WHO'S THE BEST RUNNER IN BELFAST?

Belfast's Eddie Gallen, UltraRunner 

Belfast's Eddie Gallen, UltraRunner 

Who's the best runner in Belfast? It's the type of conversation that could go on in any club house,  long run or long journey back from a race. Is it fastest time, consistency, number of wins, competing at the highest level? How does track compare to road or cross-country?

Certainly Belfast has a few contenders, there's the 2016 Olympic Marathon runners for a start - Breege Connolly (76th of 156), Paul Pollock (32nd) and Kevin Seward (64th) and then there's Gladys Ganiel (12th in 2014 Commonwealth Games). There's Ciara Mageean European bronze medallist & Olympic semi-finalist at 1,500m, from down the road in Portaferry. Not far off the same road there's Newcastle's Kerry O'Flaherty, who competed at the 3,000m steeplechase in Rio. 

Michael McKillop, has 4 World and 4 Paralympic Gold medals at 800m and 1,500m; the latest from Rio. There's Aileen Reid from Derry, a little outside Belfast, who came 21st in the triathlon at Rio & had podium at World Triathlon Series events. Christine McMahon just missed out on Rio but competed at the 2014 & 2016 European Championships in the 400m hurdles. 

Kelly Neely won the European Masters Indoor 800m title in April 2016 to add to her World Gold over the same distance. There's Cathy McCourt, winner of two silver and two bronze at the Wold Masters Championships in November 2016. There's been several other UK and European masters medallists in recent years e.g. Beechmount's Stuart Kennedy, plus North Belfast's Paul Elliott who came 6th in World Masters Outdoor Championships in 2015 [Please let me know others]

For those runners who like to stay on their feet. Belfast has a few notable ultra runners Susan McCartney (43rd at 2016 World 24hr Championships), Eddie Gallen over 50 24hr races and leading Irishman at 2016 World 24hr Championships) and Martin Rea (45th, 2014 World 100k Championships).

NOTE: This is only the first of a two part article but we want to hear more. We are basing it on people currently running (ideally those who've competed at a European level or above) but are keen for information, stories and suggestions for other runners past and present of all ages and abilities who deserve a mention... plenty of space, so please email belfastrunning@gmail.com

PACING - What Pace for 5km & 10km?

Once you can run a distance, your next goal is to run it as fast as you can. To do that we need to pace it correctly. We've all been at races and seen someone fly off at the start only to blow up later and finish slowly... and be honest we've probably all done it ourselves too. Sometimes it's important to remember the story of the tortoise and the hare!

It's not about who starts the fastest but who finishes first. That's where pacing comes in!

It's not about who starts the fastest but who finishes first. That's where pacing comes in!

The biggest difference between a beginner runner and a more experienced competitive runner is with respect to training. A more experience runner will train at different speeds and have a better appreciation for paces. A good club runner should be able to tell the difference of a couple of seconds on a 400m lap. We'll look at pacing in more detail in a future article but for now, it's best to try and run at an even pace (effort level) throughout a race (ignoring negative splits for now). The best way is to practice at a pace, and understand what that feels like (e.g. breathing, stride length, arms, effort level etc) without having to refer to a garmin or watch. 

To help people, we've set out paces for 5k & 10km below. We've taken a wide spread of times and set out what their equivalent is at 400m, 800m, 1km and 1-mile. This makes it easier for you to practice and understand what that pace feels like:

5KM PACING (16-35min Finish Times)

Finish times in bold, with equivalent pace at 400m, 800m etc

5KM PACING (36-50mins)

Finish times in bold, with equivalent pace at 400m, 800m etc


10KM PACING (31 - 45mins)

Finish times in bold, with equivalent pace at 400m, 800m etc

10K PACING (46 - 60mins)

Finish times in bold, with equivalent pace at 400m, 800m etc

10K PACING (61 - 75mins)

Finish times in bold, with equivalent pace at 400m, 800m etc

10K PACING (76 - 90mins)

Finish times in bold, with equivalent pace at 400m, 800m etc

TIP: If not at a track use a car, bike, route planner or garmin to mark out distances (e.g. by reference to tree/gate/sign/bus-stope/feature etc). Alternatively ask experienced runners, very often they will know some distance markers. There may even be physical markings already, the tow-path has small white markings coming in from both sides every 400m, plus parkrun venues will often have 1km markings in place.

 

 

RUNNING RACES IN & AROUND BELFAST 2017

There is a huge variety of races in 2017. Road, off-road, XC, trail and even relays we have them all. We've listed them by race type and chronological order to make them easier to read. There's the usual distances (5K, 10K, 10M, HM, Marathon) but check out the 4M and 16M options. This is the most comprehensive race list in Ireland, and the only one with built-in links. All races are within travelling distance of Belfast (max 2.5hrs). Note some races are part of a series and some events will host more than one race (e.g. 10k & 5k, plus walks, fun runs and junior age-group races). Full race listings and details are at the bottom.

Put these races in your diary now, and then sign up quick. Start training and enjoy 

Put these races in your diary now, and then sign up quick. Start training and enjoy 

ALL RACES HAVE BEEN LINKED TO REGISTRATION/INFO SITE WHERE AVAILABLE. FOR MOST OF THE OTHERS IT IS USUALLY - BUT NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE - TO REGISTER ON THE DAY.

 

XC

Sat 7th Jan (11:45am)  MOIRA

Sat 14th Jan (11:30am) ANTRIM INTERNATIONALS - RESULTS

Sat 28th Jan (1pm-) NI INTERMEDIATE & JUNIOR CHAMPIONSIPS- GRANSHA, DERRY

Sat 4th Feb (Noon) NORTH DOWN FESTIVAL OF CROSS-COUNTRY RELAYS, BANGOR 

Sun 12th Feb (2:15pm) MALLUSK CROSS-COUNTRY

Sat 25th Feb (11am) STORMONT  

Sat 4th Mar (1:30pm) NI & ULSTER SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS - LURGAN

NB Only the adult times are listed above, many have minor (under 18) age-group races beforehand, see links for more details. For the other XC events listed above, contact Athletics NI (028 90602707).


MARATHON

Mon 1st May (9am) BELFAST CITY MARATHON & RELAYS

Sun 28th May (9am) NEWRY CITY MARATHON, HM & 10K 

Sun 4th Jun (9am) WALLED CITY MARATHON - DERRY

Sat 10th Jun (AM) MOURNE WAY MARATHON, HM, 10K & ULTRA - KILBRONEY PARK, ROSTREVOR


HALF-MARATHON

Sun 12th Feb (TBC) DUNE CROSS-BORDER HM - NEWRY TO DUNDALK

Sat 4th Mar (10am) CARLINGFORD HM & 10K - CO. LOUTH

Sun 12th Mar (Noon) BOHERMEEN (MEATH) HM & 10K

Sat 18th Mar (11am) LARNE HM  ***SOLD OUT***

Sat 18th Mar (10am) WASHING BAY GREEN RUN HM, 5K & 10K, AUGHAMULLAN, CO. TYRONE

Sat 1st Apr (11am) OMAGH HM

Sun 2nd Apr (9am) SUBWAY HOLYWOOD HM & 10K

Sat 13th May (10am) RIVER MOY HM, BALLINA - CO. MEATH

Sun 28th May (TBC) NEWRY CITY HM

Sat 10th Jun (AM) MOURNE WAY HM, 10K, 26.2M & ULTRA - KILBRONEY PARK, ROSTREVOR

Wed 21st Jun (6:30pm) LISBURN HM & 10K

Fri 30th Jun (TBC) ARDS HM

Sun 13th Aug (8:30am) DUBLIN ROCK N ROLL HM (10K & 5K TBD)

Sun 3rd Sep (10:30am) WALLED CITY HM, DERRY

Sun 17th Sep (9am) BELFAST CITY HM

Sat 23rd Sep (9am) DUBLIN HM (NEW VENUE, NEWBRIDGE)

 

NB Possible additions: Cookstown HM (July) and Dambusters HM (August) - both TBC


10 MILE

Sun 5th Feb (11am) FINN VALLEY GLENMORE 10M ROAD RACE - CO. DONEGAL

Sun 5th Feb (Noon) TRIM AC 10M - MEATH

Sat 25th Feb (Noon) PARKANAUR FOREST 10M - DUNGANNON (NB OFF-ROAD)

