Mourne Mountain Marathon 2015 – Tollymore
The weather is always a great subject of debate in the lead up to the Mourne Two Day and this year was no exception. On the previous weekend when I was being told by marshals to abandon the Glover Highlander in Donegal, due to fierce storms, all I could envisage was more of the same as the long range weather forecast painted a bleak picture of low pressure systems sweeping in from the Atlantic due as the jet stream twisted and turned over the UK. Things looked better as the week progressed, firstly with the hope of a dry Saturday, then news that the marker putting out days of Thursday and Friday were not going to be blighted by sheets of continual rain. In the event the rain did not arrive until the end of the prize giving on Sunday afternoon.
Event Centre and Top Teams
Our event head quarters were once again the magnificent National Outdoor Centre at Tollymore Forest in the foothills of the Mournes. Teams came from all over the British Isles and as far away as Sweden to register for this year’s event, then they were bussed to the coast and the Bloody Bridge starting point. The Elite category had an interesting array of talent lining up for the off with the teams to look out for being the local pairing of Sam Herron & Gary Bailey, fast in the hills this year, Paul Mahon & Adrian Hennessy, skilled navigators and adventure racers, and Bob Johnston & Charlie Stead from the NE of England, Elite class winners way back in 2003. There was also a very good mixed team from Sweden, Thomas Albinsson & Pernilla Berg and one all ladies team of Joanne Curren & Taryn Mc Coy.
The Elite Course
The Elites’ route climbed up onto the flanks of Slieve Donard where they were confronted with the first cluster (multiple controls in any order). Careful thought was required to figure out the best way through it and Bob Johnston told me later that he had to actually stop and sit down to try and figure out the best option before taking it on. His choice was the longer route but with less climb and descent. Many other teams went for the other option – N.B. the winning routes can be viewed on the maps on our flickr pages. If they thought the cluster was bad the next section to a marker near the top of Slieve Beg was no easier, with teams once more choosing a variety of routes to get to it. More route choices across to the bulk of Slieve Muck for a combination of markers before heading north to the marshalled road crossing at the Ott Track car park. The final section was a series of close together markers dotted across the Spelga range with a small cluster thrown in. Then it was down to the finish line at a farm on the Kinahalla road.
Johnston and Stead take control
First Elite team home were the early starters Sam Herron & Gary Bailey, but as the other teams arrived it was soon clear that the overall leaders were Johnston & Stead almost half an hour ahead of Paul Mahon & Adrian Hennessy. Paul and Adrian had no such buffer with four more teams packed in less than eleven minutes behind them, including Sam and Gary and the mixed team of Albinsson & Berg. Another former MMM Elite winner, Gerry Kingston with partner Martin Mullan were also in this group.
Leg of The Weekend
The B class also climbed onto the lower slopes of Slieve Donard, but unlike the Elite class did not have to deal with a cluster, just some hard route choices which would lead them to the marshalled checkpoint at Lower Cove – the point where the Elite exited their cluster zone. They now, like the Elite had to work out the best way to get to the marker on Ben Crom and like the Elite teams came up with a range of solutions. I think this could be labelled the “leg of the weekend” due to the amount of discussion it generated at the overnight campsite. One of the leading teams at this stage, Cillín Corbett & Laurence Quinn even managed to get some rock climbing fitted in as they went for the frontal assault on Ben Crom. The B course also headed for Slieve Muck then to the Spelga range and a small cluster before descending to the campsite.
Ben Crom Rock Climbers Lead B Course
Those rock climbers, Corbett & Quinn turned out to be the overnight leaders, but just with a narrow three and a half minutes over Rob McEvoy & Josh O’Sullivan Hourihan. Also in close proximity were two Mourne Marathon veteran stalwarts, Clive Coffey & Marty McMullan, ready to pounce if the leaders slipped up on day two. Top Mixed team in sixth place overall were Gareth and Emily Penn and the ladies were led home by Lisa Ferrero & Claire Wilshaw.
Like the other two courses, the C class ascended the eastern foothills of Slieve Donard then took off across country to get to the manned checkpoint at Lower Cove. They also had to work out how best to get past the Silent Valley but were saved the challenge of Ben Crom as their next control was on the more benign slopes of Slieve Meelbeg. Like the other courses they finished with the cluster on the Spelga hills and once again teams were pretty evenly split as to what was the fastest way through.
