The world came to Armagh
For two and half magical hours last Thursday Armagh was the centre of World Athletics as athletes from 15 countries took to the streets for the 27th Armagh International Road Race. Then from Friday through to Sunday Armagh was taken over by the World Sprint Orienteering 3 Day event.
Live streaming brought the 27th Armagh International Road Race to viewers all round the globe and feedback flowed in as the night progressed. What a story unfolded as athletic history was made when Laura Weightman, English double Olympian led home the most elite field ever for the Intersport International 3K for women in the record-breaking time of 8.59 slashing 8 seconds off the record held since 2013 by the former European Champion Mary Cullen of Ireland.
Then the second placed athlete Rosie Clarke came through breaking the old record by 5 seconds in a time of 9.02. To underline the quality and depth of this race the 3rd and 4th placed athletes Jesssica Judd and Sarah Inglis recorded the 4th and 5th best times ever with 9.11 and 9.13 respectively.
The Intersport women’s race also gave us 4 new category records as follows – Anna Mac Fadyen rewrote Emma Reed’s 2007 Junior A record of 10.05 with a new figure of 9.56 – Kerry O’Flaherty set a new FV35 record of 9.22 narrowly replacing Teresa Doherty’s 9.23 set in 2015 – Maria McCambridge took Gerri Short’s FV40 record of 10.40 with a new record time of 10.24 while Ann Terek demolished Ruth Magill’s 2009 FV50 record of 11.27 with a new figure of 10.44.
The indepth quality of this remarkable race was further underlined when no less than 29 athletes ran 10 minutes or better for the 3 lap Mall race while no less than 58 athletes ran 11 minutes or better.
The first Irish athletes over the line were Irish Olympic steeplechaser Kerry O’Flaherty from Newcastle in a time of 9.22 just one second ahead of rising star Emma Mitchell from Queens University AC in 9.23.
Team England Led by Jessica Judd 3rd, Charlotte Arter 6th and Rachael Burns 17th scored an unbeatable 26 points to win the International team race. There was a close battle for 2nd & 3rd with Scotland 61 points just edging out Ireland on 63. The scoring Scottish team was Morag Macclarty 16th, Stephie Pennycook 18th and Anna Mac Fadyen 27th. Ireland’s scoring 3 was led home by Donegal’s Ann Marie McGlynn 14th, Sinead O’Connor 23rd and Fiona Clinton 26th.
Armagh’s Danielle Fegan now based in Liverpool where she is studying for a PhD finished 24th in a time of 9.52.
A record entry of 154 women had earlier faced the starter for the Linwood’s sponsored Women’s 3K International and right from the starting klaxon sounded the Mall came alive with colour as athletes streamed up Mall West led from early on by the eventual winner Laura Weightman. In an interview afterwards Laura confessed she had always wanted to run in Armagh as it was regarded as the best women’s 3K in the world. Finally this year her coach the renowned 1500M athlete and TV athletics commentator Steve Cram decided this was going to be Laura’s year. Concentrating now on the 1500M where she has a personal best time of 4 minutes, coach Cram factored in a good 3K for her early early season preparation. He was totally vindicated in his decision when Weightman astounded all with her aggressive front running and eventual stunning and decisive victory.
GREATEST EVER FIELD FOR MEN’S INTERNATIONAL BROOKS 5K
With 235 runners on the line, more than double last year’s figure, the Brooks 5K was the biggest race of the night and was packed with quality athletes from a large number of countries including the USA, New Zealand, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Finland,France, Eritrea as well as Ireland, England, Scotland & Wales.
Pre race there was avid speculation about the rematch of last years winner and runner-up Charlie Hulson of England and Yannick Michiels of Belgium leading the contingent of World Champion Orienteers competing. However the race threw up a whole new set of dynamics on top of the athlete/orienteer dynamic with a blistering first 1000M run in 2.33.This punishing pace was maintained for the next lap but fell back a little in lap 3 picking up again over the final two laps.
77 Sub- 15 Minute performances
What really captured and underlined the drama of the night was the staggering 77 sub 15 minute performances – plus 1 runner whose time was rounded up to 15 so technically 78 performances including 3 sub 14 minute runs.
All the main contenders were locked together from early on so we had a fairly tight leading bunch for many laps with the lead changing lap on lap. From the start the leading bunch included eventual winner Ben Connor of England, the Americans Brandon Doughty, Jonny Crain and Jordan Mann, Dewi Griffiths Wales, Ireland’s Shane Quinn, Yannick Michiels of Belgium, Charlie Hulson winner in 2016, Graham Rush England and Kristian Jones Wales.
What brought the race to new life was Graham Rush’s premature bid for victory going into the final lap. Despite opening a comfortable lead he was run down soon enough and the final 400M saw a dramatic head to head between England’s Ben Connor and the USA’s Brandon Doughty. These two gave a wonderful display of competitive racing right through the line with both men being accorded the same time of 13.55 a tantalising one second outside the record of 13.54 established in 2009 by David Nightingale of the USA.
The USA took the International team award with the trio of Doughty, Crain and Mann scoring 16 points to easily shake off the valiant efforts of England’s trio of Ben Connor 1st individual followed by Graham Rush 7th and John Beattie 18th scoring 26 points. Ireland took third led by Shane Quinn in 10th, Matthew Bergin 11th and Kevin Dooney 21st.
