Weekend Preview: Local athletes aim for Commonwealth Games marathon standard in Berlin and more…


Weekend Preview:  Causeway Coast to Berlin!

Another weekend is upon us and it’s a significant one for Northern Ireland’s marathon runners – the Berlin Marathon will provide pretty much the final opportunity for anyone hoping to achieve the Commonwealth Games 2018 marathon standard; the qualification window closes on 1st October 2017.

On that basis, four local athletes will be chasing the Gold Coast standard in Germany and they are sure to be joined by many more familiar faces on the start line.

Locally, things are now gearing towards the upcoming cross country scene – but there is still some excellent events to look forward too before the Athletics NI XC League kicks off for another season.  Most notably, hundreds of athletes will descend on the stunning Causeway Coast for 26extreme’s Causeway Coast Marathon events.

The 26extreme Causeway Coast Marathon Events and the Berlin Marathon will form the basis of our weekend preview, but of course, we’ll give a mention to any other races taking place this weekend.  Not forgetting, Northern Ireland’s newest parkrun will be held in Castlewellan Forest Park – this brings the number of parkruns in NI to 25.

26extreme Causeway Coast Marathon Events:

On Saturday 23rd September 2017, well over one thousand competitors will descend on Northern Ireland’s stunning North Coast and in particular, the area around the Giants Causeway, for the 26extreme Causeway Coast Marathon Series.

The event will offer competitors a variety of races, including a 40 mile Ultra, a Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k, all of which will cover extremely scenic courses.

The action will kick off at 7.15am, when the hardy ultra-runners begin their 40 mile journey from Portstewart to Ballintoy and back to the finish line in Portballintrae.  The scenic route will take competitors along the Causeway Coast Way, past some of the most beautiful scenery in the world!

Well-respected ultra-runners Nicki McPeake (Unattached) and Ron Peacock (Unattached) will play a major part in proceedings.  The endurance specialists will be joined on the start line by Thomas Craig (Larne AC), Michael Cultra (East Down AC) and Jonathan Gibson (Unattached).  In the ladies race, AAI National 24-hour medallist Louise Smartt (County Antrim Harriers) should dominate – however, Helena Dornan (Springwell Running Club) will be hot on her heals.

The Marathon event will start at 9.30am in Portballintrae and will take the athletes along the coast to Ballintoy, where they will turn and make their way back towards the atmospheric finish in Portballintrae.

Andy Guy (East Coast AC), Mark Alexander (Ballymena Runners), Drew Fowler (Ballydrain Harriers), Phelim McAllister (Larne AC) and Mark Jordan (East Coast AC) should all place well, while Northern Ireland international Gillian Wasson (Ballymena Runners) should claim the ladies top prize; Gillian will finish well up the field overall.  Her club mate, Ruth Aiken (Ballymena Runners), will also be worth watching.

Participants also have the choice of the 13.1 mile Half Marathon (12.30pm), which will see the athlete’s race from Ballintoy to Portballintrae.  The ladies race looks as if it will be a close encounter, with Elizabeth Wheeler (Unattached), Sarah Steer (Orangegrove AC) and Eileen Stevenson (St Peter’s AC) likely to contest the first place.

The 10k race, which starts close to Dunseverick (at 2.30pm), is the final event of the day and takes competitors along the coastal path to the finish at Portballintrae.  Mourne Runners’ Joanne Graham, a consistently impressive performer, is due to compete in this event.

Berlin Marathon:  NI quartet aim for CWG qualifying standard…

Four Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games hopefuls will be amongst tens of thousands of competitors taking on the 44th BMW Berlin Marathon in Germany this weekend (Sunday 24thSeptember 2017).

Olympians Kevin Seaward (St Malachy’s AC / Andrew Hobdell) and Breege Connolly (City of Derry AC / Donie Walsh), Commonwealth Games athlete Gladys Ganiel O’Neill (North Belfast Harriers / Matt Shields) and Belfast City Marathon winner Laura Graham (Mourne Runners / Ryan Maxwell) will all set out with the intention of dipping under the required standard, which is 2:16:30 for men and 2:37:00 for the ladies.

The course is notoriously fast – seven of the top ten best ever official marathon times have been recorded on it.  Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto holds the current men’s world record with a 2:02:57 in 2014 (Berlin).  This year, Eluid Kipchoge (Kenya), who was part of the Nike Sub2 attempt, and ran an incredible 2:00:25, has openly stated that his intention is to break the world record.  The local stars will be hoping to get dragged along by the wave of support around the aforementioned record breaking attempt.

