Special Preview: Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon 2015

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Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon:

Bank Holiday Monday, Monday 4th May 2015, will bring the 34th annual Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon. The popular and always well attended event will attract approximately fifteen thousand competitors and even more spectators to the streets of Belfast and the neighbouring Newtownabbey, as athletes from all over the world cover an undulating 26.2 mile route in search of top honours, personal bests and personal achievements.

At the head of the pack, there has been much talk of the Kenyan contingent, with Linus Maiyo, Gideon Kimosop, Vincent Kiprotich-Chepyegon and 2013 winner Joel Kositany all named as starters, it does indeed make for an interesting battle.  Interestingly, 2014 Champion Freddy Sittuk is a late withdrawal.

A man who has stayed out of the spotlight (until now) could well be the one to upset the proverbial apple-cart and become the first ever American winner of the Belfast City Marathon.  Team USA’s Andy Wacker, arguably better known for his reputation as a mountain-trail runner, forged a good friendship with Northern Ireland athletes at the WMRA Long-Distance Challenge in Pikes Peak (America) last year and will make is marathon debut in Belfast.  Andy has never raced competitively outside the US before but in his own words, “there was no way I could turn down an offer to represent the US and travel to such a beautiful and historic place.”

His Half Marathon personal best currently stands at 1:03:26 (2013), with his most recent effort of 1:05:36 in Texas being part of his nine month buildup to his first attempt at the 26.2 mile race. The humble and down to earth athlete will go into the race with no time expectations, but with a personalgoal of testing himself against the other world class athletes who toe the line; Andy adds, “being my first marathon, I’d like to keep the pressure offand my expectations vague.  Instead of a specific time goal, my goal is to compete to the best of my ability, against the other world class runners.  Iwould love to win the race, and I think if I place top three, the time will take care of itself.”

Despite not having tested himself over the classic distance before, Andy has been training specifically for it with fellow American Jeffrey Eggleston (a 2:10:52 marathoner) under the guidance of Coach Mike Aish and the highly respected Renta Canova, so there is no doubting that he is ready for the race.  Andy told us, “I have run several runs over 20 miles, and worked on endurance building repeats like 10 x 1 mile and 12 x 1k.  Last fall, I also ran several half marathons to build strength and gain long distance road racing experience.”

To win, Andy (pictured right – photo by www.coloradorunnermag.com) will have to use the off-road strength that saw him claim third place at the infamous Pikes Peak Ascent at the back end of 2014, alongside his speedy edge, to outpace the aforementioned Kenyan line-up, of which, two will know the course very well.

As mentioned above, Freddy Sittuk is a late withdrawal – according to respected journalist Malcolm McCausland, this is due to tiredness and poor recent form.  However, Joel Kositany, a winner here in 2013, after running 2:19:28, will start.  Of all the men listed, Joel boasts the quickest personal best of 2:09:50, which was set in 2012 – his most recent effort was a 2:12:35 at the Tiberias Marathon at this year (2015).  Linus Maiyo clocked a personal best of 2:11:34 at the Barcelona Marathon in 2013, which saw him claim third place, while County Tyrone based Gideon Kimosop and Vincent Kiprotich-Chepyegon hold 26.2 mile bests of 2:16:44 and 2:18:32 respectively.

Local hopes will rest on the exceptionally talented Eddie McGinley (Annadale Striders) – despite facing world class opposition, the 32 year old has indicated to the media that he will be concentrating on his own race and instead, focusing on improving his own personal best of 2:24:52 and getting somewhere close to the fourth place finish which fellow NI man Thomas Frazer (St Malachy’s AC) achieved two years ago.  The much talked about Belfast City Marathon course, albeit not perfect for personal bests holds its own benefits, some of which Eddie pointed out in a quote on the Athletics NI website, “I work and train in the Duncrue area.  I will also be running with some of my training mates which should help, along with the tremendous crowd support, which is always there for a local runner”.  Given the strong line-up, it is fair to say that the current course record of 2:13:41, set by two time winner of the event Urga Negewo (Ethiopia) 3 years go, will be under threat.