Sat 4th Mar (11am) SSE AIRTRICITY 10M - DERRY

Sat 11th Mar (10:30am) CARA 10M & 10K - BUNDORAN, DONEGAL

Sat 15th Apr (2pm) BALLYLIFFIN 10M & 7M COAST RUN - DONEGAL

Mon 17th Apr (TBC) CLONTARF 10M - DUBLIN

Sat 26th Aug (10am) FRANK DUFFY 10M (DUBLIN MARATHON RACE SERIES) - DUBLIN


10 KM

Sat 7th Jan (11am) TOLLYMORE 10K - RUN FOREST RUN - RESULTS

Sat 21st Jan (11am) GOSFORD PARK 10K & 5K - RUN FOREST FUN - RESULTS

Sat 21st Jan (2:30pm) ST PATRICK'S COLLEGE 10K & 5K - DUNGIVEN - RESULTS

Fri 27th Jan (7:30pm) MOURNE WALK 10K BY NIGHT - KILBRONEY PARK, ROSTREVOR

Sat 4th Feb (11am) ANTRIM CASTLE GARDENS 10K & 5K - RUN FOREST RUN

Sat 4th Feb (Noon) DRUM MANOR FOREST PARK 10K - COOKSTOWN

Sat 11th Feb (11am) OMAGH CBS 10K & 5K - OMAGH

Sat 18th Mar (10am) WASHING BAY GREEN RUN 10K, 5K & HM, AUGHAMULLAN, CO. TYRONE

Sat 25th Feb (11am) CASTLEWELLAN FOREST PARK 10K & 5K - RUN FOREST RUN

Sun 26th Feb (10:30am) ST MARTIN'S GAC 10K & 5K - DESERTMARTIN, MAGHERAFELT

Sun 26th Feb (11am) STROKE ASSOC. RESOLUTION RUN 10k & 5K - QUB, BELFAST

Sat 4th Mar (10:30am) CARLINGFORD 10K - CO. LOUTH

Sat 4th Mar (Noon) ST EUGENE'S PS 10K & 5K - OMAGH

Sun 5th Mar (10am) ADDICTION NI RACE TO RECOVERY 10K - ORMEAU PARK, BELFAST

Sun 5th Mar (1pm) BEN DEARG COAST 10K - KILCLIEF, CO. DOWN

Sat 11th Mar (11am) CARMEN 10K - CARRICKMORE, CO. TYRONE

Sun 12th Mar (11am) JIMMY'S TEN 10K - DOWNPATRICK

Fri 17th Mar (9am) SPAR CRAIC 10K - BELFAST CITY CENTRE

Sat 18th Mar (10am) WASHING BAY GREEN RUN 5K, 10K & HM, AUGHAMULLAN, CO. TYRONE

Sun 19th Mar (TBC) TARA LISMULLEN 10K & 3K - CO. MEATH

Sun 2nd Apr (9am) SUBWAY HOLYWOOD 10K & HM 

Sat 8th Apr (Noon) GORTIN 10K & 5K - OMAGH

Sun 16th Apr (11am) FR MURPHY AC 10K - CO. MEATH

Sun 16th Apr (TBC) BALLYGALGET COMMUNITY 10K ROAD RACE & 5K FUN RUN - CO. DOWN

Sat 22nd Apr (TBC) BALLYNAHINCH LIONS 10K & 5K

Sat 22nd Apr (11am) THE CORMAC RUN 10K & 5K - EGLISH, CO. TYRONE

Sun 23rd Apr (2pm) RUN ARMAGH 10K 

Mon 1st May (10:30am) ROYAL COUNTY 10K & 5K - CO. MEATH

Wed 24th May (7pm) BANN 10K & 4K FUN RUN - BANBRIDGE, CO. DOWN

Mon 5th Jun (TBC) VHI WOMEN'S MINI-MARATHON - DUBLIN (Opens 1st Mar)

Sat 10th Jun (AM) MOURNE WAY HM, 10K, 26.2M & ULTRA - KILBRONEY PARK, ROSTREVOR

Sat 10th Jun (9am) PETE'S ALTERNATIVE TRIATHLON 10K RUN - WHITEABBEY

Sat 10th Jun (2pm) ENNISKILLEN 10K

Wed 21st Jun (TBC) LISBURN 10K

Sat 24th Jun (TBC) DUNSHAUGHLIN AC 10K ROAD RACE - CO. MEATH

Thu 29th Jun (TBC) DUNBOYNE AC CLONEE 10K - CO. MEATH

Sun 23rd Jul (10am) FINGAL 10K (DUBLIN MARATHON RACE SERIES) - DUBLIN

Sun 20th Aug (11am) NEWRY & DOWN DSYPRAXIA 10K TRAIL

Tue 22nd Aug (7pm) DESSIE'S 10K RUN, GRANSHA PARK - DERRY

Sun 3rd Sep (2pm) LAGANSIDE 10K, ORMEAU PARK

Sat 30th Sep (TBC) BANGOR 10K


5K - 10K

Sat 21st Jan (Noon) AN CREGAN 5M - RESULTS

Sun 26th Mar (3pm) DUNBOYNE 4M ROAD RACE & FUN RUN - CO. MEATH

Sat 15th Apr (Noon) BERAGH 5M & 5K FUN RUN, Co. TYRONE

Sat 10th Jun (Noon) STUNNERZ N RUNNERZ 5M (LADIES ONLY) - MAGHERAFELT

Fri 11th Aug (7:30pm) MALLUSK HARRIERS 5M ROAD RACE 


5K

Sat 21st Jan (11am) GOSFORD PARK 5K & 10K - RUN FOREST FUN - ARMAGH - RESULTS

Sat 21st Jan (2:30pm) ST PATRICK'S COLLEGE 5K & 10K - DUNGIVEN - RESULTS

Sat 4th Feb (11am) ANTRIM CASTLE GARDENS 5K & 10K - RUN FOREST RUN

Sat 11th Feb (11am) OMAGH CBS 5K & 10K - OMAGH

Sat 11th Feb (2:15pm) ROLLERCOASTER RACES 5K, DOWNPATRICK RACE COURSE

Thu 16th Feb (6:30pm) ARMAGH INTERNATIONAL ROAD RACE (3K & 5K)

Sat 25th Feb (11am) CASTLEWELLAN FOREST PARK 5K & 10K - RUN FOREST RUN

Sun 26th Feb (10:30am) ST MARTIN'S GAC 5K & 10K - DESERTMARTIN, MAGHERAFELT

Sun 26th Feb (11am) STROKE ASSOC. RESOLUTION RUN 10k & 5K - QUB, BELFAST

Sat 4th Mar (Noon) ST EUGENE'S PS 5K & 10K - OMAGH

Sat 11th Mar (11am) ST PATRICK'S 5K, GRANSHA, DERRY

Fri 17th Mar (10:30am) ST PATRICK'S DAY 5K FUN RUN, MELVIN SPORTS COMPLEX, STRABANE

Fri 17th Mar (11am) ALTAMUSKIN 5K, OMAGH

Sat 18th Mar (10am) WASHING BAY GREEN RUN 5K, 10K & HM, AUGHAMULLAN, CO. TYRONE

Sat 25th Mar (TBC) JOG BELFAST 5K, ORMEAU PARK, BELFAST

Sat 1st Apr (11:10am) OMAGH 5K FUN RUN & HM

Sun 2nd Apr (11am) RUN DONEGAL WOMEN'S 5K - CO. DONEGAL

Sat 8th Apr (Noon) GORTIN 5K & 10K - OMAGH

Wed 12th Apr (7:30pm) BAY ROAD 5K ROAD RACE, UU MAGEE, DERRY

Sat 15th Apr (Noon) BERAGH 5K & 5M FUN RUN, Co. TYRONE

Sun 16th Apr (TBC) BALLYGALGET COMMUNITY 5K FUN RUN & 10K RACE, CO. DOWN

Sat 22nd Apr (11am) THE CORMAC RUN 5K & 10K, EGLISH, CO. TYRONE

Mon 1st May (10:30am) ROYAL COUNTY 10K & 5K - CO. MEATH


OTHER - UNUSUAL DISTANCES

Sat 16th Apr (10am) LOUGH SHEELIN CHALLENGE 16M - CO. MEATH


NI Road Relays at Victoria Park, 2016

NI Road Relays at Victoria Park, 2016

RELAYS

Sat 4th Feb (Noon) NORTH DOWN FESTIVAL OF CROSS-COUNTRY RELAYS, BANGOR

Sun 7th May (Noon) LISBURN RELAYS, WALLACE PARK (teams of 4, 2m each)


