A: Grange, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, Ireland | E: info@mullingarharriers.com

Mullingar Ekiden proves a tremendous success (28th Dec)


Mullingar Ekiden proves a tremendous success

2020 was a long year with few races in which to take part. Thankfully, on Monday 28th December, just days before the country returned to full-scale Level 5 restrictions, the Club managed to hold a members-only run with a difference. Seventy two Club members were split into twelve teams and covered the marathon distance of 42km over six stages. The idea for the run was based on the Ekiden, a long distance running multi-stage relay. Its name was given to the old Japanese transportation system for Government documents meaning “to convoy” and is now a popular form of racing in Japan.

The six pods containing twelve runners were each located at various starting points around Mullingar ensuring compliance with the then requirement for pods of no more than fifteen participating in non-contact training. The 12 runners on each stage only went to the change over point just in time to allow them warm up and while they waited for their team mate to arrive, they maintained social distancing from each other as required. Normally a sash is worn by each runner and handed over at each change, but to avoid physical contact between team members, the outgoing runner started running when their incoming team mate reached a predetermined point about 20m away, so there was never any physical contact.

Stage 1 began at the Harriers Club grounds and brought the runners out the Old Rail Trail to the Ballinea car park. Evan McCormack was first to arrive, giving Team 11 a strong lead, followed by Ken Whitelaw of Team 7 and Team 12’s Kedagh Geoghegan. The second stage took the next set of runners along an 8.5km route to Belvedere and with such a long distance it was no surprise the order was changed. Sinead Whitelaw was first to arrive having established an impressive lead for Team 7. Lorcan Mullen, a late replacement from the original line-up, ran a very impressive stage and brought Team 5 into contention, but Gerard Brady put in a similar effort for Team 10 to bring them in to the top three.

The Queen stage, Stage 3, brought the next batch of runners 12km across Gaybrook to The Downs car park on the Royal Canal. Once again, the order of teams was altered with every team changing position. This time it was Team 5 taking the lead led in by Eoin Clarke, but Patrick Muldoon and John Whitelaw continued Team 10 and 4’s climb up the rankings to second and third.

Stage 4 transported the runners along the canal tow path through Baltrasna and into Marlinstown. The first three teams, led in by Máirtín Savage, Philip Tuomey and Robin Jackson, maintained their positions at the front of the pack but the gaps were closing further behind. A short Stage 5 to Cullion Beg gave no time for let-up but once again saw plenty of changes. Nicky McCabe kept Team 5 in pole position, but Tommy Conroy brought Team 4 in to second place while Linda O’Driscoll held off the chasing pack for Team 10 in third.

The final stage brought the runners back to the Club grounds from Cullion Beg. Team 5’s Nuala Moran was first to leave the change-over but was closely followed by Martin Mullen from Team 4. However, it was James Tierney who gave victory to Team 10 passing both runners and crossing the finish line first. Martin Mullen moved in to second place for Team 4 with just 200m to go and with Cormac Finnerty from Team 12 finishing fast Nuala Moran had to dig in deep to hold off the Olympian and secure third place for Team 5.

All teams made it to the finish line and after nearly three hours of running there was only a few minutes from first to twelfth place ensuring an exciting day for all involved. Keeping 72 athletes in compliance with social distancing requirements is not an easy task but the members of Mullingar Harriers are well versed with such behaviour following months of similar instructions at weekly training sessions and should be commended for the difficult task.

With the country back in level 5 restrictions for at least a month, and no sign of races returning to the calendar, events like the Ekiden for Club members only may be the sole outlet for competitive running for athletes for the foreseeable.