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Mark Robson:  African Ultra Horror... 'Addo Elephant Ultra-Trail 2017'

Most of us Northern Irelander's know Mark Robson as a broadcaster for Sky Sports, BBC, UTV and many other notable organisation.  Mark has a very reputable history in sport and his recognisable tones can be heard on the commentary of many Ulster Rugby matches, amongst other things, which includes the commentary on the Garmin Mourne Skyline Mountain Trail Race on Channel 4 in 2016.  


I remember one comment in particular, referring to the course profile and unhappy Cardiologists; Mark has always been a quick thinking witty Chap!  In his youth (not that long ago......) Mark presented a BBC Sports review wearing a smart shirt and tie....and rugby shorts, having went straight to the studio from a match, thankfully the camera stayed above waist level! Mark once told the Celebrity Tennis Star Anna Kournikova that her serve was 'falling apart', that went down well (as quick as her microphone, when she stormed out of the interview..).


Away from work and Rugby, Mark's passion is walking, and he has pursued any opportunity to explore his local hills, the Mourne Mountains. Beyond that, he has traveled all over the world and has many stories to tell.  In interesting man, if he would settle for some coffee (or beer).


In recent years Mark has leapt into Mountain and Fell Running and now, with an element of middle aged madness, he has more than just dipped his toes into Ultra Distance events.  I am sure you will find this article about the 50 Mile Trail Ultra in the roasting Zuuberg Mountains (near Port Elizabeth, South Africa) as interesting as I did.  Enjoy...


The Zuurberg Mountains - Setting for the Addo Elephant Park Ultra-Trail 2017:

They didn’t mention the snakes when I paid my entry. Well they wouldn’t would they. They did in the final instructions. Listing the ones we might meet on the trail. The ones that can kill you. Hissssssss ! Cape Cobra, Boomslang (Male and Female – nastier bite from the ladies apparently – surely not !) and the good old Puff Adder.


Most snakes scarper when larger mammals approach but not Puff the Magic Dragon. He lies there, cleverly camouflaged, and waits for you to stand on him or generally irritate him. The bite can kill you or lead to massive inflammation and loss of fanged body part. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to take a dump in the bush. The thought of two prongs in the nuts and then having to watch them turn into fleshy basketballs. Followed by death probably. This wasn’t going to be a Hill and Dale.

 

The race was the 50 mile version of the Addo Elephant Park Trail Race. 8,000 feet of climbing included. The route was through the Zuurberg Mountains scene of a famous massacre of the British troops during the Boer War. Apparently the stench of rotting corpses was horrific. I wondered what I’d smell like after a few days dead with melons for testicles.  There were two shorter races and a beastly 100 miler for Broadmoor escapees. Location an hour North of Port Elizabeth in the thickest African Bush on the Eastern Cape. A “friend” thought it would be a good idea for a first Ultra. What are friends for? Killing is the answer.

The organisers emailed to say they would endeavour to keep the predatory animals in the park well away from the runners. ENDEAVOUR ! Now there’s a word. 


“Excuse me Mr. Lion there’s a race on do you mind feasting elsewhere” In the small print they said you were not allowed to wear headphones during the event so you could be aware in the “Unlikely event of disturbing a dangerous animal” I felt a bowel movement and I hadn’t even left for SA yet. I suspected those Puff Adders were going to get loads of opportunities to taste Irish bollock.


The advice was to train appropriately to attempt to replicate the potential conditions of a race in a Safari Park in the African summer so I cleverly did the opposite by packing in a winter of peat plodding in the icy Mournes with the patient Ultra king Greg McCann giving me plenty of great advice. Like “Have you ever thought of having yourself sectioned”


Race week arrived and a heat wave was forecast. How happy was I ? The average temperature on race day was 100 degrees Fahrenheit but in the well named Valley of Tears it reached 120. That’s where Jan Smuts of Boer fame slaughtered the Brits. It nearly slaughtered me. Even after sunset the lowest temperature was 82F. That acclimatisation training in the week before I left in that snowstorm on the summit of Donard would surely work to my advantage.


My 50 miler started early…. before sunrise. I was staying at a nearby Game Lodge and headed to my car early doors. There was a Zebra standing right beside it. It saw me … farted loudly … and bolted. To be fair that’s the way most mammals react when they first meet me. The race began at 0530 just before the African dawn. It was so romantic I almost kissed myself. And we were off. 81 of us. I was the only Irishman. I didn’t really have to tell you that did I?


The sun came up fast, as it does on the equator, and we faced just short of 12 hours of baking heat. It was a heat that just totally enveloped you. Crushed you. Smothered you. Burnt your soul. I had this feeling that God had placed a super heated concrete block on my head and was trying to drive me into the baked African dirt. God, to give him credit, was well within his rights. I’ve been a sinner.  There were checkpoints every 6 miles or so. All of them well stocked with loads of goodies including boiled salted spuds. Didn’t they realise this would give an Irishman an unfair advantage? 


Like Lance Armstrong on EPO. Before the race my lovely chum Oonagh Hunter, herself a noted trail athlete, a multiple completer of the three day AfricanX and an Ironman (Woman) as well, had arranged coffee with her old school chum SA Ultra star Linda Doke who had raced on the same Salomon team as Kilian Jornet.


Linda inspired me with a personal experience from the 2016 100 mile race – which she won. At night in the pitch black of the bush she spotted a large dark patch on the trail. Not being able to identify what is was with the narrow beam of her headtorch Linda ran round it. Turned out it was a pool of fresh blood. The result of a Leopard kill. It had leapt from the bush and pulled a Buck to its death. The kill had been witnessed by runners ahead. Thanks Linda. Another bowel movement.

But there were also bundles of rather more invigorating advice from Linda. Hydrate like a madman, take regular salt tablets, eat real food at the stops and use the gels as emergency boosts. 


Keep the electrolyte levels high. Dip your wrists .. in fact as many body parts as possible … during the multiple river crossings. But don’t moon at the Hippos … apparently that makes them very cross. And they drown you. More advice: Get the aid station volunteers to pour water over you at the checkpoints. 


Keep cap and neck buff as damp as possible. Be strict with your pace. Slow and steady. Shame that last bit as I’d planned to sprint the whole way.


Despite the quality briefing I was really struggling not long after the half way point. I think I was showing the first symptoms of heatstroke. Dizzy. Skullcrushing headache. Nausea. One lad collapsed unconscious on the trail. Luckily there was a Doctor, a fellow runner, in the following group. The Doc stabilised him and a Medic arrived. By now ten runners had dropped out. I was stuffed and feeling very lonely. Then I heard footsteps behind me. I’m not last ! What a boost. Turned out it was the race sweepers … or Grim Reapers as I called them.. Dylan and Misty. Dylan recommended that I pull out at the next checkpoint … number four. He told me I was over an hour behind the next runner and had no chance of making the seven p.m. cut off at checkpoint seven.


I really did think my race was over and at checkpoint four I sat down in the shade of the gazebo and contemplated the horror of failure. Dallas… yes he really was called Dallas… one of the Chief Marshalls repeated what Dylan and Misty had said… but he did add an extra line. I went all Clint Eastwood … it made my day. Dallas said best to stop as the next segment … a three mile long straight uphill section … would be sure to finish me. I sat there thinking “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’m capable of. A steep uphill section ? I’d like to see you slogging up Bernagh in a blizzard. Feeling lucky punk” See … Clint Eastwood. I visualised how Dallas would look locked inside a barrel of Texas oil but by accident I had found a great motivator. Anger. And off I went. 


From some where the strength returned. I imagined being back in the Mournes. Except these Mournes were in a blast furnace. But it was a seminal moment.  After the climb we were on an escarpment and at last there was a breeze. Two undulating sections. I got to checkpoint six. I was bright red and ruptured .. it was still over 100 degrees …. and there he was my nemesis … Dallas…. astride his quad bike like Bruce Willis. “You have an hour to cover the next six miles or you’re out. It’s an hour to the cut off time. You’ll have to shift” I seriously considered ramming my walking poles into as dark a place as my depleted energy stores would have allowed. The anger returned. My feet were by now two slabs of mashed mincemeat. I’d been “powerwalking” – without the power bit – for a long time now. I was now at truffle pig pace.

Dallas had gone on ahead waiting with the Sword of Damocles at checkpoint bleedin Charlie. I wobbled in ten minutes after the cut off. I stared at Dallas almost daring him to pull me out. I had secretly sharpened my walking poles on the sharp scree of the last climb. The Death of Dallas would be a slow and painful one. 


Like a a Matador with a bull I knew exactly where my little spears were going. I think he saw the psycho in the eyes. I think we tight band of Irish fell runners all have the capacity of that look. A subtle mix of determination and madness. Dallas waved me on. He had just saved his own life. (The Dallas bashing is of course for comic affect. 


He was in truth a great lad. Dallas cajoled and encouraged. He kept me moving. Mind you the bit about making me angry. That’s true!).  The final leg. All in the dark. About 8 miles through forested bush. Snake country. Add about a dozen river crossings. The organisers – Beelzebub and Pol Pot presumably – thought it would be fun to save brutality for the finish. There was a fair chunk of climbing too. It took me over three hours to do that relatively short distance. Empty tank. Frightened … I’m not ashamed to admit it. I was stumbling about looking for race route markers. Little orange ribbons hanging from thorn bushes. I joke you not. At least they had tiny reflectors on them. Which helped. But they weren’t easy to pick out. Especially when you had to watch every footstep on rough ground while trying to look up at the same time. The river banks were high above the rivers themselves so one slip and it was a long way down into a watery abyss. And then there’s the chance of your headtorch picking out eyes in the bush. What is it ? A harmless Zebra or one of those bloody Leopards ? In the Mournes you know it’s a sheep or, in the forests, a deer. Scary … it really was. 