 

RACE SERIES

Northern Velocity Trail Run Series:

Belfast Telegraph 'Run Forest Run' (10k) Series by Born 2 Run:

  • Sat 7th Jan TOLLYMORE - RESULTS
  • Sat 21st Jan GOSFORD
  • Sat 4th Feb ANTRIM CASTLE GARDENS
  • Sat 25th Feb CASTLEWELLAN

Sperrin Harriers 'Winter League Series':

  • Sat 7th Jan LOUGH FEA 5K - RESULTS
  • Sat 21st Jan AN CREGAN 5M
  • Sat 4th Feb DRUM MANOR 10K
  • Sat 25th Feb PARKANAUR FOREST 10M

ATLAS RUNNING Castleward Trail Race & Last Man Standing

East Antrim Harriers marathon series:

  • Sun 26th Feb - DETAILS TBC
  • Sat 18th March - DETAILS TBC

 

More marathon, ultras, track and other races (inc 5ks) will be added shortly. Please note that many of the races have filled up quickly over the last year or so, so if even considering and especially if training for a particular race you should book it as soon as possible to ensure entry. Many of the races are great craic and we'd encourage you to get feedback from previous participants and definitely consider them, great way to see new places and meet new friends.

 

FURTHER DETAILS

Below links provide a fuller - but not exhaustive - fixture list with links and contact details for each race.

ATHLETICS NI ROAD & XC FIXTURE LIST (AS AT 18-JAN) 

ATHLETICS IRELAND FIXTURE LIST (EASILY SEARCHABLE) 

We aim to provide a list of races and results (some taken, with appropriate links and thanks from NI Running). We do not certify or approve races but encourage people to check out races and ask previous participants. There's a lot to choose from, so get travelling, races are wonderful way to explore!

Running for All

Running should be for all. Everyone should have an equal chance to participate in and benefit from running. That's always been our philosophy, and why we created Belfast Falcons, set-up JogBelfast, trained running guides for visually impaired runners and worked in special needs schools for free. It's why we volunteer coach today at Belfast Running Club. But we want to do more.

RunningForAll-Grass

We want to highlight the positives, break down barriers and provide people with information and opportunities to enjoy running. #RunningForAll means making it as easy as possible for everyone to get involved, and stay involved in running. To do that, we want to become a one-stop shop running resource for running in and around Belfast. We have many new projects coming on board, but for now, if you're involved in running let us know and we'll help promote you. Whether you're a running shop, running group, club, physiotherapist, chiropractor, race organiser, blog or fitness/pilates coach etc that deals with runners - let us know and we'll list you on the site for free*. Please fill in the form below:


Name *
Name
Please select the one option that describes you best:
This is used to place you on a map. Otherwise "Belfast" will be inserted
http://
A brief description of your service and/or key details (e.g. opening hours)

*This is a pilot service run to the end of 2017 by BelfastRunnning.com who will edit as required.

 

 

NEW YEAR, NEW RESOLUTIONS?

New Year

How many times is it now we've said we're going to get fitter and eat healthier? Maybe even train smarter, do the stretches and remain injury free this year? It's good to have goals and to want to be better but how do we do it... and keep doing it. There's any amount of self-help books, quotes, images and jargon (e.g. SMART) out there, but let's keep it simple with five easy tips:

 

1. GOOD IS BETTER THAN PERFECT

We don't need to be perfect right away, simply eating slightly better or doing a little more fitness is a good step. You aren't suddenly going to be the healthiest, fastest and fittest person overnight but you can do a 10 minute walk each day and try to eat less sweets. Gain perspective and take it one step at a time, one week at a time. Have I taken more steps this month than last month to get fitter? And if you make a mistake or a wee relapse that's ok at least overall you're going in the right direction.

When I take a beginner group, I always chat to them and say anyone can have good and bad days/sessions but generally you should see an improvement over 4 weeks. Once people get 4-5 weeks training they'd normally stay to the end of the course. So stick it out for at least a month and the best tip, start to walk or cycle to work. Do it at least once a week, most people realise that they are not any slower than commuting via bus/car and it is a lot more stress free. Even if you can't do it all the way, can you get out for a 15min walk once or twice a week or get off a bus-stop earlier. The best training improvements I have seen in people is when training becomes part of their day and they cycle, run or walk extra. Doing that each day, multiplied by 200-250 working days a year really adds up. Start this week, walk 10-15mins and build it up.

 

2. SLOW AND STEADY (SECOND LIFE PB)

Start back slowly and steadily build up. Easy said but especially for people who've trained hard in the past they want to get back 'proper training'. They'll dig out the old session plans, remember the old times and say to themselves... ok this is where I need to be. So they'll dive straight in or ramp it up quickly and get injured or at the very least disheartened. There's a general rule of thumb, which says you increase training loads by 10% per week (mindful of injuries/recovery). So you need to start from a realistic base and build up gradually. The worst thing in the world is being injured through stupidity. For people who used to train, remember what it took to get to that level of fitness and note as you get older you can't train or recover as quick as when you were younger. A 40 year old and 25 year old will train differently. Be older and wiser. And finally, if it helps, give yourself a 'second life PB' at least temporarily. I may not hit my best ever PB, but start fresh and create a new PB, and then gradually seek to lower that. It will take a lot of pressure off and help you enjoy it more.

 

3. ENJOY

Getting fitter and healthier is something that should make you feel better. Maybe not right away and maybe not everyday but generally you should feel physically and mentally better off. If you're not then consider how you can make it more fun. Try running new routes, bring in some hills (at least for variation), run faster for some periods (e.g. 30sec pick-ups), add in reps, go off-road e.g. forests/parks, and try new races. If you're not sure of somewhere ask to tag along with people or walk/drive/cycle the route first to become more familiar. Also, try other sports and cross-training. Circuits, swimming, pilates, yoga, cycling are all great help for running. Enjoy being active and you can always learn from other sports.

Often the best way can be to run with other people, so consider a running group or club. Try a few to see which one is right for you, ask about training requirements and take the plunge - you'll be so glad you did. Most people don't train at their race pace, so you can often run with people who are faster than you (in fact it's better if you can). For the last 10 years or so, when able I have tried to train with my brother and/or a few from North Belfast. I am the slowest of the lot, at least a minute slower per mile on PB marathon times and 30sec-120sec slower in 5k terms. But most of our training isn't racing and I love to see new routes and on short reps (up to a mile) I can keep with them or not be too far behind in sessions. Many runners have different strengths, when fit I am faster on short hills (up to 3 mins) but over longer or very steep hills I am weak. The craic, competition, and friendship make it much more enjoyable than training on my own. Plus I've learned a lot about types of trainers, nutrition, training plans, races etc that different people are on from others during the long runs.

 

4. TRAINING & LIFE

We are all human and for many that involves work, family, volunteer requirements that shape how tired and motivated we are and the time we have to train. Your training needs to take that into account. If you feel very tired from work/life/etc then don't do a hard session. The Connaught Rugby Team (the current Pro 12 champions) have to do a test each day and provide urine sample to check they are sufficiently rested and hydrated to train each day. The two leading Irish male marathon runners (Paul Pollock and Kevin Seaward) text their heart rate each morning to their coach so he can monitor their training levels and adjust accordingly. You will damage yourself more by over training than by taking appropriate recovery.

