RACE DATE 13 February 2020

The 28th Armagh International Road Race

Jerry Kiernan, Irish Olympian, summed up the amazing in-depth pace of the 28th Brooks Armagh International 5k Road Race when he said on Thursday night “if you ease off for even a second, 30 guys go past you.”

The 28th Armagh International Road Race scaled new heights that night as no fewer than 95 athletes ran 15 minutes or better, 169 ran 15.30 or better, and amazingly 194 were timed at 16 minutes or better. This was a global record and firmly places the Armagh race as the premier 5k race in the world for sheer depth of performance.

Despite the raising of the entry bar to a verifiable 16 minutes recorded in the previous 12 months, there were no fewer than 264 athletes on the line for the start of what was to turn out to be a truly epic contest.

The Armagh A.C. team had spared no effort in their meticulous preparation for this event and The Mall was a wonderful sight with floodlights all round the course highlighting the magnificent space we’re so lucky to have in our city. The volunteer marshals were everywhere distinctive in their yellow tops and everything exuded a sheer professionalism rarely seen below the level of World or Olympic Championships.

The opening ten races of the night were run off with a precision honed by the experience gained over the previous 27 years of the race. These races involved over 1000 young athletes from mainly the local schools, but also from schools and clubs from as far away as Cork City.

This race was eagerly awaited as in the line-up were a number of Olympic athletes including last year’s winner and record-holder Laura Weightman, as well as last year’s third-placed Jess Judd.

Both featured in the World Track & Field Championships last year, with Weightman reaching the final of the 1500M. Right from the gun the two Olympians took control of the race, running in close tandem and reaching the 1k mark in 2.59 which is sub 9-minute pace.

As the race progressed these two were inseparable, but gradually Laura Weightman proved the stronger and broke away to cross the line in a record-equalling time of 8.59 with Jess Judd coming through in 9.03. Local athlete Emma Mitchell running for the NI & Ulster team finished in 6th place with a time of 9.19.

Armagh’s Fionnuala Ross ran the race of her life for a personal best time of 9.28 in 12th place and was second scoring athlete on the NI & Ulster team. Kerry O’Flaherty, double winner in 2009 and 2010, completed the scoring trio for NI & Ulster coming 17th in a time of 9.35.

England led by Verity Ockenden in 3rd place with 9.14, Amy Griffiths, 5th in 9.18, and Sophie Harris 15th in 9.30 easily won the team race. NI & Ulster took the silver medals and Scotland took 3rd podium position.

The Inter-Club race was of great local interest as Armagh AC had no fewer than 10 women entered, flagging up the growing strength of women’s athletics in the area.

The team finished 6th out of 13 scoring teams from all over Ireland, England, Scotland and France. The winning club team was Leeds City AC, with Queen’s University, Belfast 2nd and Highgate Harriers of London, 3rd.

Such was the quality of this race that it’s difficult to do it justice. This was the greatest ever field of athletes to line up in a race anywhere on the island of Ireland, and not only in Ireland but anywhere in the world.

The post race statistics detailed above tell their own incredible story. However, the statistics don’t tell everything – you had to watch the race to appreciate the sheer athleticism, courage, determination of those runners setting off in a dense mass up Mall West and flying through the first 1000M in 2.40.

That’s what it takes to survive in the bunch in the Armagh 5k – certainly a bit fast for the first lap, but as Jerry Kiernan says, “if you ease off for even a second, 30 guys go past you.” So if you want to run the Armagh 5k you’d better believe that. Among the 264 entrants were some of the best English, Irish, Scottish, Polish, Welsh, Belgian, American and Finnish athletes, many with European, Olympic and World Championship status.

In addition many of these athletes were there for up to their 10th visit and there were former winners and runners-up all hoping to benefit from previous experience.

However, in the end it was down to relentless running and surviving the punishing pace for lap after lap. Early leaders included Dewi Griffiths a top Welsh and British International with most impressive track times in the mid 13.30s and Charlie Hulson from Liverpool, a previous winner, was in there too. Then the American Jordan Mann who nearly won last year and who was determined to go one better.

A favourite to win was Mahamed Mahamed from Southampton AC and he too had a go at the head of the race. Yannick Michiels from Belgium who also nearly won a couple of years ago was back for his third attempt and was clearly a man with a mission. Irish hopes rested with Matt Bergin who runs for Bedford County AC, John Travers from Donore Harriers, Brian Maher from Kilkenny and Hugh Armstrong running in the colours of Ocean State AC Providence University.

However, the eventual winner Sam Stabler from Wreake & Soar Valley AC, was the dark horse lying back in the 20s until the last lap. As he said himself, as he came off the final bend in a dense mass of runners he saw a gap and jumped into it – then another opening appeared which further improved his position and so on down the long straight of Mall East with the lit-up finish area in sight but still so far away. Sam did have a plan – following the advice of seasoned Armagh 5k runner Dewi Griffiths, he held off on his final sprint until he reached the cones leading into the finish.

However, with only a few seconds covering about a dozen athletes inside this killing zone it was never a done deal for anyone until the line was crossed. Sam held on and crossed the line in a time of 13.59 – previous winner Charlie Hulson was a disappointed second in 14.00 minutes dead, and the American Jordan Mann who had earlier made valiant efforts to take on the field came 3rd on 14.01.

Belgian, Yannick Michiels was next through on 14.02 with John Sanderson of Real Runners 5th in a time of 14.04. Graham Rush from Cheltenham & County Harriers was 6th in 14.05. Graham last year had looked to have the race in his grasp but he went too early and suffered a mistake he wasn’t going to make this year.

The team race was by no means an easy one to predict and the results showed very little between the first 3 teams which were 1.

Wales ‘A’ – Charlie Hulson (2nd), Jonny Hopkins (8th) and Dewi Griffiths (11th); 2. England – Graham Rush (6th), Mahamed Mahamed (10th), and Jonathan Hay (14th); and 3. Ireland – Matt Bergin (12th); John Travers (17th); and Brian Maher (23rd).

The 11 scoring clubs were all from Wales, England and Scotland. Best was the ever-popular Swansea Harriers who have had a long association with the Armagh race coming here year after year for over 20 years.

1. Swansea Harriers; 2. Real Runners (England); 3. Cardiff AAC.

28th OPEN MEN’S 3K
The Men’s Open 3k has been one of the great success stories of the Armagh Race project. It was initially created to cater for athletes who didn’t have the qualifying time for the 5K but it has since blossomed into a significant and important event in its own right, attracting high-level performers.

This year saw the entry of a top Polish track runner, Michal Rozmys who came with an 800M best time of 1.45 and a 1500M time of 3.36. These are world-class times but the 3k is a race he rarely runs so it was always going to be interesting to see how he would tackle the longer course.

Everyone knew that he would be unbeatable in a final sprint so the only hope would be to push the pace early on and wear him down. However, Michal Rozmys had other ideas and right from the start took control of the race and went on to win in a new record time of 8.30., with Craig McMeechan of North Down AC second, and Jack O’Farrell of St Colman’s College, Newry in third position.

1st team was St Colman’s, Newry; 2nd was North Down AC; and 3rd was Beechmount Harriers of Belfast.

Gary Henderson (Armagh AC) was best of the locals, finishing 23rd overall in a time of 9.26 to take the individual MV45 title.