THE Annual Christmas Cracker race took place as scheduled, after several weeks of concern about the weather…not that it wouldn’t take place, that was never in doubt, but that no-one could reach the venue. In the event conditions were positively balmy on Tuesday afternoon as 143 teams of two assembled on the GAC pitch.
The talk beforehand was of colds, flus, chest infections, pneumonia, pleurisy and irritable bowels as the runners vied with each other to see who had suffered the worst illness and had spent longest time “off the roads” since last run. The technical term for all this is “getting your excuse in early” in case someone you should beat finishes ahead of you. The net outcome however was proof that everyone else’s antibiotics had worked better than mine – might go for an uncle biotic next time.
The uniqueness of the Cracker is that it has to be run in pairs so all anyone has to do to take part is grab a partner, pay the entry fee and run. Pairs can be male, female, mixed, young, old, fat, thin, happy, sad or any combination of these, the only common requirement being that they be human and consist of two. It’s not unlike marriage or civil partnerships in that there is a type of pre-nuptial agreement to stay together until the end or at least to cross the finish line together.
It bears an even more remarkable resemblance to marriage in that the union often features constant nagging en route brought on by one half being too fast, too slow, too incontinent or too boring. Couple this with the faster of the duo demanding of their hapless “mate” as they approach the finish line “Where have you been?” or “Do you know what time it is?” and the marriage analogy is clear to all. The saving grace is that on crossing that finish line, the partnership is dissolved, finito, not a divorce lawyer in sight. But actually it’s very good fun
The race itself was won by the Newcastle pairing of Deon McNeilly and Eamon McCrickard. Deon continues to amaze, not only because he doesn’t feature in the New Year’s Honours List but because he was the winner of this event when it was first instituted, way back in 1984, before I had even started running and 26 years later he can still show everyone a clean pair of heels.
East Down had 8 teams this year with Liam Keenan and Stephen Shannon proving an inspired pairing, finishing in 16th place, 2nd in their category and just 11 minutes behind the winners. Next in were Declan Teague and Liam Venney in 43rd with Gavin Oakes and Raymond Milligan in 66th place. Stevie McCartan and James Magennis improved their placing over last year from 81st to 75th a fitting pre 50th celebration for one half of the duo.
Someone naively asked if the course had changed since he had last ran it five years ago, but since it would have changed had he ran it five hours or even fiveminutes earlier the answer was never going to be helpful or printable. In fact there’s a strong suspicion that whoever gets to the front just makes it up as they go along though having trees with ingrown orange arrows in strategic locations makes this less than plausible.
Michael Degan and Kim Surginor teamed up in the mixed category and despite a fall on the descent from Slievnaslat they clocked an excellent 1.41 in 86th place. Kim was the only female from the club to take part this year and certainly left her mark on the course, which paid her back in full. The 126 Club, formerly the 124 Club, came home in 95th place, which was 26 places lower than last year, and evidence that they need a bigger Winter Fuel allowance next year to encourage them to stay at home.
Brian Wilson ran with a North Down runner but deserves a welcome back mention while Brian Donnelly and Patrick McMeekin appeared to have a trial separation before a late reconciliation got them across the line together.
As for next year I’m adopting new tactics – I’m running with Deon ‘cos no one gets past him!
On New Year’s Day four of us headed for Glenariff and the Race Over the Glens where almost 200 clear headed souls took on the 5.6 mile challenge which consists mainly of almost sheer descents to the river and even steeper ascents back up again with a cruel half mile climb to the finish line – is the Hill and Dale influence spreading?. Not for the fainthearted and once again Deon featured prominently, taking 2nd place on a cold, damp but nonetheless enjoyable day with Newcastle colleague Anne Sandford placing 3rd lady. Brian Hamilton pipped Brian Wilson on the run in somewhere behind Michael McKeown and well ahead of me, but in the absence of the results I don’t know exactly where anyone was.
Next weekend sees the NI Junior and Veterans Cross Country Championships in Stormont while the next local event is the Rollercoaster races at Downpatrick Racecourse on Saturday 29th January.