NewsTrail Racing/Mixed Terrain

Christmas Cracker, Castlewellan 30/12/23

Newcastle AC’s annual Christmas Cracker in Castlewellan is always one of the running highlights of the Christmas season. It’s a unique race – the course and distance change every year and are only known to a small core team who guard their secrets closely. Even at race registration and during the warm up, marshals and volunteers solemnly assured any runner foolish enough to ask that the 2023 course was only 10k long and much flatter than in previous years… Runners run in pairs and are required to finish together. The challenge is multiplied by not knowing the exact distance they’ll race, when to expect hills or how much of the course will be on road, forest trails or through farmers’ muddy fields recently vacated by cows. Runners generally select one of two options; pick a running partner of similar ability, don’t overindulge on Christmas treats  and race hard over whatever the race throws at them, or spend valuable training time enjoying Christmas and choosing a fancy dress costume to wear through the muddy fields. At least 39 pairs of North Down AC runners, or teams including a North Down runner joined 672 pairs of athletes in club vests, Santa suits, Barbie and Ken costumes, inflatable dinosaurs and most of the contents of Elliotts Fancy Dress shop to run approximately 13.5km with nearly 400m of ascent from the centre of Castlewellan and through the countryside around the forest park before eventually reaching the finish line in front of the castle. 

The first club runners to finish were Craig and Jamie McMeechan in 10th place in 58:46. Jonathan Gibson and Chris Moran were 12th in 59:21. Alasdair Mair and Andy Lowry, Declan Magee and Florian Mada, David Massey and Colin Walker, Jamie Andres and Sam Andrews, Clair Quigley and Fiona McQuillan and Andrew Nicholson and Stuart Black all achieved top 100 finishes. 

Tom Agnew and Chris Downey were followed by North Down AC’s Les Wilkinson and Mary Slocum of Ward Park Runners who won the mixed 120-139 age category. Jonny Magrath and Simon Robinson, Paul Floyd and Ballydrain Harriers team mate, Daniel Burns,  Ben and Cameron Jenkins, Stephanie Graham and Alan Massey, Philip McDonough and Seán Nickell, Helen Byers and Roberta Dornan and Hollie Massey and Luke Hamilton completed the tough course in less than 1:20. 

North Down AC were represented in teams including Tim Cooke, Neill O’Driscoll then Stephen Wise and Steven Boyd, Jason McMinn and June McMinn, Gerry O’Boyle and Noel Eager, Sarah Gibson, Tara McDonough and Amanda Tyler, Marc Wilson and Neill Dickson and Matt Ormesher who all finished below 1:30.

The next series of club finishers saw fewer club vests and more costumes, or rulers held up behind those whose outfits were proving even less suitable for a multi-terrain trail race than anticipated , led by Claire Scott and Kim McCourt, Abby Andrews and Ella Andrews, Ian McCreary, Donald Smith and Paula Simpson, Dean Varley and Rebecca Jordan, Emma Fox and Wendy Neely, Jeremy Tomalin and Lisa Tomalin, Lisa McMeechan and Caroline Coghlin, Karen Keery and Jenny Keery, Sarah Connolly and Rachael Huber, John Ferguson and Nicola Ingram, Sophie Hamilton and Cara Jeffrey and Alison Wise and Hannah Dunne. John Adgey and team mate Ian Taylor won the M140+ category.