THE 2011 running of the Portaferry Gala Ten Mile Road race on Tuesday night as usual brought out the best in the weather and attracted a field of just under 300 runners to the village. This race is becoming one of the most popular events on the running calendar and has begun to feature some of the best athletes from top clubs throughout Ireland.
This time Jimmy’s Ten winner Stephen Scullion was the star entry, as he attempted the 10 Mile distance for the first time while his North Belfast clubmate Breege Connolly was pre-race favourite for the Lady’s title. And they didn’t disappoint, Stephen outpacing even the Wheelchair athletes, to win in a time of 51.28, impressive running but still some way short of the overall record of just over 50 minutes set many years ago by Willie Dobbin, who made a brief appearance, threatened to participate but was wisely counselled to leave it until next year and come back when he has shed around 3 stones.
Runner up was Simon Taylor, now representing Annadale with the 2009 runner up Keith Daly from Donore Harriers filling 3rd place this time. Breege was equally impressive, filling 15th place overall in a time of 59.41 well clear of clubmate and last year’s winner Lisa Sturgeon with North Down’s Roberta Dornan in 3rd .
An interesting entry in the Ladies race was Anne Sandford, making a rare but successful appearance on the roads, who fresh from a great season in the Hill and dale series, claimed the Over 45 title in 72.29.
Gary Flynn was first of the local runners home, giving his version of the Ali Shuffle to claim 5th place in 57.14, and no one threw a punch at him at all! Stephen Shannon, 62.20, led home the massive contingent of 28 runners from East Down with Ryan Hagen 63.36 and Declan Teague 65.03, both in splendid form but making a threesome of “what could have beens” afterwards.
Gerard McAuley knocked 5 minutes of his 2010 time, clocking 74.29 but it is to the ladies that the plaudits must go this year. Cheryl Denvir continues to impress, recording 71.57 and taking 3rd in the Over 35 category just behind the ongoing rise of Murlough’s Donna McCusker.
Helen Vint set a new PB, 85.01, as she proved that every second counts while Linda Cunningham knocked over 5 minutes of last year’s time with an 87.48 clocking. On the subject of which the Race Clock was an added feature of the event this year, leading the field round and proving a relentless taskmaster as it ticked off the seconds on the approach to the Finish line.
Jackie Gilbride, aiming for New York marathon in November was delighted to crack the 90 minute target, recording 88.44, while Lorna McCormick showed she is returning to form with a 90.59 time, with Arlene McMullan 91.30 cruising home. Aurla McLaughlin 94.29 and Bridgeen Burns 94.51 were impressive first timers at this distance, separated by Deirdre Mount 94.44 and followed by Sheena McKermitt and Noreen Kerr. A little earlier Noreen’s husband George came home in 90.44 with Richard Gill another debutant posting 91.56, just behind Mark Johnston.
24 HOURS A DAY
On Friday evening at 6.45 almost 50 brave souls, “mad people”as someone on the sidelines remarked, including the incredible Greg McClure from the North Belfast club who had participated in the Portaferry race set off ( he did it in a leisurely 64 minutes!) on the 2nd Energia 24 hour race at Mary Peters Track. The idea is to run as far as you can in the period of 24 hour period, though this year there was a 12 hour option for the “half” mad.
My first visit to the track ended just after midnight when it was noticeably cold, but at which time everyone was going reasonably well, each adhering to their individual pre-race plans of running, walking, eating, resting, changing clothes etc as they felt the need. Some 14 hours later, when I returned again the sun was blazing down, the 12 hour runners had long since departed and the surviving runners were nearly all walking.
Three had by this time passed the 100 mile mark, with the leader John O’Regan well past 120 and Spain domiciled Belfast man Eddie Gallen, competing in his 20th such event, the only one who never seemed to stop at all. The leading Lady, Debbie Finn was also through that barrier and was striding out in a powerful walk.
Many were in extreme discomfort, mostly caused by foot blisters but most were just on the verges of exhaustion. Some were just keeping going because they were close enough to the 100 mile target, which is over 400 laps of the track, and before I left again 4 more had hit that target and 3 others were within a couple of miles of doing so.
The reason I didn’t wait for those momentous achievements was that they were down to 3 mile per hour pace and worse and other duties called. I heard since that at least 3 others did achieve that goal and Congratulations to all of them. A noticeable feature of the event is that family and friends who attend as back up crews for the runners are so encouraging when the going gets tough and the doubts start to rise.
These same people, wives, partners, sons and daughters would have been the most implacable opponents of their loved ones original desire to undertake such a gruelling challenge, yet here they were, walking or jogging round alongside them on the inner field, coaxing and cajoling them to keep going – to achieve their dream.
For many it will be a one off effort, as they will revert to the sprint distance of a 26.2 mile marathon in the future but remarkably many who had looked on the verge of collapse half way through, at least one of whom had been attached to a drip at one stage, recovered energy from somewhere and finished strongly, typified by the remarkable, ever smiling Iryna Kennedy.
I take my hat off to all of them, in fact their achievements warrant divesting oneself of much more than that but decency prevents such exhibitions of excitement. What are the chances of someone from this neck of the woods taking part next year?