Irish Mountain
Running Association

Slieve Donard


Jeff FitzsimonsDermot Murphy

Jeff Fitzsimons

Arriving at The Newcastle Centre there was a decidedly different vibe to any other Irish Champs race I’ve been to. None of the back of a car registration here. Ear drum piercing motivational tunes pumping, indoor registration area and wait, is that an actual finish chute with “Finish” banner? It can’t be, this is a hill run!

Having gotten over the shock of the road race like levels of pampering in evidence it was off to have a look at the route through the forest out of town to the open mountain. Sure enough, as mentioned on the forum, it was a warren of possible routes. If possible, following a local through this, particularly on the way back, would be helpful I reckoned. That would prove easier than it sounds, as I was to find out later.

So we headed back into town after this little recce, only to discover yet more pampering. Partial road closures, bag pipers, more pumping tunes, an actually audible race director’s last minute instructions! I almost felt guilty for not arriving with Sterlons and paying in yoyos instead, availing of a nice discount along the way. Before I knew it we were away and I focused on not getting trampled as 134 enthusiastic and ridiculously hardy looking others and me tore off towards the park.

Prior to the race I’d toyed with the idea of taking the more runnable approach up, as I thought a more runnable approach would play more to my strengths. I’d also thought of maybe going up the black stairs for a look, and based on what I saw on the way up, decide whether to go back down that way or another. Rational thought went out the window however as we climbed through the forest. Did you come here for a road race? What would Jesus do? What are the locals doing? Would you be any less of a man for going the other way? All of these questions I answered incorrectly and I went for the stairs!

The climb went ok, once out onto open mountain I managed to hold pace with those around me. I was passed by the leading lady, then caught her, then was passed again and decided there was no shame being beaten by a lady today. I had Torben and Bernard in my sights, so that was enough for me. The reality of the situation however was that this was Torben’s 3rd hill race in 7 days and Bernard was just being Bernard, slowish start relative to his eventual placing. But I ploughed on, dug in and summited feeling strong. It’s at this point that the descent route had to be decided. The truth is it was decided a few hundred metres from the summit. I asked a local runner beside me if there was an easier way down, I was told in no uncertain terms that down the way I had come was the way to go. Once again, bravado and lack of oxygen to the brain got the better of me, and so I went for the stairs!

I had a shockingly bad start to my descent. I couldn’t get going, had local runners shooting past me. Torben passed me shouting about KOM being what today was about, but that encouraged me to let go and try stick with him. Once off the initial more rocky stuff I eventually found some rhythm and held off a few people, catching up with Torben and a group of maybe 2 others just before the steeper drop down to the lowest stretches above the river crossing. This was one of the best bits of mountain running I’ve ever experienced. There were people out on the hill, cheering and encouraging us on. One guy sticks in my mind for his shouts of “let her go” and “keep her lit”. I followed his advice and slid, leapt, trudged, tripped and generally barrelled in as lunatic and carefree a way I could downhill. Trying my best to descend like Bernard Fortune but probably looking closer to Jane Fonda I was nonetheless just behind Torben as we crossed the river, great I thought, keep her lit boy!

This wasn’t in keeping with my earlier thoughts of following a local through the forest however. Torben is a good lad, but he is Danish. Not a local Newcastle member with knowledge of all the shortcuts. So I followed a flatlander through the forest, out into the car park and trudged home.

Once in the town the party atmosphere continued. Music, gold jackets, that finish chute again. A bottle of water at the finish. In those ways this was a very different championship race. But in other it was very much business as usual, Ercus took a dip after the race, Dermot was on hand to give out the silverware and there was a fair bit of joking and laughing at some of the mishaps encountered out on the course.

On reading the results that evening, I saw how shockingly poor a descent I’d had. These locals just fall down the hill. All the more reason to work on my descending and come back. And this is a race I will definitely be back to. It had everything that an IMRA race normally has, most notably friendly atmosphere and all inclusive feel. But in addition it had the sense of occasion and festivity that the start and finish in the town allow and organiser’s efforts deliver. Well done to all, I’ll be back. With a parachute.

Dermot Murphy

Following report is reproduced with kind permission from the Newcastle AC news page:

by Bogman

19-year-old Andrew Annett became the youngest winner of the Slieve Donard race when he trotted through the Frank Morgan memorial finishing gantry in a time of 55.37. In doing so he denied Deon Mc Neilly his elusive 10th win in the race but with years on his side Andrew could become the first person to make it to 10 wins. This years race was also the 1st in a 5 race All Ireland Championship, hence the field included over 30 runners from the South (IMRA). The Ladies race was won by first timer to the event, 25 year old Caira Largey, who also set a new course record of 64. 56 and also finished in 18th place overall.

The race, as it has for most of its life, kicked off from the Newcastle Centre, where the music being supplied by “Elvis” Keaveney had kicked off an hour before the race, entertaining runners and spectators alike.

