Ryan Armstrong: What a difference two years make…


Hill walking enthusiast to endurance specialist:

Up until 2011, Ballymena Runners’ Ryan Armstrong was a hill/mountain walker, regularly taking on long distance challenges; something that he found a passion for whilst in the Valencia region of Spain, where he lived for 3 years.  Now the polite and enthusiastic runner competes at long distance events all over Ireland, and beyond!

Recently he completed a gruelling “Quadrathon”, an event that saw competitor’s complete four marathons in four days.  This week, we (NiRunning) caught up with Ryan to have a chat about his progression and his new found love for the sport.

It turns out that a chance encounter with experienced marathon runner and endurance enthusiast Ken Beggs (East Antrim Harriers) at the Mourne Way Marathon in 2011 convinced Ryan that running was the next step to take; “I think that deep down I always wanted to get into running, but used all the excuses possible to delay it.  It wasn’t until I spoke to Ken that I decided it was time.”

Ryan continued “Ken inspired me as he was not interested in time as much as taking part in marathons and ultra marathons. I did feel that I was taking the easy option and did not like the fact that walking was classed as non-competitive with no prizes.”

Most people would take on this new challenge with some hesitation, but not Ryan.  A short time after completing the Mourne Way Marathon Walk, he registered for the Dublin Marathon.  When questioned if this was a step too far to start with, the Antrim man replied “I was already completing marathon walks so I thought it would be a good challenge, although I was going into it with limited training, the plan was to run most with the occasional walk if needed.”

Despite the sore and stiff legs after his first marathon, this did not deter the gritty character who had clocked a sub 4:30:00 finish at the first attempt; instead it further fuelled his desire to compete over long distances.  The next few months were spent trying to cut down his times, from 10k to marathon distance.  In this time Ryan joined Ballymena Runners and the Marathon Club Ireland, two clubs that Ryan insists have helped him to where he is today, “in November 2012 I joined Ballymena Runners, which was great for winter training.  This was something I missed the previous year, when the racing season started in March 2013 I noticed a massive improvement in my times due to the club training.

“I also joined Marathon Club Ireland which is linked to the Marathon club UK. The main aim of the club is to help members achieve a common goal of completing 100 plus marathons, allowing members to upgrade to the 100 Marathon Club kit. The club is mostly based around social meetings at marathons due to members coming from all parts of Ireland.”

In 2013, as part of his goal aim of completing 100 26.2 mile races, Ryan decided to take on a challenge, he set out to complete six marathons in six weeks. There was one small problem; as he really wanted a good for age entry for the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon, Ryan had to get that attempt out of the way first, as the chances of achieving this would become less likely with tiring legs.  In May 2013, Ryan started his challenge with the Belfast Marathon, which he completed in 3:07:18. He then went on to complete the following marathons:

Kildare Marathon (12/05/13) – 3:24:33

Newry Marathon (26/05/13) – 3:40:19

Walled City Marathon (2/06/13) – 3:28:07

Mourne Way Marathon (8/06/13) – 4:59:07

Forest Marathon (15/06/13) – 3:38:23

“I knew I had to go for good for age in Belfast as it would not be possible when doing 6 in 6 weeks. The Kildare event was held in bad weather but I was happy with my time. I found Newry Marathon very hard as I felt that the previous marathons had started to take their toll.  The Walled City Marathon was a great atmosphere which helped bring down my time. I think everyone knows how hard the Mourne Way Marathon course is, so I was happy with the time there. The Forest Marathon in Galway was one of the hardest as it was an 8.5 x 5k looped course; in saying that I will know what to expect next year.”

Not content with having completed his six marathons in six weeks challenge, the now almost obsessed athlete decided to enter a ‘Quadrathon’ with a number of his Marathon Club Ireland friends.  The Quadrathon was an event organised by events company Extreme North and consists of four marathons in four days. The stunning route is set around the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal, Ireland and takes place every August.  The four marathons cover most of the Inishowen 100 mile coastal route, starting and finishing at the same point.

Asked whether it was hard to complete 26.2 miles on each of the four days, endurance enthusiast Ryan replied, “I was surprised each day how fresh I felt! I think knowing you have another marathon the next day, you do hold back a bit.  A good state of mind helps, its important focus on the job in hand, one marathon at a time.”

Day 1: Kinnagoe Marathon – 4:19:22

Day 2: Buncrana Marathon – 3:52:28

Day 3: Culladuff Marathon – 4:07:20

Day 4: Mallon Marathon – 3:56:23

The event provided Ryan with the opportunity to catch up with several of his Marathon Club Ireland friends from North and South of the border, as well as some Marathon Club members from England; something that he enjoys and looks forward too.

Having enjoyed an amazing year, albeit a busy one, Ryan has no plans to slow down and has plans; “I am looking forward to London 2014 as I got my good for age in Belfast this year. I am also planning to get my 25 marathons medal presented at Dublin Marathon 2014, although I think I will have done 29 by then.”

The remainder of this year will see Ryan take on The Causeway Coast Marathon and the Dublin Marathon. This will bring his total for 2013 to 12 and overall total to 19.  Beyond 2013, Ryan would one day love to represent Northern Ireland at veteran level, and having recently gained membership to the Northern Ireland Masters Athletics Association, this is something that he will be working towards.

As our chat came to an end, Ryan was very keen to re-iterate; “I realise that I would not be competing in the races or achieving anywhere near the times that I have so far without the support and coaching at my club, Ballymena Runners.”

NiRunning would like to wish Ryan all the best with his future plans, and future running.  His story, moving from a long distance walker to a marathon and endurance specialist in such a short time is nothing short of inspirational, something that I am sure we can all take something from.