Sperrin Harriers Winter League Round 4 – An Creggan

On Saturday 15th February 2014 the 4th round of the Sperrin Harriers Winter league took place at the scenic An Creggan forest, which is situated between Cookstown and Omagh. The race had been previously postponed due to inclement weather 2 weeks ago, however thankfully the rain held off. Although a little breezy in parts, the course was in excellent condition (apart from remnants of the white stuff) and a perfect location for a (2 lap) 5 mile trail race (with a great on site visitors center and coffee shop).

A number of clubs were represented, with runners from North Belfast, Carmen Runners, Omagh Harriers, Foyle Valley, Ballymena, Lagan Valley, City of Derry and Orangegrove, not forgetting a the large contingent from the host club [Sperrin Harriers]. At midday (start time for all races in the Sperrin Harriers Winter league), a total 80 runners made their way to the start line, a short 1km jog/warm-up from the visitors center (not so short on the way back!). With a warning to expect wet feet and a promise of post-race buns and cake back at the visitor’s center, Sperrin Harriers legend Francis Purvis sounded the hooter to get the proceedings underway. In the men’s race, from the off a lead group of 5 was formed (Mark McKinstry of North Belfast Harriers, Pius McIntyre of Foyle Valley AC, Michael Crawley of Sperrin Harriers, Paul O’Callaghan of Sperrin Harriers, Michael Kerr of Carmen Runners).

After the first lap, Mark who had won in the previous round at Drum Manor, decided to test the group and opened up a slender lead on the chasing 4. Working hard behind the leading 5 (some harder than others!) were a group from Sperrin Harriers, Aaron Meharg, Aidan O’Hagan, Delfim Pimentel, Sean O’Gara, Bliadhan Glass and one Mr. Leitch from Orangegrove AC (wearing yellow).

As the men approached the finish Mark had built up a 30 second cushion finishing in a time of 27:32 to pick-up 1st place and in doing so cemented his position at the top of the standings in the Winter League. Pius finished second 28:09, with Michael continuing to maintain the pressure on Mark in the race for the men’s overall league title crossing the finishing 28:32 taking 3rd spot on the podium. In the race for the ladies top spot, local athlete Karen Alexander (from the host club), registered early and warmed on the course where she regularly trains. Karen has performed well so far in the series and was looking to continue the form which has seen her achieve 3 wins in the previous 3 races. However, another local athlete Ann Paul (City of Derry) had also registered and was checking out the course (deciding on suitable footwear) and would be aiming to run well to challenge Karen.

From the off it was clear that the top spot in the ladies race would be between Karen and Ann. As the race progressed Karen pushed hard on the second lap to finish a clear winner in 30:57 nearly 3 minutes ahead of Ann who completed the course in 33:53. A fast improving Sperrin Harriers runner, Jacqueline Mulligan completed the top 3 positions in a time of 34:50. Back at the An Creggan Visitors center, as promised excellent post-race refreshments were on offer, consisting of ample amounts of tray bakes, buns, biscuits and tea/coffee.

The next round of the Winter League will take place at Lough Fea on the 1st March, this will be a 10 mile race (4 lap course) around the lake on gravel and tarmac surface. It would be good to see Orangegrove AC athletes support Sperrin Harries in the final round of the series. For those who have not made the journey before I can promise a warm welcome from Sper