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


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 




Sat 7th Jan (11:45am)  MOIRA




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

Sat 25th Feb (11am) STORMONT  


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).



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





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 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


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



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



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


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

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


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


10 KM


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




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





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

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



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

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



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



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 (2pm) ENNISKILLEN 10K

Wed 21st Jun (TBC) LISBURN 10K




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


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

Sat 30th Sep (TBC) BANGOR 10K

5K - 10K

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


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


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



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


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


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




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

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


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



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


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


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

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



NI Road Relays at Victoria Park, 2016

NI Road Relays at Victoria Park, 2016



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



Northern Velocity Trail Run Series:

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

  • Sat 21st Jan GOSFORD
  • 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.



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



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!

James McIlroy Gives Belfast a Boost


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


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…


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


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.



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)

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.




Energia 24hr Race (Part 3)

...Iryna Kennedy, if you've been to Energia, any Energia you may not know the name but you'll certainly remember the cheery face and smile! Iryna has been at every Energia, and embodies the spirit of the race. Always friendly, positive & supportive to other runners, yet personally never giving up.

Irnya may not be the fastest but when the top Women can reach the men's A standard and the Top men are world class, few are. However Inrya, came 25th in this years race running 92.67 mile (149.1 km). That's over 7 half-marathons in one day, imagine doing one... and then having to do six more on top, back to back. Almost 150km is amazing. 

This year Inrya came third in the Irish National Championship, and whilst everyone was delighted for her, her smile and "i've never won anything before" quote summed up this event for me. This race isn't just for the elite or the record breakers, it's about keeping going, it's about pacing yourself, every inch a mental and physical test of yourself.

When you're feeling low, other runners will try and pick you up, talking to you, running a lap or two with you. Even when quiet descends a few hours in, as runners pass, one will often whisper words of encouragement. The power of a humble word, can lift the spirits right up. People offer advice, distraction and just friendship/support. A relay runner offered to run with me for a few laps, not to pace, but just to keep me company when I was at a low ebb. Just the offer can you make you feel better, more positive. This is the stuff you don't get at any other race. 

In mentioning Energia praise must go to Athletics NI for the track/facilities, with Dave Seaton and Gary Keenan there for long periods helping out. The Lord Mayor, Nichola Mallon was there to hand out medals and took a real interest in the race, and Mary Peters was kindly there as ever to start us off. Tom and Michael from Energia are always there in person (last year Tom even ran as part of the relay!), supporting the event more than just financially, and with flags.

But this event would never be the staple it is today without Ed Smith and family. With the entry less than the cost of the Belfast or Dublin Marathon, this shows how hard Ed has worked with funders & sponsors to make this accessible and open to runners. Ed is always friendly, encouraging and has the event working perfectly. Ed's wife, daughters  extended family and friends are all caught helping as well. From taking video, counting laps, handing out t-shirts, to cooking porridge... nothing is too much.

When running 12 or 24 hrs, you don't want to have to worry about the race organisation as well.... and you never do. You know everything will be in place, including the magnificent panorama of the Track setting. 

Conclusion: Whether as runner, supporter, volunteer or spectator this race stands out. You can't compare it to any other race, it's more mental than physical (and there's an awful lot of physical endurance in it!). But unlike any other race, you're all in it together, everyone's effectively within the same Gaelic pitch for the duration. The slowest to the fastest person are all on the same track, fighting their own battles. Whilst everyone has their own reasons, their own demons, their own plan... they all share the pain, the pride and the occasion. 

When coaching at my local club, at the end when everyone's tired I get them to do a few last hills or sprints. They complain they can't do it, but they get on and do it well, sometimes surprising themselves what they have left. Sometimes you never know what you can do, how far you can go until you give it a go. That's why i love the Energia, life's too short never to know, too short for regrets. 

Beyond Limits.

