For the past two years we have been in fear of Covid rules and regulations putting paid to our plans and preparations, and so it was with a feeling of relief that we prepared for this year’s event in a near normal fashion. The chosen start venue was Shimna Integrated College, a venue we have used twice before because it provides so many of our requirements without too much fuss and our overnight campsite was to be the luxury mown sward of the Silent Valley Park which we have also used a few times previously.
Negotiations with the various interested parties progressed steadily and Terry McQueen roamed the hills plotting his courses and dreaming up diabolical cluster arrangements. Everything rolled along smoothly up until the week before the big event and then Queen Elizabeth suddenly passed away at Balmoral.
For a few days as the country re-adjusted to the new reality and decisions were made on funeral plans and commemoration ceremonies we were unsure how our plans would fit into the greater picture but once the Monday was chosen as the day of the state funeral we were in the clear to stage the 43rd Mourne Mountain Marathon. Isn’t it amazing to think that the Queen had already been on the throne for 27 years before we had even had our first Mourne Mountain Marathon? That’s just one year less than the number of years that Brian Layton has consecutively completed in our event up to this point.
A fleet of busses carried competitors around the northern foothills of the Mournes and then up to Deer’s Meadow right in the middle of the mountains. It was here that teams discovered what the Terry McQueen brain had been plotting, for he sent them out as far west as Tornamrock in search of markers, many of which he had arranged in cluster formation before bringing the teams back to the Deer’s Meadow to cross the road for the second stage of their journey to the Silent Valley campsite.
The Elite competitors found that they were straight away confronted by a series of cluster controls which boiled down to a choice between whether to tackle them clockwise or anti clockwise. Paul Pruzina and Philip Vokes, former winners of the elite class opted for clockwise as did the Cambridge based team of James Ackland and Luke Fisher, though they caused some amusement at the start line as they dashed off in different directions before getting their act together.
Shane Lynch, another past elite winner and his team mate Donal McMorland opted to tackle the problems anticlockwise. Once the cluster was completed the teams returned to the start point and crossed the road to climb to a marker on Slieve Mucks summit ridge. At this stage James and Luke were in the lead but only two minutes separated the top three teams.
From Slieve Muck it was a long run to a marker on the steep western slopes above Ben Crom reservoir. Route choices towards this point were many and varied and of course Terry had planned it so that getting to the next point was equally challenging with the reservoir and the bulk of Slieve Lamagan blocking the way. The general opinion was that any team which ventured along the torturous west shoreline of Ben Crom reservoir to either get to or away from the marker suffered and lost time.
The final section used Slieve Binnian as the obstacle and again the lead teams all opted for different route choices before descending to the overnight campsite. Paul and Philip were the fastest over every leg from Muck onwards and by the finish, had opened up a 20 minute advantage over James and Luke who had swapped positions with Shane and Donal all day long and had just over a minutes advantage at the campsite. Jonathan McCloy and Ronan Davison Kernan also ran well to claim forth place and the leading ladies team was Helen Ockenden and Heather Cordon.
McCauley and Shields set the pace
The B class also had to contend with a cluster as they set off on their course, though it was not as long as the Elite version but it essentially boiled down to a clockwise or anticlockwise option. The main problem on this circuit was the decision on how to get past Slieve Moughanmore, either as you approached or for getting away from the Windy Gap marker.
At the road crossing Craig McCauley and William Shields were the leaders with the only time under two hours for this section, but hot on their tails were Simon Hodge and Matt Crawford and about fifteen minutes behind them were a gaggle of teams including the leading ladies team of Izzy Cox and Lizzie Stansfield.
The inevitable climb of Slieve Muck came next followed by a long leg to the Ben Crom dam. Simon Hodge and Matt Crawford gained the overall lead over the next stage to the stone cutters hut on the south side of Binnian, but then seem to have hit problems as they headed for home allowing Craig McCauley and William Shields to regain the lead and a fifteen minute advantage by the campsite.
Quite a few teams had problems in this central Mournes section and lost time through route choice but Paul Daniels and Richard Hetherington navigated steadily all day which saw them claim third spot overall and after losing time around Slieve Muck, Izzy Cox and Lizzy Stanfield had a blistering charge through the difficult section to claim fifth position.
