Weekend Preview: AES Larne Half Marathon takes centre stage…

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Weekend Preview:  AES Larne Half Marathon takes centre stage…

This weekend brings one of the headline events of the local running calendar, the long established and well supported AES Larne Half Marathon.

Since it’s early beginnings back in 1993, when Greg Luke (North Belfast Harriers) and Larne’s own Bernie McAllister (City of Lisburn AC) led the 157 athletes home, the race has grown enormously – this weekend… a record 2,000 athletes will take to the start line.

Already, in this introduction, you’ll maybe have noticed some bias towards the event – that’s because our core team are from Larne and although we are not directly involved in the event, we are very proud that it is our home town half!

Given its significance, the AES Larne Half Marathon will be the focus of our preview, but there are other events taking place this weekend.

The re-scheduled Jimmy’s 10k will attract approximately 1,000 people and the Washingbay Green Run Events (HM, 10k & 5k) should prove popular.

There is also the latest round of the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) Championship, The Fallows Mountain Race.

We’ll provide a list of all local events taking place this weekend.

Outside Northern Ireland, there will be a huge interest in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, which take place in Valencia (Spain) – five NI athletes are in the Ireland team.

Also, a strong Northern Ireland contingent will travel to the Irish Life AAI National Juvenile Indoor Championships in Athlone, Ireland.

AES Larne Half Marathon 2018:

A record breaking field of 2,000 athletes will take on the 26th annual AES Larne Half Marathon this weekend (Saturday 24th March 2018).

Attracting participants from around the world, the Larne Athletic Club hosted event covers a stunning 13.1 mile coastal route and is part of the prestigious Pure Running Half Marathon Series.

Rio Olympian and two time winner of the Larne Half Marathon, Breege Connolly (City of Derry AC), will headline the star-studded capacity field.  The Northern Ireland and Ireland international, who ran 2:44:41 over marathon distance at the Olympics, clocked a personal best of 1:16:19 when winning the Larne Half Marathon in 2015.  Breege also won the event back in 2009, running 1:22:53.

Breege is in good form going into the event, having won the Altamuskin 5 mile road race in 29:16 last weekend; this was enough for the Spartan athlete to claim 2nd place overall.

Another former Champion in Larne, Fiona Stack (Raheny Shamrock AC), will provide good competition for Breege.  In 2014, the well-known Irish athlete claimed victory in 1:19:24.

Both ladies will need to be in good form if they want to fend off a strong field, which includes Northern Ireland international, Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers), a podium finisher in Larne last year.

Experienced distance runners Louise Smith (North Belfast Harriers), Suzanne Higgins (Lagan Valley AC), Diane Watson (City of Lisburn AC), Susan Smyth (Dromore AC) and Beverley Mitchell (Albertville Harriers) will also be vying for a podium place.

Spectators will also be able to catch a glimpse of former AAI National 24-hour Champion Louise Smart (County Antrim Harriers), who was this week named on Ireland’s team for the upcoming European 24-hour Championships.  Larne AC’s own Patricia Blair should lead the local contingent home.

Foyle Valley AC’s Keith Shiels will head the challenge for top honours in the men’s race.  Given his personal best of 1:09:32 for the distance, it’s hard to see anyone beating the North West based athlete to the picturesque Promenade finish line.

However, with Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers) and Mark Long (City of Derry AC) also in the line up, nothing is guaranteed.  The classy pair will be chasing Keith all the way, and their recent form looks good – Neill claimed a runners up spot at the SSE Airtricity 10 mile road race in 53:44, while Mark, who boasts a 13.1 mile personal best of 1:12:39, helped his City of Derry AC team to a memorable win at the NI & Ulster Senior XC Championships earlier this month.

Interestingly, Mark will travel from his Newcastle-Upon-Tyne base for the event and is keen to record a personal best after the Reading Half Marathon, which he was set to race, was cancelled at the weekend.

