Armagh International Road Races 2016
Long established as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland the cathedral city of Armagh has for at least the last quarter of a century been the holy grail for runners in search of a fast track and a quick time. A race with a fascinating history, it has its origins as one of a series of events, including two cross country races, to be included in Armagh’s inaugural International Sport & Cultural Week back in 1975.
The brainchild of local legend Brian Vallely the events were run under the rules of the National Athletic & Cultural Association of Ireland (NACAI), originally an athletics based branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association and an organisation that ran in parallel to the Northern Ireland Amateur Athletic Association until affiliation in 2000.
Taking up his role as NACAI international Secretary in 1973, it was only two years later that Vallely saw it’s affiliation with the International Workers Sports Federation as an opportunity to bring over the cream of athletics talent from across the Iron Curtain in countries such as the USSR, Poland and Czechoslovakia to compete in Armagh. Later associations were made with labour sports organisations in Western Europe, resulting in more top athletes flooding in from countries such as Italy, Portugal and France amongst others.
The race as we know it today dates back to 1990 when Vasily Koromyslov of the USSR broke the tape and for nearly three decades since then a mix of international athletes and top class locals have targeted Armagh’s flat and fast mall circuit as an opportunity to test themselves against a ‘stacked’ field. To put the standard into context, the course record for Victoria Parkrun is currently held by Irish international Paul Pollock, whose 15:05 is the fastest time in the five year history of the event. Last year alone 56 athletes dipped under 15 minutes at the Armagh Road Race, the first two athletes went sub 14 and Olympic bronze medal winning triathlete Johnny Brownlee could only finish third in 14 minutes dead.
And so it was that on a crisp and cold Thursday in February one of Ireland’s smallest cities once more found itself hosting a series of races culminating in an elite event of such a standard that the organisers quite rightly bill it as ‘One of the fastest 5k races in the world’. First up for the Orangegrove contingent was Iseult Fahy, a highly promising young athlete who was running as one of the youngest competitors in her 2400m race age bracket. Showing her racing maturity Iseult set off at a steady pace and refused to be carried along with the fast start, her tactics certainly paid dividends in the latter stages as she moved relentlessly through the field to finish in an impressive 10:18, well done Iseult, more to come.
Next up for the club was the men’s 3k, Des Fahy and Chris Downey toeing the line in near perfect running conditions. The race, which was won by North Down’s star in the making Craig McMeechan (8:48), seared the lungs and left the legs burning with lactic acid but rewarded both men with PB’s as they crossed the line within a short distance of each other, Chris in 10:45 and Des in 10:48.
In the main races of the night Ireland’s Sara Treacy (9:18) took the honours for the ladies in a 3k event which saw 28 ladies dip under 10 minutes and for the men it was England’s Charlie Hulson (14:02) who timed his finish to perfection, the first amongst a staggering 67 men who beat the 15 minute barrier. A truly special night and huge thank you to Armagh AC for a series of inspiring events and a great spread in St Marks church hall afterwards.