DTC athletes did the double at the Northern Velocity Trail Runs in Garvagh Forest with both Eamon Kerrigan and Elaine Connor coming up trumps on a demanding course.

Eamon and Elaine.

Eamon Kerrigan who has only been in the sport a matter of months was first home in the 5K race with a 17:45 timing. That gave him a 16 seconds victory over Diarmuid Logan with Andrew Faulkner third in 19:18.

Elaine Connor was even more impressive in the women’s race winning by over five minutes with a 20:22 timing. Samantha Linton (25:26) and Abbie Magowan (26:37) filled the minor positions.

Fionnuala Makes Impressive Return

East African athletes lifted the top prizes at the IAAF Northern Ireland Cross Country International in Belfast but it was Ireland’s two-time European champion Fionnuala McCormack who drew most attention from the sizeable attendance.

Fionnuala McCormack is getting back to her best.

The meeting incorporated the Home Countries and Celtic Internationals as well as including the British Athletics Cross Country Challenge. There was a change of venue too with the meeting held on a hilly course in the Billy Neill Centre, Dundonald for the first time.

Three women broke away early in the women’s 8K race and it all came down to the final sprint as Ethiopia’s Meskerem Mamo edged out compatriot Hawi Feysa with both sharing the same 26:10 timing. Kenya’s Pauline Kamulu claimed the final podium place another three seconds back.

Pauline Kamulu leads from Hawi Feysa and eventual winner Meskerem Mamo (right)

The trio had run in a train for practically all the race with Kamulu doing all the work in front followed by Feysa and Mamo in the caboose. But it was the African 5000m bronze medallist who showed the greatest strength on the way home to eke out a crucial few centimetres advantage at the finish line.

Fionnuala McCormack who was making her first competitive appearance since the arrival of daughter Isla at the beginning of October 2018 was a credible sixth. She had followed the Africans early on but slipped back to the chasing group around halfway.  

“This is my first race in a year, since this meeting at Antrim last January,” said McCormack. “I always love running in Belfast so I thought “what better place to start back?” I have no plans at the minute other than to get back to full fitness.”

First NI/Ulster woman to cross the line was Rio Olympian Breege Connolly in 20th and closely followed by Nakita Burke (24th) and Jessica Craig (28th).  That gave the Red Hand ladies third place behind England and the Republic in the Home Countries match.

Birhanu Balew breaks the tape in the Senior Men’s race.

Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew caused an upset in the men’s race taking a four second victory over Kenyan Richard Yator in 29:42 with Ethiopia’s Chala Beyo a close up third another two seconds back.

Pre-race favourite Kenya’s Paul Tanui was in contention for most of the race but the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist faded to fourth as Balew produced a storming final last 200m.

British & Irish International Masters’ winner 35-year-old Mark McKinstry had an exceptional run to lead home the NI/Ulster squad in 13th spot despite a fall at the end of the first lap when contesting the lead with the Africans.

“I knew I was in good shape and I just wanted to see what it was like to run with them (the Africans),” said the North Belfast Harrier. “Maybe I went out too fast but at this level I think you have to do that. I was unlucky to fall and I never really got back after that.”

Adam Kirk-Smith

Derry Track Club’s Adam Kirk-Smith also showed he was getting back to his best with a strong performance in taking 19th (third NI/Ulster) after recovering from injury.

DTC Athletes on Training Camp in Spain

The paths along the River Segura have been taking a beating this week since the arrival of the Athletics NI endurance squad for their Warmweather training camp in Murcia. Three Olympians are included in the group and all want to start what promises to be a challenging year with some training in the pleasant Spanish sunshine.

DTC athletes Adam Kirk-Smith and Conor McIlveen as well as coach Malcolm McCausland are at ANI training camp in Murcia.

This camp, along with a similar one in Tenerife for the speed-power athletes, is part of Athletics NI’s Sporting Winners Programme which aims to support coach-athlete pairs with the potential of achieving medals and top sixteen places at major championships.