The aforementioned trio will be joined on the Tower Road start line by North Belfast Harriers men Joe Malone, Philip Goss and Andrew Considine, who will all play a part at the front.  The same can be said for Ballymena Runners athlete Ben Morrow, who will return from warm weather training in Kenya for the event.  Stephen Wylie (Victoria Park & Connswater AC) and Don Travers (Newry City Runners) will also be worth watching.

Northern Ireland international mountain runner Timothy Johnston (Mourne Runners), Slieve Gullion Runners star Joe McKevitt and triathlete Rhodri Jones (Springwell Running Club) will all battle for a high placing.  In the race for the first local finisher, Larne AC’s David Noble should feature.

Jimmy’s 10k Road Race:

On Sunday 25th March 2018, a field of approximately 1,000 runners will take to the start line of the Jimmy’s 10k road race, a well-organised event hosted by East Down AC.

The event, which offers a generous and extensive prize-fund, is part of the Novosco 10k Grand Prix 2018.

The race was originally meant to be last weekend, but unfortunately overnight snow made the course unsafe for athletes and vehicles – it was therefore postponed.  It was an encouraging sign this week when the local running community came together to support the organisers after some distasteful comments towards volunteers following the announcement of the new date – this has enhanced the community feel around the race and it’s sure to be an electric atmosphere – even better than normal!

Several of the high profile names we mentioned last weekend, such as Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers), Joe McKevitt (Slieve Gullion Runners), Russell Hughes (Willowfield Harriers) and Gary Morrow (Willowfield Harriers) may be absentees given their commitments in Larne less than 24 hours earlier.  However, this is yet to be confirmed, and a potential starter is 2017 runner up Chris Madden (City of Lisburn AC).

Chris recorded 31:47 at the event last year and after his impressive outing at the Queen’s 5k on Wednesday night, where he ran 15:14, the City of Lisburn AC star looks to be in form to challenge for honours once again.  Also in the line up is East Down AC’s Aaron McGrady, who will travel from England to compete – he’ll be a popular winner if he breaks the tape!  Newcastle AC’s David McNeilly could also start.

In the ladies race, North Down AC’s Rachel Gibson and Sarah Lindsay may toe the line.  Rachel, who finished in third place here last year, ran a personal best of 17:13 at the Queen’s 5k this week and would start as the pre-race favourite if she turned out for the event.  Meanwhile, club mate Sarah has been in exceptional form this year, playing a major part in several of North Down AC’s team victories, whilst also improving her own personal bests.

Talented QUB AC athlete Sinead Sweeney is another potential starter, while Northern Ireland veteran international Tracey Atkinson (Albertville Harriers) will play a part at the front.

Other events taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend…

Saturday 24th March 2018:

  • The Fallows Mountain Race: Kilbroney Forest, Rostrevor – 11am (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!) *Click HERE for important information*
  • Washingbay Half Marathon, 10k & 5k: Ballybeg Road, Coalisland – 10.30am (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)

Sunday 25th March 2018:

  • Lavey Girls 5k: 60 Quarry Road, Magherafelt – 1.30pm (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)
  • Castlewellan Spring Lakes 10k & 5k Challenge – Castlewellan GAC Club Rooms – 1pm (Entries AVAILABLE on race day!)

Events taking place outside Northern Ireland this weekend…

IAAF World Half Marathon Championships (Valencia, Spain) – compiled for use by Athletics NI:

Five runners from Northern Ireland will represent Ireland at this weekend’s IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain (Saturday 24th March 2018).

Paul Pollock (Annadale Striders / Andrew Hobdell), Kevin Seaward (St Malachy’s AC / Andrew Hobdell), Stephen Scullion (Clonliffe Harriers / Stephen Haas), Laura Graham (Mourne Runners / Ryan Maxwell) and Fionnuala Ross (Armagh AC / Dermot Kerr) will all be hoping to impress on what has been described as a flat and flat urban course around Spain’s third largest City.