Cluster Bombing The C Class
No easy options for the C Class either as they were launched straight into a cluster from the word go, a smaller version than the ones tackled by the other teams, but none the less challenging. The under 23 mixed team of Peter Reid and Meadow McCauley were the first back to the road crossing with a fifteen minute lead on David Hicks and Owen Brady, each team having opted to do the cluster in opposite directions.
Mere minutes behind were the mixed vet team of Andrew Willis and Karen Wilton and another under 23 team, Con Broderick and Anthony O’Malley. Like the other classes they had to climb Muck then navigate markers placed on small ponds by the Yellow River before making their way to the campsite.
Peter and Meadow had some problems with these tricky markers but they did not lose their lead and by the campsite still held a fifteen minute advantage over Hicks and Brady. The top ladies team was Stephanie Pruzina and Sarah Gamble.
Team Penderis Storm The D Class
In the D class the father-daughter combination of Jacques and Evie Penderis stormed around the course being the fastest on virtually every leg. From the start position at the Deer’s Meadow they went out west like the other teams but on a fixed course rather than dealing with a cluster, then back to the road crossing to climb Slieve Muck and make their way to Carn Mountain.
From there they made their way south wending around Slievenaglogh to the Silent Valley. Another mixed team Craig and Wendy Fairless were in second place.
While all this was going on a one day score event was also taking place. The markers were placed on both sides of the road with the only crossing point being the manned position at the Deer’s Meadow.
Teams had to decide how to divide their time between the two sides of the road in order to gain as many points as possible within the six hour time limit. The markers which were remote and awkward were the most valuable. As it turned out two teams ended up with exactly the same points tally and both had been to every point on the course bar the marker on the Ben Crom dam.
It came down to which team had been faster in getting to their markers and it was Gary and Clive Bailey by just ten minutes. This is becoming a habit with these boys as the last time they competed they had the same points tally as the winners but lost out on time.
So a sweet feeling for them but Andrew Tees and Alice Flint were the team left wondering what might have been if they had just pushed for that last marker? Third place went to Niall Gibney and Gavin Hynds while Sam McNeilly and Steffi Warnock won the ladies title and Ricky Cowan and Sharon Dickenson were top vets.
We had a curious incident just before the prize giving when a rumor went around that the busses were leaving and so competitors flocked aboard. The bus driver saw all the people on the bus so he set off for Newcastle and I came along a few minutes later with the prize envelopes to discover that half the teams had disappeared.
I managed to get the second bus stopped and we had a strange impromptu prize giving for those on board, but don’t worry those of you who fled the scene; the prizes are electronic vouchers from Jackson Sports and will be forwarded in due course.
Music in the Silent Valley
The Silent Valley campsite is one of the best around and we were only too happy to use it again after two years of Covid unavailability. Many thanks to NI Water and to their staff for all the help they afforded us over the weekend. With soft grass and facilities easily at hand it is hard to beat.
The weather helped as well for it had been a fine early autumn day with light breezes and no rain forecast. There was plenty of time to amble about chatting to other competitors and studying the course maps on the notice boards and maybe even listening to music provided by Jonathan McCloy and Ronan Davison Kernan. I wonder how they got that banjo past the kit check?
The following morning saw us still on a musical theme as Paddy Mallon strolled around the campsite, jolting late slumberers awake with Irish traditional classics such as “Danny Boy” and “The Mountains of Mourne”, then after breakfast and packing up the teams were heading off for the hills again and part two of the course.
Pruzina And Volks Win The Elite Class
For the elite and B classes the start took them through the woods to the west side of the park and up to a marker on the slopes of Slievenaglogh. This was of course a set up for another McQueen sense of humor cluster for he had discovered three ponds, neigh, holes filled with murky water and a decomposing sheep in one case, and he wanted the elite class to visit each one of them.
They did, not only surviving but making short work of their time there and were soon climbing the shoulder of Slieve Muck. Paul Pruzina and Philip Volks were setting a pace which none could match and throughout the day extended their lead. The battle for second place remained close and indeed Shane Lynch and Donal McMorland had moved ahead on Mucks lower slopes but from that point on James Ackland and Luke Fisher gradually pulled away and seem to have found the better route through the second cluster which started at the summit of Doan and ended at the top of the granite trail leading down into Donard forest and involved finding the best way to get past Donard and Commedagh.