Top 25 Races of 2014 for Belfast Runners

With so many people out training, we thought we'd provide you with a list of the Top 25 or so races that you need to know about. Most can be entered on the day (cost £10 - £20), although some give discounts for booking online in advance. Sat Mornings Parkrun are always free. Other than that there's everything from 5km to 250km on road, track, trail and mountain:

Sun 9th Mar:   Addiction NI 10km (1pm, Ormeau Park)

Sun 16th Mar:   Jimmy's 10km (11am, ASDA Car-park, Downpatrick, 20 miles from Belfast)

Sat 22nd Mar:   Larne Half Marathon (11am, Larne, 23 miles from Belfast)

Sat 29th Mar:   Omagh Half Marathon (Noon, Gibson P.S., Omagh, 68 miles from Belfast)

Wed 2nd Apr:   Queen's 5km (TBC, ~7pm, Ormeau Embankment)

Sun 6th Apr:   Titanic Quarter 10km (2pm)

Sun 20th Apr:   Decathlon 10km & Half Marathon (TBC)

Mon 5th May:   Belfast Marathon & Relay 

Fri 16th May:   Les Jones Memorial 10k (TBC, but usually from Mary Peter's Track)

Fri 23rd May:   Runher Coastal 10k (TBC, sponsored by Belfast Telegraph)

Sun 25th May:   Newry City Marathon (TBC, 37 miles from Belfast)

Sat 7th Jun:   Mourne Way Marathon (TBC, 5km - 83k (Ultra), 33 miles from Belfast)

Wed 18th Jun:   Lisburn Half Marathon & 10k (6:30pm, LeisurePlex, Lisburn, 10 miles from Belfast)

Sun 22nd Jun:   Between the Bridges 10k (Time TBC, but run on Westlink Motorway)

Fri 27th Jun:   Ards Half-Marathon (6:30pm Ards Leisure Centre, 11 miles from Belfast)

Tue 15th Jul:   Portaferry 10 mile (TBC, 29 mile from Belfast)

Fri 18/19th Jul:   Energia 24hr Race (6:45pm start, 24 & 12hr/Relay race, Mary Peters Track)

Sun 27th Jul:   Divis 10k (11am, Divis Mountain Car-park)

Sat 23rd Aug:   Frank Duffy 10mile (10am, Phoenix Park, Dublin; 100 miles from Belfast)

Sun 7th Sep:   Titanic Quarter Ultra Marathon (TBC)

Sun 7th Sep:   Laganside 10km (TBC)

Sun 14th Sep:   Belfast City Half-Marathon (9am, Kings Hall)

Sun 14th Sep:   Waterside Half-Marathon (10:30am, Gransha Park, Derry, 75 miles from Belfast)

Sat 21st Sep:   Dublin Half-Marathon (10am, Phoenix Park, Dublin, 100 miles from Belfast)

Sat 27th Sep:   Causeway Coast Marathon (TBC, 10km - 64km (Ultra), 59 miles from Belfast)

Sat 27th Sep:    Bangor 10km (TBC)

Mon 27th Oct:   Dublin Marathon (9am, Merrion Square, Dublin; 100 miles from Belfast)


We have provided a full list of races within Northern Ireland and can offer help with race planning, pacing and preparation. Races are for everyone, and if there is anything we can do to help or any races we've forgotten please let us know via BelfastRunning@gmail.com 

Belfast is getting on its feet

It was a typical wintry Saturday morning in Belfast, the forecast wasn't great and the grey sky toyed with rain while the wind blew in bursts to remind you it too hadn't gone away. Yet all over Belfast people rose from their slumber, vacated the comfort of their warm homes and put on trainers, tops and plenty of hi-viz to go out running...



By 10:15 487 people had completed one of the 5 parkruns (free 5km timed runs) spread throughout the city. Ormeau Park flooded? No bother, volunteers leave that section out and create a new 5km course for the 151 runners who turned up. Numbers are so big now, that the all-weather pitch has to be used as a temporary car-park. And this was no-one off,  with an average 107 people at each of the 28 parkruns run since the start of the year. All free to enter, with refreshments after and managed by local volunteers.

parkruns are for everyone...

parkruns are for everyone...

