East Down AC runners in Comber Cup event

East Down AC runners in Comber Cup event

24 November 2021

BALLYDRAIN Harriers were the the hosts for the Comber Cup cross country meeting on Sunday. 

It was the second race to be held at the Billy Neill Playing Fields in Comber this season, but the map indicated that the runners would follow a completely different route than the previous visit.  

At first this seemed like a reprieve from the multiple hills that featured in the Bobby Rea event four weeks ago but in the end, the new course was declared just as challenging, if not more so. 

In fact some said that it was one of the toughest races they had done in a long time. This was due mostly to a long, very arduous hill along the back straight but there were also some very tricky tight turns which were treacherous. 

There was a long downhill which some used as recovery but others saw this as a chance to gain places and they threw caution to the wind, flinging themselves down the descent in an alarming fashion. 

The spectators had plenty to watch and saw the runners several times per lap.

Mackenzie Murray found it hard to get himself into the groove in the U-16/18 race and despite coming second overall, he felt that his performance was under par. 

Looking back at how well he ran in Ballyclare recently, it is hard to argue with this self assessment. In any case he is sure to go out with intent on his next outing to get a better showing.

Although the overall event is referred to as the Comber Cup, in fact it is only the men who are in for that trophy. The women compete in the John McKeag Cup.  

John, who was a stalwart member of Ballydrain, recently passed away in his 99th year. He was beloved by all and was a valued friend of East Down AC, so it was great to see so many race in his name. 

The women as usual had the company of the men aged 60 and over and East Down had seven females and Wayne Giles in for this race. 

The whistle blew and there was some jostling for position but the first five minutes sorted that out. 

Before long the colourful stream of athletes could be seen swinging into the dreaded hill for the first time. The women had three laps to complete (five-and-a-half kilometres).

First home for EDAC was Deirdre Weatherall in 20th place in the 141-strong entry in 24.15. She professes to hate cross country but had been enticed back by the many photos of smiling faces at cross country this season. 

She enjoyed the camaraderie, raced well despite less consistent run training than she would like and left saying that was her done with grass for one year. 

Let’s hope the post race cake might tempt her back. Steph Graham was next to cross the line for the club in 25.07. She is a new addition to the EDAC ranks having transferred from City of Lisburn AC. 

It was idly rumoured that her recent marriage to club member Gordy Graham had cited this move in a pre-nuptial contract but in reality it came down to her now being closer to Downpatrick than her previous training grounds. 

While she is sad to leave her previous longterm club, she knows that she will be warmly welcomed by all in East Down.  She had a good strong run and was pleased to have performed well in her first time in the new vest.  

Next was Sharon Madine (25.42) who nailed it in her usual business like way. She is a born racer and always gives 100 percent. 

Wayne Giles, a bit further back in 27.11, navigated his way nimbly through the muddy bits and took the hill in his stride. For someone new to the sport, he is a quick learner and seems to improve with every race. 

Maureen Kelly, who followed him in, had clearly learnt from her pacing error in Ballyclare. She went out in a measured fashion and was rewarded with a much more comfortable experience. 

In fact she had enough left in the tank for a sprint to the line in 28.54. Alison Carroll has enjoyed the XC season so far but despite her newfound enthusiasm for off road running, she was glad to see the finish line when it finally came (30.30). 

Ella Carroll was next in (31.37) and while she didn’t particularly enjoy it, she has signed up to race again next weekend in a bid to have another crack. 

Shortly after Aine Grant crossed the line in 32.36. She was there as a complete novice and is to be commended on her fortitude. She stuck to her own rhythm and finished without mishap. 

Last but not least was Sam Anderson, who had returned after her inaugural event in Ballyclare. She concurred with the others that this was a much tougher course but she was glad to have taken part nonetheless. 

The women had barely time to alert their male club mates to the steepness of the hill and the slippy state of the corners before they were set loose. 

With extra laps to make it eight kilometres, the men had a challenge ahead. Neil Curran ran especially well, tucking in to a bunch and even though he took a tumble he was so quickly back 

on his feet he managed to stay in the mix. 

He stayed in and around the same place throughout but had to find a last gasp to sprint to the line to make the top 20. He also secured the Male 35 prize with his time of 30.52. Great effort, Neil.

Dee Murray looked happy to be out and ran a solid race (35.02) putting him 87th out of 205. Stephen Heasley, who was meant to be taking it easy, was fairly flying both up and down hill finishing in 38.00. 

The next EDAC man, Mark O’Connor ran consistently, ticking off the laps in his own rhythm and timed in at 38.57. 

Eamon Kelly seems to be getting into the way of cross country running and took it steady playing the long game. He looked almost comfortable in 40.46.  

Despite having been in the club for some years, James Magennis had never done a cross country. He found it hard going and looked slightly stunned on the line (44.35) but once he got his breath back he was keen to confirm that he will race again in the next one. 

Aaron McGrady and Hannah Somani took part in the London Cross Country Championships on Saturday. This event on Parliament Hill attracts huge numbers and a high class field. 

“The competition was serious. I ran 70 seconds quicker over this course than two years ago,” said Aaron. “I was tenth then and 27th yesterday.” 

Most were relieved that the going was firm as the ten-and-a-half kilometres would have been even more brutal if it had been very muddy. 

Hannah is still finding her speed after her London Marathon efforts, so was happy enough with 92nd place overall. 

The next two events have split the runners in the club, with those seeking a fast time on the road at the Seeley Cup on December 3 choosing to bypass the cross country on offer this coming Sunday.  

EDAC will still have a good number of representatives at the Malcolm Cup this weekend with five women and seven men signed up to take part. 

The beauty of running is that there is something for everyone. If you fancy seeing what might suit you, please contact membership@eastdownac.co.uk to find out how to join in. 

There are ‘try before you buy’ sessions every Monday and Thursday so what are you waiting for?