WHERE have all the runners gone? A strange question perhaps at a time when record numbers of new members are reported at most clubs and when ever more can be seen running the roads. The question is prompted by the fact that on Saturday only 223 runners took part in three Cross Country Championship races at Stormont.
Given that considerably more than that took part in the Cracker run in Castlewellan at Christmas and that record numbers braved icy conditions in the Seeley Cup 10K in November one has to ask if many then hibernate? Maybe it’s the “cross country” tag which puts people off or the “championship” title which intimidates the average runner but the Cracker is a multi terrain race, much more difficult than a cross country race and the Seeley Cup is the vehicle for the NI 10K Road Racing Championships, so neither of these arguments stand up.
As well as that many people get their first taste of running through cross country events at school, though I never did, and talk fondly of their experiences into old age so what happens when cross country races are arranged? OK so there are colds, flus, and all sorts of plagues at this time of year which can affect runners ability to take part in races but all of the local clubs, Newcastle, Murlough, Mourne Runners and the Newry groupings have strong and predominant traditions in mountain and fell running, tougher again than cross country, yet all were poorly represented on Saturday.
Not that my own club, East Down, were any better as only three of us were there, yet 20 of us turned out on Sunday morning for a tough 10 mile training run in Tollymore Park. Cross country running was always regarded as the strength building training for the track and road racing season and in spite of the severe winter weather this year which drastically curtailed the racing programme, most runners have been out and about in the worst of the conditions. So why not go to those events which have survived.
If we don’t support this branch of the sport then it will die out which would be a huge shame. Most participants will tell you it’s tough but fun and in my opinion is the very heartbeat of running. It’s usually softer underfoot too, which makes injury less likely and falling a pleasure (almost).
But to the races themselves, conditions were reasonably good, the frost had left a bit of a bone in the ground but the officials had eliminated the threat of slip ups using salt and bark and fast running was on the menu. The Veterans (or Masters as it is now called) race over four laps totalling 8K was a battle from start to finish between Declan Reed City of Derry and Dave Morwood of Annadale Striders with Reed prevailing by just 2 seconds at the line. By this stage the field was well strung out, accentuating the low turnout even more, with almost 20 minutes separating the first and last of the 90 runners. Liam Keenan had another good run finishing 36th in 30.39 while I was 50 places and 8 minutes further back but in almost quarantine distance from the nearest runner ahead or behind. Obviously I hadn’t read the menu!
Newcastle’s Anne Sandford continued her recent good form, placing 11th overall in the Ladies race and 2nd in her category – and was still first out for the early morning jaunt around Tollymore! And East Down’s 3rd representative Elaine Burch had a useful work out ahead of her All Ireland Under 17 race next weekend when she took 4th place in the Junior competition and 15th in th Intermediate category. After her recent illness this augurs well for Sunday and our best wishes go with her.
Next weekend too it’s Moira Demesne for the annual City of Lisburn Cross Country races and 2 weeks after that the action switches to home ground and the surface from grass to tarmac as Downpatrick Race Course will be the venue for the Rollercoaster Races around the course perimeter road.
This is the ideal opportunity for novice runners to get a first taste of running an achievable distance. The senior race over an accurate 5K distance, 3.1 miles ( about 25 furlongs in horse racing parlance) will be at 2.00pm and has already attracted widespread interest – a large turnout is anticipated. An U/20 race will also be held in conjunction with this race.
There will also be races for P4/5 and P6/P7 Colts and Fillies,commencing at 12.00 noon, with special shields for the Best Boys and Girls P6/7 Primary School Teams (first 4 finishers to count) over a 1,000 metres distance as well as at U/13 (1.5K), U/15 (2K) and U/17 (2.5K) age group levels in both categories. All local schools are invited to come along – it will be ideal preparation for the upcoming schools cross country races.