60th Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running sees record entries – AW

    Naomi Kingston and Ewan Wheelwright claim individual crowns as team titles go to Leeds Doss

    The landmark 60th Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running, supported by IQEQ and the IOM Department for Enterprise, proved to be a fitting celebration of the sport of running and of the long history of this great event.

    A record entry, the best three days of weather enjoyed on the Island for months and the presence of Olympic marathon runner Mara Yamauchi as special guest, all contributed towards a highly enjoyable and successful Easter weekend on the little island in the Irish Sea.

    The number of women who competed in the Festival was a record by nearly 15%, contributing to an overall record number of runners. As usual the entry was dominated by visiting university teams, with long-time supporters of the Festival, Leeds University’s Doss AC, entering no fewer than 96 runners.

    The opening IQEQ 10km race set the tone for the weekend, with a record 490 runners completing the scenic route through Port Erin and Port St Mary which includes the spectacular Gansey coastal section. This part of the course features the narrow raised ‘catwalk’ on the approach to Port St Mary, where the runners have the sea beneath them when the tide is in.

    10km leaders (Dave Kneen)

    When the leaders arrived at the halfway point there was a large pack still together in what was clearly a tactical battle that was awaiting someone to lift the pace and break away from the group. As the lead bike came into view from the finish line, the first runner was yellow-clad and it was Ewan Wheelwright of Leeds Doss who took a great victory having debuted in the Festival last year.

    His time was 30:53. Second, seven seconds down, was Matt Knowles (Edinburgh University Hare & Hounds) who also impressed on his debut last year, and third was former Festival champion and Great Britain cross-country international Oliver Fox (Cambridge University Greyhounds).

    Becky Watterson (616) with Mara Yamauchi (634) (Dave Kneen)

    At the 5km point in the women’s race, local star Rachael Franklin (Manx Harriers) was just behind Elizabeth Barlow (Sheffield University) with Naomi Kingston (Oxford University) in third, but that was to change in the second half of the race.

    Commonwealth Games 5000m athlete Franklin had pulled away from Barlow and crossed the line to take a fine victory – her 10th race win in the Festival over the years – in 34:57.

    Rachael Franklin (Dave Kneen)

    In the latter part of the race Kingston mounted a charge and she finished only 12 seconds adrift, with Barlow in third. The first three veterans were all former Festival champions – Emma Raven (Leeds Doss) clocked 39:43, Polly Keen (Cambridge Uni) 39:57 and Yamauchi 40:29.

    The Full Factory Winnerswear Peel Hill races on Saturday afternoon were made trickier than usual following a winter of incessant rain on the Island. Those without grippy shoes struggled to stay upright at several points on the route which was largely wet underfoot – and there were many tumbles.

    Mara Yamauchi (Dave Kneen)

    When the men reached the summit tower Corrin’s Folly for the first time Knowles was 100 metres clear of Wheelwright, with under-20 athlete Freddie Roden (Manchester University Alehouse) in third followed by Tom Spencer (Cambridge). Knowles continued to extend his lead, and by the finish his winning margin was an impressive 29 seconds.

    This was his first victory at the Festival and his day was made even better by news that his girlfriend Alice Goodall – last year’s women’s Festival champion – finished 46th for Britain at the World Cross Country Championships in Belgrade.

    Wheelwright retained his second place to add to his 10km win, and Spencer overhauled Roden to take third spot.

    Beth Ansell (Dave Kneen)

    There was also a first-time winner in the women’s race, with Kingston taking advantage of the absence of 10km winner Franklin through injury to take a fine victory by 19 seconds. Festival regular Beth Ansell is so consistent, and took second place, with Betty Bergstrand (Leeds Doss) in third. One of the performances of the day came from fifth-placed Graihagh Turner (Rotherham Harriers) who is just 15 years old – a potential star of the future.

    Graihagh Turner (Dave Kneen)

    The racing action concluded with the Outback 5km road races on Douglas Promenade walkway on Easter Sunday morning, with both the overall individual titles up for grabs. The women went first, with Kingston knowing that third place or better would clinch the title. It was an exciting contest, with Ansell taking a popular race victory in a time of 17:20 – her maiden win coming in her seventh Festival.

    There was a close contest for second place, and it was Kingston who just edged it from Sammy Mason (Leeds Doss) to secure the individual women’s title in her debut Festival. She becomes the first Oxford University representative to win a Festival title since 1998 when Yamauchi won under her maiden name of Myers. The leading local was Phoebe Coates in seventh, just ahead of another superb performance from youngster Turner.

    Naomi Kingston and Sammy Mason (Dave Kneen)

    The men’s race was a straight battle between Knowles and Wheelwright for the title, having each scored a win and a second place in the opening two races. As spectators strained their eyes to catch a glimpse of the leaders as they entered the closing few hundred metres, yellow and green vests were together. It was Leeds Dosser Wheelwright who produced the telling late kick, and he crossed the line in triumph to win both race and the title by just two seconds in a time of 15:10.

    Knowles completed another excellent Festival with second places in both the race and the overall standings, and third in the race was Max Walk (Cambridge Greyhounds). There were splendid performances from local under-17s Sam Perry and Lucas Stennett who were 12th and 22nd in times of 15:33 and 15:56 respectively.

    Ewan Wheelwright (Dave Kneen)

    The overall men’s and women’s team titles both went to Leeds Doss, as indeed they did last year, their quality and strength in depth shining through.

    Yamauchi, the 2008 Olympic marathon sixth-placer, was a wonderful special guest for the 60th Festival. She ran very well in both the 10km and Peel Hill races, but a slight niggle ruled her out of the 5km. She embraced everything about the event, chatting to as many competitors and officials as she could, and proved to be a wonderful ambassador for the Easter Festival.

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