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As I didn’t get into London, I chose Belfast as an alternative, partly because I used to live there, but also because when I last did this race, ten years ago, I liked it a lot. But let’s consider this race on its own merits.
Belfast is a great city. True, it doesn’t have the elegance of Dublin or the endless variety of London but it is intriguing and has a beauty of its own, born of its industrial past. It’s small but still feels like a proper city and the same is true of the marathon.
Only about 3,500 people do the full marathon but about 20,000 enter the 5-leg team relay, so you always feel part of a big city event. The race starts at 9am, outside the magnificent City Hall, built in 1906 as a confident expression of wealth, industrial power and, it has to be said, Imperial Britishness. It then heads out of the city towards Holywood Road and returning via Sydenham, with its loyalist murals and views of the historic Harland and Wolff shipyard, birthplace of the Titanic. It returns to the city, West Belfast and republican murals. As it progresses to the Shankhill the murals may change but the warmth of the reception never does. The people of Belfast seem to regard the marathon as an expression of civic pride which gives the whole day a festive feel.After a steady climb up the Antrim Road you reach the highest point at about the half way mark. Then you turn a corner to stunning views of Belfast Lough and a nice downhill run. Belfast is not a p.b. course. But do you always want a marathon to be dead flat? As I ran down towards Gideons Green I may not have been particularly fast but I felt as if I was flying, exhilarated in the warm sunshine and carried along by the support. The long flat run along the cycle path by the Lough’s edge is the beginning of quiet miles where few people live. Belfast always had this. Stretches of its industrial and commercial heart which make for a flat course but, by mile 20, you are longing for a bit of support. But after that it comes in by the lorry load as you approach the last relay changeover.
The finish is in the lovely Ormeau Park and our walk back to the hotel took us past a nice Victorian pub, the Hatfield, with ice cold Magners cider demanding my attention. The Hatfield sits on the Lower Ormeau Road, at one time a very republican area. And here is the point. Peace is here to stay. The welcome and friendliness is fantastic, whatever the colour of the flags or kerbstones.
My only criticisms are that there are not enough loos at the start, so a city centre hotel is very useful. Mercifully, there are many to choose from to suit all budgets. Also, the drinks stations serve up water and Poweraid in wee paper cups and, at times, the fantastic volunteers struggled to keep up with demand, on what must have been one of the warmest days of the year.
The men’s race was won, with a new course record, by Jacob Kipkorir of Kenya in 2:14:56. The Ukraine’s Vera Ovcharuk won the women’s race in 2:46:04 but for me the most incredible performance was by the Olympic walker, Colin Griffin, who completed the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 19 minutes and 28 seconds! What could he do if he ran it?!
Me? I finished in 3:43:45 and enjoyed every minute of it.