A family Team
Day one leaders were the veterans of Eamonn McMahon and Steve Reenan but not far behind them were Wayne Green and Pete McClelland. These were the only teams to go sub five hours meaning they had a cushion of nearly an hour over third placed Stephen and Eoghan Knight, the leading family team. Top mixed team was Mike Jordan & Maika Juergens in fifth place and the ladies were being lead by the family team of Stephanie & Sophie Pruzina. If that surname rings a bell, it’s because here we have the wife and daughter of our computer expert and general information technology wizard Mark Pruzina. Incidentally, his son Paul and other daughter Helen were also taking part in B class teams and youngest son Simon was helping out with the running of the event. How’s that for a whole family team effort?
The Yorks Take Control of D Course
The D class as would be expected had the most straightforward course, climbing the Bloody bridge river to the Mourne wall then following the Brandy Pad to the Hares gap. Terry must have thought they needed a work out, for next was a climb to the summit of Slieve Bernagh, then back on the paths to get to the Ott car park checkpoint. Finally the finish was over the Spelga hills (no cluster) and down to the camp site. Jenny Elliot York &Lee York were the runaway leaders on this their first ever mountain marathon, well ahead of second placed Kenneth & William Moulds who in turn were well ahead of the ladies team of Sarah Gamble & Gail Henderson.
The campsite we used this year is the same one we used in 2006 owned by farmer Eugene Liveley. When we were last there it was just a tumble down cottage at the end of a rough track, but now the cottage has been renovated and the land around it levelled, creating good parking areas for our vehicles. Eugene was good enough to let us use the cottage as our headquarters, so for the first time in many years the big green event tent did not make an appearance. The camping field which was on a gentle slope soon filled up with teams, busily erecting a city of mini tents (some not so mini), and the smells of freeze dried cooking wafted on the breeze. Unusually for an overnight camp, there was not a midge in sight or to bite.
Day Two Routes
Rain was forecast for day two and the campsite was awash with rumours as to when it would arrive. The good news as far as I was concerned was that we got everybody safely away and the campsite packed up before it did, but the air temperature was noticeably cooler and a stiff breeze was driving the clouds across the sky , occasionally dipping them down to envelop the high ground. The Elites were first away at 08:00 on a course which took them up onto Spelga for a series of close packed markers then after the road crossing there was a three point cluster centred on Meelmore and Meelbeg with a marshal waiting to welcome them at the Hares gap. From there they picked up a marker on the side of Commedagh before diving down into Tollymore Forest to sort out another three point cluster, then it was the run to the finish line at the Outdoor Centre. The B course was very similar but they had a more straightforward run to the finish as there was no final cluster in the forest.
Right from the off it was clear that the teams in second and third place in the Elite were planning on trying to stick with the overnight leaders (Johnston & Stead), and this proved to be the case as they all followed very similar routes and all completed the first cluster by the same route. It was only after the marker high on the slopes of Slieve Commedagh that a decisive move was made as Herron & Bailey used their speed to try and break away and eat into the three and a half minute advantage that Mahon & Hennessey had from day one. The overnight leaders only had to stay in touch to guarantee the overall win and this they did by finishing third on the day. The real excitement was up ahead as Sam Herron & Gary Bailey finished first on the day then began to count the minutes before Paul and Adrian appeared. About three and a half minutes passed before Paul and Adrian crashed across the finish line and dipped the control box to record their time. The computer spat out its results and it was Paul and Adrian who burst into victory smiles, for they had claimed second place by just four seconds – after over ten and a half hours running. Fourth place went to Garth McGimpsey & Alan Shealy after they had a good second day which moved them up from sixth place, while the challenge of Berg & Albinsson went adrift in the clusters and Kingston & Mullan faded in the latter stages. However their efforts were good enough to win the veterans prize and Tomas Albinsson & Pernilla Berg collected the mixed team title. Taryn McCoy & Joanne Curran collected the ladies prize after another steady day’s running.
Corbett and Quinn win B Class
The overnight leaders of the B class, Cillín Corbett & Laurence Quinn blasted around the course in much the same manner as they had done on day one and were again fastest on the day, but close behind them were the experienced vet team of Clive Coffey & Martin McMullan, and their efforts proved good enough to move them up one place to second overall. Rob McEvoy & Josh O’Sullivan Hourihan dropped back into third place overall after coming third on day two. Two days of steady running produced a fifth place overall for the mixed team of Gareth & Emily Penn and one place behind them was the top vet team outside of the top three places, Trevor Wilson & Declan McGrellis. Best ladies team were Lisa Ferrero & Claire Wilshaw.
Before leaving the B class it is interesting to have a look at the cluster around Meelmore, for the leading teams all tackled it by different routes. The most interesting choice was that of the fourth fastest team on the day, Joel Sylvester & Mike Lynch, picking a route which no other team tried, but was arguably the fastest way through the cluster. Their fourth place on day two compared to twelfth on day one seems to back this up.