At the 'Dub' (Queen's University Playing Fields), Una Short took over race director duties for the first day with her husband and son also volunteering on the day. Despite many of the University pitches being used and car-parks full, parkrun ran without a hitch with many staying behind to catch up on the weeks events and celebrate those who had received the stylish red t-shirts denoting participation in 50 parkruns. 

Next up at 11am was the Minnowburn 10km starting from the Mary Peter's Track and running along the tow-path, Minnowburn and near the Giant's Ring. 338 finished the race, which is great numbers especially given its £23 on the day entry fee (there was a reduced fee for early online registration). 

In terrible weather large numbers of people still turn out for JogBelfast (pic courtesy of @_vselliott)

In terrible weather large numbers of people still turn out for JogBelfast (pic courtesy of @_vselliott)

Whilst people raced 10km, many people across Belfast were learning to run 5km for the first time. By the end of the year many of these will be completing 10km runs themselves. Despite the weather there was over 30 at Ormeau Park and probably close to 100 across Belfast. This is the start of the 4th week of a 10 week JogBelfast programme which runs across Belfast. A Belfast wide JogBelfast Scheme during Autumn 2013 produced over 100 graduates and hopes were high that the new programme kick starting could attract 200 people.

To date there are over 530 registrations with more people registering. North and South Belfast have both had over 100 people turn up - in atrocious weather - for their mid week sessions. This is with very little advertising by organisers with most people hearing through word of mouth. Over 75% of the participants on JogBelfast are women, with people of all ages and abilities taking part week after week. (see evaluation of the previous programme).


Competition level

Of course this excludes the elite runners competing in the national NI indoor championships or the UK Championships, and the best club runners competing in the final event of the NI cross-country league in Enniskillen. This also doesn't take into account regular club runs (Belfast has over 20 clubs) or the dozens (probably hundreds) of people who just go for a social run, some organised through Belfast Running's new meet-up service.

sample of meet-up running opportunities as at 07-Feb, service only started in February 2014

sample of meet-up running opportunities as at 07-Feb, service only started in February 2014

Is this a one-off?

On Thursday night, 164 people lined up in the dark for a run around Stormont estate. Incorporating two major hills and requiring head torches this was no dander and yet how did it attract such big numbers... last year it had less than 100. Before that the Christmas Cracker (Castlewellan) another testing 8-10 mile off road course known for its incessant inclines had a record 366 teams (292 teams in 2012) and the Seely Cup 10k race in November had over a 1,000... these are all record numbers

Belfast introduced a half-marathon in September for the first time, expecting 1,500 participants. Yet 3,256 people finished the race and they didn't have enough medals (although most people considered the race a great success). The full Belfast Marathon in May, is becoming better organised and had 2,542 finishers not including another 1,935 relay teams (9,675 runners). That's over 12,000 pairs of feet hitting the road on May Day.

Not everyone can place 1st or 2nd in the Marathon unlike the athletes above, but its the taking part that counts...

Not everyone can place 1st or 2nd in the Marathon unlike the athletes above, but its the taking part that counts...

...and this is not just in Belfast, there are so many races on the racing calendar is choc-a-block, so much so that Belfast and Derry (Walled City) half-marathon races are both scheduled for Sunday 14th September (some things don't change!). Derry held its first marathon in 2013 for over 20 years, which had 1,000 registered participants in the first few days and had to be ultimately capped at a symbolic 2013 runners (although only 1,290 finished the race, with reputedly a large fraction not even starting the race).


With mountains within 40 minutes of Belfast, there are lots of new challenges for Belfast Runners (pic of Colm McGarry)

With mountains within 40 minutes of Belfast, there are lots of new challenges for Belfast Runners (pic of Colm McGarry)

What's new?