The biggest difference between many professional athletes is often the recovery. Paul O'Connell trained more as a youngster swimming than he did as professional rugby player but he ate differently, prepared differently and recovered/trained very differently. Don't blindly follow a training plan, swap days about if you need to. Training plans are guides not bibles. For busy people, often the best way to train is to go out first thing in the morning. Go out at 6:15am, there's little traffic and you're not tired from work, it's easier to plan nutrition wise too. Having breakfast with your session done for the day is the best feeling in the world. Most top athletes will train twice a day, so go out early and it opens up the possibility of getting it out later. If you're not a morning person, more a night owl... don't worry. After a week or two early morning sessions you get into the habit and will start sleeping earlier. Want to train like a professional then you need to recover like a professional and that means at least 7 hours a night sleep too - more if you're older. Get your sleeping, recovery and preparation right and you'll be well placed to start building up your training.

 

5. EAT SENSIBLY

Everyone is different, and we'll look at training plans in later blog posts. I am more concerned about my fitness than my weight, but I have an idea of my 'fighting weight'. That's the weight when I'm feeling lean and able to do the best sessions. It's harder to keep that weight as you get older, the only way is eating more sensibly (especially when not doing as many sports). I'm about 3kgs (maybe more now after Christmas!) over the fighting weight, it has varied between 1-3kg over the last 3 months. It really struck me when we we're cooking Christmas dinner, with a 2kg ham and a 3kg turkey crown. As I was holding them it really shook me that this was the effective extra weight I was carrying around that wasn't doing me any good. I was basically carrying that turkey crown around with me all day, each hill, each rep, each session. 

After one of the first long runs, I remember one of the guys saying to me i'd need to lose a bit of weight. I was playing football at the time and while not at my fittest I was a little taken back. But when you look at the best runners, they're all thin. Not just thin but lean. You don't need to go that far but you can't train and eat independently. My best runs are when my stomach is settled. That influences my run/session more than any injury concern. Whilst there's a lot of conflicting diet advice out there - and i'm not a nutritionist - there are some agreed basic guidelines. 

  • Eat more fruit and especially vegetables (more veg the merrier)
  • Eat less sugar and sugar products (e.g. sweets)
  • Eat more natural foods and less processed foods
  • Take less portions
  • Create a more balanced diet
  • Drink more water and less alcohol

Most people eat enough protein (50% more than we need according to recent survey) and know what they should be doing. There's little evidence to prove the value in additional vitamins. On our coaching course, we touched on nutrition and the trainer just went eat sensibly and you don't need any additional stuff. The latest medical evidence is it's not simply 'calories in calories out' but the type of food you eat. Some foods are better than others. 

People will have allergies and medical conditions, but please use common sense. Most people know if they're taking too much sweets, biscuits and not enough vegetables. Breakfast cereals, yoghurts etc can all be full of refined grains or sugars. 'Fat free' isn't necessarily good for you, if it's full of sugar instead. So remember, just take simple steps, allow yourself a cheat day per week and don't worry about having the perfect diet... as per tip #1 it just needs to be a little bit better than before. 

Relay Races Taking Off

I always associate relays with a GB team failing to get the baton all the way round. Harsh, but it does make for great entertainment (and GB usually did ok when they did get it round). Running is an individual sport, so apart from the track why do you need relays?

GB Team drops baton at 2015 World Championchips

GB Team drops baton at 2015 World Championchips

Team prizes have always been there at major events - especially cross-country. Placings are added up for each club runner and then North Belfast declared the winner, not always but enough! In addition, many mountain and adventure races (e.g. Castlewellan Christmas Cracker) insist people run in pairs or groups.

So why are relays taking off:


  1. People who train together often want to run as a team, relays provide that
  2. Dividing a race into smaller parts allows more people to run it. Usually these runners would not otherwise enter the race (e.g. Belfast Marathon)
  3. Crucially the shorter distances allow runners to go faster and aim for goals (eg 3hr marathon) that would be out of their reach individually. This also has the benefit of allowing groups of runners to rub shoulders with faster runners
  4. More people involved in the race attracts greater (and more diverse) audience and more revenue. It costs little to add relay element to existing race, so there is an obvious appeal to race organisers
  5. If nothing else it’s another opportunity to run and compete

 

With that in mind there are number of relays coming up in 2016:

 

LARNE Half-Marathon(Sat 19th March)

  • 3 person teams
  • 5mile, 3 mile, 5 mile split
  • £40 per team – Sold Out
  • Need own transport to changeover

www.larnehalfmarathon.webs.com

 

LISBURN – Wallace Park Relays (Sun 24th April)

  • Junior (U13, U15, U17), Womens and Mens
  • 4 person teams, no mixed teams
  • 2 x 1 mile laps each, 8 miles total
  • Champion Chip Timing
  • £20 per team (£24 unaffiliated)
  • Online registration closes 17th April
  • Can enter on the day

http://www.atlasrunning.co.uk/lisburn-relays.html

 

BELFAST Marathon Relay (Mon 2nd May)

  • 5 person teams, Male, Female & Mixed
  • 6.2miles, 3.3miles, 7.2miles, 4.5miles, 5miles
  • Champion Chip Timing
  • Cost is £90 per team
  • Online entry closes Friday 15th April
  • No entry on the day
  • NB Limited Lifts to Changovers

http://www.belfastcitymarathon.com/about/Team-Relay-Event

 

CARRICKMORE (Fri 17th June)

  • 1-mile relays
  • 7pm start, Patrician Hall, Carrickmore
  • More info: Ciaran Collins 07866264434

E: Carmenrunners@hotmail.co.uk

 

ENERGIA (Sat 25th – Sun 26th June)

  • 4 person teams (must include one female)
  • 3 x 2hr sessions, one session every 8 hrs
  • 5:45pm start, 1.7km reps of Victora Park
  • £100 per team

http://www.active.com/belfast-northernireland/running/energia-belfast-24-hour-race-2016

 

RGU (Downpatrick) – Wed 27th July

  • 2 person teams, 2 x 5k, part of 10k race
  • Pending Permit, Time TBC
  • No further information at this time

 

ANTRIM FORUM (Sat 27th August)

  • Track – Team Trophy & Senior Relay Championships
  • 10am, More Info: 028 90602707

E: info@athleticsni.org

 

ARMAGH Marathon (Sun 28th August)

  • Marathon Relay – No information available to date

www.ArmaghCityMarathon.com  

 

Plus there's the NI Road Relay Championships that normally take place in Victoria Park, and well organised by Orangegrove AC. They're not up on the Athletics NI fixture list but we'll update this article when details become available.

If you know of any more relays let us know…. and don’t worry about dropping the baton, most of these races are chipped or have a band. So why not grab a couple of mates and give it a go!

 

James McIlroy Gives Belfast a Boost

jamesmcilroyni

James McIlroy is a middle distance runner who ran for GB in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has the third fastest 1km time in the UK. James hails from Larne and now works as an ambassador with Adidas. In association with Pure Running, he gave a very entertaining and insightful talk into running.

James played many sports at school (to an admittedly high standard, e.g. playing golf off 2 handicap), and fell into athletics last. He says he initially tried 1,500m but after nearly getting lapped decided to focus on long jump, triple jump and 3,000m where in characteristically humble fashion, he said there was less competition.

It was only at the age of 20, that he returned to athletics and focused on 800m. Within 18 months he was fourth in the European Championships, going into them with a PB of 1:45:32. This coincides with previous research showing many top athletes don’t focus on particular discipline until late teens/early twenties. James had a 13-year career and even in retirement still knocked out a 2:33 marathon at Berlin in September 2015… lad from Larne has talent.

 

Racing Weight

When racing, James stated that his racing weight was 69kg for 1,500m and 73kg for 800m, highlighting the extra power needed for shorter distance. He mentioned that when he was at the Berlin start line with the elite marathon runners (working for Adidas has it’s benefits), he found they were small and light and couldn’t believe the speed they sustain (4:37 a mile). Weight was a major issue if injured. When injured, you have to train harder (smarter) but it’s not as intense so you don’t use up the same energy. So if injured he might go down to one meal a day to compensate.

 

Worlds v Olympics

Training for James was often about cycles and leaving himself in best shape for indoor and outdoor season, and upcoming championships. He stated that the Worlds were harder than the Olympics in that fashion. At the Worlds, it was only the world’s best that were invited, no nod to global inclusivity. The very best athletes at that moment were there and you had to be 100% from the start. To be fair, James did say that along with his debut for NI and being in a world record race, walking into the Olympic ceremony behind the flag were probably the highlights of his career.

