by Rónán Davison-Kernan
The BARF Turkey Trot has taken place (almost) every year since 1991. Taking place every 26 December, it involves a tear around the hills somewhere in and around the Trassey valley. The venue and route has changed a few times, but since 2021 it has stayed close to its roots and settled into a start and finish at Meelmore Lodge with a 7.5km-ish lap of Slieve Meelmore before retiring to Tollymore Mountain Centre for festive refreshments. In tradition BARF members donated prizes and unwanted Christmas presents, from wireless speakers to wine, hand-burned wooden bowls and even a few …surplus Hill & Dale series prizes. Other fine customs were upheld; mince pies and mulled wine, Paddy Mallon’s famous spot prize Quiz, and the strong showing of local and ex-local runners returned for Christmas, making this always a competitive fixture. The Turkey Trot also always proves an excellent entry point to mountain running for many (the author included, in 2014) given its relatively short and benign route (sometimes).
However, two traditions were broken this year. The first was the weather. Turkey Trot veterans will recall the near-washout of 2019 or the many years of driving sleet or even snow. Alas this was not the case in 2023 as we found ourselves blessed by clear blue skies, bright sunshine and minimal wind, but temperatures high enough to prevent freezing. In short, perfect conditions.
The other tradition was even more momentous. This year, Jim Brown stood down as race director. Jim is a founding member of BARF and organised the Turkey Trot every year from 1991 to 2022. He also organises the Seven Sevens and the Mourne Mountain Marathon so it’s about time he let someone else do some of the work. Filling Jim’s boots (or mudclaws) is a challenge to say the least, and it took two of us – myself and Andrew Tees – to take over. But really we only had to copy Jim’s homework from last year. Andrew held the fort at base while I got to run this year, wearing number 1 (it’s the only way I’ll be first in a race). Although no longer race director, Jim helped out on the day and provided some adult supervision.
A record 128 runners toed the start line at Meelmore Lodge and took off down the infamous lane, which lulls runners into a furious pace with the initial downhill section before a deceptive uphill reestablishes a firm sense of pecking order. Former winners Paul Pruzina and Eoin Lennon set the pace from the off, with Hill & Dale champion Ashley Crutchley and (also former winner) Jonny Steede not far behind. Lennon had a 13 second lead on Pruzina at Pollaphuca but by the finish this was reversed with Pruzina home first with 15 seconds to spare in 36 minutes 49 seconds, setting a course record. Crutchley rounded out the podium two minutes later, ending a very strong first year of mountain running.
In the womens’ race Sarah Hanna continued her mountain running comeback and was first home in a time of 51:15, followed closely by Diane ‘the descender’ Wilson and Amanda Perry in 3rd.
Fifteen BARFers raced, with Jack Proctor first over the line in a time of 44m 30s to secure 10th place overall.
A race the day after Christmas is a big ask of people to give their time, but there was no shortage of volunteers and so big thank you is due to all the BARFers, ex-BARFers and members of the BARF PTA who marshalled, supervised parking, checked kit, dished out dibbers, put out markers, distributed mince pies and mulled wine, deployed marshalling teams with military precision and donated prizes.
Thank you to Tollymore Mountain Centre and Meelmore Lodge for hosting us, and of course thank you to everyone who took part and made the 2023 Turkey Trot a glorious success. Happy New Year to all from BARF – see you somewhere in the hills in 2024.