Armagh International lives up to high expectations

The small city of Armagh held this popular annual event for the 28th time last night and once again the event lived up to high expectations.

An evening race, in early February, in Northern Ireland seems an unlikely choice for a quick 5k or 3k - yet continues to attract high class fields from both side of the Irish Sea, as well as Europe and the USA. For many of the athletes the race provides a great opportunity to get off the mud and run fast before transitioning to the track season or Spring road races. Plus this year a few athletes heading to the Gold Coast next month were also in Armagh as part of their preparations.

A high quality elite women’s 3k race over the three-lap city centre course saw a head to head battle from the start between Laura Weightman (Morpeth, Coach: Steve Cram) and Jessica Judd (Chelmsford / Loughborough Students, Coach: Mick Judd) with Laura taking the eventual win by four seconds in a time of 8 minutes 59 seconds.

The England Team representatives of Verity Ockenden (Swansea AC, Coach: Tony Houchin), Amy Griffiths (Aldershot Farnham & District, Coach: Rob Denmark) and Sophie Harris (Belgrave Harriers) all performed excellently - taking the team title. Verity took the remaining podium place behind Laura and Jessica with a time of 9 minutes 14 seconds. Amy running strongly was a further four seconds behind in 5th place. Such was the quality of the field that the top 16 women all finished inside 9 minutes 30 seconds. Sophie Harris, who was making her debut for England placed 15th with a 3k PB of 8 seconds in the wintry racing conditions that boasted a numbing wind chill factor.

In the Men’s 5k race, the England 2017 10k Champion Sam Stabler (Wreake & Soar Valley, Coach: Rob Denmark) took the win just dipping inside 14:00 with 13 minutes 59. England representative Graham Rush (Cheltenham & County Harriers) bettered his time and place from the previous year by two second and two places to finish 5th in 14 minutes 05 seconds. The youngster of the team Mahamed Mahamed(Southampton AC, Coach: Peter Haynes) smashed his previous road and track bests to run 14 minutes 07 seconds which placed him 10th, whilst Jonny Hay (Aldershot Farnham & District, Coach: Mick Woods) made a welcome return to the shorter road distance to run a sharp 14 minutes 12 seconds in 14th place place which saw Team England finish as runners-up to Wales. The top 40 men all finished inside 14 minutes 30 seconds demonstrating exactly why Armagh continues to attract top ranked athletes, year after year.

5k - England Men’s Team
6th - 14:05, Graham Rush (Cheltenham & County Harriers)
10th - 14:07, Mahamed Mahamed (Southampton AC, Coach: Peter Haynes)
14th - 14:12, Jonny Hay (Aldershot Farnham & District, Coach: Mick Woods)

3k - England Women’s Team
3rd - 9:14, Verity Ockenden (Swansea AC, Coach: Tony Houchin)
5th - 9:18, Amy Griffiths (Aldershot Farnham & District, Coach: Rob Denmark)
15th - 9:30, Sophie Harris (Belgrave Harriers)

England Team Leader, David Lowes said of the teams’ performance, “Without a doubt, every member of the team, male and female, ran very well and in some instances performed better than expected. With a fantastic atmosphere and in-depth fields, the experience for both athletes and staff made the trip across the Irish Sea a worthwhile one."

Photo by David Lowes