His goal was to be among the top 10/20 athletes in the world. Being in the top 8 would normally guarantee you a place at the Diamond League events, maybe the top 15 would get you a B place. Once outside the top 8 and maybe 15, there were a lot of factors, including politics that decided if, when and where you raced. So you wanted to post fast enough times to avoid that.

 

Run by Feel

mcilroysitting

You know or should know when you are in good shape. James stated you should know your – middle distance – time within 0.5 seconds. You should run by feel and know when you’re in Personal Best (PB) territory. Interestingly he said that when athletes were going for a PB, especially if also a World Record (WR), they would often do a “telegraph session” three weeks before the event. At this they would aim to break the PB/WR. He thought that being able to do it at the highest level at the biggest events was some achievement.

 

In particular he imagined the Kenyan David Rudisha moments before the 2012 Olympic 800m Final and wondered what would have been going through his head. Knowing he would have to lead from the front from the off, going out hard for the WR.… Rudisha must have gone this fast in training; with the added pressure of knowing he was capable of WR but had only one shot at the final. In the end David Rudisha was the only man to break a track WR at the London Olympics, watch it below 

 

To remain at the very top, James needed to train at the “red line” all the time and this increased his risk of injury. In retrospect he was fairly happy with the he had trained over his career but possibly on reflection wished he’d trained more with the Kenyans. At the very top, people make themselves almost bullet proof, and he found there was a big difference between the pinnacle and the Top 20.

 

But let’s return to the science bit…

adidasboost

James was here to promote the new Adidas Boost range. Many people associate Adidas more with fashion or even football boots. But 17 of the 20 fastest marathon times have been run on Adidas shoes. In fact they have a dedicated team seeking to develop a shoe that would help break the 2hr barrier. Typically they have a lot of men and women (in white coats?) working on this, and I think they’ve found that – among other things - from an optimal shoe perspective it would need to be 20g lighter. Online sports retailer Wiggle gives the existing boost range, 4.8/5

Like motor racing and space rockets, innovating at this high level opens up benefits further down the plodders food chain… with trainers, or guties (he is from Larne) that are more durable, consistent and more efficient. As an example of the nth degree (marginalised gains etc.), he mentioned that the Continental tyre grip would provide the top marathon runners with an equivalent 42m advantage over the marathon. In the race to beak 2hrs that’s worth a few seconds…

A major benefit is that Boost does not use EVA. I have no idea what EVA is, but from some reason automatically associate it with “EVA midsole” (I spend too long comparing running shoes online).  Instead Adidas use something called TBA (don’t ask), which is made from the same material as car dashboard or more to the point, Mercedes and BMW car dashboards. German engineering. Essentially this makes it tougher, lighter and more durable (my analogy, think aluminium alloy v steel). EVA configuration changes after two weeks, which is why most club runners have two or more pairs of trainers that they alternate. This allows the trainers to recover and regain their cushioning when not used. TBA apparently avoids this issue by retaining its shape.

 

Advantages of Boost

In layman’s terms what I took away was that the boost has 4 main advantages:

1. Energy Return – TBA trainers are 12% more efficient than EVA. With all these things you believe it can be done in a lab (no VW jokes), but that’s not the real world. 12% more efficient is not 12% faster, but for marathons - and in the world of marginalised gains - every bit of efficiency helps, even 1%.

2. Durability – TBA keep their shape so can be used daily (however James still recommends having more than one pair to regularly train in, whatever shoe you have) and will last up to 1,600km compared to 600-1000km for normal EVA shoes.

3. Temperature Consistency – Boost has no temperature variability, it is the same shoe in hot or cold conditions. Not something I’d have considered but interesting.

4. Stability, the S-shaped heel is designed to match the curve of the Achilles and the hard sides help to lock down the heel. With Achilles injury being the worst injury any sports person (especially 30+) can attain, anything that can help is a bonus. If you look at the back of the shoe, they have been designed differently for men and women. Runners World reviewed the boost ultra and highlighted the heel and stability, of the existing 2015 shoe to give you an indication.

Washing Machine

As regards putting shoes in the washing machine… that’s a no. Apart from potential damage it torques the shoe, so “don’t wash the shoe, if it’s for function”. If smelly, leave them outside…

In the Q&A that followed the introduction and science/promotion bit, James was very open and full of great anecdotes and advice.

 

Yoga v Pilates

In relation to Yoga or Pilates, he stated that as a condition of Lottery Funding (from mid-1990s, top GB athletes are supported by the UK National Lottery grants), Pilates was compulsory. No Pilates, no lottery funding. Stretching is important, with main hamstring, quad, calf tears often a consequence of a weakness elsewhere. Interestingly he wouldn’t advise Yoga for marathon runners, as he thinks having too much flexibility would not be beneficial. Whilst Pilates was useful it was important not to go overboard.

 

Neutral v Stability and Orthotics

Again, these are issues that everyone has a different opinion on but for me I like to try to understand why they have that opinion. James suggested that it’s horses for courses, and if you don’t need stability don’t use them. But the Adidas boost range had a very stable shoe. In particular, you may need different levels of ‘stability’ for your training and race shoes.

Regards orthotics, he said the human body is an amazing machine and that nobody is symmetrical. Suddenly putting a wedge under a person’s foot at age 28 will have an impact, especially if subject to the forces running will place on it. Generally, he’s not a fan of orthotics but realises that top ones can be very flexible, shaped etc. He mentioned that some people wear normal shoe but add orthotics when running. Are Kenyan - and the best runners in the world - wearing orthotics?

[NB I’ve tried different orthotics for the last few years, including top of the range. I am not 100% convinced, I know they’ve transformed some people, but for me I don’t know if they’ve cured one thing and caused another…  but debate for another day]

 

Sharing with Mo Farah

James shared a room with Mo Farah during UK Athletics training trips, and gets a mention in his autobiography, although hasn’t spoken to him in a few years. He says that Mo’s a good guy and lively on a night out. Whilst training, he says they shared houses in London with other athletes including Kenyans and that they learned a lot from them. Generally, the Kenyans were hard trainers, many harder than Mo. However Mo was excellent at going through the gears, is good with pacers and has improved a lot over the last number of years.

 

The Best Athletics World Record

danielkomen

Not all Kenyan’s were enthusiastic trainers and James mentioned Daniel Komen (look this guy up). During the 90’s, a few of them shared a coach/manager in Kim McDonald who wanted them all to go for early morning run. So James called round at 7am to Daniel’s house. Daniel wearily proceeded down the stairs, in pyjamas looking as if he’d just woken up. When he got to the door, he’d exclaim he’d already been for a run and returned to bed. This happened for 3-4 days, even when James called round increasingly earlier. Eventually James reported this back to the coach, who told them they’d been hoodwinked. Daniel was one of the few Kenyans he’d ever seen with a gut (at one stage), and that it looked weird.

Daniel went out to train in Australia and languished at the back during the first session. However within 3 weeks Daniel was leading the sessions. Daniel was that good, the most talented Kenyan ever in his opinion. To put it in perspective, he’s still the only runner in the world to run 2 mile in under 8 minutes. Daniel was such a talent; he ran a 3,000m race in Monaco, easing up the last 50m to come in 0.05 seconds off the WR. Komen hadn’t known what the record was.

On 1st September 1996, he ran 3,000m in Reite in a WR time of 7.20.67. Breaking the previous record by 2:42 seconds. Furthermore, he looked relaxed the whole way round! To put this in perspective, Guerrouj never got within 3 seconds, Gebrselassie, Bekele, Morceli never got within 5 seconds, and Tergat was 8 seconds back. In a ressponse to a question from NI & North Belfast Harrier’s Conor Curran, James stated that this was the best athletics world record in his opinion.

NB Great article in competitor magazine.. what ever happened to Daniel Komen? 

 

Toughest Training Session

NBH’s John Black asked initially about the beer mile, which James said he’d one day try, before asking what was the toughest training session he’d ever done. I can’t quite remember the exact session, but he knew he was in PB shape. He ran his PB in September but was actually in PB shape in March. In early 2000s he trained with Noah Ngeny (Olympic 1,500m Champion). One day Noah asked James to go flat out for 400m whilst he did 600m reps. He states that Noah had his finger to James’s back pushing him on during the 400 James was taking flat out. That was scary. He also retold how Noah was doing a 3, 4, 5, 6 training sequence with the 4 laps (~mile) done in 3:53… only 10 seconds off the mile WR of 3:43. You’re not Olympic Champion for nothing.