School teacher Kevin Seaward has bettered the 2:16:30 standard previously – he ran 2:14:52 here in 2015, which ultimately sent him on his way to the Rio 2016 Olympics.  Kevin missed the Gold Coast standard by 38 seconds earlier this year when he clocked 2:17:08 in London.  Since then he has impressed with personal bests over 10 miles (50:13) and 13.1 miles (1:04:51) which bodes well going into this weekend.

Fellow Rio Olympian Breege Connolly has a personal best of 2:37:24, which is from the London Marathon back in 2015.  The Spartan athlete has also run 2:39:27 (London 2013) for the classic distance.  Recently, Breege has recorded three 58 minute timings over 10 miles – she won the Trim 10 in 58:26, the Mullingar 10 in 58:44 and the Jude Gallagher 10 in 58:52.

Belfast based Gladys Ganiel O’Neill represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games back in 2014 (Glasgow) where she claimed an excellent 12th place in 2:40:29. Back in 2012, Gladys ran 2:39:26 in Berlin, so she knows the course well.  Since then the North Belfast Harriers athlete has run an impressive 2:38:47 over 26.2 miles in Seville.  Last month, Gladys was crowned the AAI National Half Marathon Champion after winning the Rock N’Roll Half Marathon in 1:17:07.

Belfast City Marathon winner and current AAI National Marathon Champion Laura Graham is the only one of the quartet who has not previously donned an international vest.  However, that takes nothing away from the Kilkeel woman’s obvious talent – she captured the attention and the imagination of the province in 2016 when she slashed her marathon personal best from 2:48:03 to 2:41:54 to secure National gold; this propelled Laura to a new level.

Laura’s potential was further emphasised with a famous victory at this year’s Belfast City Marathon.  Laura covered the tough Belfast route in 2:41:46, a personal best – this was just eight days after the Mourne Runners star had run 2:42:38 at the London Marathon. This term, Laura has run personal bests over 13.1 miles (1:16:59 at the Larne Half Marathon) and 10 miles (58:50 at the Frank Duffy 10).

Hundreds, if not thousands, of other local athletes will also be travelling to the German capital, all with their own hopes and expectations for the event.   Live tracking will be available HERE on race day.

Other competitive events taking place in Northern Ireland this weekend:

Sunday 24th September 2017:

  •  Cavehill 5 mile Race – Cavehill Country Park, Belfast – 11am
  •   Darragh Cross 10k – Darragh Cross GAC Clubrooms – 12pm


Events taking place outside Northern Ireland this weekend:

Cross-border club Lifford Strabane AC will host their Riverine 10k road race in County Donegal (Ireland) this weekend (Sunday 24th September 2017).  The event, which starts at 11am, is part of the Donegal Grand Prix Series and will undoubtedly attract a plethora of talent from Northern Ireland.

In Dublin, a host of familiar faces will be in action at the SSE Airtricity Dublin City Half Marathon(Saturday 23rd September 2017), the penultimate race of the ongoing Dublin Marathon Series.

Northern Ireland based athletes have enjoyed success at the Series events thus far, with local ladies Gladys Ganiel O’Neill (North Belfast Harriers) and Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) winning the Fingal 10k and Frank Duffy 10 respectively; both Gladys and Laura are Berlin bound (see separate section of preview).

Several of the #DreamRunDublin team, a group coached by Olympian Paul Pollock, will be taking part in the event.  Six of the team raced Belfast City Half Marathon last weekend, with five claiming new personal bests.  This will surely motivate Paul Curley (North Belfast Harriers), Denise Logue (Ballydrain Harriers), Tara Malone (1Zero1) and Jonathan Little (1Zero1) as they take to the start line.

Gideon Kipsang (Derry Track Club) and Stephen Scullion (Clonliffe Harriers), the men who contested the Belfast City Half Marathon last weekend, taking first and second place respectively, may also make the journey. Other local athletes taking part include Simon Reeve (North Belfast Harriers) and Stephen Walker (North Belfast Harriers).


This week, Northern Ireland welcomes its twenty fifth parkrun, with the addition of the Castlewellan parkrun which will take place in Castlewellan Forest Park, starting at 9:30am (at the Lakeside Car Park). For more information on parkrun events in Northern Ireland, or to locate your nearest event, please visit our dedicated ‘parkrun’ section within our fixtures page.