After a while I spotted two wee lights through the trees in the distance. I caught them. Two guys in the 100 mile race and, thank the Lord, they were as slow as me. Two Afrikaners and we made the Long Walk to Freedom (had to get that line in) The last couple of miles felt like eternity. The mind was now playing devilish tricks. At one point my fuggish brain convinced me that I would be here for all time. Fumbling from one orange ribbon to the next in the pitch black until the Universe exploded.


Eventually, after, to be precise, several decades the finish inflatable appeared. I wanted to make love to it. I wanted it to have my children. I wanted to include it in my will. 71st and last of the finishers in 16 hours 35 minutes. They talk about emotions at the end of something like this and I know many readers of this blog will have completed many more difficult and challenging races than the Addo Elephant Park Trail Race but only one word had any meaning to me at this stage. Relief. No happiness. No endorphin release. No tears of satisfaction. Just pure relief that the agony and fear had come to an end.


When I look back there were two keys to completion. The anger I talked about … but that lead to a feeling of ownership. If you take ownership of ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING there is a much better chance of success. Own the pain. Own the terrain. Own the race. Own your fear. See everything “negative” as partners on your journey and success will be much more likely. It worked for me. Maybe I’m a little weak. Don’t know. But it was the toughest thing mentally and physically I have ever done. 56 years old and my first Ultra completed. Maybe this wee blog will inspire someone to give it a go or maybe encourage some of you old hands to go for something a little more exotic. Like the risk of death by snakebite or dismemberment by Lion in 100 degree heat in deepest Africa. And meeting Dallas. Think about it. You’ll love it.


FOOTNOTE: Dallas turned out to be a great lad. He was just nudging me along in that South African no mercy way. We even swapped e mail addresses. Buddies now that it’s over. Thanks to to my NLP guru Brendan McCourt. The ownership bit has a lot to do with him. To Karen who got the energy into my body. Brian, the owner of the Kudu Ridge Game Lodge, also became a good friend. We had rugby in common. And finally to Sheena O’Keefe and the organisers for making a brutal event as comfortable as possible. The organisation was spot on and the friendliness of the people was probably the fondest memory.

Belfast stroke survivor encourages runners to support stroke charity:

There are over 1.2 million people in the UK living with the effects of stroke. Stroke Association works directly with stroke survivors and their families and carers, with health and social care professionals and with scientists and researchers.


Like many charities, Stroke Association is reliant on the generosity of the public and therefore need to raise much needed fund through events.  Their Resolution Run caught our attention two years ago, with its fantastic atmosphere and competitive edge. 


In 2017, NiRunning will again be supporting the event.  We're not the only people doing that, stroke survivor Niall Woods is also encouraging runners to come along and support the event on Sunday 26th February 2017.   

Belfast stroke survivor encourages runners to support stroke charity:

South Belfast’s Niall Woods, 27, is encouraging people to sign up to the Stroke Association’s 5k or 10k Resolution Run on February 26 at Queens Sport, Belfast.


Niall had a massive stroke in 2009 when he was only 19. Niall was left completely paralysed and unable to speak. He was in a coma for six months and his prognosis was very poor. Against the odds, and thanks to the incredible support of his loving family, Niall has defied the odds and continues to make good progress in his recovery. He has re-learnt how to walk, talk and swim.


Niall has also received support from the Stroke Association’s Stroke Recovery Coordinator in Belfast, Carmel Lavery and he won the ‘Adult Courage Award’ at the 2016 Northern Ireland Life after Stroke Awards.  Niall said: “When I had my stroke at aged 19, people thought I wouldn’t walk again. I’d gone from being an active guy to feeling like my life had changed forever. Since then I’ve worked hard on my recovery by getting involved in lots of activities such as going to the gym and swimming. Carmel from the Stroke Association has helped me to focus on my goals and believe that there could be life after stroke. That’s why I’m supporting the Resolution Run in Belfast and I’d encourage everyone to get involved to show your support for stroke survivors like me.”


The event is one of 31 fundraising Resolution Runs taking place across the UK this spring. The runs provide the perfect motivation to get in shape after Christmas, while helping to raise vital funds to conquer stroke.  Paul Montgomery, Community Fundraising Manager said: “We’re really happy that Niall has agreed to support our Resolution Run in Belfast. By taking part in our event you’ll be helping to reduce your own risk of stroke while raising awareness and money to support those, like Niall, already affected by stroke.”


At least half of strokes could be prevented if people made simple lifestyle changes, such as keeping blood pressure under control, eating healthily and taking regular exercise. The money raised through the Resolution Run in Belfast will help the Stroke Association to fund vital research and support people affected by stroke across Northern Ireland.


Entry fee is just £15. All runners receive a technical running t-shirt and medal. For more information about entering or volunteering at the Resolution Run, visit www.stroke.org.uk/resolution, email [email protected] or call 0300 330 0740.

Belfast receives IAU World 24hr Championships flag ahead of 2017 event...

Belfast receives World Championships flag:

Belfast has received official blessing as the host city for next summer’s World 24-Hour Running Championships.


At a ceremony during the closing of the European Championships in Albi, southern France, the ‘baton’ was handed over for a Championship that will be staged in Victoria Park on July 1 and July 2 next year.


It is expected that more than 40 nations consisting of the world’s best ultra runners will travel to the city from as far away as New Zealand,Australia and Japan with the biggest contingent expected to come from the USA.


Ed Smith, Chairperson of the Organising Committee, took possession of the World flag from the President of the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU), Dirk Strumane.


During the ceremony he also handed the Belfast shield to  Albi’s representative Didier Thiriot in acknowledgement of their staging of the European Championships.  


Ed Smith says: “I learnt much from just observing at the European Championships. Belfast now has much to live up to in delivering the 12th IAU World 24-Hr Championships. However, I am confident that we have a 1.7K course in Victoria Park that is fast, flat and will present the ultra runners with the best opportunity and some great local support to help  them achieve personal bests.”


IAU President Dirk Strumane says: “Belfast presented us with a convincing bid and we are looking forward to a fruitful  and constructive co-operation.”


Check out the official support video for the event HERE.

Special Monthly Feature:  Local runners set for Rio Olympic Games 2016...

Special Monthly Feature:  Our (Northern Ireland) Olympic heroes are ready for Rio!

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, Saturday 13th August 2016, Ciara Mageean will be the first of five runners from Northern Ireland who represent Team Ireland at the most prestigious sport event in the world, the Olympic Games. 


This year, staged in Rio, Brazil, the event has attracted massive attention and the excitement within the local sporting community is evident as we look forward to seeing familiar faces from our roads and tracks take on the world’s best and ultimately, make their own sport dreams come true.


We therefore felt it fitting that we mark Day 1 of the athletics programme at the Rio Olympics 2016 with this Monthly Feature, which will focus entirely on runners from Northern Ireland.   It must be noted that as well as our own resources, this feature was compiled by using information from various sources, including Athletics Ireland, Athletics NI and www.42.ie


Before we start… GOOD LUCK to everyone representing TEAM IRELAND at the Rio Olympics from the NiRunning Team.

Ciara Mageean


Club:  UCD AC

Event:  1500m

Personal best:  4:06.49

Coach:  Jerry Kiernan


When does she race? Ciara will kick off her Olympic campaign at 00:30hrs (GMT) on Saturday 13th August 2016 (Round 1 of 1500m).  Should Ciara progress, the next rounds will be on Monday 15th August 2016 at 01:30hrs (GMT) and Wednesday 17th August 2016 at 02:20hrs.


Where’s she from? The 24-year-old hails from Portaferry, County Down. She also comes from good sporting stock as her father Chris played inter-county hurling for the Ardsmen.


Interesting Info:  Ciara announced herself as a hot prospect for the future when she won a silver medal over 1500m at the World Junior Athletics Championships in Moncton, Canada in 2010 but injury has curtailed her full development.  However, the physiotherapy graduate has shown flashes of brilliance – most recently, Ciara claimed a bronze medal at the European Athletics Championships in Holland.  She has made her intentions very clear going into the Rio Olympics, telling RTE “I aim to be in the final. I’ll be disappointed if I’m not there. Once I’m there I’m going to my damnedest to do my best for Ireland.”


This high expectation is not unreasonable as it follows her best ever track season culminating in the aforementioned European bronze medal, a first for Northern Ireland.  In the past twelve months, Ciara has also set Northern Ireland records over 800m and 1500m, as well as the Mile (which was also an Irish record).

Kerry O’Flaherty


Club:  Newcastle AC

Event:  3,000m Steeplechase

Personal best:  9:42.61

Coach:  Richard Rodgers


When does she race?  Kerry will kick off her Olympic quest on Saturday 13th August 2016 at 14:40hrs (GMT).  This will be Round 1 of the 3,000m Steeplechase and should Kerry qualify, she’ll be back on the track at 15:15hrs on Monday 15th August 2016 at 15:15hrs (GMT).


Where’s she from?  Kerry is another of our County Down based athletes, living close to Newcastle, the Northern Ireland and Ireland internationally regularly trains in Castlewellan Country Park and around the scenic Murlough Bay area.


