The Mourne Marauder
Similar to Ted Striker on the 1980’s comedy, Airplane! I’m a pretty annoying person to be sitting next to when travelling. Unlike on Airplane nobody who I was sat next to on this trip doused themselves with petrol and tried to light a match to get out of having to listen to my stories, tales and questions.
When Matt Elkington told me off for asking a bit of a risque ‘would you rather’ I knew I was starting to get on a few nerves “Come on Tonk. It’s not even 9am. You can’t ask questions like that!”. We were on a bus with Helm Hill, Ambleside and a few Black Combe runners, so I had to behave really. The constant line of questions stopped and I pretended to get some sleep. Though I cannot sleep when travelling, so my attention turned to starting the mind games with Ben Barker. By distracting him from doing some work.
The ferry crossing to Belfast went smoothly and we arrived at the accommodation at about 3:30. We all went for a laal run around to have a look at the first part of the climb, and the last part of the descent. I then sat eating a chocolate biscuit as I watched the very professional Ambleside boys do some strides.
Later that night Lamby, The Butcher and I went down to O’Hares for a cheeky pint of Guinness. Lamby felt a bit guilty for having a pint the night before the race, until he saw Tim Lamont having one. Turns out that Tim only had one because he saw Lamby having one.
Walking back from the pub my line of questioning to The Butcher (Andrew Butcher) started. I quizzed him about everything I could think of. Including “What’s your favourite AC/DC song?” To which he wasn’t sure. I told him “Mine would have to be ‘Thunderstruck’. I listen to it before every race to get myself garn and up for it!”. That night I had one of the best night’s sleep in my life. I didn’t hear Matko arriving and getting into bed at 11:45.
In the morning we all went for breakfast, and I had a singalong to a few songs in the shower to get myself ready. The final song I listened to, as always, was Thunderstruck. “I’m ready to rock” I thought.
Down on the start line the main point of conversation was if folk were wearing anything under their vests. I’ve never done a race in Northern Ireland in nice weather, and even Mark Lamb said he’d wear two layers. “Sod it, I’ll be baking garn up that first climb” I said to myself.
As we stood on the start line there were a few drops of rain. Maybe I’ll regret just garn in a vest. We all had to strain our ears for the quietest “Ready, steady, go” In the history of racing. It was good to set off though, as hanging around did make me feel a little nervous.
Fast, across the football pitch and up through the woods. The first climb went from sea level to the top of Slieve Donard (2796ft) . It was steep and it went on forever. At the top I could see Ben Barker had put a fair bit of distance into me, which seems to be the current trend. I knew I needed the descent to put myself back in the game. However, I ended up messing up the first descent. My legs felt like jelly, and I took a very poor line down to the aptly named Bog of Donard.
I hoped and prayed I would find a groove on this climb. So I started playing a few mind games. To begin with I’d simply say well done to everyone I knew. Who was on the return part of the out and back to Chimney Rock Mountain. This got me moving much better than I was. I didn’t want to look like I was struggling in front of all my mates. Before I knew it I was hot on Barker’s heels. My strategy changed to sound as positive and enthusiastic as possible. Hopefully Ben could hear me cheering folk on. If he was just in front of me at the top we both knew I’d have a good chance of over taking him. As he turned at the summit I said “Oooh I can smell you boy!” Licked my lips and gave him a cheeky wink. As I turned I went hard to catch him and overtake. Back down to the bog we went. Crossed the wall and hit the Brandy Pad traverse with some momentum. I felt strong and revitalised heading to the next checkpoint. I knew the final climb was steep and would probably last about 12 minutes or so. Plenty of time to be caught by Ben, but I was focused on those in front. Who could I possibly catch on the descent. Toni Fan was the target. She was possibly about 6 minutes in front, as she seemed to be half way up the descent.
As expected Ben caught me, but he didn’t over take. I’d have to lead on the descent now, which meant he might follow the line I was going to take. Nevermind, I thought as I started to sing Thunderstruck.
“I was caught in the middle of a Ben Barker trap. Thunder! I didn’t look round, as I knew there was no turning back. Thunder! And I thought. What could I do!? Thunder! And I knew. There was no chance, no chance he’s coming through! Thunder! Sound of these legs, Beating in my heart. The thunder of Tonk. Tore them apart. You’ve been Tonkin-struck!”
However, for the first time in my fell running career I finished in the top 50 of a British Champs race. Crossing the line in 47th place overall. Which scored me a whopping 9 points, as I was the 42nd male. I was elated with that. As I always say, If I can improve my ascents I’d be dangerous. I congratulated Ben on a good race, luckily he was oblivious to the mind games I’d been playing with him in my own head, and he hadn’t heard my song.
After the race the first two pints of Guinness went down far too easy. I was half cut before we went back to the YMCA for our tea.
Later that night, after we had to trail round the whole town to find Lamby a pint of Moretti. The entire fell running community descended upon O’Hares. It was bouncing. When the live band started to play Thunderstruck I thought the roof was going to blow off. There was a moshpit forming, with poor Harry Bolton in the middle. Once the song finished the entire pub started to chant “oooooh Harry Bolton! Ooooooh Harry Bolton!” As Jake Collier and I threw him up in the air.
It wasn’t long after that I had my t-shirt ripped off me, because “someone always ends up topless in Ireland”.
We eventually made it back to the hostel as the clocks changed, thus losing an hour of sleep.
A fantastic day, and a brilliant night. Due to the lack of sleep, and a slight hangover, I was much less annoying on the return bus trip. I did try and slip the captain of the ferry £10 if he’d chuck us out at Whitehaven and save us a long bus trip back from Stranraer, but he wasn’t having any of it.
Full results here
There were a lot of Brilliant results from KAC runners. Nic Jackson was first lady. Harry Bolton finished 7th overall. I would like to give a big shout out to Andy Butcher for competing in his first ever champs race, and then putting us to shame by being the last one into bed that night. Well done that man!
Current British Champs standings here