Over 15,000 competitors will take to the streets of Belfast this May Day Bank Holiday (Monday 1st May 2017) for the 36th annual Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon and associated Team Relay and Marathon Walk events.
The biggest sporting event in the Northern Ireland calendar has again lived up to expectations with some 2,600 taking on the 26.2 mile race and another massive entry of nearly 2,000 five person relay teams, many of whom will be raising funds for this year’s official charity Mencap.
The marathon will kick off at Belfast City Hall and take in an undulating course that will see athletes make their way to the finish line in Ormeau Park, via East, North, West and South Belfast, as well as a section in Newtownabbey.
Hoping to lead the way will be 2016 podium finisher Dan Tanui, a Kenyan born athlete who is a member of the Project Africa Athletics team. Twelve months ago, Dan formed part of a leading trio until mile twenty-three, when fellow countryman Joel Kositany surged clear to win in 2:17:39 – Dan recorded 2:18:46 for 3rd place, finishing a mere three seconds behind another Kenyan, Eric Koech (2:18:43).
31 year old Dan (pictured right) will face tough opposition in the form of fellow Kenyan Bernard Riotich. Bernard has a 26.2 mile personal best of 2:10:18, which he set in Frankfurt back in 2010 – however, despite a 2:10:51 for 2nd place at the Brighton Marathon in 2013, he has never really shown that same form. Three years ago (2014), Bernard narrowly missed a podium place in Belfast, when taking 4th place in 2:23:29.
Another Kenyan to look out for is Hillary Chirchir, who won the North London Half Marathon (2015) in 1:05:35; he has also run 30:34 for 10k. Ebrahim Abdulaziz (Norway) impressed with a 2:16:53 finish at the Berlin Marathon in 2016 and will feature prominently at the front if he gets close that that time. Hungarian athlete Tomas Nagy, who boasts a marathon best of 2:22:49, will return to Belfast and will hope to produce the same level of performance that led him to a podium place in 2015 – that day he recorded 2:24:19.
Mountain runner Lajos Berec (Hungary) has the strength to take on the Belfast course and could therefore provide some competition for the aforementioned elite contenders, particularly if he gets close to his 2:20:55 personal best. Moroccan duo Mostafa Channi and Abdelhadi El Mouaziz will also start and both will play a part at the front. Mostafa has claimed two 5th place finishes in Belfast previously and will be hoping to improve on this and his 2:25:07 best for the course. Meanwhile, Abdelhadi is an excellent addition to the line-up, with a personal best of 2:12:45 (2007); his most recent outing was a 2:20:19 for 13th place at the Seville Marathon in February (2017).
Local athlete Stephen Scullion (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC) narrowly missed the IAAF World Championships and Commonwealth Games standard with a 2:17:59 finish at the London Marathon last weekend. The Northern Ireland man will start here and depending on his recovery post London, should perform well; he will claim the top prize for first place Northern Ireland runner. Like Stephen, Scotland’s Kyle Greig was in competition in London last week – he ran 2:29:54 and anything around that time in Belfast will see the Aberdeen man finish well inside the top ten.
There will be an abundance of local talent vying for the generous prize-fund on offer to local finishers, with Joe McKevitt (Slieve Gullion Runners), Don Travers (Newry City Runners), Aaron Woodman (PACE Running Club), Tommy Hughes (Termoneeny Running Club) and Kent Swann (North Belfast Harriers) likely to be amongst those challenging for a top three local finish.
Kenyan pair Pamela Jelimo Kosgei and Salome Jepkoech Kimutai, and Olympian Els Rens will be the athletes to beat in the ladies race, which should be an exciting affair with local hero Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) named on the elite list.
Pamela has run 32:32 (2006) for 10k and 2:39:50 (2014) for 26.2 miles – she has also performed well over shorter distances, with a 1500m best of 4:11 (2006) and 3,000m best of 9:06.01 (2008). Els has a marathon personal best of 2:38:16 (2015) and recorded 2:45:52 at the Olympic Games in Brazil last year (2016). Interestingly, Salome has bettered both Pamela’s and Els’ marathon times with a 2:38:27 clocking, but this was back in 2010. There is no recent evidence of similar performances, despite this, the Kenyan will be considered as a contender.
AAI National Marathon and Marathon Champion Laura Graham has caught the imagination of the province with her rise through the ranks and humble nature; this was evident in Belfast last May when the crowds roared Laura to runners up spot behind Berhan Gebremichael (Ethiopia) – the Kilkeel based athlete, who had completed London Marathon a week earlier, closed a significant early gap to thirty seconds, crossing the line in 2:48:56. Following Belfast Marathon in 2016, Laura went on to secure the National Marathon title in Dublin (October 2016), running 2:41:56, a new personal best.
Again, the Mourne Runners star will go into Belfast Marathon just one week after competing at the London Marathon, were she recorded 2:42:38. Laura has focused on recovery this week and has made her desire to toe the line in Belfast very clear, explaining that running on home soil means everything. If Laura was to seal victory, she would be the first local lady to win the Belfast Marathon since 1999, which would be an incredible achievement.
Radka Churanova (Czech Republic), a third-place finisher here in 2016, will also return and will be high in confidence following an easy victory at the Kuwait Marathon in January – she ran 2:50:58 for the win. Hungarian athletes Agnes Kiss and Vera Gulyas, who hold personal bests of 2:44:17 and 2:55:37 respectively, also add depth to the ladies field.
A number of local ladies will also be chasing personal bests and the prestige of finishing within the top three Northern Ireland finishers. Current AAI National 24hr Champion Louise Smart (County Antrim Harriers) will be amongst those, as will Louise Smith (North Belfast Harriers), Suzanne Higgins (Lagan Valley AC), Fiona Prue (Ballydrain Harriers), Amanda Perry (Ballydrain Harriers) and Karen McLaughlin (Springwell Running Club).