Interesting Info:  Kerry is one of Northern Ireland’s most popular athletes.  Running for Newcastle AC from a young age, she gained experience over every terrain, excelling in the 3,000m Steeplechase over the last few years.  Kerry is the Northern Ireland record holder over the (3,000m Steeplechase) distance and has been part of Irish teams that have medalled at the European Cross Country Championships.  This will be Kerry’s Olympic debut, crowning an excellent couple of years, which also saw her take her first bow at the World Athletics Championships.


Like many of the other Team Ireland athletes, Kerry’s home town has bought into her Olympic dream, with many shops displaying ‘Good Luck Kerry’ posters – one shop has even set up a Steeplechase window display use a well-known brand of hoovers… obviously the green colour version of the hoover led the way!

Breege Connolly


Club:  North Belfast Harriers

Event:  Marathon

Personal best:  2:37:29

Coach:  Martin Deane/Paul Elliot


When does she race?  Breege will take to the ladies marathon start line on Sunday 14th August 2016 at 13:30hrs (GMT).


Where’s he from?  Breege is originally from Leitrim, but currently lives in Belfast and works in Newry. 


Interesting Info:  The North Belfast Harriers athlete and Northern Ireland international has come a long way from running purely to make friends and will toe the line in Rio in the marathon by virtue of her excellent run at the London Marathon in the last Olympic year, 2012.  Breege ran her first marathon (Dublin) in 2003, clocking just over the 4-hour mark - it was another nine years, she says, until she ran her first competitive marathon… an inspiring story!


In terms of qualification, some people thought it was a risk for Breege not to follow up her 2:37:29 in 2012 with another marathon – but this proved to be an excellent decision and the down to earth athlete was rewarded with a place on the Team Ireland squad for the Rio. 


After the Rio Olympic dream comes to an end (with hopefully an excellent result!), Breege will continue running – she told www.42.ie, “What I most love is the feeling of fitness. You know when you’re on a long run on a Saturday morning? When you get to 20 or 21 miles, it’s just a lovely feeling where you’ve got this kind of lethargy in you but you just know you can keep going. Nothing can really beat that feeling.”

Kevin Seaward


Club:  St Malachy’s AC

Event:  Marathon

Personal best:  2:14:52

Coach:  Andrew Hobdell


When does he race?  Kevin will join fellow Northern Ireland man and training partner Paul Pollock on the men’s marathon start line on Sunday 21st August 2016 at 13:30hrs (GMT).


Where’s he from?  Kevin is a Belfast native, though he currently works as an assistant head teacher in North West Leicestershire (England).


Interesting Info:  Kevin is the fastest Team Ireland marathon qualifier for Rio with his 2:14:52 in the Berlin Marathon back in September 2015; this is his personal best for the distance.  The school teacher finished in 42nd place at the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March (2016) with a finishing time of 1:05:23.  This will be Kevin’s first time competing in the Olympics.


A pupil at Kevin’s school is also competing at the Games - Lizzie Warner, who competes in archery, is travelling to Rio as part of the British Olympic Association’s Ambition Programme.  Lizzie is a highly promising athlete, having won a bronze medal at The Commonwealth Youth Games.  Also… Dan McLay, who has caught the eye in this year’s Tour de France, is an alumni of the school.

Paul Pollock


Club:  Annadale Striders

Event:  Marathon

Personal best:  2:15:38

Coach:  Andrew Hobdell


When does he race?  Paul will join fellow Northern Ireland man and training partner Kevin Seaward on the men’s marathon start line on Sunday 21st August 2016 at 13:30hrs (GMT).


Where’s he from?  The 30 year old athlete hails from Holywood, County Down, and counts a certain former world number one golfer as an ex-schoolmate.


Interesting Info:  Multi AAI and NI & Ulster title winning athlete Paul Pollock showed great form at the World Half Marathon Championships in March (2016) with a 14th place finish in 1:02:46. The A&E doctor is a training partner of Kevin Seaward and is based in London.  His brother Noel is the head doctor with UK Athletics.  Paul has always made his desire to break the Northern Ireland marathon record clear, could there be a better time to do it?


Records aside, the humble and hard-working athlete will be looking for another strong showing and lead the team to a good finishing position.  Like all of the local athletes, the opportunity to compete at the world’s most prestigious sporting event  means a lot – After receiving the call from Team Ireland, Paul tweeted “A moment of pain, for a lifetime of happiness.”


NOTE:  For a full preview of the entire Team Ireland squad, please check out the Athletics Ireland website HERE.

42.ie talk to Breege Connolly ahead of Rio Olympics 2016:

After years of dedicated training, a number of athletes from Northern Ireland will represent Ireland on the world’s biggest sporting stage, the Olympic Games; which on this occasion, will take place in Rio, Brazil.


In total, there are five runners from Northern Ireland Ireland squad, who are all now in Rio awaiting the Opening Ceremony this week (Friday 5th August 2016).  This week, respected Irish website www.the42.ie featured an interview with Breege Connolly (North Belfast Harriers).


On reading this interesting, informative and inspiring piece… we felt that is was perfect to use it as our Monthly Feature for August, the Olympic month!  So, please read and enjoy…


At 38, 4 years after her first competitive Marathon, Breege Connolly is set for the Olympics:


What make the Olympic Games special, arguably more so than the superstars, are the stories of everyday people who improbably manage to find themselves on the world’s biggest sporting stage.


Over 10,000 athletes will compete in Rio this summer, and the vast majority aren’t global icons and multi-millionaires like Usain Bolt.  Northern Ireland’s Breege Connolly, for instance, when she’s not competing, works as a software tester for the global eCommerce and logistics management company eShopworld.  Unlike many competing at the Games, she hasn’t had the luxury of training and competing full time, although she has at least been given the past two months off to focus on Rio.


For the most part though, Connolly has practiced her running at lunchtime and during weekends as she bids to accommodate training into her normal working life.  It hasn’t always been easy, particularly when it means missing out on family time with her sisters, nieces and nephews.  You can’t ever get time with people back,” she reflects. “It’s a state of consciousness. Those three-hour runs, you’re missing that time with your family. But I suppose it’s a short window, so it’ll be worth it at the end of the day.”


Certainly, her dedication seems to have been worth it of late. Last May, her place in the Rio 2016 Olympics was confirmed. Alongside fellow Irish athletes Lizzie Lee and Fionnuala McCormack, it was officially announced that she would represent Team Ireland in the marathon.  Until recently, Connolly — who will become the fifth Leitrim-born athlete to represent Ireland at the Olympics — barely knew Lee or McCormack.


“A few weeks ago, one of the girls set up a (WhatsApp) group,” she tells The42. “So there’s been a bit of chat on that, a few text messages back and forth.  I haven’t been on an international team with any of these girls before, so it’ll be my first time having that experience, but everyone is lovely. If you go with that attitude, you’ll be fine. There’ll be a team spirit there.”


And while McCormack in particular has a host of accolades to her name amid a distinguished career in athletics, including three golds at the European Cross Country Championships (two individual and one team from 2011 and 2012), a 3000m bronze from the European Indoor Championships and two Olympic Games appearances already (Beijing 2008 and London 2012), it is not the case with Connolly.  Whereas McCormack started with Kilcoole Athletics Club as a seven-year-old and began her international junior career in cross country running in 2001 while still a teenager, Connolly ran her first-ever marathon — the 2003 Dublin City Marathon — at the age of 25, finishing with a time of four hours and one minute.  It would be another nine years, she says, until she ran her first competitive marathon.  “I had joined with my coaches and we had hit a training programme (by then),” she explains.

Before then, running was essentially a hobby and it only became even that after she left the National University in Maynooth and moved to Australia.  “When we were away it was just a method of getting from A to B faster when we didn’t have a car.  That was how I started into the jogging as such.”


After returning to Ireland and moving to Belfast for a job, she joined an athletics club for the first time.  “It was to broaden my circles,” she recalls. “And I would always encourage anybody who goes to a new city to go running.  It’s the best way to meet new people and you’ll click with somebody.  And doing something that I love doing was just the logical option. I suppose I went to races and things came together.  “It just happened and I met the right people at the right time, and things fell into place.”


In addition to Connolly, Fionnuala McCormack and Lizzie Lee will also represent Ireland in the marathon at the Rio Olympics later this month.  But did Connolly ever think she would end up representing Ireland at the Olympics?  It almost felt to me like an unattainable thing. But at a marathon a few years ago, reality struck home, because the standards were set and the Irish girls were getting better.


“They kind of got the domestic marathon scene up and running.  And I love the distance — that was one of the things that probably kept me going with the marathon running.  I do enjoy the training and I enjoy what comes with it.” And while the 38-year-old North Belfast Harriers AC athlete’s overwhelming success may have been somewhat unexpected, she certainly had plenty of time to contemplate at least the possibility that she might be going to the Olympic Games.


Ultimately securing her spot in Rio as the third-fastest qualifier, Connolly’s qualifying time of 2:37:29 was set over a year ago in the London Marathon.  Since then, she has waited patiently as others have tried and failed to eclipse her achievement.  Every time there was another (Irish) girl in a marathon, it was: ‘Will it happen, won’t it happen?’  There was a couple of girls I was heavily focusing on to (potentially) beat my time,” she explains.  “When they ran their marathons and it wasn’t happening, I guess I was getting more hopeful. But until you get the phone call, you never feel like you’re there anyway.  I try not to allow things like anxiety to come into it. You’re dying for it to happen, absolutely, but I made my decision that London was going to be the race that I had picked to target a time. I had to take everything else that comes with it — if a girl beats my time, I had to suck that up.”


