“How time flies” was the comment of Brendan Conwell as he took a break from organising the 24th edition of the famous Balla 10K which is fixed for Saturday evening July 23 at 7pm. The man behind the event since its inception in the early 90s looks back fondly on the many enjoyable but sometimes stressful moments associated with organising a highly successful annual fixture like this.
It all began in 1993 when Conwell who had been involved in athletics for the previous decade decided to organise what was to become known as the Balla 10k it was actually held that year a few miles away near Craggagh National School. The first winners were two leading running stars at the time Paddy Murray (Mayo AC ) and Bernie Stankard (Galway City Harriers ). The race soon established itself as one of the leading events of its type in the west of Ireland, attracting entrants from all over the country and sometimes from abroad. It also moved to its current scenic but testing course starting at the Balla Community Centre then taking runners through a winding route through the secondary school grounds past the golf club, by 2k competitors are on the tree lined Mayo Abbey road, shortly after half way it is a sharp left and left again, and three testing hills, and finally, just after 8k it is always a welcome relief to competitors to run down a small hill and under the railway bridge arch, the hills behind them for another year. It is relatively flat from there to the finish line in front of the Nally Cross on Main Street.
Balla has been blessed by the fact that it is the type of event that always attracts a great cross section of competitors, from elite athletes who have achieved national and international success to fun runners to joggers and walkers, all taking part in the same event. While it has always been very competitive the fundraising and charity aspect of the event has been incredible, many local organisations and worthy causes have used the Balla 10k as their main annual fundraiser, it is estimated the around half a million euro has been raised in the 23 year history of the event.
Conwell, who has been one of the leading lights in Mayo AC since its foundation, is putting out an invite to all runners, joggers, and walkers to go to Balla on the 23rd for what he describes as a "back to basics race” with a moderate entry fee of €15, there will be a full array of cash prizes on offer, goodies at the finish line, and excellent shower/dressing room facilities, finished off by the usual large spread of tea, coffee, sandwiches, cakes, etc. With a crowded fixture list many races are experiencing a fall in numbers taking part and Balla has been no different in recent times, however Conwell is appealing to all out there ”make Balla great again, come and take part at your own pace” is his call.
He is always anxious to point out than an annual event like this which has no major sponsor could not be staged without the enormous support of local volunteers who each year play their part. "It could be the ladies making the sandwiches and scones or the people who year in year out direct traffic at a junction on the route." For Brendan and Patricia Conwell it is also a family occasion, their daughters who all those years ago as children handed out race numbers and safety pins at registration now return home as adults to assist on race weekend. Looking beyond 2016 there are big plans for a 25th anniversary 10k in 2017. Update and more information will continue to be available through the various media outlets and www.mayoac.com