Gebrselassie

Gebrselassie

There was an urban myth that the legendary Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie did a 2hr training session of 50 x 400m reps at 62 seconds with 45 sec recovery. To put that in perspective, a 4-minute mile is approx. 60 sec rep and the 5,000m WR averages 60.58 sec per lap (kept for 12.5 laps). Many of the top athletes thought this impossible, and some tried it but couldn’t get close. He met Gebrselassie one day and asked him, who said it was true. I’m an optimistic skeptic, so I like to think he really did…. but that it hurt like hell J Then again Gebrselassie set 27 WRs over his career, so it certainly paid off if he did.

 

What about Altitude Training?

Again, like some other UK athletes I’ve heard talk, he thinks the risks outweigh the gains for him. However he notes this in the context of him being an 800m specialist, as opposed to a marathon runner for example. On returning from altitude you need to be aware of the 3-10 day spike whilst your body adjusts, so you must run within the first 3 days or leave it till after 10 days.  James queries how long the benefits last? And whether it is better than time spent training at lower levels.  

Altitude encompasses changes in culture, temperature, climate, food, and environment (plus risk of infection, as body not familiar with so many new environmental factors) that require adjustment. Also at altitude your body takes longer to recover. This would be more impactful on 800m runners who would be doing more intense/anaerobic sessions than for example marathon runners.  

James’s a fan of running in the heat though (aren’t we all), saying that sun and dry air is great for speed and easier to lose weight. James reckons he’d be 3kg heavier if he trained in NI compared to warmer climate and that would be too heavy for the indoor season.

 

What about Treadmills?

Irish international & NBH runner Marty Rea asked about treadmills and that he’d heard Farah and others were now using it for up to half their mileage. Marty himself has recently started using treadmills more for tempo and hill sessions, never usually a fan, he’s got used to them and their practicality (in gym for other training). A lot of runners I know use them for tempo sessions as they are great for getting used to pacing – and cadence – at their desired speed. Especially, in early or preseason when it’s more difficult to adjust to your tempo speed.

James stated that they’re good for cardio-vascular work out but they don’t work the hip-flexors. Treadmills are also poor for developing energy transfer and ground contact (as treadmill automatically sweeps back your feet). They may be a watered down session for top athletes.

 

Drugs in Sport

Drugs have always been part of sport. It’s not just the ‘bad guys’; some of the nicest people do drugs too. There is no easy profile of drugs user. It’s hard to run against drug users and potentially get beaten when your lottery funding may depend on result.

 

Role for Other Sports in Developing Young Athletes

In Poland, he states that kids must be trained in all athletic disciplines and can’t choose a specific event until they are 18. He thinks it’s crucial for people to play different sports and learn a variety of skills that will benefit them, particularly against people who’ve only trained for a single event. As an example, he noted the observational, perceptive and spatial skills developed playing football or Gaelic help on the track. They make you better aware and better able to anticipate the movement of other runners. Apart from broader motor skills, he would wholeheartedly recommend other sports. Running is a sport you can come relatively late to (especially compared to swimming, hurling or gymnastics), as James himself testifies.

 

Do You Still Love Running?

James still loves running, which is always great to see people retain their original childlike enthusiasm for and enjoyment of running. He’s too busy now to be able to fit in regular blocks of training. Though he did manage 100mile plus weeks, as part of a proper schedule for recent Berlin marathon. His marathon tip (he’s now completed 4 and tries to do one a year) is to run as long as possible at marathon pace. He loves track sessions too, and still has that love/hate feeling that we all share with them. Though he just hated hills, no love there!

He loves parkrun and likes marathons for the social aspect. At the top end of athletics, James considers Marathon to now be the hardest distance. He’d mentioned earlier that in the waiting area and even on track, the competitive nature of runners at major events could be intense, elbows, cutting across, the works.

Liam McGarry, Marty Rea, James McIlroy and Dave Seaton


Many Thanks

Massive thanks to James McIlroy (and Adidas) for his time and insight, it was a pleasure listening to him.  Finally, congratulations to Pure Running for an excellent evening.  Michael, Catriona and staff were fantastic hosts, hospitable to the end.

I was trying to listen and take notes, so may have got some things wrong. Happy to make any amendments or additions… always learning :0)


Martin Rea's Marathon Training - Top 10 Tips

Martin Rea, is an Irish international ultra-runner who finished in top 50 at the World 100k Championships in 2014. He recently completed the Amsterdam marathon in 2:43 (PB 2:36) but his first marathon was 4:30 in Belfast…

International ultrarunner & marathon pacer Martin Rea talking to BRC members

He’s come along way since but it’s good to remember we all have to start somewhere. Martin came down recently to give a marathon training workshop to Belfast Running Club. Marty tells it like it is and was full on great tips, anecdotes and stories. Martin runs with a wide group of people, paces 3hrs for the London Marathon and has experienced hundreds of races. He also ran under Matt Shields - the legendary North Belfast Harrier’s Head Coach, who has coached several international athletes... so he knows his stuff.

 

Marty’s top 10 Marathon Training Tips:

 

1. Training is about quality, not quantity. You’ve got to be sensible and realistic about it. Avoid junk miles or robotically following a plan.

2. Two quality sessions per week (one reps, one tempo) are the base of his plan. Everything else is a bonus

3. As you get older, the man difference is it takes longer to recover. While you can run a long run on tired legs, you need to be recovered fully to do the two quality sessions per week

4. Marathon training plans are normally 16 weeks, but for spring marathons that can mean a Christmas/New Year start. So start preparing a few weeks in advance to make sure you at least maintain your level of fitness (especially over difficult December!) to start the training plan. NB Marty assumes you can run 13-15 miles before starting this plan.

5. Training is split into three phases. The first 10 weeks covers two phases 1-6 weeks and 6-10 weeks. These are about building strength (short hills) and then strength endurance (longer hills). Before finishing the last six weeks focusing on pace (no hills, as getting used to marathon cadence)

6. Long runs should be between 2-3 hours, no matter what time you are expecting. So even if you are aiming for 4-6 hrs, the maximum long run should be 3hrs. For the first 6 weeks, long runs should involve hills (eg Belfast Hills). In the long runs, Marty says not to use gels and try to reduce sugar, as you want them to have maximum benefit on race day. If your body gets used to them every week then they will have less impact on race day.

7. Long runs should be taken sensibly, if you miss it after a half-marathon race… “don’t freak out”.  Whilst Marty finds it good to run after doing half-marathon the previous day (gets used to running on tired legs) he’s mindful that the goal is to be fully recovered for the two quality mid-weeks sessions and therefore will cut short, run slower or cut out long run altogether if need be. 

8. Apart from dedicated quality - hard - sessions (2-3 a week), all runs should be at a slow pace. This is at least 1 min slower than your expected race pace. Marty may run 5:50 - 6:15 minutes per mile during a marathon but most of his runs are closer to 8 minutes, a good 2 min (30%+) slower than his race pace. 

9. One quality session a week for the 16 weeks should be a tempo (3-6 miles), which Marty describes as being at half-marathon pace. After the first 6 weeks Marty suggests racing a variety of distances every fortnight to get used to race environment and simple enjoyment. When racing replace the tempo session with the race, i.e. don’t do both

10. Recovery is important. Make sure not to over do it, add in pilates/yoga and strength if you can but you should only have 2 hard sessions per week (optional 3rd during weeks 6-10, to add in Long Hills, but these are almost more for mental preparation than physical). Go by how your body feels, and not by your watch. You need to learn to know how your body feels, take rest and look after injuries.

 

Marty has agreed to come back in April to provide a few tips and answer questions with regard to race day preparation itself, especially for London and Belfast marathons. We’ll keep people posted via Twitter. We’re very appreciative of Marty for taking the time to help out other runners and wish him the best of luck as a debut master in 2016.