Whereas qualifying for the Olympics is special for most athletes, for the people of Kinlough in Leitrim, news of Connolly’s success was a particularly big deal, with a public event arranged to commemorate her achievement.  Those are the sort of things that have given me most of the goosebumps.  I know the Olympics is huge, but they had a night (in Leitrim) a while ago, and the reception I received was really incredible.  “That’s when I thought ‘oh my god, this is absolutely huge’. The kindness and how those people have behaved towards me really epitomised the Olympic spirit. Hopefully, I can return the favour in Rio.”


In addition, several family members, including Connolly’s 79-year-old mother, will travel to Brazil to support her.  The last few weeks have been especially intense. Connolly explains how she has acquired a stark insight into the level of dedication and sacrifice that the likes of McCormack have been adhering to for much longer than she has.  I have a whole new appreciation for what it is to be a full-time athlete for the past two months. It is an amazing commitment, which (Fionnuala McCormack) has done all her life really. I’m looking forward to all of it, yeah.


“I’m getting on grand (with training). I try not to over-analyse it. I approach it every day at a time and try to make every day the best day and just get out as much as I can for a session or a long run.”  And although Connolly admits that part of her is looking forward to emerging from a “bubble” and getting back to normal life once the Rio dream comes to an end, her immense, unrelenting passion for running will continue to remain undimmed thereafter.


“What I most love is the feeling of fitness. You know when you’re on a long run on a Saturday morning? When you get to 20 or 21 miles, it’s just a lovely feeling where you’ve got this kind of lethargy in you but you just know you can keep going. Nothing can really beat that feeling.”

Talented Young NI Athletes make their mark at Euro Youth Championships:

Talented Young NI Athletes make their mark at European Youth Championships in Tibilisi:

Earlier this month (July 2016) four Northern Ireland  athletes travelled with a 31 strong Athletics Ireland team to the inaugural European Youth Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia.


After the event, Athletics NI produced this report on the performances of the up and coming stars, and given it's significance, we felt that it would be appropriate to use this as our 'Monthly Feature'


First up on day one of the four day championships was Kate O’Connor (St Gerard’s AC / Michael O’Connor).


The Dundalk heptathlete put together a string of personal bests and seasons bests with a 0.6 second PB in 100m hurdles and equal PB of 1.73m in high jump being her highest points scorers.  A PB of 12.62m in the shot, followed by a solid 25.58 200m also ensured she began day 2 well inside the top 8.  The Irish School’s long jump and javelin champion showed her pedigree in both events with a 5.62m jump and a season’s best of 43.26m in the javelin. Kate defied the 35 degree heat to run a strong 800m in 2:22.51  to add almost 500 points to her NI U18 record.  With another year as a youth the 15 year old’s 7th place and score of 5559 points looks very promising for the future.  From a field of 30 the heptathlon was eventually won by Alina Shukh with a World U18 best of 6186.


Aaron Sexton (North Down AC / Roger Sexton) safely progressed through his 200m heat as an automatic qualifier and finished 4th in semi-final 3 of the 200m in 21.89. The 16 year old, who was only slightly outside his personal best also has another year as a Youth and will be a strong contender in next year’s world championships or Commonwealth Youth Games. Fellow North Down man Craig McMeechan (Francis Marsh) was in action finishing 10th in 8:37.46 in the boys 3,000m final.  This final was won in an excellent time of 8:09.06 by Elzan Bibic of Serbia. Craig’s time was within 2 seconds of the personal best set this year and he produced a performance to be proud of given his European U18 ranking of 23rd and the temperatures that soared to 33 degrees at times.


Sommer Lecky (Finn Valley AC / Niall Wilkinson) showed her class on day 4 of competition when she automatically qualified for the high jump final with a first time clearance of 1.78m.  In challenging cross winds Sommer (European Youth Olympic Festival Bronze Medallist, 2015) was not able to reproduce the same form  the following day and finished 8th in the girls’ high jump final with a best of 1.70m.


In what was a an excellent championships for Ireland the standout performance came from Gina Apke-Moses who won a silver medal in the girls 100m after a PB of 11.68s in the earlier rounds.   Molly Scott set two new Irish youth records on the way to collecting a bronze medal in the 100m hurdles – her 13.32 in the semi-final was the second fastest time of the championships.


Note:  The above report was compiled entirely by Athletics NI.

NIMRA juniors show that local mountain running is in good hands...

Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) represented at WMRA level:

Last week, a group of junior athletes from Northern Ireland represented the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) at the prestigious 11th International Mountain Running Youth Cup in Janske Lazne, Czech Republic.


The team showed that local mountain running is in good hands going forward, with some impressive results against high level opposition.  Team Manager Phil Hodge and his colleagues worked hard to pull the team together and deserve credit for looking to the future of mountain running in Northern Ireland.  


Phil kindly provided us with the following report on the trip...


11th International Mountain Running Youth Cup in Janske Lazne, Czech Republic:

On Thursday 23rd June 2016 the N.Ireland Youth Team of Scott McKeag, Aaron Harrison, Jack O’Farrell and Ethan Dunn headed to the Czech Republic, to compete in the WMRA World Youth Cup in Mountain Running.


With temperatures in excess of 30 degrees, in the confines of an aging bus, they made the 3-4 hour journey north to Janske Lazne a small town in Krkonose National Park only a few miles from the Polish Border. After some confusion at registration and a hunt for keys to their accommodation, they eventually found their hotel and settled in for the night. Friday greeted us with more heat as we went with the other 17 teams to reece the course. The terrain was very similar to the trial course at Kilbroney, reassuring the team of what to expect. How to cope with the heat however, was more of a concern.


At noon, the same time as the race the next day, their foolhardy team manager ran the course, in conditions that were to be even hotter than race day. This further confirmed the need to stay in the shade as much as possible, especially for race day warm-up the following morning.


Much to the relief of the team and coaches, at a technical meeting it was revealed a second water stop was to be provided at 3.7km in addition to the one at 1.8km. No other water was permitted to be given to runners during the race.  Race day arrived, and after a warm-up in the shade of the forest the lads headed out into the sun for the race start.

After 50m on grass, the race heads up over a steep bridge, followed by a short section of single track and then onto the first climb of the day. The team held back at this stage, which showed their maturity and settled into their pace, slowly working their way past runners who were suffering from, going out too hard in the heat.


A short downhill 1km into the race, followed by some flat running, saw Jack, Scott and Aaron together before moving onto a long and steady climb that was exposed to bright sunshine. It was here that water had been promised. The N.I. coaches being stationed in the latter stages of the course, did not realise that the first water stop had been abandoned and instead some teams had been told that they could give water to their runners. The boys were to soon realise that the second water stop had also been cancelled. This fact makes the boys running in the closing sections of the race all the more impressive.


The team had picked a point at approximately 1km to go, where they would up their pace and begin passing runners in front. Scott was first up and even though a significant gap had opened up between him and the runners ahead, he ran steadily catching four and passing another just before the line, finishing 39th in 31:53.  Aaron was next and having run the middle section of the race steadily; found this last tarmac section extremely hard. He still managed to gain a place, evidence of the excellent pacing implemented by the team. He finished 50th in 32:54.  Jack was close behind, after having lead the trio for the first 2km of the race, he maintained his position, finishing 55th in a time of 34:22.  Ethan confidently ran his own race, leaving his final surge for 1km to go. This strategy proved good, as he passed 6 athletes, including the third IMRA runner to place 59th in 34:53, just 31 seconds behind Jack.


All the team should be delighted with their performance which resulted in them tying with the Slovenian team with 144 points and 15th place.

The IMRA team had an excellent race, particularly the performances’ of Alex Hunter and Iosac Coleman finishing 21st and 34th respectively, to rank them 12th team overall.


The race was won in spectacular style by Turkey, who excelled in the heat with 6 runners in the top ten, claiming both Gold and Silver in the team competition. Italy secured bronze in a close battle with England and Germany.  The team arrived back to Dublin with their southern counterparts, where they said their goodbyes and headed for home.


The team produced a great ‘Benchmark’ for the future of N.I. Youth Mountain Running and we look forward to seeing the lads progress in their mountain running careers over the future months.

Katie Kirk: Rio 2016 hopeful Katie talks health and lifestyle to Belfast Telegraph!

Katie Kirk featured in Belfast Telegraph article by Helen Carson:

Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games star Katie Kirk (QUB AC) goes into 2016 with high hopes of representing Ireland at the Olympics in Rio (Brazil).  Should she make it, this will of course be Katie's second time at the World's most prestigious event - the last time was in 2012, when she was a torch-bearer in London.


This week, Helen Carson from the Belfast Telegraph featured Katie in an article about Health and Lifestyle, given it's relevance to her running, we would like to use this article as our 'Monthly Feature'. 


Please read on...


The 22-year-old athlete, from Holywood, who carried the Olympic torch at the London 2012 opening ceremony, is currently at a training camp in South Africa. She hopes to represent Ireland at the European Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in the summer.


Q: Do you take regular exercise - and if so, how much?

A: I do 10-12 exercise sessions a week, made up of a mix of long runs of up to 60 minutes, interval training and weights work. As there is no indoor track here, I train outside at the Mary Peters track. I love doing long runs along the towpath of the River Lagan and through Belvoir Forest Park. Having competed so successfully at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, my main aim at the minute is the European Championships in Amsterdam in July, followed by this year's Olympic Games in Rio.


Q: What's been the worst illness you've ever had?

