ARMAGH TAKES THE BREATH AWAY!

“If you build it, they will come” again proved true as some of the best athletes in these islands and beyond flocked to Armagh for the annual International Road Races. Steph Twell and Topi Raitanen may have claimed the top prizes but everyone was a winner as records were shattered like broken hearts on a cool Valentine’s night.

Steph Twell opens what proves to be a crucial lead.

Twell set the tone for the evening when she took up the running in the women’s 3K as early as the first kilometre. Only Jessica Judd and Amy Griffiths were prepared to respond but neither had an answer to a determined effort on the final lap from the Scot who went on to break the tape in 8:59, equal Laura Weightman’s course record.

“I knew I was behind on paper at two kilometres and I had to work hard on the last lap,” said the 29-year-old Scot who was targeting the record on her first appearance in Armagh.

Jessica Judd held on for second in 9:05 with Amy Griffiths another five seconds back in third. Emma Mitchell was the first local finisher, in eighth with a 9:24 timing, after missing a large part of the autumn with an injury.

Fionnuala Ross, from the host club Armagh AC, was next across the line in 15th with a 9:29 mark before Letterkenny’s Nakita Burke took 20th recording a personal best 9:33 for the distance  A record 49 women broke 10 minutes perhaps reflecting the perfect racing conditions.

While the women’s race was decided a long way out, Topi Raitanen waited until the final 100 metres before asserting his authority over a star-studded men’s field. The latest Flying Finn stopped the clock at a 13:43 timing to take 11 seconds off American David Nightingale’s 2009 race record.

Topi Raitanen

“I’m pleased with that especially as I’m only back from a training camp in South Africa,” said the 8:28 steeplechaser. “I only managed to get to the front close to the line and I’m happy with my speed.”

Adam Craig out-kicked defending champion Sam Stabler for the runner-up spot with both men sharing the same 13:45 clocking as the leading ten finishers all broke the existing record.

Raheny Shamrock’s Kevin Dooney was the first Irish finisher in 16th pace with a 14:08 clocking while Springwell’s Neil Johnston was the leading Ulsterman registering 14:28 in 42nd spot.

Glaslough Harrier Conor Duffy (57th/14:33) and North Belfast Harrier Mark McKinstry (65th/14:39) were hot on Johnston’s heels. An incredible 113 runners broke 15 minutes exceeding last year’s record figure of 93. 

Teenager Jamie Burns was rewarded for the long trip over from Glasgow with a victory in the men’s open 3K in 8:44. Jack O’Farrell from St. Colman’s College put up stout resistance for much of the way but then had to hold off St. Malachy’s Conall McClean to retain second with both young men timed at 8:47.

David Mellon on his way to a personal best in the Open 3K

It was also a night to celebrate for Derry Track Club’s father and son combo David and Ben Mellon who both came away with personal bests of 11:19 and 10:29 respectively but even bigger credit must go to the organisers of an outstanding event.