Cluster for Starters
The C course teams got a surprise right from the off with a cluster to sort out before breakfast had even settled. This had the effect of splitting up the teams and caused a few changes on the leader board. Following the road crossing above Fofanny reservoir it was point to point past the Meels to the Hares gap, then a run to a marker on the Cascade river, before diving into Tollymore forest and finding the finish line at the Outdoor Centre. Overnight leaders Eamonn McMahon & Steve Reenan ran well but it was the second placed overnight team of Wayne Green & Pete McClelland who had the best run on day two, good enough to win them the C category title for this year. Third place went to the father and son team of Stephen and Eoghan Knight with another third place finish on the day and next in fourth place overall were the mixed team of Mike Jordan & Maike Juergens. The vet title for the top team outside the top three was won by Brian Layton & Mike Stewart, and the family team of Stephanie & Sophie Pruzina won the female title. As the Knight and Pruzina family teams had already won category prizes the family team prize went to Clarke & Zach Campbell in 21st place overall. Incidentally, Clarke won this prize last year accompanied by his other son Bart.
Mum’s the Word
The D course was straight forward, so following some twisting and climbing to collect Spelga markers, it was down to the road crossing, to run the Mourne Way trail as far as the Trassey river, then an excursion onto the lower slopes of Commedagh for a couple of markers before finishing off with a forest run. Overnight leaders Jenny Elliot York & Lee York extended their lead to 1hr20 over Kenneth & William Moulds, to become champions, and although the Moulds were fifth on the day, it was easily enough to claim second place overall. Third place went to the ladies team of Sarah Gamble & Gail Henderson. We also awarded a special prize to the mother and son team of Ross and Marcella McLennan – nope, not for a young family team – but for the fact that Ross signed up his 68 year old mum as his partner. I dread to think of the reaction if I had ever tried asking my mum to partner me on a mountain marathon – she thought I was a big enough idiot as it was!
Denis Rankin Round Awards
The rain that was forecast didn’t actually turn up until after the prize giving, which was held inside the Tollymore National Outdoor Centre. Before we awarded the Mountain Marathon prizes, we invited Madeline Rankin to award two Denis Rankin Round certificates to Dave Evans and Joanne Curran who had completed the Round together on the 23rd of August in a time of 23hours 51minutes. The Denis Rankin Round is in memory of the man who developed this Mountain Marathon and ran it for thirty plus years. The round itself takes in all the 400m plus peaks in the Mournes and is 86km long with a total ascent of over 6000 metres. The aim is to complete the circuit in under 24 hours. Further information can be found on the website www.denisrankinround.com
Thanks to Consarc, Jacksons and the Outdoor Centre
Many thanks to the National Outdoor Centre for once again allowing us to use their magnificent venue and to all the staff who put themselves out on our behalf. Many thanks also to Jacksons Sports and their owner Dion Jackson for their continued support and generous prize pool. Our other main sponsor Lowe Alpine UK have moved on after twelve years, and we would like to acknowledge our thanks to them for their support over that period. Thankfully, Consarc Design Group, a local design company specialising in heritage architecture, including renovation of the shelter towers on the Mourne wall and indeed the stunning design of the Outdoor Centre itself stepped forward at short notice with sponsorship. Their Managing Director Dawson Stelfox, is a long time friend of the Mourne Mountain Marathon and has competed in it many times and helped in other ways such as placing markers a few years ago and roving the courses as a secret marshal on occasion. We really are very grateful to Consarc for their support – despite the fluffing of my lines at the prize giving. If ever there was a way of how not to thank a sponsor – I think I found it!
The M Team
This event would not happen if it were not for all the hard work which is put in each year by a load of people. Elsewhere on this web site there is a list of people and the tasks they were doing. I would like in particular to thank the MMM Committee for attending various meetings and completion of all the tasks in the months leading up to the two days. Maybe it’s a bit unfair on the other committee members to mention anybody in particular but they like me know that Mark Pruzina is crucial, looking after all the information technology and entries and keeping everybody up to date on developments. He is the person you deal with when you enter so we would be lost without him as we would be if Terry McQueen didn’t spend days planning all those courses which tease and torture competitors every year. Thanks to all concerned.
Mr Consecutive, Brian Layton
Right at the end of the prize giving we made a special presentation to Brian Layton in recognition of the fact that he has competed in Twenty Two consecutive MMM’s. He now has free entry to all future events for as long as his body can hold out to them. Thanks Brian for all that loyal support, and we hope that you all will continue to support us as we cook up another set of courses during the winter for use on the third weekend of September next year.
Jim Brown (Chairman MMM)