THE start of another Hill and Dale Series – you know the ones where you scramble up and down mountains every Thursday for 11 weeks and tell yourself that you’ll never do them again — arrived last Thursday evening in Castlewellan Forest Park. And I was there too.
I don’t know what it is that draws me back time after time, except to test out new theories about the best way to complete the course.
Anyway, the first major obstacle to tackle was how to affix the number to the front of the running vest.
Not really a great hurdle to surmount with a full 20 minutes until the race would start, but given that these were new fitting clips, to avoid the nuisance of pins, it was clear that an exercise in manual dexterity was going to ensue, never mind that the instructions provided to each runner were a challenge to all, even those who didn’t need to be told go to a certain spectacle provider.
The problem for me was that not only could I not see clearly to read the instructions, I could barely see the clip on devices themselves.
However, I did make it to the start line on time, number nonchalantly dangling at a rakish angle and vocabulary suitably cleared of all known expletives.
I took the trouble afterwards to read the detailed instructions, lest I fall foul of a diligent rules man later in the series, and was puzzled by one line which warned quite specifically: “keep away from children under 7, may pose a choking hazard.”
I must say I was quite astounded at this as I have never, nor anyone else I know, ever eaten a child under 7, much less choked on one. So I asked myself: “How do they know that? What sort of experiment do you carry out, in the absence of suitable volunteers, to be able to say that?
Another little warning, hidden away in the even smaller small print was: “Do not use on materials containing coconut.”
Now, I know there are serious concerns about the dangers of eating nuts for some people, in fact even traces of nuts on utensils used in the preparation of meals, have been known to cause severe reactions in those unfortunate enough to suffer from food allergies.
But I never knew that any of the materials used to make T-shirts, running vests etc. might contain nuts. If so, should those who have nut allergies not be warned – though perhaps it only applies if you happen to eat a garment.
Maybe a catch all warning not to eat any children under 7 years old wrapped in a T-shirt, without first checking if it contains coconut, might suffice?
So, with my mind awhirl with such thoughts I opted for a strategy of starting near the front and gradually working my way backwards.
Not that there as much work involved on my part as the rest of the field obliged me early on, streaming past with consummate ease so that by the time I was through the Spring Gardens, I was as close to the back as it was possible to get without actually being mistaken for a marshal.
I really believe that the hills get steeper and longer every year, as even when I run faster than the previous year, it takes me longer to cover the same ground.
How else can you explain the fact that it took me four minutes longer this year than last to reach the finish line. Perhaps I should get new batteries for my watch?
While I was welcoming in the early darkness others up ahead were fairly flying round the five plus miles, and were home and hosed by the time I was at half way.
Ciaran Denvir was first East Down man home taking 13th place in 37.33, just ahead of team-mate Neil Andrews, 14th in 37.37 with Davy Foster (39.37) giving notice of his potential to make a significant mark in this year’s competitions.
Next to finish was the first of the East Down ladies, Niamh Kellett (41.26) with Gavin Hynds (43.01) the filling in the middle ahead of Joanne Foster (43.43) with Jonny Kelly (45.08) not far behind.
Paddy McDonald posted a very encouraging 48.14, with another stalwart Brian Hamilton 48.38, clearly intent on sussing out his opposition prior to launching another assault on the M65 crown.
Oonagh Brétéché found it a dawdle after her series of ultra marathons recently and Janine Murray (54.54) was far from disappointed with her efforts in this pipe opener.
I, meantime, duly finished, though, disappointingly, not as far back as I had hoped, but will have another go at it this week.
Having then made it all the way back to the car park and walked towards my car, another fine lesson was quickly learned.
Namely, leave your car as close as possible to the finish line, certainly not at the top of the car park.
And remember to collect your keys from the person you left them with for safekeeping before the race, immediately you finish, otherwise you might have to go a long way back to find them, before you can collapse into the comfort of your vehicle.
Luckily, I avoided this courtesy of Jerome McCrickard who arrived with my missing keys just as I set off while starting to re-acquaint myself with expletives which I thought I had d for ever earlier.
In the much more sedate surroundings of the Mary Peters Track, also on Thursday night, several of East Down’s junior girls participated in the first round of he Firmus Energy Super 6 series with Emily Burns, Phoebe McCreesh and Ella Telford placing 8th 11th and 18th respectively in the mini girls 900m, though, it turned out to be Lauren Madine’s night as she once again demonstrated her tremendous range of abilities by winning the U-13 girls 100 metres in 14.62, placing fourth in the 1500m and winning the long jump with a best of 3.92m.
Andrew Telford set a track personal best of 5.00.05 for the senior 1500m at the same meeting.
Easter Sunday has been the date for the Ballygalget 10k since its inception in 2012 and I was looking forward to enjoying its challenging route once again on Sunday.
However, a niggling cough and awakening with a raw throat certainly put paid to my ambitions in that area. So, it was left to Barrie Atkinson to defend his title and to seek out a hat-trick of wins in this event.
His nearest challenger on the day proved to be last year’s runner up Alex Boyd from Lagan Valley, who although he ran faster than last time, found that Barrie was again too strong for him. Better luck next year perhaps?
Clare Carson also had a successful outing, winning the over 45 ladies’ prize in 49.33.
And Mackenzie Murray maintained the East Down domination of the events prizes by taking second place in the 5k.
Good luck to all the EDAC runners and indeed to all from the NM&DDC area who are running London next Sunday. The only thing to do in London is leave your watch at home and just enjoy it.
On Saturday the Ballynahinch Lions, in association with the progressive Saintfield Striders Running Club, are hosting the annual 5k and 10k races at 1.30pm in aid of Lions Charities.
The 5k race, which begins at 2.30pm, is sponsored by Gordon’s Chemist and the 10k by Phoenix Natural Gas.
A team trophy is also on offer for mixed teams of men and women, the first three of each from a club to count for team scores. Please give this event your full support.