A: When I was 19 I had glandular fever, so I was off my feet for about two months. The fatigue was the worst part of it, so even going out to the supermarket seemed like an excursion at the time. I was told it would affect my fitness levels for the rest of my life, but it didn't and I competed and did well shortly after my recovery. Obviously I couldn't train when I was ill, as there was a risk of developing a more serious post-viral fatigue which would take longer to get over.


Q: How healthy is your diet?

A: I studied Food Nutrition at Queen's University and, being an athlete, everything I eat has been thought about. Good nutrition is important for my career, my fitness and how I am feeling, as that is what helps me reach my targets. I eat a lot of carbs and proteins, trying to get protein into every meal - even breakfast. I am lactose intolerant, so breakfast can be difficult for me as I cannot eat dairy, which forms a large part of an athlete's protein intake. Usually I will have protein porridge with nuts and seeds and I use almond butter - I try to make things tasty. If I could eat yoghurts that would make my life a lot easier. Lunch is usually a salad - I am the queen of salads - and I love tuna, eggs and green beans. My favourite salad is kale with tahini, lime juice and anything else. Occasionally, though, I will have some ice cream - I won't go into anaphylactic shock, but will get a sore stomach. I will be okay, as long as I don't eat too much.

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Q: Any bad habits?

A: I do skip some meals if I'm very busy. And I absolutely love cake, cookies and biscuits of any kind - the good thing is that because of my training I can have a bit of what I fancy every now and again. I don't drink any caffeine or eat too many sweet things. After an intensive training session you can eat something that is high in sugar, so that is the best time to have cake.


Q: Do you drink/smoke - and if so, how much?

A: As an athlete I don't smoke, and drink very little. In fact, I have two drinks a year, while I am on my two week break in September. As I train so hard, I cannot afford to drink and as I don't go on any nights out, I really don't miss it.


Q: Do you take any health supplements?

A: I take supplements which have been approved for use by elite athletes, including Vitamin D in the winter, which is particularly important for people from here, a large number of whom are deficient in it. I also take a pro-biotic, which is good for immunity and gut health.


Q: How do you take time out?

A: I devour books. I have my Kindle with about 20 books downloaded to read. My favourites are crime novels and the author I most enjoy is American writer David Baldacci - I have read about 20 of his books.


Q: How well do you sleep?

A: I have difficulty getting over to sleep and tend to toss and turn in bed. My parents said they couldn't get me off to sleep until I was about three. I have to read a book for about an hour and then coax myself to go to sleep. I can be tired all day and still not sleep at night.


Q: Do you worry about getting old?

A: I haven't given growing old much thought, although when I was younger I had a real fear of dying. From an athlete's perspective, I worry about not being able to compete any more or run as fast as I could. To not be able to do what I have done my whole life, that would be a fear. Not knowing if I will be mobile, active or healthy in old age is a worry, but no-one can predict that.


Q: What is your go-to product/habit that keeps you feeling healthy?

A: Eating good food and getting lots of vegetables into me is one, and stretching - which keeps my muscles from tightening up. I also love getting a sports massage - it is not relaxing and can sometimes be sore, but afterwards you feel the benefit of it.

Local club North Belfast Harriers featured in Athletics Weekly & Inside Track: 

Monthly Feature:  North Belfast Harriers...

North Belfast Harriers are one of Northern Ireland’s most respected athletic clubs – they are also one of the country’s most successful clubs.  


Over the last few years, their teams have dominated at prestigious events, most recently securing the male and female team titles at the Seeley Cup.  Their success has been featured in Athletics Weekly and Inside Track this month and they have very kindly allowed us to publish the featured article as our own ‘Monthly Feature’.


How it began:

The club was formed in 1896 making it one of the first athletics clubs to be created in Ireland.


The early days: 

The club was disbanded during WWII, during which period Eddie Boyce represented Great Britain at the 1936 Olympics in the long jump. It reformed shortly after the war and enjoyed a “purple patch” of domestic success winning numerous Irish titles over road and cross country. During the early 80’s, the club was struggling to survive but was boosted by the arrival of a host top class club runners from Belfast Olympic AC and Cavehill & Duncairn Harriers, who having disbanded, left funds in trust for the benefit of the “north belfast running community”. It was this trust fund plus other funds which allowed the Harriers to rebuild their tin shack in the North Belfast interface area (where Catholics and Protestants are separated by “peace lines”) upon which their members and friends built their clubhouse on Oldpark Terrace, their current base.


Current coaches: 

The Harriers have a dedicated team of coaches who are formally accredited. They work closely together developing children in a range of activities from the age of 7. The club does not encourage athletes to be coached by particular people. It’s not about the coach. It’s about the athlete and structured 12 week training blocks focus on periodization and peaking for targeted races. The club is also keen on ensuring strong squads toe the line for national championships – an approach which has reaped rewards, with the club sweeping numerous national team titles during the last 5 years.


Recent successes:

-          2015: National Champions at 5km, 10km, Half Marathon, Masters XC, Intermediate XC (male) and National Champions at 5km, 10km, Senior XC (female).

-          2014: National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Road Relays (Senior and Master) and National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Senior XC (female).

-          2013: National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Masters Relays, Masters XC (male) and National Champions at 10km, Half Marathon, Senior XC (female).

-          2011: Northern Ireland Athletics Club of the Year.

Club ethos: 

The club – which is now registered as a charity - has transformed itself in recent years. Viewed by some quarters as an elitist club for many years (probably as a result of their success), the club has embraced change, particularly during the last 5 years. While they are still regarded as perhaps the strongest elite running (road and cross country) club in Northern Ireland, they have also attracted hundreds of new recreational runners as members. 


This is thanks in part to a dedicated strategy which has maximised the mass participation in running created by parkrun & JogBelfast (a free, twice weekly couch to 5km scheme delivered by Harriers coaches).


By helping to deliver these two events, the club has raised its profile in local communities, demystifying the perception that running clubs are simply for “athletes”. The harriers are now widely viewed as a highly competitive but yet friendly and welcoming, all inclusive community club and resource.  To make this point, club members frequently visit and attend training nights hosted by other running clubs, sharing their approaches to sustainable development. This has helped the amateur running scene blossom around Northern Ireland, with clubs and races benefitting from greater numbers of “paid up” members and race participants.  The harriers believe there are enough runners out there to fill every club and then some so they operate an open door policy. Runners from other clubs frequently training with the harriers and all abilities are catered for.  True runners, the harriers have set their eyes on even bigger plans for improvement and development.


Who’s who:

-          Current treasurer Matt Shields introduced parkrun to Ireland 5 years ago at the Waterworks Park, which celebrated its 5th birthday at Halloween. Matt is the parkrun Ireland Director and has been instrumental in establishing the 61 parkruns that are currently in existence around Ireland. He was also given the Belfast City Council Services to Coaching Award and Coach of the Year Awards in 2011.

-          Eddie Boyce competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was a bronze medallist at the 1934 Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games).

-          Current athletes Gladys Ganiel O’Neil and Breege Connolly are both aiming for Rio Olympic Qualification in 2016 with Breege having already obtained the marathon qualifying time following her 2.37.29 in the London Marathon earlier this year.


Club events:

-          Laganside 10km (www.laganside10k.com) which has incorporated the Northern Ireland 10km Championships for the last 2 years.

-          The Belfast Hills Trail Race

-          North Belfast Harriers “Night of 5000m PB’s”


Need to know:

-          They were one off the first athletics club in Northern Ireland to be ClubMark Accredited. This club has been rigorously audited and their coaches formally trained in child protection, first aid, and have been vetted and cleared for safeguarding purposes.

-          They are also an Athletics Northern Ireland/McCain Network Host Club which means that their coaches, volunteers and athletes assist other local clubs in areas such as fundamentals and good practice. This includes sharing resources, venues, and training sessions several times per month, as well as sharing coaching and development information.

-          The Harriers share their clubhouse with other local groups, such as a senior citizens table tennis team and Irish dancers.

-          They maintain a trophy display cabinet about Eddie Boyce (above) in their clubhouse donated by Arthur Briggs (California, USA) a life-long member of the club since 1951. It takes pride of place and includes a full panoramic picture from the 1936 Berlin Olympics opened by Hitler and the jacket which Eddie Boyce earned for competing in those Olympics.


Club Stats:

-          The club currently has 190 senior and 160 junior members.

-          It has been host to numerous Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth Games representatives during their 120 year history.


Base: 

North Belfast Harriers are based out of Oldpark Terrace, North Belfast, Northern Ireland. They enjoy year round access to a private 8 lane running track set into the Cavehill Mountain and access to Sports Halls provided by the Girls Model School, next to their clubhouse.


Club Colours:  Black, Yellow and Chocolate Brown

Website:  www.northbelfastharriers.com

Twitter:  @nbharriers


Note:  Photos used in feature are by Mal McCausland (Inside Track) and Belfast City Council.

A marathon with a meaning:  The Mary Anderson Colour Marathon 2015...

A marathon with a meaning:  Mary Anderson Colour Marathon 2015:

This month’s ‘feature’ article is a story of bravery and determination, two qualities that are important in the world of running – however, even more important in life!  In today’s world, there are so many positive acts of kindness and remembrance scattered amongst the negative stories we read and hear in the local news.  


This story is amazing, the story of how Philip Anderson wanted to take on his greatest sporting challenge in honour of his wife Mary and the battle she faced – now with the help of a local charity, Mary will always be remembered through the Philip’s efforts.


The Mary Anderson Colour Marathon story…

Late last year, on the 13th of November 2014, Tyrone lady Mary Anderson sadly passed away after a 12 year battle with brain tumours.  During those 12 years, Mary never once complained about her illness, and all the while when confronting the many challenges and impacts of this terrible illness, she gave birth to an amazing little boy called Peter and found the time to touch the lives of so many other people in a very private way.


