Mighty Oaks Cross Country

One big event for us at Orangegrove this weekend… the Mighty Oaks Cross Country extravaganza at Cookstown, courtesy of Acorns A.C. More enjoyable than usual this time because we are going by coach! There will be as much fun on the bus as there will be on the notorious hill on the course. Last year seasoned cross country runners ground to a standstill on that hill and one or two, on nearly reaching the top, slid back down again. Memories of Lurig!

Acorns A.C., founded in April 2014, (Club motto…‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’) are always good supporters of our events and we are glad to make the effort to support their cross country. In addition, Liz Leitch’s connections with this part of Co. Tyrone and Co. Derry gives us an additional reason to turn up now and again in what is a beautiful part of Northern Ireland. Acorns A.C. is based in the Magherafelt and Cookstown area. Their weekly training takes place at two locations, the Mid Ulster Sports Arena at Cookstown and also at the Meadowbank Stadium in Magherafelt. Saturday’s cross country race will be at the Cookstown venue and all members are reminded that this is a round of the Athletics Northern Ireland Cross Country League. Essentially this means that we must attempt to get at least sixteen men and sixteen ladies in the adult races to maximise points scoring. Surely we should be able to do that!

Where you finish in the race is irrelevant, as long as you finish. If you finish we get a point! There is a full programme of races beginning at 12 noon with an U11 boys’ and girls’ race of 800m, followed at 12.20 by an U13 boys’ and girls’ race of 1 mile. At 12.45 the U15 boys and girls race over a 2 mile route and at 13.15 the U17s race over a distance of three miles. Then it is the turn of the ladies and male veterans over 65 to race over 3 miles. The final race of the day is at 14.45 for senior men and veterans up to the age of 60, a five mile race. Entries taken on the day, £8 affiliated and £9 unaffiliated. The junior races are £3 for the U11s and £4 for the others. Can’t wait!

The clan gathered at the Sydenham Railway Station footbridge, boarded the coach and set off for Cookstown. The weather was dull, cool and fairly drizzly. However, as the coach approached Dungannon on the M1 motorway the atmosphere changed and we became aware that heavy overnight snow was lying everywhere and, in some cases, blocking side roads. By the time we reached the Mid Ulster Sports Arena at Cookstown at least six inches of snow coated the surrounding area and it was apparent that this cross country race was going to be like no other most of us had experienced before.

Acorns had set up what would have been a challenging enough course even in perfect conditions, but with the heavy snow under foot it was going to be particularly tough, and it was. The famous ‘heartbreak hill’ looked, from a distance, more suited to down hill skiers than cross country runners. But, at least, there was no wind or rain or falling snow, and the base layer or no base layer debate generally took the view that bare shoulders would be best. The ladies and men over 65 went first for three laps (three miles), followed by the men for five laps (five miles).

The following times were achieved by Orangegrove runners:

OAC Ladies & Men 65+ (3 miles)

Antra Balcuna 24.03 (8th/68)
Pauline Bayliss 26.24 (17th/68)
Lisa Fleming 27.52
Lisa Rodham 29.38
Jenny Powell 30.54
Alison Hall-Thompson 30.59
Kirsty Buchanan 31.00
Sharon Corken 31.03
Kerris Hamilton 31.22
Mairead Napier 35.47
Hilary Bradshaw 36.38
Eoin Woodman 45.36

Great running from the Orangegrove ladies on a day that will be long remembered in the annals of OAC cross country running because of the most challenging and picturesque of conditions. The good news is that the ladies managed to pick up third place in the team competition with 172 points. Two ladies in particular typified the exceptional spirit evident in the ladies camp. Sarah Malcolmson was going very well and was enjoying her race in the snow when she was struck down with frozen feet on the second lap and had to withdraw. She was distraught! Hilary Bradshaw went over on her ankle during the race but continued to the end despite a pronounced limp.

Very well done Antra Balcuna who spent her race in the leading group despite feeling unwell and also carrying a foot injury. Pauline Bayliss too was well up in the results and seemed unfazed by the deep snow and thick mud. Indeed all the ladies were superb and deserve both individual and team credit.

The ladies race was won by Enya Haigney (Omagh Harriers) in 21.35 and Heather Foley (Unattached) was second in 21.37.

OAC Men (5 laps)

Thomas Leitch 35.29
Robin Montgomery 35.36
Andy McIntyre 37.16
Tim Robinson 39.57
Paul Tyro 39.59
Brian Todd 40.40
Rodney Corrigan 41.08
Stephen Anderson 42.24
Michael O’Donoghue 43.37

Great running too from the men who had to contend with the worst possible conditions. By the last race of the day some parts of the course had deteriorated into seriously deep mud in which there was a real danger of a lost shoe or even a sprained ankle. Thomas and Robin, in particular, were in scintillating form and finished well up in the results.

The men also managed to finish in fourth place in the team competition on 280 points. By the last lap of the last race ‘heartbreak hill’ was at its most invidious and one or two random runners were noted to sink to their knees in tears (not Orangegeove, of course!).

The Men’s race was won by Seamus Lynch (Newcastle A.C.) in 30.13. Scott Rankin (Foyle Valley) was second in 30.54.

Grateful thanks to Gerald Harvey for some great photographs from Acorns.

All of us who travelled to Cookstown are very grateful to the Captain, Robin Montgomery, on whose shoulders the organisation for the trip fell. It was a most enjoyable affair and, hopefully, the first of many more to come!