It’s been quite a few years since we have had a bad weather mountain marathon weekend, but it arrived with a vengeance this year. Thursday was a lovely day and the marker team worked long hours to get as many controls in position for they knew that Friday’s forecast was poor. And so it proved, with rain for most of the day and although all the markers were in position, the camping field was providing plenty of headaches. Car parking was going to be a problem and the erection of the marquee during the evening was particularly epic as rain poured down steadily and a strong northerly wind threatened to carry the tent and those hanging onto ropes over the wall and into the next field. My head was turned trying to figure out which weather app should be believed but they all had one thing in common…. rain!
Despite all of this we had a good turnout the following morning at the Tollymore National Outdoor Centre and the large common room was soon buzzing as teams gathered and prepared to go through the registration process. Our new sponsors, Mac in a Sac were there in force with their outdoor clothes display stands along with their partner Lilas Outdoors from Armagh city selling last minute items of kit. Outside the cloud sat low and ominous on the hills but at least the rain which had been virtually continuous for thirty hours had stopped. By 10.30am One Hundred and Seventy Four teams had set off on the first stage of the weekend’s odyssey.
Terry McQueen had once again produced challenging courses which were to test the navigation skills and the Elite class was soon into the thick of it with a cluster problem to solve once they had exited Tollymore Forest. From there it was west to markers on the Meels and then to a marker at the start of another more challenging cluster high above Ben Crom Reservoir. What was the best way to deal with two markers to the north and south of the Slieve Beg, Slieve Lamagan spine of mountains and the big climbs to get to them? The exit was at the manned control near Hares Castle then it was a loop round the rough slopes of Chimney Rock Mountain before descending to the campsite in a farmer’s field below Round Seefin.
Dream Team Flying
It soon became apparent that although the underfoot conditions were soggy one team was really on fire. Shane Lynch, the current Rankin Round record holder and Adam Cunningham, this year’s Northern Ireland Mountain Running champion were tearing around the course at a phenomenal pace, setting fastest times for most of the legs. Last year’s champion Philip Vokes and Ben Windsor were also going well but by the time the campsite was reached they were forty minutes down. Two veterans of the MMM, Billy Reed and Paul Mahon put in a good steady performance to hold third place. Pippa and Dom Dakin, and Clive Coffey and Helen Cassidy statistics show them to have been involved in an epic battle for the top mixed team with only seconds separating them up to the point where Clive and Helen unfortunately mispunched the marker before the big cluster. They were one of two Elite teams caught out by a B course marker that was about 700m upstream from the Elite course marker they were looking for – a good reminder to always check the number on the box.
B Class Mega Cluster
Quite often the B course is a shortened version of the Elite course but not this year. They received quite a shock when they exited Tollymore Forest for they were confronted with a massive cluster which encompassed quite a chunk of the central Mourne’s before following a slightly different circuit of Chimney Rock to the finish. Unlike the top Elite teams who all tackled their cluster by the same route the leading B class teams all chose different routes. Keith Johnston and Tom Crudgington were really flying but an error in the middle of the cluster added a few extra kilometers onto their route but even so they emerged from the cluster with a slender lead of a minute over Jack Proctor and Josh Morrison and would go on to extend it to ten minutes by the campsite. Chris Jones (another former Elite class winner) and Hannah Moulton would be the third overall team and first mixed, but they were outshone in the cluster by Matt Crawford and Jonny Crutchley, producing a time just 15 minutes slower than the two top teams. The top women’s team at the campsite, in fifth place overall, was Clodagh Moran and Emer Perkins and the leading vets, after applying the handicap rules, were another women’s team, Hazel McLaughlin and Denise Mathers.
Sam And Steffi Pushing The Leaders
The C course started with the same cluster used by the Elite class, but thereafter it was a point-to-point route to the campsite taking in that central spine of mountains tackled by the B class, then heading to Rocky mountain and down to the campsite via Long Seefin. The father and son team of Chris and Ben Perry were the fastest over the early part of the course, but the women’s team of Sam McNeilly and Steffi Warnock wound them in over the challenging Slieve Beg/ Lamagan/ Rocky central Mournes section before Chris and Ben once again established a slender lead by the campsite. Ronan McBride and Gareth Kelly kept it steady all day long to comfortably claim third position. The top veteran’s team was John Adgey, a man who was involved in sponsoring this event in its early days when Denis Rankin was establishing it, and Chris Adgey his son, already well on the way to looking as tough and craggy as his dad!