After Mary’s untimely passing, and just nine days after the passing of his mother Brigid to bowel cancer, Mary’s husband Philip, became aware of the many good deeds that Mary had been doing.  Whilst Philip had always been aware of Mary’s giving nature, it was the extent of it that overwhelmed him.  It was to this end that Philip decided to set up the Mary Anderson Foundation, and use it as the vehicle to not only remember Mary in a very positive way, but to also carry on the giving legacy that Mary had created and to support the many local good causes that were close to Mary’s heart.


As a means of promoting the Mary Anderson Foundation, Philip has embarked upon a marathon challenge of 52 marathons in 52 weeks, a challenge which he says reflects the struggles Mary faced on a daily basis, particularly in the latter years of her illness.  


Philip explained, “throughout Mary's illness which, unfortunately, stretched back over 12 years before her passing, she confounded both Doctors and myself, with the dignity and courage she faced her many challenges, all with a smile on her face, never complaining and always with a positive attitude to life. Throughout all of this, I was in awe of her, and as I have said many times since her passing, that, as I had done a number of marathons before, I likened her life, particularly in the last 4/5 years, to be like her doing a marathon a day. Whilst doing her marathon a day, she made life as normal as possible for both Peter and I, and still found the time and energy to help others in a very quiet and private way whom she felt less fortunate than herself.

It is for this very reason that I took on the 52 Marathon Challenge and set up the Mary Anderson Foundation, so that I can carry on Mary's legacy, and, particularly, through the proceeds of the Mary Anderson Colour Marathon, be able to support local good causes that were close to Mary's heart.”


Philip’s marathon challenge is now well under way and already receiving the unconditional support of many good people of the Termonmaguirck Parish area.  None more so than The Rainbow Club, a group of adults with learning and physical disabilities, and their leaders, who approached Philip seeking permission to host a marathon in aid of the Mary Anderson Foundation.  As it turned out, the Rainbow Gateway Club just did not want to organise a marathon for Philip (as part of his challenge), they wanted to organise and host Tyrone’s first ever official measured and timed marathon, a marathon that has now been named the Mary Anderson Foundation Colour Marathon, and which is set to take place on Sunday the 13th September at 09:00am.  Marissa McKernan from The Rainbow Club added, “The Rainbow Club, based in Carrickmore, County Tyrone, are honoured to be hosting the First Tyrone Colour Marathon in aid of The Mary Anderson Foundation.  We hope that the marathon will be a yearly event which will grow and be inclusive to everyone.  Philip has supported the Rainbow Club in the past and we are delighted that we now can support Philip in aid of the Foundation that he has founded in memory of Mary.


The Mary Anderson Foundation Colour Marathon will start outside the Patrician Hall and will wind its way through Loughmacrory, Drumduff, Beragh, and Sixmilecross, before returning to Carrickmore GFC for the finish.  The marathon caters for all abilities, so whether you wish to race, run or walk the full 26.2 miles or participate as a member of a relay team, everyone is welcome to enter and the promise is, no one will be left behind.  Philip explained the athletic vision of the event, “Obviously I want it to be a challenge, that's what marathons are after all, so for those that take it seriously, there is big prize money, and for those who wish to make a fun challenge, there is the colour aspect and prize money for the best fancy dressed relay teams. Mary faced all her challenges with a smile on her face, so this aspect of the marathon is very important to me.


As the name of the marathon suggests, there will also be a colour aspect to the marathon which is also a first for a marathon in Ireland, so with music and entertainment already sorted along the route, the Mary Anderson Foundation Colour Marathon promises to be a fun-filled day for everyone and an amazing opportunity for the people of the parish to marvel at the talents of their very own Rainbow Gateway Club.


Would you like to show your support for the Mary Anderson Colour Marathon?

The Mary Anderson Colour Marathon and associated events will take place on Sunday 13th September 2015.  Full details of the event can be found on the official race website at www.maryandersoncolourmarathon.com 

Mags' volunteering journey:

Mags' volunteering journey (by www.joininuk.org):

When we started the NiRunning website and in particular our events, our team have had the absolute pleasure of working with, but more importantly, getting to know Mags Mathieson.


Mags is a regular volunteer/team member at our events - a genuine and friendly person who always smiles and is willing to give up her time to assist!


It is great to see Mags featured in this article by Join In UK; take some time to have a read about Mags and why she enjoys volunteering!


Mags’ volunteering journey...

Volunteering can take you to deepest, darkest Peru. It can inspire you to rejuvenate tired places. For Mags Mathieson, it has done all this and more. When Mags Mathieson’s mum was diagnosed with lung cancer, she revealed to her daughter that her dream was to visit Machu Picchu. But it was too late for her, so Mags promised she would travel to the Inca site and scatter her mum’s ashes there.


From then on she started an amazing fundraising journey full of adventures, including walking the Great Wall of China, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and several marathons. In the process, she shed about 6 stone and raised more than £20,000 for charity.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t run any more due to an irreparable knee injury. “I was gutted at being told that I could no longer participate in my favourite pastime and burst into tears in the consultant’s office,” she said. “After unsuccessfully attempting to carry on running regardless, I realised that the only way I could stay involved was by helping out at events.  I put a notice out on the Northern Ireland thread of Runner’s World stating, ‘One willing volunteer available for marshalling duties’. I’ve been inundated with requests for help ever since and am involved with at least three events each week.”

Mags is the Event Director for the Waterworks parkrun, which enables people of all ages and abilities to run in a timed event on a weekly basis in a previously rundown area of North Belfast. 


Indeed, the Waterworks on the Antrim Road was previously rife with violence and drug taking, and was seen as a no go area.  The area has now been reclaimed by the local community and parkrun has been instrumental in that. It is now a thriving open space with a beautiful lake used by local fishermen and wildlife, and by people who wish to enjoy this lovely open space.


Mags helps run the event and the various activities associated with it, though she will step down from her role as Event Director in the near future. To date, she has helped with training volunteers, briefing runners, welcoming newcomers, health and safety, processing results, writing the weekly run report and answering queries.


“As a runner, I wouldn’t have made any headlines, but as a volunteer I’m aware that my efforts are valued.  This helps bring people together in what has been described as a “family” of runners. People make friends and keep coming back because they feel included.  I’m now more involved in the running community than I was when I was actually running,” she said. “I have developed a huge network of friends and like-minded acquaintances who have really enriched my life.

Mags also spends time volunteering at other running events. She is a Join In Local Leader Coordinator and is helping to set up a Network of Join In volunteers in Northern Ireland.  “Volunteering gives me a huge sense of fulfilment and I enjoy every minute I spend helping out,’ she explained. ‘It’s replaced the terrible void I felt when I learned that I couldn’t participate any longer in running events.


I’m always so happy at races that I don’t think anyone realises how desperately sad I felt at not being able to run. 


I see people out running early in the morning and wish so much that I could do that again and experience the wonderful feelings that running gave me.  Volunteering helps me still be a part of that, and knowing that I am helping others to have that experience makes it better.”


Mags on volunteering and…

Stress – “I find that volunteering provides me with a distraction from the day-to-day stress that I experience in my working life.”


Wellbeing – “Having the opportunity to share in a worthwhile activity with other like-minded people gives me a huge sense of community, and the knowledge that I am doing something useful gives me that ‘feel good’ factor that I don’t always experience

in work.”


Her day job – “Knowing that I am helping as a volunteer in the evening has often helped me get through a stressful day in work and I’ve never woken up any morning and thought, ‘I wish I didn’t have to volunteer today’.”

Team USA's Andy Wacker excited to visit Northern Ireland for BCM: 

Monthly Feature:  NiRunning catch up with American star before BCM 2015...

In August 2014, the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) sent a four man team to the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Colorado, USA.  


The race was incorporated into the famous Pikes Peak Ascent, an event which is slightly over half marathon distance (13.32 miles), with an elevation gain of 2,382 metres. The summit of 'America's Mountain' stands at a massive 14,115 feet.


During their time in Colorado, the men forged a good friendship with Team USA star Andy Wacker.  Andy, a professional runner for the Boulder Running Company Adidas Team, has a strong and impressive background in short distance running.


He had gained selection for his country and was now lining up against the world's top mountain runners.  In a fierce contest, Andy secured 3rd place in the uphill only event - with a Half Marathon personal best of 1:03:25, supported by 5k and 10k times of 13:41 and 28:52 respectively, Andy is indeed an extremely versatile athlete.


NiRunning contributor, Justin Maxwell (along with Ian Bailey, Chris Stirling and Peter Bell) was part of the Northern Ireland Team and has kept in touch with Andy.  Justin tells us ''Whilst talking to Andy about various types of running it was clear that he had a desire to compete at the highest level over marathon distance and that he wanted to test himself here, at the Deep RiverRock Belfast Marathon''. 


Almost 9 months on, with Andy ready to compete in his first race over the iconic 26.2 mile distance at Northern Ireland's premier marathon event, Justin caught up with Andy and spoke about his marathon journey as part of our latest 'monthly feature'.

Andy, as a world class athlete, what inspired you to come to Belfast for your first attempt at 26.2 miles?  Competing internationally is the pinnacle of our sport. When I asked to run the Belfast marathon, there was no way I could turn down an offer to represent the US and travel to such a beautiful and historic place. Belfast City Marathon happens during a great time of year (May the fourth be with you, Star Wars fans) and boasts great running weather! Belfast City Marathon will be my first international race outside of the United States.  