“This camp has been organised to coincide the specific preparation phase of training as athletes and coaches work towards 2019 targets,” said ANI Director of Coaching Jackie Newton. “Coming away for two weeks to train together, in a warmer environment and with more daylight, allows complete focus on training, recovery and performance behaviours.”

Ciara Mageean, Paul Pollock and Kerry O’Flaherty all experienced Olympic competition for in Rio de Janeiro just over two years ago but face separate and distinct challenges in the next 12 months. All three have this year’s World Athletics Championships in their sights despite, in Pollock’s case, the climate in Doha not being conducive to marathon running.

Mageean will be the first of the trio in serious action when she competes in the mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on January 26. The Manchester-based runner already owns the national record for the distance with a 4:28.04 clocking in New York three years ago.

Among Mageean’s opponents in Boston is American Emma Coburn has an indoor best for the mile of 4:29.86. The reigning world champion over the 3000m steeplechase is a confident frontrunner and could very well pull the County Down athlete to a new Irish mark. That would be an ideal way for the 26-year-old Portaferry woman to kick off an important year.

In contrast Paul Pollock is more anxious to put a “disappointing year” behind him. And 2018 started on a high for the Annadale Strider who ran well in the World Half Marathon in Valencia last March but then shortly afterwards picked up a stress fracture. That ruled him out of the Commonwealth Games and it was a catching up exercise in terms of fitness for the rest of the year after that.

A sound performance (14th) at the Commonwealth Games in the autumn was some measure of compensation and the Hollywood native is hoping for a change of luck in 2019. He admits he is feeling a bounce in his step once again but may wait until after May 1, when qualification opens for the Tokyo Olympics, before showing his hand again over 26.2 miles.

Kerry O’Flaherty’s immediate target is the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow at the start of March and she will drop in distance to contest the 1500m. She will return to her number one event, the 3000m steeplechase, in the summer with the stated objective of qualifying for the Worlds which unusually will not be held until the end of September.

Others lapping up the sunshine in Murcia include Belfast Marathon winner Laura Graham, Commonwealth Games steeplechaser Adam Kirk-Smith and Paralympic athletes James Hamilton and Conor McIlveen. All are hoping the pain in Spain translates to gains later in the year.


McKinstry on the Mark Again at Mallusk

Mark McKinstry continued his domination of the domestic cross country season with another emphatic win in the feature race at yesterday’s Mathieson Cup meeting hosted by Mallusk Harriers at a wild and windy Mallusk Playing Fields.

Mark McKinstry with John Black (left) and Conal McCambridge

It was McKinstry’s sixth victory of the local cross country season in addition to winning the British & Irish Masters’ International in Swansea. The Glenwherry man set up a cleansweep of the podium places by North Belfast Harriers with John Black and Conal McCambridge occupying the silver and bronze positions respectively.

Sinead Sweeney (centre) with Sarah Lavery (left) and Jodi Smith

Sinead Sweeney was in a class of her own in the women’s race as Beechmount Harrier Sarah Lavery continued a consistent run of form by taking the runner-up spot behind the Randalstown woman. North Down’s Jodi Smith was a deserving third.

Scrabo Harrier Norman Mawhinney was the first M60 to finish, ahead of Lagan Valley’s Eric Montgomery and new entrant in the age group David Allen from the Albertville Harriers club.

Meanwhile the venue may have changed but the Simplyhealth Great Stirling Cross Country still proved a rousing start to the new year’s action climaxing with the World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark at the end of March. 

Having been held in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park since 2005, the traditional international curtain-raiser moved a few miles west to another of Scotland’s historic cities but that did not prevent Europe from again easily seeing off the challenges of the USA and hosts Great Britain across the three events.

American Hillary Bor did not allow a mis-direction at a critical point of the race from taking the victory in the men’s eight kilometre event.  The Rio Olympics steeplechase finalist took a wrong turn in the early stages of the fourth lap but fought back to see off a determined finishing sprint Europe’s Napoleon Solomon. Both men were timed at 23:48 while Adel Mechaal was third for Europe in 23:49.