NB There are lots of advice on marathons, and training plans available online. With all plans and tips, be sensible about them and always remember to enjoy running and don’t always run alone.

#7parkruns (Postponed)

*** Postponed due to bad weather. New date to be confirmed ****

Belfast has 7 parkruns spread across North, South, East & West of the city. We’re going to run them all before lunchtime on Sat [NEW date TBC]. We’ll start in the dark and run through dawn, finishing at Colin Glen Forest Park for lunch. Are you in?

There is no map, no fancy website, t-shirt, support crew, goody bag or bling. No crisps at the finish or championship chip. We’re running for the craic and the challenge, to do something that hasn’t been done before, to see new places, to enjoy and to explore… in the spirit of the legendary #18parkruns

We’ll start at 6am at Dub lane, so bring a head torch… you’ll need to able to complete each parkrun in under 32 mins (approx. 9-10 min miles) and be comfortable running off-road in the dark on your own. You can run each parkrun course at your own speed but we’ll all arrive and leave together at each course, so you will need transport, either your own car or to arrange a lift with someone.

There will be 35km (21.7 miles) of running and at least 38km or driving, as we criss-cross Belfast. Stormont will be the only actual parkrun we will participate in (9:30am start), the others we will just be running the course (so no parkrun points!).  We’ll have three completed by Stormont. After which we will head to Waterworks, then Falls before heading to Colin Glen (aiming to start there 12:50pm).

If you can’t do the ‘magnificent 7’, feel free to meet or join us at Victoria (8:10am start) Stormont or Colin Glen. You’ll need to bring your own food & drink (but this can be left in the cars), we’re not sure when/where toilets will be open (there is one at Victoria Park, bring 20p) and bring money for lunch at Colin Glen. Most of these will be done in parks, so please don’t drop litter… just appreciate our fantastic parks and scenery.

To see the courses go to parkrun page. This is for fun, and done entirely at your own risk and enjoyment. We disclaim all liability etc, and our times may change, although we will keep people updated by twitter (@belfastrunning). If you want to do it, be there at 6am.

Live the dream :)

What to do with the Belfast Marathon?

'Belfast Marathon could be so much better' is about the kindest remark local runners have to say about it. Visitors maybe slightly more sanguine but generally think the route and organisation, especially at the finish could be vastly improved. Before we go any further we have to explain what the Belfast Marathon is, which says a lot in itself.

 

What is the Belfast Marathon?

The Belfast Marathon is actually a collection of different races. In 2015, the Belfast Marathon consisted of:

  • 3,001 marathon runners (9:00am start)
  • 1,200 marathon walkers (9:00am start)
  • 1,500 fun-runners (9:20am start)
  • 9,750 relay runners (9:00am start)

The fun run is a 5km race that starts just after the marathon at the same starting point. This is open to anyone, but is generally for kids. Marathon walk, is actually only 8 miles and is non-competitive for general walkers. The main marathon race is 26.2 miles, with wheelchair racers starting a few minutes before everyone else.

The relay appears to be a uniquely Belfast invention, with almost 2,000 teams in 2015. Teams comprise 5 people, with each runner running a 3.5-8 mile leg of the marathon. This allows people of all abilities to take part in the 'Belfast Marathon' and greatly opens up the event. However they run at the same time as the main runners, and it can be chaotic at the change over points, water stations and finish with so many relay runners. It can also annoy you when, relay runners dart past you especially in the later half of the race. However without them their would be an awful lot less people on and supporting the route. Overall though I welcome the idea of relay runners, especially with current numbers.

NB Less than 1 in 5 (19.4%) people taking part in the Belfast Marathon 'events' are actually running the full Belfast Marathon

 

How Does it Compare to Other Marathons?

Compared to major large city marathons, it's disappointing. It'll never - nor should it - compete with London (usually the week before) and other "World Marathons", but it could and should aim for matching Dublin, and other large UK cities. Crowds, support, atmosphere, route and event organisation are what separate Belfast from other cities. As a comparator the recent Dublin Marathon (Monday, 26 Oct 2015) had 15,000 marathon runners and is now moving to Sunday mornings to accommodate more. Participants comment on the atmosphere, the city really treats it as a major event, with large crowds out supporting runners at all times along the route. It's well organised at the finish and the roads are mostly completely closed to give you plenty of space, plus they bring you past the major landmarks and through Phoenix Park so it's an enjoyable route. 

Dublin started in 1980, with Belfast in 1982. So both have been around for a long time. Derry (Walled City Marathon started in 2013, attracts over 2,000 runners and is on 4-5 weeks after the Belfast Marathon) has only just started, with most major towns/cities in Ireland having at least an annual half or full marathon. Dublin has a dedicated race series - a 10k, 10 mile, half marathon in the three months before the race that attracts thousands of people to Phoenix Park and are well organised and provide a great training build up for the race. Belfast first put on a half-marathon three years ago but this is on in September... almost 8 months before the marathon. It was also on the Sunday, the day after the Dublin Half-Marathon, which suggests poor co-ordination (it had been on the same day as the Walled City Half-Marathon in previous years). Although improving and still in it's relative infancy with the route changing each year it has managed to attract large crowds of 3,000 runners. However, if it wasn't against the Dublin half-marathon (the most popular half-marathon in Ireland) it could do so much better.

 

How Bad is the Belfast Marathon?

The major issue is the route. Belfast is 44.4 square miles, within which there are some amazing landmarks, historic and infamous locations, lively arterial routes, fantastic parks and off-road trails yet the route takes you outside of Belfast (to neighbouring Newtownabbey), alongside a motorway and by-pass, and through a working industrial estate that is open, barren with aromas. At least 6-7 mile is like this, crucially the 16-20 mile bit when people begin to tire and approach the wall. To be fair the race starts outside the City Hall and finishes through the city, along the river and in picturesque Ormeau Park. 

Outside of the city centre, Belfast is not a flat city, but the course is generally flat with a few hills generating the majority of the 700ft of elevation (it's not a PB course). Not massive, but after a long hill bringing you from 10-13 mile, you have steep 0.5-1 mile at about 14-15 mile that just batters the joints and loses all height gained. The Loughshore (about 16-18 miles) is a narrow 2m wide path with Belfast Lough on one side and the motorway on the other. You are open to the elements and it can be difficult to pass two runners running side by side. Duncrue Industrial estate is open, so the traffic has to be managed which means runners have to be occasionally stopped to let traffic through. Some of the roads have only one lane, which can mean over-taking is hard... can be annoying when several relay runners there. [Belfast Marathon organisers state that there is no legislation to allow them to open roads. However any resident of Belfast will tell you that where there is a will there is a way, and the authorities - and others - have been able to open and close roads when they need to]

If the route didn't have to go to Newtownabbey, there would be significant scope to vastly improve it. Politicians will want the route to be in all their areas or at least in North, South, East & West Belfast. The Belfast Half-Marathon (run by the same organisers as Belfast Marathon) has shown that organisers are able to change the route and to run it on a Sunday morning in Belfast. When Belfast hosted the Giro in 2015, it was able to close large sections of roads on Fri, Sat and Sun (with plenty of funding to tidy the route and put up pink cycles). Plus NI has and will be holding major international golf competitions with the final day on a Sunday, and this has not caused problems. So the major parties (e.g. Tourism NI, Belfast City Council, Roads NI, NI Executive/Departments) and politicians have shown a precedent for facilitating major sporting events. Furthermore their support, along with wider Belfast general public, for park runs and JogBelfast indicate there is a real commitment to getting Belfast active and desire to support running at the ground level.

Aside from the route and relay runners, the biggest complaint is the organisation. Especially as you cross the finish line, it is chaotic. Everyone is together, it is not clear where to get your drop bag (not to mention how secure it is, though to be fair generally few issues), where to get showers/changed, where are the buses, where to go next, and where to get refreshments etc. It is far too crowded, especially with relay runners in the mix too. On a good day, for a local this can be overlooked but in bad weather... and if you're not familiar with Ormeau Park it could appear very chaotic and confusing. Relay runners have also issues getting to and from relay stops, although there are buses. However the worst part of the relays is probably waiting for other runners (a long time waiting about) and finding them at the changeover. 