From an American perspective, What do you know about and/or how do you view running in Northern Ireland?  To be honest, I’m going to perpetuate the ignorant American Stereotype: I know very little about running in Northern Ireland. The little I do know shows that the kind, friendly, polite, and outgoing people can be competitive! 


It seems the Northern Irish love all sorts of running: mountain, cross country, track and road. The UK seems to be a great place to run: 2012 London Olympics, 2015 World Mountain running Championships (Wales), 2016 World Half Marathon Champs (Cardiff)! 


You have a Half Marathon PR of 1:03:25, What are your hopes and expectations for Monday’s race? Do you have a target time in mind?  Being my first marathon, I’d like to keep the pressure off and 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. I would love to win the race, and I think if I place top three, the time will take care of itself.  


Training wise, what, if anything, have you added to your work-load in preparation for the Marathon distance, in Belfast?  For the past nine months I have been training specifically for the marathon, with Jeffrey Eggleston, one of the top Americans. Along with the guidance of my coach, Mike Aish, I draw from coaches like Renta Canova who is a proponent of long marathon effort workouts. I have run several runs over 20 miles, and worked on endurance building repeats like 10 x mile and 12 x 1k. Last fall, I also ran several half marathons to build strength and gain long distance road racing experience.  


Do you use any other sports as cross training? And how do you feel they improve your running?  I love being outside and being active. I don’t necessarily use other sports as cross training. I do bike, swim, ski, kayak, and more for fun. Coming off an injury, I think other sports can be a great way to keep staying fit exciting. Last year, I took up competitive road cycling and even won a few races. I think the big hill climbs on a bike made me a better running hill climber. In both types of racing, you have to know how long you can sustain a certain heart rate.  


Previous competitors consider Belfast to be a hilly course, as well as some speedy outings, you took 3rd place in the World Mountain Running Championships at the Peaks Peak Ascent in 2014 and only last week you set a new course record at the 25k Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race (1:42:17).  How has your preparation for the event been and Do you feel these (mountain running) qualities will give you an advantage here in northern Ireland?  I love trail running. I think that if you want to be good at running you need to push yourself, but also be happy. High altitude trail running for hours makes you tough. It makes you patient, but it also gives you something beautiful to look at. I run fast workouts on roads to prepare for the quick pace. On easy days, I hit the trails. So I think trail running has complemented my specific marathon pace workouts and should certainly help in Belfast. 

Katie Kirk eyes Olympic ambition after switch from GB to Ireland:

My Olympic Dream is on track... (by Steven Beacom for the Belfast Telegraph):

It's Wednesday evening in the beautiful Portuguese resort of Vilamoura and the rain is tumbling down. Katie Kirk is in the Algarve, but she's not there for a holiday.


The talented 21-year-old middle distance runner from Holywood is with her dad Mark, who is also her coach, and other athletes working for the season ahead at a warm weather training camp.


Katie's the only girl in the group. It doesn't unduly bother her. "I'm used to the crude jokes of the boys," she says.  This is no ordinary training camp for Kirk though because after running and fitness sessions in the day, she turns to the books at night to revise for upcoming University exams.


Katie is in her second year at Queen's doing a Food Science degree. She is one busy lady. An incredibly open and honest one too. Throw in bright and bubbly as well.  It wasn't just for her athletics promise that the legendary Dame Mary Peters chose her to be Northern Ireland's representative to run around the Olympic Stadium, holding the Olympic torch during a memorable London 2012 opening ceremony.


Back then Katie had raced in youth events for Team GB. Intent on making a long-held Olympic dream come true, last year the former Sullivan Upper pupil made the decision to opt to run for Ireland.


It was a big call. But the right one for her knowing that in the 800m, Team GB is a lot stronger than Ireland, therefore she has a better chance of being the number one for the latter and their choice for the Games, be that in Rio next year or in Tokyo 2020.


Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph revealed Kirk had received official clearance to swap the red, white and blue vest for green. She took the news in her stride.  "When I made the decision to run for Ireland that was the big moment for me rather than the news coming through that I'd been cleared to do so," said Katie, speaking from Portugal.  "We did a little happy dance, though apart from that there wasn't much celebration because I had already accepted what was going to happen."


Asked why she made the switch, the answer was clear.  "My dream is to run in the Olympics and I felt if I wanted to make that dream a reality the best chance of doing that would be to run for Ireland."  She quickly added: "I also want to run for Ireland. I believe I will get more opportunities, it is a more supportive environment, I know more people and it's always where I've felt most comfortable. I've been competing in Ireland since I was nine-years-old running cross country so it is a personal decision too."


Katie had talked it over with her family including dad Mark, an accomplished athlete himself who competed for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games, but ultimately the decision was down to her.  Now she is looking to the future in what is a big year for the sport with the World Championships taking place in Beijing in August.  "My main goal is the European under-23 Championships coming up in Tallinn in Estonia in July," says Katie.


"I raced there before and won a gold medal with GB. It is a good track and hopefully I can get back there.  If I made the World Championships I'd be delighted but if I don't I won't kick myself. Qualifying for that would be an end of season bonus." An even bigger bonus would be to race in Rio next year at the Olympics.


Important Note:  This article was compiled entirely by Steven Beacom for the Belfast Telegraph and was published online HERE on the 11th April 2015.

Portadown based Kernan Run Club become NI's latest affiliated club:

Monthly Feature:  Welcome Kernan RC...

The last few years has seen a huge influx of runners into the local running scene, and with this, new clubs have sprouted in various places around the province.  

Couch to 5k programmes are taking place almost day and daily and with the relaxed atmosphere around local parkrun and similar events, so many more people are willing to give 'racing' a go. 


The debate continues as to the absorption of new blood into existing clubs; many disagree with the setting up of new clubs, instead believing that newcomers should join already established clubs. However, it’s been said by many newcomers that they feel out of their depth when looking at already established clubs – What’s your view would you rather see these people walk away from the sport or stay around with a different/new club?  


Another perspective is that sometimes an established club isn't always the answer, nor feasible, it's human nature to be more at ease when around people in the same or similar circumstances as yourself and it is therefore for comfortable, for some, to be part of a new club.  You only need to look at the strength of clubs who have sprung up to see that there was a need for different options, whether it be a difference in club philosophy (ie running for fun as opposed to competition) or possibly the location of the new clubs, which suites athletes better.


All in all, it would be easy to ramble on (I have already) about the rights, wrongs and various opinions of whether people should join a new club or opt for an existing club, but that isn't the focus of this 'Monthly Feature'.  What is, is the welcoming of Portadown based Kernan Run Club to the local scene.


Welcome Kernan Run Club...

Possibly the most recent club to affiliate to the sport's governing body, Athletics NI, the Kernan Run Club was originally set up by Gareth Irvine after he took up running to assist with weight loss, one of the biggest reasons for many who have taken to running.  Kernan Run Club was born from a banter fuelled Beginners Running Programme in April 2013 and has progressed to become an 'official' club under the banner of Athletics NI. 


"Never having run myself and coming to the end of a battle with a weight problem I needed to find a way to maintain the weight loss I had achieved. I trained myself to run and putting my personal training qualification to good use designed an 8 week exercise/running program to get complete running novices up to 5km. It was designed not just to focus on running but leg and core strengthening too.  If I'm honest what got most people through the program was the banter" says Gareth Irvine.


When asked about moving the club forward and making things official, Gareth added; "Affiliation for us means on paper each and every one of the members becomes an athlete in the eyes of Athletics NI.  However, the focus remains running for fun and not having to train like animals or busting a gut to try to be the best.  Affiliation simply means that we are registered with a governing body that will not only insure us but they provide training for coaches, discounted races and a host of other benefits.  Applying for grants to help develop the club is also impossible without a governing body.


Our 8 week beginner programme is the major draw to the club and sees approximately thirty or so beginners progress to 5k and then on to full membership within the club.  Gareth is clear on his views on the programme and what he wants to achieve from it, “the focus then, as it still is now, is to teach people to run and have fun doing it.  Since then the club has progressed to cater for runners of all abilities and has helped many runners to improve and often surpass what they thought they could ever achieve."

The benefits of the Couch to 5k programme as an introduction to running is obvious, you only have to look at the amount of clubs putting hundreds through their own similar introductory initiatives.  Jennifer Cahoon is just one example of someone who has progressed through Kernan Run Club’s Couch to 5k programme to become a club member and over and above that, a runner!  


“I joined the beginners after my 2 year old grandson was diagnosed with leukaemia; I wanted to raise money for children with cancer.  At that stage I was very unfit and the doctor was about to put me on blood pressure tablets.  I hadn't exercised since school, so I had no confidence in running or any form of exercise.  


I seen the advert for Kernan Run Club’s beginners group, so I asked my daughter would she join with me.  That very week we joined the 8 week programme!  As a 52 year old who was unfit, I cried most weeks and thought I can't do this - I'll not go back.  However, I am also a determined person and like to finish something I start, so I continued every week and as time went by I was building up confidence and running with great encouragement from our coach and the other team members.


When I run my first 5k I was walking on air and my blood pressure was down; I don't need tablets now.  I was so pleased I knew then and there I would go on to run 10k and so I continued on to 10k because I knew at this stage I would do it and I had started to really love running.  Our coach didn't make me ever feel that I was slow or that I couldn't achieve my running goals.  I always felt as good as any runner because I always finished - I never stopped.  Kernan Run Club is fantastic because I now can run which is something, at my age, I never thought I could do. It's all down to good coaching and determination.  That and the support from team members is what gets you round the course.”