There are many more event organisers, for example @26extreme and Born2Run who organise well run interesting runs, normally off-road. There is even a 24hr race held annually in Belfast (Energia 24hr Race), which doubles as the Irish national  24hr championships and has attained European Athletics Silver Award status. 

New clubs have been formed (e.g. Orangegrove AC in East Belfast) and become very active and ambitious, and keen to attract a wide spectrum of runners. Orangegrove is less than 5 years old and runs Sunday cinema nights, craft clubs and fancy dress runs. Running is being seen as fun, social and been reclaimed for everyone. Belfast Running Club was set up in the last 3 months mainly off the back of the JogBelfast pilot programme in South Belfast and is expected to have 100 members by the end of the year. These clubs are active on the web and social media whilst keen to invest time in training coaches, child protection and clubmark.

It's not just the new kids on the block either, Beechmount Harriers in the west have established a strong junior section in recent years and like other clubs are heavily involved in their local parkrun and JogBelfast. This is due to the commitment of coaches and volunteers, and a desire to accommodate runners of all ages whilst investing time in developing competitive runners. Increasingly on an informal and formal basis, runners from different clubs and parts of Belfast will meet up for long runs. This helps develop relationships, helps to keep the pace and discover new routes. 

North Belfast Harriers (est 1896) is one of the oldest clubs in Belfast and currently Athletics NI club of the year with a Gold standard in Clubmark. On Thursday night they run four separate kids sessions to meet demand and provide tailored training. They pioneered JogBelfast and parkrun within Belfast, and are regularly asked to lead community initiatives given their unique neutral position and credibility in North Belfast. And this is not at the expense of competition - as North Belfast athletes and teams regularly adorn podiums across NI - but part of a long term plan to promote running and remain competitive.

Lord Mayor with North Belfast Harrier coach and junior runners at launch of Laganside 10km (2013) Race

Lord Mayor with North Belfast Harrier coach and junior runners at launch of Laganside 10km (2013) Race

A New approach?

North Belfast have also created a new satellite system with running groups beyond North Belfast (e.g. Ballymena, 30 miles from Belfast) becoming a form of sub-group of NBH  with members wearing NBH club colours and availing of club structures without having to form their own clubs. Is this the future? 


Is this just MAMIL's converting from 2 wheels to 2 feet?

No. Most JogBelfast participants are female, so there is a new wave of female runners. Experience has also shown that these females will then bring in their friends and families, with many families now training and running together. Overall most runners and race participants are male but that is changing and there are now female only races (runher) to help facilitate further female take-up. Runher has over 3,000 signed up to it's distribution list and can easily attract several hundred runners to an event.

Nike Ad for Mo Farah

Nike Ad for Mo Farah

Is it the Media?

Not sure, Belfast Telegraph helps support Runher and there are new sites dedicated to NI running e.g. NI Running and Belfast Running, not to mention the various club sites, and larger running sites. A quick search on google will reveal plenty of NI related conversations on forums, and there is an ever expanding range of running material online. However, the media is probably more in response to the growth in running than any form of catalyst.

Named after Olympic Gold Medallist Mary Peters, the track was extensively refurbished for the WPFG in 2013

Named after Olympic Gold Medallist Mary Peters, the track was extensively refurbished for the WPFG in 2013

Is it Investment?

Belfast City Council recently completed a £2.3m refurbishment of the Mary Peter's Track, which has one of the most scenic track settings anywhere in the world. Further investment in School facilities (e.g. Boy's Model) has also helped but most clubs and vast majority of runners don't run on tracks. Even North Belfast, who can attract 100 to their own club training, train on a track without proper floodlights. Orangegrove have also had 100 at training, with many other clubs across Belfast without facilities. Belfast Running Club trains one night a week on a gravel often waterlogged pitch. Belfast has no shortage of hills, parks, and roads which can make brilliant training runs, so its probably not facilities. 

