienced veterans from Mourne Runners, Stewart Cunningham and Harry Teggarty will all be looking to test themselves against the UK’s top mountain talent.

Ladies Race:
The ladies race will see top mountain stars Victoria Wilkinson (Bingley Harriers) and Helen Fines (Calder Valley Fell Runners) battle it out a the head of the pack. Other contenders will include Charlotte Morgan (Carnethy HRC), Jackie Lee (Eryri Harriers), Caitlin Rice (Glossopdale Harriers) and Hazel Robinson (Ambleside) will ensure that Victoria Wilkinson and Helen Fines don’t get it their own way.

Helen Fines

Helen Fines

Earlier this month (March 2014), Victoria Wilkinson was the clear winner at the ‘Sedbergh 3 Peaks’ event in England. A week later in the ‘Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round 10 mile race’, Victoria was running well ahead in the women’s race, until some navigational issues in the mist put paid to her chance of winning, but she still took third place.

Helen Fines (pictured right), a sub 3 hour marathoner who travels quickly over the longer distances, represented England in 2013 at the WMRA (World Mountain Running Association) Long Distance event in Poland, taking a very credible sixth spot. This year, Helen has also taken first place in long distance races at Mickleden Straddle and Wadsworth Trog, but has form over shorter distances as well, with a win in the Jubilee Plunge race at Moel Famau just before the turn of the year. The English star won the Northern Ireland leg of the British Championship in 2013, held at Silent Valley. Caitlin Rice is a speedy lady and has made a big improvement in her road times lately. That said, she is no stranger to podium finishes in the fell running calendar and this course will suit her. Caitlin started the year off with wins at ‘Hit the Trail 5 and Trigger Tor’ Fell race. In February 2014, Caitlin won the ‘Terry Nortley Radcliffe 10’ near Manchester and took a fifth place at the Carnethy 5 mountain race, behind quality opposition. This good form continued into March (2014) with a win at ‘Ilkley Moor’ and a second place finish at the ‘Sedbergh 3 Peaks’ race. Only last weekend, Caitlin claimed an impressive runners up spot at the popular Edale Skyline event.

Charlotte Morgan of the well known Carnethy Hill Running Club took second place in the Carnethy 5 Hill race in February (2014), against good opposition. Charlotte finished only twenty seconds (1.01:03) behind Irish International XC and Mountain star Sarah McCormick (Moorfoot Runners). Hazel Robinson of Ambleside AC has raced plenty in 2014; she started the year well with a win at the ‘Nine Standards’ Fell race, and followed this up with good performances at ‘Blakes Heaven’ (second place) and the ‘Jarrett Jaunt Handicap’ (second place) and ‘Sedburugh 3 Peaks’ (third place) events in March 2014. At ‘Middle-Fell’ Fell race two weeks ago, Hazel finished well in second place, amongst good competition. Welsh international Mountain runner Jacqueline Lee (Eryri Harriers) is another, who on her day, will compete well in this race. Like Caitlin, this course will suit the lady who is an ever present at Championship events in Northern Ireland.

Although not a Northern Ireland Championship event, local eye’s will be following the well known Lagan Valley AC pair of Shileen O’Kane and Hazel McLaughlin, as well as the always impressive Diane Wilson (Dromore AC), who has been dominating the Northern Ireland scene over the last six months. Tayrn McCoy (BARF), Jackie Toal (BARF), Mary Mackin (Dromore AC) and the ever present Denise Mathers (Newry City Runners) will also contest the local bragging rights as they aim for the prestige of being the first ‘local’ finisher.

[This article first appeared on NIRunning]

You may also like...