Europe’s Elena Burkard proved just too strong in the women’s six kilometre race after Britain’s Charlotte Arter had made the running for most of the distance. The German broke the tape in 20:01, five seconds ahead of Arter, with European under-23 champion Anna-Emilie Møller a further five seconds back.  Two-time European cross country medallist Kate Avery, who has just been added to the Belfast International next Saturday, finished ninth.

Scotland’s Laura Muir concluded the meeting by anchoring the Great Britain 4 x 1500m mixed relay team to victory over the Europeans with the USA back in third.  Darragh McElhinney was the only Irish athlete in action with the Glengarriff teenager running the first leg for the European Junior squad that finished fourth.

The overall standings finished just as they did a year ago in Edinburgh, with Europe proving the strongest on 55 points while Britain (84) saw off the Americans (90) for the runner-up spot.

Highlights of the weekend’s indoor action included Dean Adams setting a new track record of 6.88 seconds for the 60m at Jordanstown (results: http://www.athleticsni.org ) while Kelly Neely broke the Irish Masters’ F40 record for the 800m at the National Indoor Arena in Dublin with a 2:13.33 mark that took three seconds off Niamh Fitzgerald’s old mark.

Acorns AC athlete Eoin Hughes and Gillian Wasson of Ballymena Runners claimed the top prizes at the third race of the Sperrin Harriers Winter League held at An Créagan in County Tyrone.
Results at http://www.sperrinharriers.co.uk

Sad Loss of Northwest Running Legend

George Williamson in his prime.

The northwest athletics community lost one of its running icons when George Williamson passed away quietly at his home in Derry on Christmas Day aged 77. The former Oak Leaf and Sparta athlete had been diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis some time earlier but, according to his family, his condition deteriorated greatly as the autumn progressed.

A former pupil of the Christian Brothers School in Derry, George was a multi-talented sportsman and shone as a youth both on both the soccer and gaelic fields.  As a young right back for Clooney he was marked out for success at senior level and was part of a successful Monarch team that won a number of summer competitions including the Carndonagh Open Challenge Cup. He was also a member of a local gaelic football team in the City that lifted Minor trophies.

He competed on the track, cross country and roads but it was on the latter surface that he produced his best performances. After winning Ulster U18 titles with the Oak leaf club, Williamson signed up for the Royal Air Force and was stationed in Cyprus where he dominated the distance running scene.

He represented the RAF in numerous competitions, being brought to Gibraltar, Malta and England to wear the sky blue colours in various races. The professional set up in the services set him up perfectly for when he returned to his native Derry where he continued the arduous regime of running to and from work in the opposite side of the city.

George won the Lisburn Cup 6 Mile Road Race, which carried Ulster championship status, in 1961 but had to wait until 1969 for his second success. He completed a hat-trick of victories the following year. During that time he was part of the Oak Leaf squad that held the team title form 1961-1968 and again in 1970.

By this time, he was looking at longer distances and won the Ulster 15 Miles title on the Armagh-Keady-Armagh road in 1969 taking six minutes off the record. He returned 12 months later and took another minute off that time with a 77:08 clocking on the undulating course. He was awarded Derry Journal  Northwest Sportsman of the Year in both 1959 and 1961 in recognition of his outstanding achievements.

Unfortunately, his career coincided with the time of the split in Irish athletics. As a member of the National Athletics and Cycling Association and later the Ulster Sports Council, he had no avenue open to him for international competition.  There is no doubt that in another era he would have been good enough to represent Ireland at European and Olympic competitions. 

George is survived by his wife Kathleen; daughters Ann, Claire, Cathy, Fiona and Nicola; and sons Kevin and Gareth.


