East Down AC Enjoys Autumn Events

NI Masters Association Cross Country

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NI Masters Association Cross Country

It was a glorious morning at QUB Playing Fields on Saturday 16th October for NI Masters Athletics Association Championships (not to be confused with the NI&Ulster Masters’ Championships which takes place in January each year) writes Allison Carrol.

The NIMAA exists to promote masters’ participation in athletics and this annual event acts as team selection for the Home Internationals. Unfortunately due to Covid complications, it was decided not to encourage  English, Scottish and Welsh athletes to travel so a North South Competition to be held in Belfast on 13th November.  will act as a replacement.

The championship race was open to all athletes aged 35 and over, but to be eligible for team selection, an annual subscription to the NI Masters’ Association is required in advance.

East Down Entries

EDAC had 3 runners ready and willing to test their spikes. Catherine O’Connor ran a gritty race when she found herself cut adrift of the top 4 at the end of the first lap. She  was trying to regain contact while staying ahead of the next group who were hunting her down.

As a result Catherine had to push relentlessly over the remaining 2 laps to hold her position. She has not been racing of late so it was really was a do or die manoeuvre going with the front runners at the start as she had no idea how the legs would react as the distance was covered but her determination paid off.

Barrie Atkinson and Jonny Holmes at the QUB Playing Fields for the NIMAA XC. (Photos courtesy of East Down AC).

As they came over the hill on the final 500m, her supporters were urging her to drive for the finish which is easy said but a big ask after running full blast from the start but Catherine responded by pulling out a late sprint to outrun the chasers. She came in a commendable 5th overall and also received a silver championship medal as 2nd O35 runner. It was a useful outing as a confidence booster and will take the fear out of the next one. Great to see you back, Catherine!

The Men’s race started as soon as the last women had crossed the finish. EDAC was represented by Barrie Atkinson and Jonny Holmes. Barrie is an experienced runner but with injury has lost some form.

Despite this he was still keen to turn out and get in some hard training. Jonny Holmes, a complete novice at cross country, was there out of curiosity and toed the line with a degree of trepidation. Barrie counselled him to go out steady, find his own rhythm and then if he felt good then he could push on as the laps progressed.

With 8K pacing is very important as running on grass is more energy sapping than on the road and it is easy to get carried away with the initial surge as the runners jostle for position after the whistle goes. Both men acquitted themselves admirably.

Barrie accepted the limits of his current fitness and ran a steady race without incident. He was content to finish mid pack in 30.51 and pleased to declare himself untroubled by the injury niggles that have hampered training. Jonny too came in smiling even managing a celebratory sprint in the finish chute. His time was 31.17.

They are both looking ahead to another blast of cross country next weekend at the Bobby Rea at Comber. With the large EDAC entry already placed, there will be plenty of camaraderie and support.

Stephen Heasley – 24 hours on the run

Stephen Heasley took on a mammoth challenge on Saturday when he participated in the Safety Solutions 24 Hour Ultra Running Event at Victoria Park in Belfast.

It is straightforward in principle, 24 hours of running on the clock and each individual can decide their own tactics. Rest and nutrition can be interspersed as required and a timing chip records each time a full lap is completed.

It started at noon on Saturday and the final whistle went at noon on Sunday. With a 100 entries in for the 24-hour slot as well as runners doing 100 mile, 12 hour and 50K challenges simultaneously, the park was absolutely buzzing from early on.

Stephen Heasley looking remarkably chipper for someone who has been on the go for 24 hours!

There were club gazebos, smaller tents, camper vans and someone had even strung up a hammock in the trees. The organisers had provided music, physio tents, food trucks and a whole crew of enthusiastic marshals aka cheerleaders.

The runners set up tables laden with food and mediations, deckchairs and blankets in short every thing they could think of that might ease their pain as the hours rolled by. The laps are just over a mile so it quickly becomes monotonous and while flat the surface is solid concrete and unforgiving for tired legs and aching feet.

It was mild during the day but the dreaded forecast of rain was accurate. A light drizzle became a steady soaking and there some heavy cloudbursts for good measure. Typically the worst of the weather coincided with the darkest hours and it took a lot of grit and determination not to pull up and head home.

From the Horses Mouth.

Unless you have taken part in something like this it is hard to fathom what keeps a runner moving so it was interesting to hear Stephen’s thoughts once he had finished.

“I prepared with lots of virtual events ie the Tennessee 1000KM where you clocked up a tally of miles over a period of 4 months as well as few marathons with friends at the weekends. I arrived at the start-line with no plan for the day – just suck it and see.  I brought enough kit for a week! And even then I ran out of dry socks and shoes.

“The rain was the biggest hurdle in that it cooled us down rapidly and there were 3 hours when I couldn’t fight the chill factor. Having wet feet constantly caused blisters and macerated soles and one particular blister caused discomfort for about 20 miles before it burst and then I could plaster it properly.

“Leaving a dry tent to get wet again was when I struggled most for motivation, however, despite the hardship I never actually felt like pulling plug. Would I do it again? Probably not. I am proud of having completed it as it was a great experience but right now I feel that box is ticked.  The best advice I was given was ,’beware the chair!’

“It was true – sitting down was a big mistake as the effort to rise again, mentally and physically, was monumental. The best bit was having time to chat to people and the whole spirit of the event was friendly, albeit crazy so it will be a great memory. 

“The organisers, the marshals and the physios deserve high praise for their part in keeping us moving. I am pleased that I managed 100km  (65miles) which is a good point to have reached but the fact that this mileage is midway in the overall results shows the depth of endurance athletes we have in Ireland and it was also nice to see the equality of men and women in the event.

“I was gobsmacked by the winner running 155 miles in 24 hours. (Sub 1hr 10k for 24 hours). That is quite something,” Stephen added.

This is a typically modest summary from Stephen so it must be recorded that we all think this was a fantastic achievement. A huge well done to our own Mr Motivator.