“So far”, said the weather forecast man on the radio this morning,” September has been the driest in fifty years and the rainfall has been just 7% of what is normally expected”! When we were planning the courses in the South Western Mournes we anticipated wading through bogs, sloshing across rivers and muck to the eyebrows but in fact those putting out the controls were more likely to be raising dust than flicking mud. Our base this year was the Killowen Outdoor Education Centre on the shores of Carlingford Lough where the steep tree covered slopes of Slieve Martin sweep down to the sea. A walk on the beach was the first part of the day’s activities then a steep bit of road to the start line in farmer McGiverns field where an unexpected obstacle presented itself – a bull. It had been moved, along with the cows to another field early in the morning but they smashed down the temporary fence and charged across to their normal breakfast area ignoring all the brightly clad competitors. In the event the” Friendly bull“, according to the farmer, caused no problems apart from raising my stress levels.
The Elite teams were almost straight away into a small cluster in the forest, and immediately away the problems arose. Billy Reid and Greg Byrne tried a shortcut through the trees and were lacerated by briers, Deon McNeilly and David Steel also dived into the trees straight after marker one and fared better but I thought it was a high risk strategy having my own personal bad memories of once wiggling along on my belly under close-packed Rostrevor trees. After the cluster it was the rough ground of the Rowans then up to re-entrants on the slopes of Finlieve. Deon McNeilly and David Steel had problems with one of them and lost time but by this stage the team going really well were 2012 winners Brendan Bolland and Chris Jones setting a pace which nobody could match. Also going well was last year’s B class winner Shane Lynch and experienced orienteer Marcus Pinker.
The Elites swept down to the road crossing at the Deer’s Meadow and were presented with a cluster around the bulk of Slieve Muck and as if that wasn’t enough when they recrossed the road there was another small cluster on the slopes of Pigeon Rock Mountain before the fast run to the finish. It’s a credit to all the thought that planner Terry McQueen put into the planning that virtually all the teams were gaining or loosing time depending on their route choice.
Bolland and Jones lead Elite
The campsite was in a field at the top end of the Sandy Brea, owned by farmer Sean Fitzpatrick who could not have been more helpful in accommodating us, and the view looking up towards the Windy Gap was fabulous. First of the Elites in was Brendan Bolland and Chris Jones who had enjoyed a great days running with few mistakes. They had almost half an hour of a lead over the next team who were the orienteers, Shane Lynch and Marcus Pinker. Deon McNeilly and David Steel held third place then closely packed were the teams of Jonathan McCloy and Paul Weir, Billy Reid and Greg Byrne, and Alex McVey and John Ryan with less than ten minutes separating them. There was a real battle going on for the Mixed title with England’s Wil and Lucy Spain just over a minute ahead of the Swedish pair, Thomas Albinsson and Pernilla Berg, after six and a quarter hours of mountain running.
Short brothers battle it out
The B course followed a similar course to the Elite but was spared the monster Muck cluster challenge. The two leading teams produced very fast times and were forty minutes ahead of their nearest challengers at the campsite. Adding spice to this challenge was the involvement of two brothers Ruairi and Conor Short and it was Conor with partner Kevin O Boyle who enjoyed the Day 1 victory with a slender nine minute lead over Ruairi and Eoin Mc Cullough. Comfortably in third place were Jonathan Shepherd and John Hitchen with the Male Veterans of Trevor Wilson and Declan McGrellis in fourth place. In fifth position were the leading Mixed team of Nigel McKernan and Linda O’Connor and the leading Female team was Helen Flanagan and Louise Anderson.
Father and son lead C class
Forest was more of a feature in the C course with the first six controls in or near the forest edge, then a climb up onto Finlieve and on to the Rocky Mountain area before a two point cluster on the run into the campsite. Like the B class, two teams were in very close contention and again there were family connections, this time the father and son pairing of Ivan and James Miller operating together to hold a minuscule six second lead over Eamon McMahon and Steve Reenam. During the week before the event Madeline Rankin give me a board of results she had found in her attic from 1992. Denis must have put them together, but there high up in the Elite category I spotted Eamonn and here we are 22 years on and he is still operating at the top of his class. The results board did not show the name of Brian Layton for he did not do his first MMM until the following year, but he has done every one since and so it was fitting that he should be celebrating his 21st along with partner Mike Stewart in a very impressive third place. The top Female teams were having a great battle with Regina Kelly and Ruth Lynam in 8th place leading Helen Cassidy and Nina Coffey by six minutes. The best of the Mixed teams were the veterans of Keith Adams and Noelle Ryan in 14th and top Veteran Female team were Hilary Jenkinson and Martina O’Kearney Flynn.
Close one in D class
The D course went on a much more user friendly route through the Rostrevor forest avoiding the complex forest edge, until it emerged at the marshalled position at the top of the Rowans. From there it went north to the Windy Gap before turning south to follow the Pigeon Rock River valley down to the campsite. Conor McSwiggan and David Hicks were the overnight leaders with Keith Patrick and Stephen Hamilton only a few minutes adrift.
Sandy Brea campsite
Last year we had one of the best campsites ever so it was going to be difficult to match that but I think we came close. The big difference was that we marshals were back into our green tent rather than a solid stone building, so that meant generators humming into the night, but all other aspects were similar – warm afternoon to sit around chatting to friends and taking in the view, virtually no midges and well drained easy to peg ground with a minimal amount of sheep poo. The farmer had even been thoughtful enough to cut any thistles down a week beforehand. I just hope you all remember how to survive when we inevitably get back to more normal MMM conditions!
After a chilly night, the dawn was fantastic and before long the sun was shining on the awakening campsite. Everybody was soon packed up and first away at 8.00 were the Elites. A cluster of three points was the first problem and it was gratifying to see teams heading off in different directions to try and solve it. After a single point to point section Terry unleashed his secret weapon, four close packed cluster markers on the exceptionally rough ground of Crenville or Hellsville as somebody christened it. Tall grass to get lost in, holes like elephant traps, and an assortment of scratching stinging plants awaited the unwary. The only good news was that the warm weather had hardened up the boggy sections though some still retained the ability to trap the unwary. Once out of this jungle the final section was a fine run out to Knockshee and back again before a final steep descent to the finish and walk along the beach back to the goodies at the centre.
Cork Men pop the cork
Things went wrong for a number of Elite teams, most notably for the leaders Brendan Bolland and Chris Jones. They made a simple error on the Knockshee section doing some of the controls in the wrong order which lead to their inevitable disqualification. The 9th placed team of Patrick Woodisse and John Warnock had similar problems and Thomas Albinsson and Pernilla Berg, challenging for the Mixed team title, missed a marker in the first cluster. Deon McNeilly and David Steel pushed hard throughout the day and had a good run, but Cork’s finest orienteers, Shane Lynch and Marcus Pinker using different cluster solutions had a better run and won the day and thence the title of Mourne Mountain champions of 2014. With the elimination of Bolland and Jones, third place was up for grabs and it was the overnight sixth placed team of Alex McVey and John Ryan who came through with a great run to get the better of that knot of teams within ten minutes of each other at the overnight camp. The elimination of the Swedish mixed team eased the pressure on Wil and Lucy Spain and they cruised to a comfortable victory in 6th place overall. The top Male Vet team was Mark Alexander and Jim McCormick in 8th place overall just ahead of the Mixed Vet team of Greg McCann and Violet Linton but if you take Vet Handicap adjustment into account then Greg and Violet just edge it for the overall Vet title. And finally a great achievement by Hazel McLaughlin and Denise Mathers who navigated well throughout the two days and became the first Female team to complete the Elite course since 2000. Back then, two ladies teams got around including the late and sadly missed MMM 90’s regular, Elspeth Scott from Scotland.
Conor Short and Kevin O’Boyle win B class
The B course did not have the cluster which the Elites had to solve at the start, but the course was exactly the same after that . Like the Elite, a few teams missed markers over the final sections and were disqualified, but not the top teams. Ruarie Short and partner Eoin McCullough were first team home but not by a big enough margin to overhaul Conor Short and Kevin O Boyle who became champions by a slim 6 minute margin and no doubt ignited weeks of banter in the Short household. Jonathan Shepherd and John Hitchen produced another good solid performance to claim third place overall and behind them in the battle of the Veterans Alastair McCallum and Tommy Begley got the better of Trevor Wilson and Declan McGrellis, and Clive Coffey and Martin McMullen (another name appearing on the 1992 notice board). However when age adjustments were applied it was Wilson and McGrellis who were the Veteran winners. The Mixed team winners were Nigel McKernan and Linda O’Conner and the Ladies title went to Helen Flanagan and Louise Anderson.