Keith Purdy (Annadale Striders) was due to run the Virgin Money London Marathon last week; unfortunately, the Belfast City Half Marathon podium finisher was unable to compete, so he’ll be hoping to impress on home turf, especially having run so well in the associated Half Marathon. Willowfield Harriers’ Brian Campbell is another local athlete who should secure a top ten place if he shows the same kind of form that saw him 1:11:17 at the Larne Half Marathon in March 2015.  Andrew Considine (North Belfast Harriers), Tommy Simmons (North Belfast Harriers) and Stephen Wylie (North Down AC) could also be there or there abouts.  Accomplished marathoner Ben Morrow will perform to his usual high standard, as will the ever consistent Phil Wood (Unattached), Phelim McAllister (Larne AC), Barry Shanks (St Peter’s AC), Michael Cultra (East Down AC) and Simon Reeve (North Belfast Harriers).  Delfim Pimentel (Unattached), Garry Morrow (Orangegrove AC), Paul Nesbitt (Unattached) and Kent Swann (North Belfast Harriers) all possess the ability to finish well within the infamous three hour barrier.

In the ladies race, Ethiopian runner Berhane Gebremichael looks like the one to watch – Berhane is better known for her achievements on the track but enjoyed a winning marathon debut in Ahmedabad Marathon (India), where she ran 2:39:11.  This will be Berhane’s first outing over the marathon distance in the UK and she’ll be hoping to celebrate that with victory and an improvement on her aforementioned personal best, which she is more than capable of achieving.

Although Burton AC’s Shona Crombie, a runner up here in 2014, boasts a similar personal best to Berhane, this was set way back in 2005. Since running 2:53:54 in Belfast last year, Shona has recorded 31:00 for 5 miles, 1:26:09 for 13.1 miles and 2:16:04 for 20 miles, which would suggest a finish time just over the 2:50:00 mark here.

Another England based athlete, Shona Fletcher, who is a very recent addition to the Ballydrain Harriers squad, won the York Marathon last year in an impressive 2:43:38, which will no doubt put her in contention for a podium spot – quality performances at the Spen 20 mile race and the Snake Lane 10 mile race, where she won in 2:06:26 and 1:00:28 respectively, further back up Shona’s CV.  Kenya’s Selinah Kangogo has been residing in Northern Ireland as part of the Project Africa scheme (alongside the previously mentioned Gideon Kimosop and Vincent Kiprotich) operated by NI man Ciaran Collins; during this time, she (Selinah) has claimed numerous victories, but probably the most impressive was a win at Jimmy’s 10k, where she recorded 36:13.  Selinah also finished in second place behind Breege Connolly (North Belfast Harriers) at the Larne Half Marathon in March (2015), after running 1:20:13.

Northern Ireland XC international Sharon Barlow (Ripon Runners) will also travel from England for the event and is worth looking out for; in January 2015, Sharon recorded a Half Marathon personal best of 1:29:39 at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in York.  Local lady Gerrie Short (Beechmount Harriers) will also finish well up the field and will be hoping to improve on her excellent outing here twelve months ago when she crossed the line in 3:07:57 for 4th place.  North Belfast Harriers’ Roisin Hughes, a 3:01:10 marathoner, will make a return to the 26.2 mile distance and should claim a top ten place; Amanda Perry (Ballydrain Harriers), Ann-Marie Larkin (Club Unknown), Gillian Cordner (Seapark AC) and Athanasia Sevastaki (North Belfast Harriers) should also run well.  Other Northern Ireland based athletes to look for include Anne Killen (Unattached), Claire Duffield (Unattached), Sharon Williamson (Kernan RC), Natalie Bowbanks (Unattached), Cara Hamilton (North Down AC), Helena Dornan (Ballycastle Runners), Gillian Abraham (Unattached) and Paula McKibbin (Murlough AC).