The 135 runners were sent on their way in almost perfect race conditions and many were keen to show a turn of speed for the locals as they raced down the main street towards Donard Park. The early climb up through the forest to the Ice House starts to sort out the wheat from the chaff. It is at the Ice House that the first big decision of the day has to be made – to go by the Black Stairs or by the longer but better running via the Saddle. Deon and two of the visiting IMRA runners, Ian Conroy and Brian Furey, holder of the All Ireland race series title, headed for the Saddle. The first runners to go by the Black Stairs included Andrew, David Mc Neilly and Stevie Cunningham, who holds the course record. As it has turned out so may times in the past, the “stairs“ was the choice of most of the field.

Back at street level the crowd were able to view the runners on their early part of the climb and while many were still just at this early stage, news arrived to say the Ian Conroy was first to the summit in 36.55. The first 4 places to the top included the 3 guys who when by the Saddle, so it would seem that sometimes longer is better, the odd man or should it be boy, in this quartet was Andrew who had made a trouble free journey up by the Stairs.

This journey, from sea level to the highest point in Northern Ireland, is less than 3 miles but the difficulty can be gauged by the fact that only 7 runners beat the magic 40 mins.

So what goes up must come down, but in the case of 1st to the top Ian, via a route that only he knows where he went, or does he. Like many runners over the years he went walkabout and managed to drop down Eagle Rock and also drop down to 94th finisher. This same guy arranged in February to take some of his fellow Dublin runners on a recce over the course. Not sure how this went nor not sure if he was able to drive himself back home. With 50 minutes on the clock, 62 runners were recorded through the top. Included in this group were the first 3 Ladies, headed up by Ciara Largey, 17th at the top in a time of 42.55.

If Box Hill is the place to watch the Cycling event at this year’s Olympics, then the area around the Ice House is the location for Slieve Donard event and that’s where the crowds had made their way to. You see them going up and you see them descent the Black Stairs. Also this year the music from the Newcastle Centre could also be heard by them and the runners, all adding to the excitement of the event.

With the spectators at sea level now looking for the returning runners, it was Andrew who came into view, with a big smile and over 1 minute of a lead, on his way to his perhaps 1st of many wins in this event. A sub 1 hour run, up and down, most certainly puts you in the top fell runners club and this year 6 runners managed this. Next home was Stevie Cunningham, who with a descent time of 17.24, yes that is from the top to the Centre, was winner of this category. Deon, now in his 50th year, took 3rd place and had there have been a 1st Local Runner prize he would have won this, just like he did in his first run in 1980, but does he need another Hill and Dale hat!

The ladies 1,2,3 were Ciara, then last year’s winner Shileen O’Kane and then Diane Wilson, both running for Lagan Valley and finishing 37th and 46th overall. With just over 2 hours on the gantry clock all runners had returned to base. Some were bloodied by not bowed.

Some of the more interesting finishes included, BMX bike boy Nathan, just managing to keep the contents of his stomach to himself, unlike last year. For anyone finishing in the first 101 places they now have the claim to fame that they beat the man who stood on the top of Everest, Dawson Stelfox. Perhaps you stood about too long on the top of Slieve Donard Dawson. Then our man Elvis, on hearing the 125th finisher, Johnny Cash, being announced to the crowd, had “ I fell into a ring of fire “ blasting out for Johnny’s arrival.

Within the main race there is a “beat your age to the top“ category, to see who was successful, you can work this out for yourselves by checking the results sheet. I can tell you that the youngest runner Nathan at 17 didn’t quite make it, perhaps in 2042, nor did the most senior man on the day, 63-year-old Ricky Cowan.

With 33 teams in the race it was Mourne Runners that took the team event just ahead of the organising club Newcastle AC. The other local club, Murlough AC had their “screamers” on duty at the finish line and they were able to drown the music each time any of their runners came into sight and I can tell you many of them are not a pretty sight!

This year while family and friends waited for their beloved ones to return from the mountain they had a chance to partake in a 1 mile fun challenge along Newcastle’s promenade. 76 participants lined up just after the main race left the Newcastle Centre. There were some very fast juniors and some sleeping toddlers being pushed along by their Mothers. One 3 year old showed she has inherited the Quinn genes as she pulled her Granda Joe around the course by the hand. Thanks to Michael Hazzard all the young runners were rewarded with a Free Pass to Cocos’s Adventure Playground where they can burn off some more energy. The older juniors were rewarded with a Hill and Dale cap that many top fell runners have shed blood, sweat and tears to win. Some participants also availed of Mauds offer of a large ice-cream cone for £1. £136 was raised for Mary Murray House, Newcastle which cares for adults with complex and profound learning needs and physical disabilities. Well done to everyone who took part and helped out.

Thanks to the Avoca Hotel for hosting the post race presentations and “finger buffet”, also to Elvis for the music and all those that helped on the day, see you all next year.