Running in the Cold Presents Particular Problems

We have been incredibly blessed with the weather to date this winter but as we know all too well the seasons in Ireland can change overnight. One day, you are ticking off miles on an almost balmy 12-degree afternoon and then the next morning, the temperature drops below freezing.

Then suddenly you are facing arctic winds together with slippery roads and footpaths. Of course, you can immediately resort to the treadmill at the local leisure centre but most runners are reluctant to give in so easily to the cold snap of the winter.

Here are seven tips to help you continue running in the great outdoors so that your preparations for your targets later this year remain uninterupted: –

1. Give Yourself an Incentive

Getting up in the dark to go for that run is not so difficult if you promise yourself that piping hot coffee and carrot cake afterwards.

2. Wear the Right Shoes

Keep the warmth in and slush out, run in shoes that have the least amount of mesh or better still wear shoes with Gore-Tex uppers. There are plenty of socks on the market these days that wick away wetness but keep your feet warm.

3. Do Not Wear Too Much Clothing

You want to be warm enough but without sweating so much that you get a cold. The rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 10 degrees warmer. It may seem slightly chilly when you start but you will soon warm up. Layers of light clothing are always preferable to heavy tops and bottoms.

4. Be Visible

With limited daylight during our winter, most runners will have to be out in the dark at some point. It is amazing the number of runners who still wear dark clothing after night. Wear hi-viz bibs and jackets. Be seen! Be Safe!

5. Warm Up Slowly

Leaving the heat of your home to run in cold temperatures can be an almighty jolt to the system. Give yourself time to adjust to the change by gently jogging the first few kilometres. If you are doing speedwork or hills, make sure you do plenty of running before starting the session.

6. Out-Fox that Wind

Start your run into the wind and finish with it at your back, so the breeze does not hit you after you have broken a sweat. Use buildings, walls and even hedges to your advantage and avoid the full force of the blast. Protect any exposed skin with barrier cream.

7. Change Quickly Post-Run

Your core body temperature drops as soon as you stop running. To avoid catching a change your clothes, as soon as you can. And drink something hot. A hearty soup is doubly useful by refuelling your protein and sodium stores while also warming you up.

Strava Reveal Interesting Stats…

Strava has released its annual Year In Sport data revealing interesting insights into its community of over 36 million users in 195 countries.  Over the past year, Strava athletes uploaded more than 624 million activities, collectively covering more than 6.67 billion miles.

Cyclists covered more than 5.2 billion miles in 2018. That is the equivalent of cycling from Earth to Pluto and still having change. Runners covered 944.8 million total miles with an average distance of 5.1 miles per run.

With an average of 20 activities uploaded every second with distance, speed, heart rate and a whole host of other factors included, Strava is a huge database of the world’s physical activity.

The UK and Ireland data had some interesting statistics in that on average the Irish ran further and faster than anybody else, averaging 8.3km per run and 5:49/km, with Northern Ireland second in both tables too with 7.9km per run and 5:59/km. Next is Scotland (7.7km and 6:08/km), England (7.5km and 6:12/km) with slow coaches Wales (7.5km and 6:28/km) bringing up the rear.  

This ignores that the Orkneys of Scotland (population 22,000) also average 8.3km per run but that could be down to ultra distance runner William Sichel who lives on the tiny island of Sanday. Despite only logging 99 runs on Strava in 2018, he clocked up 1684 miles.

The stats point to goal setting being the best way to obtaining positive results. Runners, cyclists and swimmers who set goals on Strava uploaded 15% more activities six months after setting goals than those who had no targets.

It would also seem when athletes joined a club on Strava, they uploaded on average three times more activities than athletes who did not. And when athletes exercised in groups, those activities lasted 10% longer and covered 21% more distance than activities with single uploaders.

However, the owners of the app have been careful not to reveal any military secrets this year unlike the 2017 report which inadvertently exposed the locations of American and allied military bases across the world.  The high security installations were by the running app after soldiers uploaded their routes to it.

