The Skyrunning UK season concludes in Ireland this coming weekend with the Garmin Mourne Skyline MTR. What a year it has been! From the very first edition, the GMSMTR has sold out and demand continues to exceed places available. It’s a testament to the team behind the race.
The 2016 edition was won by Germain Grangier in a time of 3:49:39 and the ladies’ race was dominated by Jasmin Paris running 4:30:02. However, the ladies course record still stands with USA based runner and Salomon athlete, Stevie Kremer.
Ian Bailey, former course record holder at the Garmin Mourne Skyline MTR returns in 2017 and will not only be looking for victory but dipping under the 3:49:39 set by Grangier last year.
Skyrunning UK Series champions will be confirmed in Ireland. The battle is on for a male champion, Tim Campion-Smith is the odds-on favourite with a convincing 25-point lead. Jason Millward, Tomasso Migliuolo and Jonathan Palmer are in with a shout. Tim Campion-Smith will not run in Ireland, however, Jason Millward will! With a 20% bonus at stake for the final event, if Millward wins or places 2nd, he would leapfrog Campion-Smith for the 2017 overall title by dropping his lowest ranking points (9th at Ben Nevis Ultra) and replacing them with points from the Mourne Skyline MTR – 1st would provide 30 points, 2nd 26.4 points and *3rd would provide 22.8 points.
It is likely that Jonathan Palmer will move from equal 3rd to 3rd overall after the Mourne Skyline MTR. Of course, if Millward has a poor run and Palmer has a great run, this could change!
*3rd place would not be enough for overall victory, it would provide a total of 45.8 points to Campion-Smith’s 48-point tally.
The ladies race is wide open! Kirsty-Jane Birch currently leads the ranking with 11 points but it looks like she will not race in Ireland and therefore she will not have three qualifying races. This leaves the door open for 2nd placed Rebecca Morgan who has 5 points and will race at the Mourne – in many respects, she just needs to finish the race but a top-10 would guarantee overall victory.
As in previous editions, there is a wealth of talent toeing the line. Look out for:
Seamus Lynch, Jonathan Palmer, David Hicks, Barry Hartnett, Ryan Stewart and Shane Donnelly.
Linda O’Connor, Megan Wilson, Martsje Hell, Elizabeth Wheeler, Karina Jonina, Jacqueline Toal, Shileen O’Kane, Hazel McLaughlin and importantly Janne Geurts who placed 2nd at the V3K but this is only her 2nd Skyrunning UK race and therefore cannot qualify for the Series despite having the most points.
Owned by the National Trust, the Mourne Mountains are an area of outstanding beauty, it includes Slieve Donard (850m), the highest mountain in Northern Ireland and Ulster and as such it provides a perfect location for a mountain race.
Among the more famous features, the Mourne Wall is a key element of this region and a key aspect of the race. Comprised of forest path, fire roads, single track, granite trail and tough uneven broken fell, the race is a tough challenge. In just 35km the course has a brutal 3370m of ascent and no less than 9 peaks, the highest being Slieve Donard at 850m.
The coastal town of Newcastle hosts the start of the race and a short section of road leads into Donard Park via the promenade entrance and the ‘Granite Trail’ awaits for a long and relentless climb. Dundrum Bay is visible to the west, before a fast-downhill section to a climb of the stony and challenging Glen River Path to the Col between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh.
At Hare’s Gap, the first major peak awaits, Slieve Bearnagh, first passing the North Tor before reaching the summit quickly followed with the technical ascent of Slieve Meelmore. The Mourne Wall becomes a key feature of the race and for the first time the runners follow its line for just 0.4km before veering right and descending towards The Mourne Way path.
Fofany Dam precludes the only road section of the course which leads to the Mourne Wall and the style between Ott and Slieve Loughshannagh. The climbs and summits come thick and fast now; Slieve Loughshannagh, Slieve Meelbeg and the course continues to follow the Mourne Wall leading to a repeated climb of the technical and challenging Slieve Meelmore, this time in the opposite direction. The toughest climb of the day follows, Slieve Bearnagh.
Passing around the North Tor it is downhill towards Hare’s Gap and a steep climb next to the Mourne Wall towards Slievenaglogh and Slieve Commedagh, Northern Ireland’s second highest mountain. It is ironic that Slieve Commedagh should lead into Slieve Donard and the highest point of the race. On a clear day, the views are magnificent out over the sea, inland towns and villages are visible and of course, the Mourne Mountains. From the summit, it’s all downhill to the finish via the rocky Glen River Path and a fire road that leads into Donard Park and the finish.