Water is given out in cups, which is hard to drink if running and generally gets thrown over you.   Sports cap bottles are easier to drink from but then you also see them discarded in the half-mile after the drink station, most almost full. I don't know what the magic answer is, but i would tell runners to have people meet them at 2-3 strategic points with drinks... but again not always a viable option for visitors. For 2016, Belfast Marathon will have the following stations:

  • 4 Energy Drinks
  • 17 First Aid
  • 17 Water Stations
  • 9 Toilet Facilities
  • 1 Nutrition Station
  • 2 Gel Stops

No New York but to be fair not bad for the scale of the race. Supporters will also have ad hoc water stations, which contributes to the atmosphere. Again, you have to plan your nutrition and hydration for a marathon carefully, and there are a few points round the race where you could stop in the shop to buy a drink (i have done that before and was ever glad on a warm day a few years ago for a cold lucozade... but again that was inside knowledge of shop locations and having money with me for said emergency). In short it's not the worst issue. 

At the start, as with most major races toilets are scarce and i wouldn't touch the lower walls of any alleys. Belfast is quiet over weekends and bank holiday mornings, but there are generally shops open and accessing the town is not a major problem, although some people have complained about the start. Belfast doesn't have the crowds that other marathons do, this is partly because of the size/ambition of the race and prohibitive route. Belfast people are willing to support events and many do come out and provide great support, which is enormously appreciated. There is music in places, but it's not the welcome nature visitor generally get in Belfast and is a far cry from Dublin and other major marathons where you don't go a few hundred metres without vocal, vibrant and enthusiastic support. 

The final issue is that, like some other races, organisers really try and push you to do it for a charity. This is tainted by the fact, that allegedly some of these charities may be paying marathon organisers for this privilege. 

NB Between April 10th & June 5th, there are the London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Walled City marathons to name but a few. In total there are over 25 marathons in the UK, 3 of which are on the same weekend, not counting others in Ireland and beyond during that 8 week period. Belfast has competition, but there should still be lots of scope to carve out a niche event.

 

Are There Any Good Points about Belfast Marathon?

Belfast is my home city, I love it and think it's a fantastic city to visit and run in. So if the Belfast Marathon encourages people to do that, brilliant. It's also amazing to have a marathon on your doorstep in terms of accommodation, eating, drinking, logistics, family and friends, knowledge of route, passing where you grew up, start at City Hall, finishing straight down Ravenhill Road, meeting people at Ormeau Park afterwards (in good weather) and celebrating win, lose or draw in Errigle afterwards. Allowing relay and other runners to be part of the occasion also adds greatly to the event. However, a lot of that is because I'm born and bred on the Ormeau Road and a, not relying on getting stuff at the finish. I almost respect it more for being a tough race, for all it's awkwardness... it's not the best marathon but it's ours.

Pacers are there, many who also pace Dublin and London, especially the 3hr mark. If looking a 3hr, i would recommend it as long as you are aware of the course. Belfast is easily accessible to - and via - most major UK cities and has a growing portfolio of hotels. Along with airbnb there should be plenty of options and opportunities for people of all budgets. At £35 cost (although slight increase in last 2 weeks before closing date), including good quality short sleeved t-shirt it is very reasonable for a marathon. You also have no problems registering, the website is informative  and you're not in a raffle for a place. I love those people who do come out and support the runners, who make some noise, take pride in Belfast, it makes such a difference and to the volunteers who give out water... this is what sport is about, and these people deserve full respect. No matter what you think of the organisers, these people are stars.

In NI, there are plenty of half-marathons (e.g Larne and Omagh) in the run-up to Belfast Marathon that provide great training opportunities and can be built into your training schedule.  Taking place on bank holiday Monday allows a lot of people to take part and is perfect calendar target for starting training in the new year (new years resolutions) and provides you with a great training base for Dublin, always a great annual running compliment in October. 

Based on 2015 numbers, Belfast Marathon generated approximately £313,535 from entry fees (plus £19,127.50 from charging £2.50 commission on each online payment). There are also 13 sponsors, not counting charities, so there is a good revenue and resource base to build on. Plus it has a history of going on throughout the troubles, but perhaps it is showing it's age.

NB It should also be remembered that Belfast Marathon had dealt with bombscares and other issues; and that it hasn't had a major mistake (e.g. route too long/short, running out of water) such as some other marathons.

 

What Is The Solution?

I propose the following 5 steps to make it better:

1. Clear Goals

An aggressive challenging target of at least 10,000 full marathon runners within 5 years. This is not a marginal or incremental approach to change. It's having a tough target and getting all parties to agree a whole new approach and attitude towards getting it. There should be scope to change it or involve other races e.g. half marathon (if Marathon cannot generate enough runners on its own).

NB Between 2009 an 2014, global marathon runners grew by 13%, whilst the UK actually fell by 5%. Belfast & NI has seen a surge in races, running events (e.g. colour run) and participation but  the fall in marathon running across the UK allied with increased marathon competition and people willing to travel for races means Belfast has to react and come up with a decent plan.

 

2. Move to Sunday & New Route

Keep the Belfast Marathon in Belfast boundary and show off the best of our city. Move to Sunday morning, which will make it easier to close off roads and allow more people to make a weekend of it. There needs to be the same flexibility with Marathon route as the half-marathon whilst people get the route right (incorporate more landmarks, nicer bits of Belfast) and that it is able to handle the growth. Runners shouldn't be stopped along the route, with the route a minimum of 5m wide the whole way.

 

3. Better Organisation, especially Ormeau Park

You cross the finish line at Dublin and then are into a closed off-area only for runners. This gives you time and space to collect your bag (minded by race staff/volunteers), get your marathon finishers bag and meet other runners. Belfast is a world away, we need to make this much better for visitors... and sort out how best to provide hydration, is there a better option than cups. We also need to make runners much more aware of all the other races and run routes in and around Belfast, tow-path, Belfast Hills, Belvoir etc, various parks.  Every aspect should be improved including the expo and the whole build up and to making it a marathon weekend.

 

4. Better Marketing & Co-ordination 

Belfast Marathon's collection of races should be reconsidered. In addition Belfast Marathon should have a better co-ordinated race series, even if this is linking with the existing Pure Running NI half-marathon championship series of races. Born 2 run, 26Extreme and Energia 24hr have shown how races can be packaged, managed and marketed effectively. They, and others, have also shown how much people are willing to pay for races (many £16 plus for 10k races), plus Dublin has tiered charging up to €90, so people will pay if the product is right. Belfast also needs to ditch the heavy push for charities and make clear it's link with charities, allow people to make up their own mind and be under no pressure to support any charity. Belfast should also seek a major sponsor and should consider niche angles for some of the race events (e.g. the success of rock n roll marathon etc show that when marketed right, you will get participants).

 

5. New Blood & New Attitude From Public Bodies

Nothing will happen without a change in attitude from public bodies, marathon organisers and general public. Public bodies need to treat the marathon as a major international sporting event and not a local race. In the USA, Runners World readers have an average income significantly higher than that of many business magazines and are the exact visitor profile of people Belfast should be targeting. Runners will stay overnight, go out and will pass on word of mouth. Older runners will bring families or go with their mates/club. And this is an annual race, so repeat and legacy opportunities if marketed well. 

This does not require a marketing firm or massive budget, a huge amount could be learned by speaking to local runners, visiting (and ideally running) Dublin marathon, half-marathon and other races. Belfast Marathon is run by a company, with 5 of the 9 directors in position since 1982 when it was established. They should be thanked for starting the marathon (in the midst of the troubles) running it to date and keeping the price low. They could be offered first go and reforming the Belfast Marathon, but if no radical plan and obvious change within 12 months then the Belfast Marathon should be tendered or put out to groups willing to invest in it and come up with ambitious plan (we need our own Fred Lebow, watch "Run for Your Life"). There should be more accountability, why does one company currently have exclusive right to this event? Caveats and safeguards could be put in but there needs to scope to try new initiatives and approaches (some of which may fail, that is the risk). The Belfast public, as park runs, various races, events, volunteering and JogBelfast demonstrate are willing to get involved and support running and local sport events. The ones who help create atmosphere are brilliant, but let's give them a reason to get out and cheer, let's put Belfast Marathon on the international running map. 

Thoughts welcome.