Marshalls Lead The D Class
Unlike the other three classes the D race set off along the Mourne Way and Trassey Track up to the Hares Gap. From there they dropped down to the Ben Crom Reservoir then up past the Blue Lough to Rocky Mountain and down to the campsite via Long Seefin. The mixed adult-junior team of Patrick Marshall and Rebecca Marshall were the leaders at the campsite with around a fifteen minute advantage over the mixed vet team of Jim and Sandra Hoare.
The Score class basically ranges over all the day one markers used by the other classes with points allocated depending on the difficulty of the markers position. Within a period of six hours as many points as possible must be collected before finishing at the campsite. James Miller and Joshua McAtee collected the most points (378) and so were this year’s winners ahead of Luke Tarry and Rónán Davison-Kernan (350) just ten points ahead of Niall Gibney and James Cuffey (340). Looking at the statistics I see that all three teams included the high scoring markers on the Meels out to the west and every team in the top ten visited the forty pointer at the top end of the Ben Crom Reservoir, calculating that the big climbs in and out were worth it. Only two teams visited the awkwardly placed thirty point marker on the lower slopes of Spences Mountain. Ricky Cowan and Sharon Dickenson were the best placed veteran team and Martsje Hell and Lesley Young were the top women’s team. It was decided not to hold a prize giving at the campsite and instead focus on getting everybody back to the Mountain Center using the three minibuses we had available. Unfortunately, one of them broke down so we had to use various helpers’ cars to get everybody shifted which we managed although it took longer than planned.
Round Seefin Campsite
Our campsite in a field below Round Seefin had looked like a great venue when we had visited it in the spring but the persistent rain of the preceding weeks had saturated the ground and vehicular access was now a big problem. We managed by parking on the nearby road and in another farmer’s drive some distance away but it made life difficult. The cool northerly wind had continued to blow all day but fortunately the rain held off allowing for reasonably clear conditions out in the hills and for teams to get their tents set up and cooking done in relative comfort. However, as I went to bed the weather forecast was predicting more rain overnight.
Day Two Difficulties
It lashed down for most of the night and was still pretty grim as we prepared for the day two start. The only good factor was that the wind had changed to a warmer southerly direction, though low cloud was down into the campsite. A decision was made to shorten all the courses and we also changed the start to the inside marquee so that teams could at least mark up their maps on tables under cover. It was all a bit cramped and extended the start period but it worked. Even so, our problems were not over for we were soon receiving reports that the Spence’s River crossing was impassable for both the C and D courses. After a quick discussion it was decided to remove Controls 144 and 138 from the C & D courses for all further starters and a marshal was dispatched along the route to the river to inform as many teams as we could before the crossing. The Elite and B class courses were not impacted by the raging Spence’s River as their early markers were up on Long Seefin. With the teams away, we still had to break camp and a couple of hours followed in which a wet marquee was dismantled, various cars and vans were pushed and shoved out of the saturated field and the MMM team made its way to Tollymore to set up for the arrival of the finishers, cleaning mud off themselves and essential gear along the way. It continued to rain and cloud on the hills made navigation difficult and many of the direct line stream crossing were torrents but fortunately all were safely passable at other locations. There was water flowing out of every crevice in the hills.
Lynch And Cunningham Set Relentless Pace
For the wet weather course in the Elite we cut out a marker high on Slieve Donard. It was part of a large cluster problem and so affected the choice of routes through it to the exit point on the slopes of Slieve na Brock. The top two teams went through the cluster by exactly the same route and once again Lynch and Cunningham set a pace that nobody could match. The final run in was through Tollymore Forest and the leading team continued to extend their lead to win by over an hour on the day and by an hour and forty minutes overall. Phil Vokes and Ben Windsor were comfortably second ahead of the veterans Billy Reed and Paul Mahon and Pippa and Dom Dakin had a good fourth placed run on the day to be top mixed team but not quite good enough to displace the father and son team of Alan and Andrew Elwood from fourth position overall. The top veteran team outside the top three was Trevor Wilson and Declan McGrellis.
