Castlewellan Christmas Cracker

There was a point during the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker when I wondered just what in the name of goodness I was doing.

Picture the scene … I was standing in the middle of a field up to my oxters in mud, the colour in my trainers had long since been painted a deep brown, I was getting sucked ever deeper into the mire surrounding me and I had to make a claw shaped clench with my toes to make sure that with my next step my feet didn’t part company with my shoes – and this was only a couple of miles into the nine-mile race!

As I said, I wondered what I was doing but, with my next thought, I realised I was absolutely loving it.

Make no mistake, this was far and away the most brutal and challenging race I’ve ever done but for every difficulty it presented I found it exhilarating in equal measure.

It’s the big end of year race in the Northern Ireland calendar and it’s easy to see why, there were a plethora of runners in fancy dress and a real festival atmosphere around the place. And the route is the stuff of legends. No-one quite knows what it is in advance, and no-one quite knows exactly how long the actual race itself will be.

All we know is that there’ll be hills, mud, water, trail, hills, mud, a little bit of road … and did I mention the hills and mud? It’s also a pairs race so that meant registering with a partner and finishing the course with said partner.

I was delighted during the week leading up to the event to be asked by Judith from my club to be her running partner. She thought I was doing her a favour by running with her but, believe me Judith, you were doing me a much bigger and more important favour by inviting me in the first place. Thank-you.

Leaving home on the club trip at 10am (the race itself didn’t start until 1pm) the long bus journey down was a time of reflection. I’d heard stories and watched videos of previous editions of the race so I carried with me not an insignificant degree of fear and trepidation.

I needn’t have worried. There’s no denying the conditions were every bit as ‘bad’ as I’d heard they might be but how could I worry when I looked around me and saw the variety of imaginative costumes, not all of them festive either.

The race started off, mercifully, on road and took us on a lap of the Co. Down village for around a mile but not without our first field of the day. I think I recognised this field from a previous video but then the competitors were running down it, today we had to run up it!

Back onto the road, a nice downhill section which only led us into a false sense of security because, not even three miles in, came the aforementioned quagmire.

There was a long, long wait – around 20 minutes or so – to even get into this mudbath. This was welcome at the time because it gave our legs a much needed rest relatively early in proceedings, and allowed the assembled throng to bunch back together again.

But there was also a sense of the unknown. Just what was causing the delay? Was it a river? Did we have to climb a fence or a wall?

We found out soon enough. It was horrendous. It really was like wading through treacle. I was glad I’d double-knotted the laces on my trainers because otherwise I have no doubt they’d have been swallowed up. Others weren’t so lucky.

It was also difficult to keep your footing. If the mud didn’t get you then there was a reasonable chance you’d slip and fall flat on your face. Thankfully I avoided that as well, although I did come pretty close at times. Again, others weren’t so lucky.

Up until this point – apart from that initial field – the route had been relatively flat. That soon changed. After this we seemed to just go up, and up … and up a bit more. And then a bit more just for good measure.

We were running through farmland, on dirt tracks, on the trail, through a forest. Well, I say, running because at times I couldn’t see how anyone could manage some of the rises we were expected to haul ourselves over.

But we did it. We had to. I could tell you more stories about mud and hills but I’d just repeating myself. Just imagine the worst and you’ll not go far wrong.

Something I’ve come to realise is the sheer camaraderie amongst runners, especially those of us who like to get our money’s worth from an event (ie: the back packers!). This was no different. There was a real sense of fun. People were singing, laughing, cracking jokes, offering a helping hand to those around them. We might never see these people again but, just for now, we were akin to lifelong friends.

Then, finally, at around nine miles in we spotted a wide open expanse and, in the distance, a pink gazebo. The finish line!

I’m usually glad to see the finish. It’s time for one final push, to expend whatever last ounce of energy I have left in my legs in an attempt to shave a few seconds off my time, a chance for a drink and the promise of that all important medal.

Yet, today, there was a mild sense of disappointment too. That meant the race was over. Yes, I did enjoy it that much.

I’ll not sugar coat this if you stumble across this blog and are thinking about entering in 2018 … this IS a hard race, the conditions WILL test you to your limits but I also defy you to have as much fun in any other event that you’ll do. Sign up if you get the chance. I know I will again.

Relive my run


Turkey Trot

Sure what else would you be doing on Christmas Day after your dinner and after your folks visited but go for a wee run? And what sort of dad would I be if I didn’t bring my daughter, Michelle, out with me as well?