In addition to public investment, there are now a number of commercial operations focusing on the running sector. Apart from the new race event companies, dedicated shops such @purerunningshop and Podium for Sport have helped to feed and supply this new demand. Sadly, we've also lost Athletic Stores and there still seems few places with knowledgeable staff able to advise on the correct running shoe. Then again, @barefootni will argue we shouldn't be wearing running shoes at all! 


Is it down to PR?

Running has come on from the days of silver shadow training shoes and short shorts on beanpole runners. However, for all today's fast wick fibres, £100 running shoes, fitness apps and GPS watches... most of the current crop would struggle to compete with the runners of 20-30 years ago. Maybe it is the hype, the constant 'motivational' ads (just do it, impossible is nothing, etc) but its probably just that running can be done at any age, started at any time and is probably the easiest sport/activity to start beyond walking. Seeing other people, word of mouth and increasing opportunities all play their part. Being perceived as neutral, and open to all ages also helps.

Belfast Lord Mayor invites people on regular 5 mile runs with him via Twitter!

Belfast Lord Mayor invites people on regular 5 mile runs with him via Twitter!

We even have a Lord Mayor who encourages people to join him once a week for a 5 mile run, so we certainly have some unique characters and circumstances in Belfast :-)


So why are more people running?

In my opinion, it's a combination of many things:

  • People's desire to get fitter and appreciation of benefits of healthier life style
  • Pro-active work of good people, volunteers, clubs and coaches
  • Clubs, and club members being increasingly open to help non-club members and offering regular free run opportunities making it easier to engage with clubs
  • Successful adoption of UK programmes to NI (e.g. JogBelfast, parkrun)
  • An increasing choice of interesting & well organised races with chipped timing
  • Races are becoming events with a social angle, with organisers providing soup and/or communal refreshments afterwards, and suggesting places for people to stay 
  • More publicity, more technology, and dare I suggest 'running is becoming fashionable'
  • Good old fashioned word of mouth and increasing people willing to consider running. Seeing other people running also acts as a constant reminder
  • New running fitness qualifications (e.g. 1 day Leader in Running Fitness course)
  • Social aspects of meeting people to run with and share running experiences
  • People who stop playing sports in their 30s look to running to retain the fitness and social aspects of sport. Conversely those who never played sport, see running as something they can try without too much pressure. The rise of work relay teams (Belfast Marathon), parkruns and sponsored charitable runs have all helped.  



If you're not running, consider starting and if you're not sure how give us a buzz at BelfastRunning@gmail.com or via @BelfastRunning or check out belfastrunning.com for advice. Either way, note that despite Belfast's stereotypical reputation for boozing, bombs, belligerence, and Ulster Fries, increasingly every morning and evening, rain or shine, people across the city are choosing to get on their feet; and taking it to the streets one step at a time. For no matter who you are, how fast you go or where you run to... we can only ever take it one step at a time. Long may it continue!

Why all the fuss about Jog Belfast?

As I paced up the stairs, trying to recover some pride after taking an ungainly 3 attempts to force open the door, never a good first impression… the slick new office, all wooden floors, white walls and shiny desks spread before me. I was hoping to get in and out as quick as possible, but the sales women glided over, easing effortlessly into small chat, “Posters look good… so how you going to distribute them?” Ever the opportunist and not looking to miss a beat, “we have a…”. “No, you’re ok. We’ll have no problem getting numbers”, a little male arrogance cutting her off mid-flow and a desire to return quickly to the illegally - and sloppily - parked car outside. It was only back in the car, did I take out the first glossy Jog Belfast poster and consider how the heck are we going to get 150 people to sign up to JogBelfast!

The first Jog Belfast SOUTH session of 2014, attracted over 70 people in wet conditions

The first Jog Belfast SOUTH session of 2014, attracted over 70 people in wet conditions

Two weeks in to the spring 2014 programme and there’s already over 500 people signed up online for JogBelfast, with over 100 participants turning up to individual training sessions in parts of the city.


So what exactly is JogBelfast?