Commonwealth Games bound Paul Pollock has recorded his two fastest 13.1 mile times at IAAF World Half Marathon Championship events, running 1:02:09 in Copenhagen in 2014 and 1:02:46 in Cardiff in 2016.  Earlier this year, the Olympian clocked 1:05:40 in Barcelona.

Fellow Team NI athlete and Olympian Kevin Seaward goes into the Championships having enjoyed an excellent 29:36 personal best outing at the Telford 10k in January (2018).  In 2017, Kevin ran a personal best of 1:04:51 at the Newark Half Marathon.

Clonliffe Harriers athlete Stephen Scullion goes into the event in arguably the best form, given his 1:03:16 personal best at the Houston Half Marathon in January (2018).  This was a notable performance in Stephen’s return to his best – the first sign of this was 28:58 10,000m in Portland in 2017.  He also ran 2:17:59 over marathon distance in London last year (2017).

Current AAI National Marathon Champion and winner of the Belfast Marathon in 2017, Laura Graham, also goes into the Championships in good form, following a 1:15:15 personal best at the Big Half in London earlier this month.  The Northern Ireland international, who will make her Ireland debut this weekend, narrowly missed a qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games marathon, when running a massive personal best of 2:37:05 at the Berlin Marathon at the end of 2017.

Fionnuala Ross is another athlete who is in top form.  After making her Ireland debut at the European XC Championships in December (2017), Fionnuala has impressed over the country and on the roads.  The Armagh AC and Shettleston Harriers athlete won the Scottish Inter-District XC title and claimed a top ten finish at the Antrim International, where she represented Northern Ireland.  Fionnuala’s 13.1 mile personal best is 1:14:26, set at the Great Scottish Half Marathon in 2017 – this followed a 10k personal best of 33:57 at the Stirling 10k a month earlier.

The local athletes will also be joined on the team by Kevin Dooney (Raheny Shamrock AC), Sergiu Ciobanu (Clonliffe Harriers), Lizzie Lee (Leevale AC), Laura Shaughnessy (DSD AC) and Claire McCarthy (Leevale AC).

Respected Northern Ireland based coach Richard Rodgers will be the Ireland Team Manager for the event.

The full Ireland team for the event is available below:

Men Coach Club
Stephen Scullion Stephen Haas Clonliffe Harriers AC
Kevin Dooney Jerry Kiernan Raheny Shamrock AC
Kevin Seaward Andy Hobdell St Malachy’s AC
Paul Pollock Andy Hobdell Annadale Striders
Sergiu Ciobanu Jerry Kiernan Clonliffe Harriers AC
Women Coach Club
Lizzie Lee Donie Walsh Leevale AC
Laura Shaughnessy Terry McConnon DSD AC
Fionnuala Ross Dermot Kerr Armagh AC
Claire McCarthy Ronan Boland Leevale AC
Laura Graham Ryan Maxwell Mourne Runners

Irish Life AAI National Juvenile Indoor Track & Field Championships (Athlone, Ireland) – compiled for use by Athletics NI:

Outside Northern Ireland, a large number of local athletes will travel to the AIT Arena in Athlone for Day 3 of the Irish Life AAI National Juvenile Indoor Track & Field Championships (Sunday 25th March 2018).

Commonwealth Youth Games competitor Anna McCauley (City of Lisburn AC) and Juvenile Indoor medallists from last weekend, Riona Doherty (Finn Valley AC), Finn O’Neill (City of Derry AC) and Tony Craig (Lagan Valley AC) will lead the hunt for honours.

Jordan Cunningham (City of Lisburn AC), Oisin Duffy (City of Derry AC), Boyd Russell (Olympian YC) and Cait O’Reilly (Annalee AC) should also be amongst the medal contenders.

A provisional entry list and timetable for the event is available HERE.

Parkrun:

As always, Northern Ireland’s twenty-five parkrun events will take place this weekend, for more information on these, or to locate your nearest event, please visit our dedicated ‘parkrun’ section within our fixtures page.