21st Celebrations for Brian
A two point cluster got the C class underway, then it was point to point to the finish with only a limited amount of Crenville jungle warfare, before some nice running ground and the steep descent towards the finish. Ivan and James Miller pushed hard from the start and set a pace which nobody could match. Eamon McMahon and Steven Reenan had to settle for third place on the day but they had a large enough lead to retain second position overall. Just as well for them as Brian Layton and Mike Stewart were running out of their veteran socks to celebrate Brian’s twenty one consecutive Mourne Mountain Marathons in style and claim third position overall. Not too far behind another big battle was going on between the top female teams and although Helen Cassidy and Nina Coffey were fastest on day two the overnight leaders of Regina Kelly and Ruth Lynam held on to win by three minutes. Keith Adams and Noelle Ryan won the Mixed Vet title and their age adjusted time placed them second in the overall veteran category. There were a number of Female Vet teams battling it out and a fantastic 8th position overall on day two ensured that Gwenda Kenneally and Shirley Farnan moved up the leader board to become champions. The Miller family team were the overall category winners so it was decided to transfer the family prize to the next best team and that was the father and son pairing of Clarke and Bart Campbell in 12 place overall.
McSwiggan and Hicks hold on
The D class route made its way to the top of Finlieve then back to the Rostrevor forest area and down to the finish. Conor McSwiggan and David Hicks had their work cut out to win as they were hard pressed all the way by the teams who were third and fourth at the overnight campsite, but they prevailed and became the D class champions. The teams pressurising them both jumped up a place on the overall standings so Toby O’Mahony-Adams and Fearghal O’Neill claimed second and Brian Andrews and Earl Jess who were also a Vet team claimed third position overall. The top Female team was Joanne McCandless and Rebecca Sylvest who were just seconds ahead of the Female Vet team of Catriona Reid and Ailsa Armstrong.
Denis Rankin Round Presentations
At the prize giving which was held on the grass at the rear of the outdoor centre in glorious sunshine, the first piece of business to be dealt with was the awarding of Denis Rankin Round certificates to the first three people who have so far successfully taken on the 90km /6000m 24 hour challenge. It commemorates the life and times of Denis Rankin who for thirty years was chief organizer of the Mountain Marathon and sadly passed away last May. His widow, Madeline presented certificates to Billy Reid and Greg Byrne who completed the first circuit in May and to Violet Linton the first lady who completed a round in difficult weather conditions at the end of August. You can read great reports of their experiences on the Denis Rankin Round web site. Madeline spoke to the crowd about Denis and thanked all the people involved in setting up the challenge and the website as well as congratulating the first victors.
Lowe and Killowen
The MMM prizes were presented by Kerry Hall, Denis Rankin’s daughter, and Deon Jackson of Jackson Sports who also represents out main sponsors Lowe Alpine UK. We are very thankful for their loyal support, an arrangement which has been in place for ten years now. A big vote of thanks also to the Killowen Outdoor Education Centre and all their staff and especially the caterers, and an extra special thanks to Vince McAlinden for all he contributed behind the scenes towards the successful running of this year’s event. Also, many thanks to the farmers who allowed us to use or cross their land, especially the McGivern brothers for use of their fields for Start & Finish and Sean Fitzpatrick for the campsite.
The other group of people I must mention are all those volunteers who come along every year and offer their services. If it wasn’t for them there would be no event, so please give a thought to the girls at registration, car parkers, marshals on the roads, marshals on the hills, starting team, finishing team, people putting out markers, people bringing in markers, computer experts, mini bus and van drivers, and pulling the strings are my loyal committee who over the year put in a tremendous amount of work planning the whole thing. There are not enough words around to thank them sufficiently so suffice to say; Team – job well done -thanks.
The last team was accounted for before 18.00 and all the markers were off the hills by 20.00. I was home and in bed before midnight – another record – dreaming of sunny campsites and the fact that I did not have to run over Crenville! Wonder if we can find anything like it next year?
Jim Brown. Sept 2014.