It’s a FREE 10 week programme that trains absolute beginner runners to run 5km. There are similar programmes, often referred to as ‘Couch to 5k’ run throughout the UK. Jog Belfast is based on a successful model in Scotland (JogScotland) which has helped 20,000 people complete 5km since 2002. It was piloted in early 2013 in North Belfast and has since spread to clubs across Belfast, and even nine clubs outside Belfast.


Who is it for?

It is for anyone who wants to run 5km or just get back to running. The majority of the participants are women but there are people from 8 to almost 80 there. It is held in a supportive environment with people going at whatever pace suits them. People are friendly and non-competitive and it all takes place outside, with no specialist equipment needed. Training as part of a larger group helps motivate people, with coaches on hand to answer queries.

Password "sprint", short video of Autumn 2013 JogBelfast graduation run


How does it work?

JogBelfast provides a programme in East, West, North & South Belfast. Programmes are provided by running clubs and sports organisations. People register online and choose which area they would like to train in, normally the one closest to them. Each area provides two hour long sessions per week with experienced coaches and volunteers on hand to deliver the session. Training is fun, friendly and gradually builds up people’s running fitness and endurance to the point where they can run 5km.


Then what?

At the end of the ten week course, all the participants come together to run Ormeau parkrun (5km). This is a celebration, with all the participants wearing ‘JogBelfast’ sports t-shirts and a carnival atmosphere in place. For many this is the first time they have ever entered a run and completed 5km. Beyond that many keep up running often going on to join clubs and take part in parkruns. In South Belfast it lead to the creation of a new running club, ‘Belfast Running Club’. Evaluations show that many go on to 10km and half-marathons, with others continuing to run regularly with other participants from the course. Further proof of the social dimension to it all.

Sample JogBelfast sports t-shirt given to all participants with JogBelfast logo on the back

Sample JogBelfast sports t-shirt given to all participants with JogBelfast logo on the back


Why should anyone do it?

Apart from it being a free social and fun opportunity to get outside in the fresh air, results from the last evaluation show:

Taken from Evaluation of Autumn 2013 pilot JogBelfast programme

Taken from Evaluation of Autumn 2013 pilot JogBelfast programme

  • 94.4% will definitely continue running afterwards (with 4.4% probably continue running)
  • 100% said they would recommend it to a friend.
Taken from Evaluation of Autumn 2013 pilot JogBelfast programme

Taken from Evaluation of Autumn 2013 pilot JogBelfast programme


Stats only show one side the best way is to visit a parkrun and notice how many people are running who wouldn't have been running 3 or 4 months ago, or look at the testimonials to really see the life changing impact. As for recommendations, JogBelfast’s target was 150-200 people… and we were unsure how we would reach that. We haven’t advertised yet word of mouth has created interest and demand in the programme. Increasingly we are seeing whole families sign up with training becoming a family occasion/evening out.


How has it grown?

The best example is using South Belfast. For the first Belfast wide pilot, South Belfast didn’t have a running club. LORAG/Shaftsbury Recreation Centre as organisers of the Ormeau parkrun decided to take it on in October 2013. At the first saturday session 8 people turned up. Move forward 3 months and on a very wet Saturday in January, over 70 people turned up for the first session of 2014. To prove this wasn’t a one-off on an even wetter Tuesday evening that followed over 100 people turned up for the second session.


Where does Jog Belfast go from here?

The aim is to replicate the best bits of Jog Scotland and Jog Belfast and create a Jog NI model. To do this requires clubs, coaches and volunteers. We also want to ensure that Jog Belfast participants continue to enjoy running and have opportunities to develop that further. Firstly we have to manage the huge demand at present and create a strong sustainable platform to build on. This is an exciting phase and Belfast Running is proud to be an official sponsor of Jog Belfast and look forward to seeing many more people out running in their distinctive blue t-shirts and possibly avoiding a return trip up some steps for more posters :)

For more information check out FAQs, testimonials, evaluation and there is still time to register for the current programme.