Johnston And Crudgington Win B Class
The B course also had a few markers removed and this nullified the small cluster that had been planned, thus producing a linear course. The two top teams raced around the course, eventually opening up a gap of over an hour on the pack and once again Keith Johnston and Tom Crudgington were first home to be crowned overall champions with Jack Proctor and Josh Morrison ten minutes slower on the day and twenty minutes behind overall. The mixed team of Chris Jones and Hannah Moulton produced another third place finish to complete the top three. The winning women’s team of Clodagh Moran and Emer Perkins moved up a position to finish fourth overall and the vet’s title went to Denise Mathers and Hazel McLaughlin after a great run moved them up from thirteenth at the overnight campsite to seventh place overall.
Changes to the C course
The bad weather caused the biggest headaches in the C class. We had already applied a bad weather course and removed two high markers on Chimney Rock Mountain, but on hearing reports about Spence’s River we then removed another 2 controls on the far side of the river. However, approximately half the teams who had started early were unaware of this and after crossing the stream upriver, proceeded to backtrack and then to complete the course as normal. This made for a much longer and more difficult course when compared to those who were doing the shortened version. As you can imagine this caused havoc with working out the prize winners and it has taken much time and effort to sort out a reasonable solution to this problem. Basically we have decided to award extra prizes in the C category to those who did the longer course and as a result failed to have their efforts recognized in the on the day prize categories.
Chris And Ben Perry Win C Class.
It is remarkable to report that Chris and Ben Perry were the fastest team on the day and became C class champions even though they did the longer version of the course, and the women’s team of Sam McNeilly and Steffi Warnock who also completed the longer version of the event and were fifth fastest on the day retained their second position overall. Ronan McBride and Gareth Kelly came third overall but had done the shortened day two course so the other team deserving mention is Jonny Hobson and Steven Cassidy who placed third overall when considering only those who did the longer course. The other categories split along similar lines with the shortened course women’s winners claimed by Helen Pruzina and Zuzka Windsor, and the longer version going to Katherine Dennis and Alice Clews-Smith. The mixed team prize for the short course was collected by Paikea Doesburg and Aoife O’Sullivan who are also the under 23 age category winners and on the longer version our friends from Sweden, Pernilla and David Berg, beat the Irish elements to claim top spot. Top vets on the short course were Mister 30th consecutive Mourne Mountain Marathon record breaker himself, Brian Layton and partner Andy Hicks. The long course veteran winners were the mixed team of Roland Kelly and Grace Leedham.
Two Winners For The D Class
The D course had the same problems with the river ford as the C class but fortunately only two teams did the longer version of the course. Unfortunately, one of these teams was the overnight leaders and as a result they were pushed back into second place overall and so missed out on the prize for the D class winners on the day. Consequently, we are awarding the mixed adult-junior team of Patrick Marshall and Rebecca Marshall the title of long course champions and Paul Greer and James Greer are the shorter course champions. Special mention should also be made of the fact that three of the top five teams were adult-junior teams so well done to the juniors for taking it on and I am reasonably confident that the next MMM you do, we will have much better weather!
The prize giving was held in the Tollymore Mountain Centre who I was able to thank for the use of their excellent facility and also a big thanks to Mac in a Sac for their great range of prizes and enthusiasm and their friends in Lilas Outdoors. Gareth Stewart of Mac in a Sac helped Kerry Rankin present the prizes. Special mention was also made of our other three sponsors who helped us out in various ways, Manor HealthCare, The Kane Group and Advance Mechanical and Electrical Engineering and Harvey Maps for their contribution to the Early Bird’s Prize Draws. If there is one year where the marshals and helpers deserve an extra big round of applause it was this year and the gathered crowd did not disappoint. A tremendous amount of work goes on behind the scenes setting this event up and then pulling it off on the weekend and it all relies on volunteers giving their time and skills freely. Thanks to Nutty Chef of Newcastle for their range of sandwiches which everybody enjoyed as they listened to the prize giving.
Phew… glad that’s over!
So that’s it for another year. We will sit down in a few weeks’ time and discuss this year’s event and think about how things can be improved. Even after 44 years of mountain marathons there are still things to be learned and adjustments made to fit in with changing times. We hope you enjoyed the weekend and will be back for more next year when the weather hopefully will be more normal.
Jim Brown – Race Director