Bailey attempts to win Donard for fifth year

Bailey attempts to win Donard for fifth year

17 May 2017

NEWCASTLE AC’s Ian Bailey is bidding for five-in-a-row when he takes part in the prestigious Slieve Donard race on Saturday.

However, the sure-footed Bailey, who first won the race in 2013, will have his work cut out retaining his crown.

The race is also acting as a round in the Irish Mountain Racing Association Championship and a large field of experienced runners from Ireland and Britain is expected.

This is the sixth race of the current Hill and Dale Series and will start at 2pm from the the Newcastle Centre, with the leaders returning to the Newcastle around 2.55pm.

Amazingly, within one hour the leading athletes will have climbed the 852 metres to the summit of Slieve Donard and back.  

The course follows along Main Street with a marked route choice to the summit and the same back to Newcastle Centre – a temporary departure from the traditional free choice. 

The first race was held in 1945 and 35 different runners have added their name to the illustrious list of winners — Ian Bailey being the most recent in 2013 in a new course record of 53:45. 

Bailey was defending his 2014 title and was in sparkling form on the day, climbing like a Sherpa to reach the summit in 37 minutes dead — over a minute clear of Seamus Lynch, who on any other day would more than likely have won the race. 

Lynch would descend quicker than his rival, but the gap at the top of the mountain was too great and Bailey is no fool when it comes to getting of a mountain in speedy quick time.  

Lynch clawed back 16 seconds, but nowhere near enough to eat in to the 72-second gap at the summit.

William McKee was beginning to emerge a serious talent in the hills and his third place would be the platform for him to go on to greater things ever since. 

While Bailey is the firm favourite, he still has a long way to go to eclipse the achievements of Newcastle’s Deon McNeilly.

With an amazing tally of nine victories and numerous minor placings, he remains the most successful competitor in the race’s distinguished history.

For a number of years the course went via the Bloody Bridge with a two mile run along the road to finish. 

James McKenny recorded six consecutive victories on this course between 1953 and 1958.

In the 1998 the decision was taken for safety reasons to revert to the original up and down route starting at the Newcastle Centre and back to Donard Park. 

However, in 2002 a further route change took the finish back at Newcastle Centre to allow more spectators to witness the spectacle and savour the atmosphere of this wonderful test of strength, stamina and endurance.

For many years Mike Short held the record with his 1977 run via the Bloody Bridge in 1 hour 4 minutes 14 seconds.

The 2000 race was also a round of the British Championship and was won by Ian Holmes in 50 mins 10 seconds — the fastest ever up and down, but the finish was in Donard Park. 

Since the route has been extended back to the Newcastle Centre, Scottish international runner John Brooks set an impressive record with 56 mins 34 seconds in 2004. Brooks’ record stood until 2008 when Woods shaved off an impressive 49 seconds on his way to his first win. 

Amazingly, he went even better in 2009 and set a new standard by breaking the 55 minute barrier in an amazing 54:49.

Amazing that was until Cunningham lowered the mark by a further 16 seconds in 2010 to set the current fastest time of 54:33.

Bailey lowered the mark to 53:45 and has since lowered it to 53:40 when winning his fourth consecutive title in 2016.

It would be a brave person to bet against Bailey as he goes for a fabulous five, but don’t discount totally the form men — William McKee, Zak Hanna and David McKee. 

The ladies’ race in 2015 was a much closer affair than in previous years. Newcastle’s Shalene McMurray had a tremendous lead at the top of the mountain, but was reined in by the excellent descending ability of Diane Wilson. 

Wilson would win by 40 seconds, overturning a three minutes 23 seconds deficient at the summit.  

2016 saw a return to normality as Wilson had six minutes to spare over the gutsy Shileen O’Kane with Mari Troeng a further three minutes adrift in third place. 

However, despite not racing too much in the Hill & Dale series to date few would bet against her joining Bailey in making it five in a row as well. 

Shalene McMurray and Charlene Haugh may think otherwise, but both would have to be on top of their game to beat the wily Wilson.