Paul and Philip cruised across the finish line with a forty minute lead over James Ackland and Luke Fisher who in turn had managed to open up a twenty minute lead on Shane Lynch and Donal Mc Morland. Helen Ockenden and Heather Cordon had another good run to pick up the ladies title and Kevin Murdock and Cathal McGreevy were top vets.
Colin Brennan and his daughter Molly were the first mixed team and a special mention to Alan Elwood and his son Andrew who came fourth overall. Both these teams were formed a few years back in the parent junior category and have now reached the elite category and are doing well.
McCauley And Shields Extend Their Lead
The B class ended up at the same ponds as the elites but they only had two to find. Yesterday’s two leading teams were battling it out and by the summit ridge of Slieve Muck Simon Hodge and Matt Crawford were ahead on the day but lost it to Craig McCauley and William Shields over the next leg. They lost another chunk of time on the long leg from Doan to the Beg Cove col marker and although they were the fastest team over the latter stages, they could not overhaul Craig McCauley and William Shields who became the B class champions with nearly half an hour’s overall advantage.
The overnight fourth placed team of Josh Morrison and Cameron Brush moved into third position and Izzy Cox and Lizzy Stansfield also improved by one place to fourth overall and top ladies team. They were also the top under 23 team and Dom Dakin and Sarah Pedley also an under 23 team collected the mixed prize.
It was a very close run thing but after the veteran adjustments had been made Robert McBride and Jennifer Bratty were declared vet champions with just over a minute’s advantage over Hazel McLaughlin and Denise Mathers.
Hicks And Brady Move Ahead
The C class didn’t have to worry about ponds but they had to slog their way up and around the bulk of Slieve Binnian and across to a marker on Slieve Lamagan and then on to the manned marker at the Bog of Donard before making their way to the granite trail entrance into Donard forest.
Day one leaders Peter Reed and Meadow McCauley seem to have had a few problems with some of the longer legs which allowed David Hicks and Owen Brady to steadily whittle down their lead then surpass it to eventually convert a fifteen minute deficit into a fifteen minute lead. Andrew Willis and Karen Wilton had the second best time on the day but it was not enough to overhaul the under 23 pairing of Peter Reid and Meadow Mc Cauley who were also the top mixed team.
The ladies title went to another under 23 team, Aoife O’Sullivan and Hannah Kerr and the veteran’s title went to a man whose company “Andersons Industrial Doors” were major sponsors of this event in its early days, a very sprightly John Adgey and his son Chris. Graham Reid and Cameron Reid were the top guardian junior team.
The D class also had to slog up and around Binnian. Then had an easier route across the Annalong valley and up to the Bog of Donard manned marker before heading for the Glen River and home via the granite trail. Maybe I shouldn’t say easy for I was told of one walker who was making his way down the granite trail facing inwards for his legs had seized up.
No such problems for Jacques and Evie Penderis though, as they continued where they had left off on Saturday and stormed around with almost a full set of fastest times. Another mixed team, Craig and Kerry Fairless were second with Rodger Dowley and Michael Searson making up the top three.
Finally a special mention for Paul and Karen O’Hare who have had a tough time recovering from long Covid. They set themselves the target of completing the D class and succeeded, a prize that will be long treasured as a sign off from the dark days.
The sun was shining and had been very kind to us all weekend, including the period when we were setting out the markers, so it was a pleasure to present the prize vouchers from “Jackson Sports” in such conditions, with help from our treasurer Kerry Hall with Dion Jackson in attendance. We also have “Manor Health Care” to thank for their generous sponsorship and the pictures we presented to the top teams were provided by Rebecca Rankine and her company, “Line In The Sky”.
Additionally a special thank you to Shimna Integrated College for the use of their magnificent facilities and NI Water for the Silent Valley campsite.
Thanks to the Helpers
Quite a number of people give their time to make this event a success, whether it is as committee members or as helpers and marshals over the weekend so once again a big thank you to them. So it is time for us to get the feet up but rest assured that we will be mulling ideas around in the backs of our heads and come next year, will be planning on how to show you the Mourne Mountains from angles you never dreamed of before….unless perhaps you are Brian Layton!