From this information, Strava created an interactive online map of the routes posted by all of its users.  However, security analysts noticed that the Global Heat Map highlighted sensitive military bases in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  It disclosed a US Special Operations base in the Sahel region of Africa, a Patriot missile system in Yemen and drones on an airbase in Djibouti. 

And it is not just military secrets that Strava can reveal. One morning, lying in bed, a woman opened her Strava to check what her boyfriend, a triathlete who lived some distance away, was doing. She noticed that he had just burned 2,000 calories with a female who had left her account public.

“She appeared to me as a pixelated avatar of who I thought my boyfriend wanted me to be, and I was obsessed,” related Elizabeth Barber, a writer based in Brooklyn, on www.wired.com. “I could see where she lived, where she drank beer and got coffee. I knew how many calories she burned working out, and how often. I knew when and where and with whom she spent time (increasingly, my boyfriend).”

She continued to monitor both accounts even after she had split up with her boyfriend but left Strava after he and the other woman holidayed together at the summer home of the women’s parents. Sometimes ignorance can be bliss.

REVIEW OF 2018 – Young Stars Sparkle

Thomas Barr in action at World Champs in London

Introduction (225)

What a twelve months it has been for athletics! Medals at European Championships and the Commonwealth Games in the same year and the emergence of the possibly the most talented crop of junior athletes in over a generation. Participation numbers continued to break all records with more people hitting the streets than ever. The 2019 Dublin City Marathon sold out within days and now ranks fifth largest in Europe. The Belfast City Marathon finally succumbed to the groundswell of opinion that had been gathering for a number of years and will next year take place on a Sunday as well as moving to a more runner-friendly route.

The local annual cross country showpiece also had its final outing at the Greenmount campus of CAFRE and will find itself next year in Dundonald. Other events that gave us a glimpse of the outside world included the IMC Belfast meeting and the Belfast International, both held at the Mary Peters Track, while down south the Morton Games and Cork City Sports drew international stars from all over the world.

The Youths and Juniors went on a record-breaking spree never seen before scattering existing Irish and NI marks like nine-pins and our ever-dependable Paralympics athletes flew the flag impressively at the IPC European Championships in Berlin.

The International Stage

The European Athletics Championships in Berlin were hailed almost unanimously as the best ever in the 84-year history of the event. The championships showcased the best of athletics and attracted a record 460,000 spectators over the six days with an average attendance of 50,000 over the final weekend.

It was a great week for the Irish with Thomas Barr deservedly taking a bronze medal in the 400m hurdles. Leon Reid (finally got his opportunity to pull on the green singlet after a two year wait and did not disappoint with a seventh place in a very competitive 200m. And it was good to see the return of the Ciara Mageean of old who battled to the line in the 1500m and was denied a bronze medal by less than a second.

There were firsts for the Irish all over the place not least having three relay teams in action. The investment in youth continues to pay dividends with an inexperienced women’s 4 x 100m squad setting a new national record and just missing out on a final place by a mere blink of an eyelid.

Leon Reid

Earlier Reid had been the star of the Northern Ireland team at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast in April. It was a superb Games for Ulster’s track and field athletes and that would have been the case even without the icing on the cake of Reid’s bronze medal – the first for an NI athlete since 1990. There were four other top eight places, that did not happen even once on the two previous occasions in India and Glasgow, and a NI 10,000m record for Emma Mitchell.

Hammer thrower Dempsey McGuigan started the ball rolling with a fine sixth place finish on the opening day of athletics action. Adam Kirk-Smith and teenager Kate O’Connor both took top eight spots later in the week after Reid had dazzled in the 200m. Kevin Seaward’s fourth in the marathon was a very pleasant surprise and rounded off the week in perfect style for the Ulster athletes.

Superlatives have almost been exhausted in relation to the Irish Paralympians as a team of just 10 athletes claimed nine medals, six gold and three bronze, at the World Para Athletics European Championships in Berlin. Star of the show was once again Eglinton sprinter who won both the 100m and 200m in record times. Noelle Lenihan, Orla Barry, Niamh McCarthy and Greta Streimkyte also struck gold while there were appearances too on the presentation dais for Orla Comerford (twice) and Jordan Lee.