While 77 athletes dipped under the 15 minute barrier there were 152 athletes who finished in under 16 minutes and only two slightly over 17 minutes. That huge field of runners after 5 laps were only separated by 3 minutes.
Like the women’s 3k this was a never to be forgotten drama packed race. With more elite athletes than ever before and carefully positioned lighting the Mall was turned into an enormous floodlit stadium with all the visual colour of a summer’s track meeting.
SPECTACULAR FINALE IN THE LINWOOD’S 3K OPEN RACE
The Linwood’s Open 3 K race which has developed it’s own dynamic over the years provided once again an amazing finale spectacle to the night’s racing. 3K is an unusual road race distance and that more than anything accounts for it’s popularity. It brings together runners from the ranks of good 800M and 1500M specialists building pre track season track stanima right up to 10K and Marathon runners anxious to develop their basic speed and ability to accelerate when needed.
Race record holder Conor Bradley City of Derry AC with a time of 8.33 opted this year for the 5K where he recorded a time of 14.30 demonstrating the elite aspect of the Linwood’s 3K in it’s own right.
The initial group of pace setters included a number of top Scottish athletes including rising star Gavin Smith of Cambuslang Harriers fresh from his Championship victory on January 4th in the Emirates Arena at the Glasgow AA Metric Mile Meeting when he won the Junior Scottish indoor 3000M Championship in a time of 8.49.68. However pre race favourite was another versatile Scot Stephen MacKay from Inverness Harriers who ran 8.41.64 to take silver in the Scottish Indoor Championships at the Metric Mile Meeting on January 4th. However interestingly he returned to the Emirates Arena on January 14th to win the Scottish Open 400M in a blistering 50.80 and later that same night ran 1.53.04 for silver in the Scottish Open 800M Championships. However the Scots didn’t have it all their way with strong local contenders pushing the pace including Zac Hanna, Craig McMeehan of North Down AC, Shane McGowan of Derry Track Club and Eoin McCann of St Malachy’s AC.
In the final shake up little enough separated the first dozen athletes who all recorded 9 minutes or better while no less than 67 dipped under the 10 minute barrier including Armagh AC’s Lochlainn Connolly who ran 9.20 for 19th overall.
However the man from Inverness Stephen MacKay fought of all challengers to storm home in 8.45 closely followed by Zak Hanna on 8.49 and Noth Down’s Craig McMeehan on 8.52.
HOW THE LOCAL RUNNERS FARED
Armagh AC athletes who turned out in force for the 3K were rewarded with a 3rd team placing against opposition from all the top Irish clubs. Led by Lochlainn Connolly 19th in a time of 9.20 the team was completed by Gary Henderson in 9.27 and 2nd MV45 behind France’s Eric Mollet, Caolan Daly 38th in 9.37, Danny Fagan 57th in 9.55, Shane McSherry 64th in 10.00 and Brendan Heaney 73rd in 10.03 completing the scoring 6. Other Armagh finishers were Jordan Johnston 110th in 10.39, Lorcan Vallely 114th in 10.45,John Joe Nugent 152nd in 12.17 and James Clarke 155th in 12.35. The St Patrick’s Grammar School trio of Conor Toner 102nd in 10.29, Conall McGrath 116th in 10.49 and Paul Hangan 127th in 11.04 took 4th Junior B place an excellent performance by these young runners that the school could really build on for next year.
THANKS TO ALL WHO CONTRIBUTED
The Armagh International Road Race is firstly a tribute to the hard working volunteer members of Armagh AC all of whom contribute to an amazing example of mutual support across the huge range of tasks involved in creating, maintaining and successfully promoting one of the best European and World road running events.
The Armagh event involves a myriad of inter connecting and diverse tasks all requiring different skills but all demanding total dedication to the aim of making this event the best it can possibly be and a jewel in Armagh’s sporting calendar. That the club has managed over 27 years to build and build this race to the level it is today is a tribute to not only the club members but to the Armagh community who get behind the race each year with financial and in-kind support. Add to this the support offered each year by organisations like the PSNI and the Order of Malta and you have one of the safest running environments to be found in the country.
The local Council for many years the Armagh City & District Council set headlines for support that has been continued under the new Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council led by the current Lord Mayor Cllr Garath Keating.
For many years now the race has been supported by Brooks, Intersport and Linwoods backed up by dozens of Armagh and District businesses who contribute to the programme printed by local printers Trimprint.
The race brings a huge influx of athletes and supporters to Armagh and they are well catered for by local Hotels The Charlemont Arms and Armagh City Hotel both of which contribute to the success of the race. The Council run Armagh Youth Hostel is generally filled to capacity for the race and many of the B/Bs, guest houses and self catering units also provide valuable accommodation.
Getting the huge numbers of overseas athletes from the 3 Irish airports requires a huge imput from club members who give up their time to drive at all hours of the day and night collecting incoming athletes. The large groups ariving from all over the world are well served by Armagh Coaches who provide a dedicated shuttle service between the 3 airports.
Probably the biggest single aspect of the race and what makes it unique is the huge level of community togetherness that it represents with every strand of the local community involved including the local schools, residents of the Mall, the cafes and restaurants, the police, the voluntary services, the Council and the general goodwill of the people of Armagh.
Many of the guest runners write back year on year expressing their appreciation for the way they are treated here in Armagh during their stay. This is an aspect of the race every bit as valuable as the outstanding quality of the event itself bringing runners and athletic fans back year after year.