I also had just over 10k to do to reach my target for the Run Up To Christmas challenge, plus there was the small matter of a Virtual Runner UK Christmas Day medal to earn.

It hadn’t been my intention to leave it until early evening. The original plan was to do the local parkrun with Michelle and then the extra distance on my own when we got home but heavy overnight downpours led to the cancellation of parkrun, and because the rain was so incessant it wasn’t even practical to do the run ourselves in the morning.

But I knew I had to do it at some point today so when I noticed at 6pm it had faired up I decided to strike while the iron was hot. I told Michelle to get ready (I bet she thought she had escaped!) and off we went. I was very vague as to why Michelle had to go for a run with me, offering some loose promise that it’d worth her while – she certainly didn’t know there’d be a medal at the end of it for her!

Because she isn’t a runner we took it very gently but, to her credit, she ploughed on until we got to 5k whereupon she asked what she was getting for it. I told her I had told porkies and that she was getting nothing … I don’t think she was amused, until we got home and I presented her with the aforementioned Christmas Day medal which I hope/think pleased her. She did do well so it was the least she deserved.

I was still short of my #RU2C target so I went back out on my own to complete the run, eventually running seven miles in total which, on top of yesterday’s five, wasn’t a bad old total over the last couple of days.

It was pleasing to get to the seven miles – and quite comfortably too – because I’ve got an 8-mile trail race on Saturday, the Castlewellan Christmas Cracker, so this was good preparation for that … and that eight will be a good springboard as my half marathon training kicks into action.

So, two runs over Christmas, four medals earned, a target met and all my festive indulgence cancelled out … I’ve done rightly!

Run Up To Christmas progress (50.4k)
2nd December – 5k
4th December – 8k
9th December – 2.9k
17th December – 10k
19th December – 5.2k
24th December – 8.1k
25th December – 11.2k

Relive my run



Hazelbank Christmas Run

Two days ago I had no intention of running a race today, yet here I am on Christmas Eve just after finishing a 5-Miler along the shores of Belfast Lough dressed up as Santa … and ending up with two medals to boot!

The race itself was the Hazelbank Christmas Run, organised by Leg-It Events – a Northern Ireland based company that host a variety of runs aimed at runners, walkers and families.

Today’s event, given the time of year, had a festive theme hence the Santa gear. I went to the race with Grace, Kim and Bronagh from the club who also, thankfully, donned costumes for the occasion. At least I wasn’t the only odd looking one, a fair few others dressed up too, it was nice to see so many enter into the spirit of the thing.

My suit wasn’t of the highest quality and after being already worn on Tuesday night for the club run had started to fray in, ahem, certain inappropriate places … so some discreet adjustments needed to be made in order to keep me on the right side of the law!

As I said, this was a 5-mile race. It started from Hazelbank Park in Newtownabbey and, after a loop around a bit of the park, hugged the coast road in the general direction of the Ulster University Jordanstown campus before turning to come back to the start/finish line.

The first couple of miles were grand, we had the wind at our backs for most of it which helped blow us along … then we turned at just after the halfway point into a beast of a headwind. I was already hot and bothered by that stage – it’s bloody warm running in full Santa regalia! – but when the wind caught my coat it acted like a sail which meant I had to work even harder to keep going.

It was difficult, but it was fun. The encouragement from the passing motorists and from my running companions made it an enjoyable outing. I’ll admit I struggled a bit during the middle portion, but as we entered the last mile I began to find my legs more and felt a lot more comfortable than I had been, I could have gone on for much longer had I needed to which, as always, is encouraging. I’m slow but I can keep plodding away.

Thanks to Bronagh, Kim and Grace for a brilliant morning, for all the laughs and for your great company.

Oh, and how did I end up with two medals? The organisers had advised that those who entered before a certain point would receive a Santa themed medal, whilst those late entries would get a different one but, seemingly, a number of people didn’t turn up so a quantity of both designs still remained so I was given one of each. I’m never one to turn down a bit of bling so I didn’t need to be asked twice!

I’m still 10.8k short of my 50k target for the Run Up To Christmas which means just one thing tomorrow morning … a wee Christmas Day run! Sure, if nothing else, it’ll mean I’ll have earned my dinner.

Run Up To Christmas progress (39.2k)
2nd December – 5k
4th December – 8k
9th December – 2.9k
17th December – 10k
19th December – 5.2k
24th December – 8.1k

Relive my run