Megan Marrs became the first NI athlete for some years to represent Great Britain in a major games when she competed at the World Indoors in Birmingham before making her outdoor debut in British colours at the Athletics World Cup in London’s Olympic Stadium. 

The Golden Generation?

Sommer Lecky

Sommer Lecky (put the perfect cap on an incredible 17th IAAF World Junior (U20) Championships in Tampere, Finland by taking a silver medal in the high jump. The Castlederg teenager cleared 1.90m at the first attempt to clinch second spot and set off celebrations back at her Finn Valley club in Donegal.

It was a silver Saturday for the Irish squad with Mollie Scott, Gina Akpe-Moses, Ciara Neville and Patience Jumbo Gula racing to runner-up spot in the 4 x 100m behind Germany and another national Junior record of 43.90 seconds. That was the first time Ireland had won relay medals in an international championships and the two silvers immediately doubled Ireland’s medal tally for the 32-year existence of these championships with only Antoine Burke (1994/high jump) and Ciara Mageean (2010/1500m) having visited the presentation podium before now.

The success at these championships follows the spectacular medal haul at the European U18 championships in Gyor, Hungary the previous week.  Sarah Healy underlined her immense potential by completing a golden double, running a controlled race to win the 1500m to add to the 3000m gold claimed earlier in the week.

In between Healy’s triumphs, Dublin school girl Rhasidat Adeleke stormed to gold in the 200m. Sonia O’Sullivan’s daughter Sophie finished strongly in the 800m to round off the meeting by taking runner-up spot. That was appropriate given she may be the link between Ireland’s last golden generation headed by the Cobh woman and the current crop of record-breaking juniors. It brought the Irish plunder to an unprecedented three gold and one silver medals and an unthinkable top ten placing among the world’s elite nations in the overall table. 

There were no major championship medals for all-rounder Kate O’Connor but the 17-year-old Dundalk girl enjoyed a remarkable year in which she has set multi-event records both inside and out. In addition to her Commonwealth performance, she also finished fourth in the Tallinn International and has plans to take up a scholarship at the University of Texas next autumn.

Domestic Affairs

International meetings provided the highlights of an interesting domestic year. Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Leon Reid was the star of the Belfast International held in ideal conditions at the Mary Peters Track winning both the 100m and 200m. Despite working on a shoe-string budget the Belfast IMC Meeting provided an excellent afternoon’s sport at the same venue.

Down south the sun shone as the Morton Meeting in Dublin served up its annual generous helping of top class international athletics. Portaferry’s Ciara Mageean showed a return to top form with a fine second place in the 800m. On the 60th anniversary of Australian Herb Elliott’s world record at Santry, American Sam Prakel led ten other men under four minutes with his 3:55.80 timing, albeit slower than Elliott’s record all those years ago.

Bandon Bullet Joan Healy grabbed the headlines Cork City Sports with a national record of 22.99 seconds in the 200m. but unfortunately, there was no Letterkenny International, leaving a huge gap in the northwest calendar.

Kenyan athletes were prominent at the 37th Belfast City Marathon taking the top two spots in the men’s race as well as winning the battle for the women’s crown. Eric Koech crossed the finish line in Ormeau Park with a 2:18:19 timing. Caroline Kepchirchir claimed the women’s title in 2:41:23 but only after overcoming stern opposition from Kilkeel’s Laura Graham.

The African domination of the Dublin City Marathon continued with Ethiopians taking both titles in ideal running conditions. Asefa Bekele moved clear in the later stages to win the men’s race in 2:13:24 with Mesera Dubiso being the first woman in 2:33:49. Kenyans lifted the top prizes at the Antrim International Cross Country with Timothy Cheruiyot and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi proving to be the swiftest in almost ideal conditions[ .