East Down AC Enjoy A Christmas Cracker

The East Down AC runners ended the year in style with the popular Christmas Cracker

The East Down AC runners ended the year in style with the popular Christmas Cracker

East Down AC members gather at the start of the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker.


Marguerite Robinson and Roisin Gaffney

The Christmas Cracker is a unique and popular event that sells out well in advance and this year was no different writes Allison Carroll.

As the event drew closer there were the inevitable forced withdrawals and the frantic search for new partners but most people managed to find a match in the nick of time. The premise is that you and your partner must finish together.

If you get separated through the race, you must wait in a holding pen until you are reunited. The choice of a partner is either based on being similar speed or similar temperament ie you are out to run fast or you are out to soak up the atmosphere.

Either way the race is tough… the actual route (which varies each year) is a closely guarded secret  but generally it is at least 8-9 miles in distance with multiple hills, some barely walkable let alone fit for running and the mud underfoot is an occupational hazard.

With the large entry this year (613 teams of 2) and the narrow trails, there were also pinch points and at times there were tail backs where runners had to queue to scale walls or access the next section.

For those at the front this was less of an issue and for those further back it was a welcome breather. The race started in the centre of Castlewellan and there was a fantastic buzz as the crowds gathered.

Aaron McGrady (EDAC)  on his way to 3rd place (partnered with Jonny Scott of Mourne Runners, out of shot).

Many were in elaborate fancy dress among them 2 guys dressed in yellow and carrying a wooden beam to denote the H&W cranes, a group of 4 dressed as Goldilocks and the 3 bears, an Abba line up as well as copious stripy socks, santa hats, tinsel, antlers and bells. The effort that some make is truly impressive.


East Down was amply represented on the dress up front with Marguerite Robinson and Roisin Gaffney as glamorous Percy Pigs and James Magennis had paired up with Cheryl Denvir as Mrs Brown and son Buster not to mention how at home John Taylor looked in a tutu.

EDAC also had various combinations entered ie husband and wife (John and Wendy Findlay), siblings (Patrick and Suzy Smith) and parent and child with Samantha Anderson and Dee Murray both daring to run with their offspring Maeve and Mackenzie respectively. As well as club pair ups, it is nice to see some linking up with buddies in other clubs.

Aaron McGrady was on tenterhooks until an hour before the start as his partner Jonny Scott of Mourne Runners was a potential non-starter but at the 11th hour they decided to go ahead.


John Taylor (EDAC)  enjoying his run with partner Gemma Barr (Crossgar Harriers).

Aaron and Jonny had a great race, sticking close together throughout and coming across the line well under the hour in 57.07 to take third place overall.

Father and son duo Dee and Mackenzie Murray were well up in 34th place and Ciaran Denvir and Catherine O’Connor as a mixed pair were 40th.

It was great to see Brian Hamilton as one of the oldest active senior members of the club back out at a race. He and his partner Francis Gorman (PEC) were in the combined 120 – 139 age category and came in ahead of many much younger pairs placing 301st overall.

All who entered were in agreement that while not an easy race, it is one to add to the list as an enjoyable challenge.


Patrick Smith once again was the taskmaster when he persuaded his sister Suzy to go to the Lough 5 Miler. This well attended New Year’s Eve event took place in the village of Loughmacrory in County Tyrone.

It attracted a top level field with Ciara Mageean turning out for a last blast of 2021. She came 2nd overall smashing the previous Female course record by 2 minutes in 26.07. 

Up ahead of her Andrew Annett of Mourne Runners clocked 25.02 for his second win of the week having partnered Zak Hanna to victory in the Cracker a few days earlier. 

Patrick was slightly more sedate with his 42.17 (323rd) and Suzy finished in 44.38 in 380th place out of a large crowd of 584 but they reckoned it was a great way to end the year.

James Magennis (EDAC) with Cheryl Denvir.


The Race Over the Glens hosted by Ballymena Runners is held on New Year’s Day. It takes place on the trails in Glenariff Forest Park and includes plenty of climbing and some tricky terrain.

The figure of eight route takes in the iconic waterfalls and even has a piper stationed to herald the arrival at the steepest point.

Zak Hanna the other part of the winning Cracker duo went out fast and stayed away to take first place in an impressive 34.35.

Martsje Hell of North Belfast Harriers was the First Female in 45.03. Paddy McDonald the sole EDAC runner has been training regularly in the Mournes and was well prepped for hills.

He had performed well at the Cracker when he and partner Conor Rice (Down Triathlon Club) placed 362nd out of 613 pairs.

Despite the short break he was ready for another run out and completed the tough 6 miles challenge in 60 minutes (270th out of 388) give or take a few seconds. Great work from him.


With the 2021 season brought to a close, it was a good time to reflect on the past year. The impact of Covid on all sport is undeniable and the various lock downs have taken a toll on events and runners but compared to December 2020 the club is in a better place.

In the last months there has been ample racing on the calendar and EDAC members have enjoyed the buzz of the return to competition.

Club membership is buoyant and due to the virtual challenges and training programs the members have all kept fit and active.

The highlight for East Down AC was finally getting Jimmy’s 10 2020 off successfully in June 2021. They had to change the date and move the venue but with some perseverance they got there.

Jimmy’s 2022 plans are full steam ahead well over one hundred slots sold in the first week or so. The early bird price is on hold until the end of January so if you are looking for a goal, get yourself entered now!

The results of the Christmas Cracker: