The streets of Belfast will be taken over by more than 20,000 runners, joggers and walkers tomorrow in the 30th running of the Belfast City Marathon. The Marathon Programme, which includes a full marathon, a five-person relay event within the marathon, and a fun run, is the largest sporting event in Northern Ireland and attracts participation from people from all of our communities.
Like many things in Northern Ireland, the marathon has had its share of controversy. There seems to be a perennial debate about whether the race should be moved from the Monday to the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend. I blogged about that last year.
This year we’ve had the added spectacle of BBC presenter Stephen Nolan’s claim that he (and a select group of others from around Northern Ireland) would run the race, as chronicled on the BBC’s ‘Going the Distance’ programme. As a pretty serious marathon runner myself (I ran the London Marathon two weeks ago and will be taking part in the relay tomorrow), I have deep reservations about the way the people on that programme have been prepared for the marathon. In short, people with little athletic background have been encouraged to do too much too soon in a way that risked injury. It didn’t look to me like they were given a fair chance to discover a real love of running. I wish them all the best tomorrow.
Indeed, city marathons are great events because people of all ages and abilities can take part, enjoy the thrill of training their bodies to a greater level of fitness, and raise thousands of pounds for charities.
But it shouldn’t be forgotten that there is serious competition at the sharp end of the marathon. The field includes some top class foreign athletes and some serious local runners. To mark the 30th Anniversary of the event, the governing body of the sport, Athletics Northern Ireland (ANI), has run a series on their blog over the last week featuring interviews with top local athletes, past and present.
- Tommy Hughes, an Olympian and Co. Derry man who has won the Belfast Marathon twice, aims to be the best over-50 marathon runner in the world
- Sue Boreham, the female winner of the first Belfast Marathon, a pioneer for women’s distance running in Northern Ireland
- Matt Shields, third in the first Belfast City Marathon and now the Belfast City Council Coach of the Year for North Belfast Harriers, talks about marathon running then and now and why local athletes no longer seem able to compete with the world’s best
- Teresa Duffy, the fastest ever woman’s marathon runner from Northern Ireland, shares her training insights and love of the sport
- Greg McClure, a 54-year-old and consistent sub 3-hour marathoner, aims to complete his career marathon in Monday’s race
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m on the management board of ANI and I conducted these interviews. But I think their stories showcase what people from Northern Ireland can achieve at one of the most demanding athletic events in the world, and can inspire everyone from spectators to fun runners to other serious competitors.
Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at www.gladysganiel.com