The organisers of the Charleville International Half-Marathon, North Cork AC, could not have hoped for better conditions for their race last Sunday morning on the 23rd of September. The race in only its second year attracted over 700 entrants who all benefited from the slightly overcast, cool, still morning. With those kind of ideal conditions and the competitive field which had assembled, it was always going to be a day for good performances and a very enjoyable running experience over the flat course in North Cork/South Limerick. The significant increase in numbers from the previous year’s race showed that the organising club had benefited from the positive reputation which it gained from the success of last year’s event.
While there were fast winning times in last years event, this years race yielded significantly faster times, some of which will stand as some of the fastest times in the country so far this year, with the top seven men making it under the 70 minute mark and the top four women well under the 80 minute mark. This depth in quality of times in a distance road race is not seen very often in Ireland. The winning times for the 13.1 mile distance were Sergiu Ciobanu 1:05:05 and Maria McCambridge 1:13:05. Clare man Sean Hehir was never far behind the Moldovan Ciobanu and was in fact ahead of him in the early parts of the race as he followed Mark Hanrahan (Leevale AC) who was pacemaking for the first 10km of the race. The first 5km was very quick with the leading men going through 5km in just over 15 minutes while 10km was reached in approx. 30:30.
Ciobanu was pushing for the lead soon after they passed the half-way mark as they left the ancient walls of the town of Kilmallock. The Cahir based athlete went on to a clear win with perfectly equal splits at half-way and the finish of 32:33 and 32:33. Hehir of Rathfarnham WSAF AC finished in a time of 1:05:31 keeping the Clonliffe Harriers athlete within sight all the way to the end. Paddy Hamilton of Annadale Striders, decided to make the long journey south from Lisburn to the course with such a good reputation for speed. He was rewarded with a third place finish and also managed to equal his personal best time from earlier in the year at the Reading Half-Marathon which is also known for being a fast course.
Personal bests were not unusual among both the top finishers and the main field with the majority of the prize winners getting close to if not beating their personal best times. Maria McCambridge in winning the womens race set a personal best time of 1:13:05 which is an excellent time leading into the cross country season. She has been going from strength to strength over the summer on the road and the Charleville race provided her the opportunity to really demonstrate the form that she currently has as well as reminding people of the top class athlete that she is. Meanwhile her husband Gary Crossan, won the mens over 40 category. He did this while pushing their sons’ pram which was an amazing achievement in itself. Barbara Sanchez finishing second in the women’s race bettered her time from the National half-marathon 3 weeks earlier by over a minute and twenty seconds. Lizzie Lee (Leevale AC) ran a brave race to finish third, even though twisting her ankle near the 5 mile mark, she managed to compose herself and get all the way to the finish just ahead of Julie Turley of Dromore AC who was another athlete who had travelled down from Northern Ireland. Julie also managed a personal best. Last years winner of the women’s race, Angela McCann finished fifth this year, bettering her time over the course by forty seconds with a time of 1:20:21.
The reputation of this race is now established. The bar has been raised nationally in terms of organisation, the quality and speed of course, and in terms of the overall competitive depth achieved in a race. Not only were the prize winners setting fast times but the top 49 runners were all under 80 minutes. With the new initiatives to raise standards in distance running being taken nationally, North Cork AC has certainly made its contribution towards helping athletes to raise standards. The club offered an excellent prize package while also being able to deliver a high quality race for runners overall. The course was AIMS certified so the times are internationally recognised and can be used to qualify for a number of international races. It will be interesting to see if any other clubs follow the lead of this small country club in deciding to try to offer a race of a similar standard. It is only when athletes of this standard are offered regular chances to compete in races like this that they will be able to improve.
The official results for this race are available online at www.CharlevilleHalf.com along with a full list of category prize winners and a large number of photos.