At the last count (end of 2014), Kernan Run Club have had close to two hundred runners through the beginner program and they have approximately fifty active members and no less than six Athletics NI qualified coaches.  The last twelve months has proved successful for the club, who took sizeable numbers to numerous races, but most noticeably, to the Rathlin Run and the recent Run in the Dark.

Another club member, Patricia Doherty is also positive about the future; “A year ago I couldn't run at all, but just over a month ago I completed the Clontarf Half Marathon.  This was never in my plans and I don't know for sure what I will do in the future, as far as running goes, but what I do know is that anything is possible I will keep on running and I can't wait to see where I go.


What makes running in a club work for me, is the friendship, encouragement and support from members.  I have built a network of contacts, some of whom have become friends, some of whom have become running companions, but all of whom have become buddies that help me through my tough runs and celebrate my great runs.  It's a great platform I can use to share running experiences and learn from runners who are at the top of their game.” All in all the future look bright for running in the Portadown and greater Craigavon area.  


Not only do you have the welcoming and newly affiliated Kernan Run Club, offering a more relaxed approach to competition and training, but you also have the well-established and popular St Peter’s AC, a few miles along the ‘Northway’.  St Peter’s AC, like Kernan Run Club also welcome new members and are well known for their junior section.  More details can be found on the St Peter’s AC website HERE.

Denise Mathers writes about her 'Bob Graham Round' for NiRunning:

A Dark Peak Bob Graham Round - Northern Irish Style:

In May 2014, one of Northern Ireland’s most respected mountain runners, Denise Mathers (Newry City Runners), took on the infamous Bob Graham Round in Cumbria, England – an unenviable task that would require Denise, who recently collected the ‘Inspirational Runner of the Year’ award at the NIMRA prize-giving, to cover the 42 peaks in less than 24 hours.


Kindly, Denise writes about the challenge for our ‘Monthly Feature’:


Sunday 11th May 2014 1:46 am – My mission complete… the Bob Graham Round completed in 23 hours and 46 minutes. The fulfilment of a dream which deep down may have started a number of years ago but only became a reality in December 2013.


I first became aware of the Bob Graham round I suppose like most people when reading Richard Askwith’s book “Feet in the Clouds”.  However this did not ignite any ambition for an attempt at the BG - in fact quite the opposite.


Having read about the BG Round it became apparent that familiarity and navigation skills were of the utmost priority to ensure completion, so being based in Northern Ireland it seemed that this was an impossible task. After some initial investigation with Jim Patterson on his BG Rounds, my husband Dale (Mathers) set about making some contact with the Dark Peak Fell Runners Club.  The DPFR club has probably the largest number of successful BG members.  Understandably, Richard Hawkes from DPFR was a bit hesitant at first to take on an unknown from NI and suggested some support role first before a full attempt was considered.  Richard put us in touch with a DPFR member Lucy who was attempting a solo anti-clockwise BG in May 2013 and she kindly agreed to have Dale join her support team on 2 legs of her round. Note, this was our first visit to the Lakes.


On returning from Lucy’s attempt, Dale was still unsure if Richard would accept him into the June 2013 Dark Peak round, but thankfully Richard kindly agreed to Dale’s inclusion in early June 2013 – a bit late to start training now!


So, off to the Lakes again in June 2013… this was only our second visit and already we had fallen in love with these mountains.  Dale successfully completed the BG Round in what were pretty awful conditions. During Dale’s round I managed to support him on legs 1 and 5 and was in total admiration of all the contenders on that day.  I certainly came away inspired by all of the Dark Peak FR contenders and supporters, especially the enthusiasm everyone had for the BG Round.  So much was I inspired that I came back home and completed the Mourne 500’s (pretty meagre compared to the BG Round) the following weekend.

It should be noted here that I did not come away from Dale’s successful BG Round with the intention of attempting the BG myself.  It was while over at the BG Dinner in October 2013 and while chatting to the Dark Peak BG’ers that I got to hear that Nicky Spinks was planning a Ladies BG Round in 2014.  

So on the way home from our weekend in the Lakes I chatted to Dale about what he thought about me attempting the BG, he knew it was a big challenge but was pretty confident that I could do it.


I knew the only way for me, from NI, to have a good stab at the BG would be to join Nicky’s team and just put in some hard training in the Mournes and then see what would happen.  So in November I emailed both Richard and Nicky asking if they would kindly consider me for a BG attempt.  Thankfully Nicky (after a little research I think) offered me a spot on the Ladies attempt which was to take place on 10th May 2014.  I decided that serious training would start in the New Year; the next decision was do I keep it quiet or not.  


Nicky had requested that I bring some support runners over with me to lessen the burden from the Dark Peak supporters so I would need to ask some friends in advance to ensure they would be fit to cover 1 or 2 legs  - Therefore it would be difficult to keep my attempt quiet.  Maybe pressure would be a good thing!!! My support team was made up of William Marks, Hazel McLaughlin, Mary Mackin and Dale.


So training began in earnest in January 2014 and I was hoping for a good winter to allow me to get good training in the Mournes.  Now, the Mournes are not on the same scale as the Lakes but they do have a very handy Wall which is a 22 mile loop over 12 peaks with 10,000 feet of ascent.  So that formed my training route with variations (clockwise, anti-clockwise and various start points) along with other race routes in the Mournes.  For the past number of years Dale and I have taken part in the Wicklow Way Ultra (March) which is a 50km trail run in the Wicklow Mountains (Ireland); I did not want to miss that this year, so I did some trail running as well.  I also had entered the Highland Fling before I had considered the BG Round but with the Highland Fling only two weeks before I thought it better to sit that one out (good decision!).


So for my training - I have lost count of the number of times I have been to the top of Slieve Donard and I may have even been reported to the “men in white coats” by some ramblers who met me three different times on their single ascent of Donard.  So by the time May 2014 came around I was well pleased with my training and was relieved that I had managed to reach this point injury free - in fact I was looking forward to three weeks of tapering.


I didn’t embark on the BG Round adventure knowing I could do it, in fact I often thought I couldn’t! I always thought I’d be pushing it to get round. There were lots of times during training that I wondered if I was too slow, so rubbish on the rocks, too slow descending, not technically good enough, if I’d set myself up for a challenge too great…….. it’s not often you embark on something not knowing or being able to imagine the outcome.  Most races you have some idea of what time you will finish in and how it will pan out.  Not the BG, at least not for me.


The week prior to travelling over we all knew how important sleep was – well true to form I started the sleepless night’s routine as the nerves started to kick in.  With an early start planned on the Friday I arrived in Keswick on the Friday afternoon pretty tried.  However, I was not worried as I always arrive at new/big challenges in a sleep deprived state.  The campsite was familiar as we had stayed there when over for Dale’s round so we all got a good pitch and proceeded to get organised.  My supporters were very conscientious, I even caught Hazel and Mary taking bearings for all the peaks on the Helvylln range in case they got lost and had to make their way back to base (note not for my benefit!!).

After meeting all the other girls on the team it was off to bed early at 8ish to try and get some sleep before getting up at 1am.  Not sure if I got some sleep but lay listening to the rain hitting the tent.  This was my worst nightmare – bad weather.  All through my training back in the Mournes I never was out in really bad weather and I had been telling myself all along that this would only be possible if I had some good weather.  So while listening to the rain from inside my tent I was feeling pretty nervous about what was to lie ahead (thinking it can’t rain for all of the 24 hours!!).


Even though Dale was the only of my support crew coming on the first leg, my other supporters, William, Hazel and Mary wanted to see me off from Moot Hall.  So, at 2am after the photo shoot all five of us set off through the pink alley to Skiddaw. The rain had eased off shortly before the start but before we had finished the first leg the rain was well and truly on.  The ground over the first leg was very wet and by the time we were crossing Mungrinsdale Common, Ruth and myself had broke ahead from the rest of the girls.  Nicky did not want to hold us back so she told me to follow Ruth down ‘Halls fell’.  


I knew I needed to keep close to Ruth as I was not sure of route down which proved quite difficult as Ruth flew down the steep, slippery rocks.  I looked back and could see that Dale was taking it slowly but I didn’t want to lose him either as he was carrying my support bag which my new supporters would need. I made it down to the support car and it was all action to get me sorted and back out as soon as possible.


After a quick change of clothes and some porridge I set off on leg 2 spot on schedule with William, Mary, Hazel and Ian (IanDarkPeak) up Clough Head. I decided at this stage that I would put on my heavier water proof bottoms as this rain could be on for a while. The weather was not improving much and I felt sorry for my three NI supporters as I had told them how lovely the Helvylln range would be. Needless to say not a view was to be had all day never mind the Helvylln range. It was on this leg that I was beginning to wonder what this was all about and maybe I should just pack it in at Dunmail – sure I can blame the weather. Everyone says you hit a low patch somewhere along the route but this was too early , how would I pickup and continue on. I think the climb up Fair Field was definitely finishing me off but then William came up to me when crossing over to Seat Sandal to tell me I was 15 minutes up on the schedule. I was delighted and I think that spurred me on along with all the words of encouragement from everyone at Dunmail.


At Dumail, Nicky Spinks, Richard Hawkes and David Lund were taking over as my supporters and they looked like they meant business. I don’t think they would have been too happy if I were to throw the towel in here.  So I got a good bit of food into me and set off up Steel Fell privileged to have such three highly experienced supporters along with me.  Nicky kept the pace going and I could see that she let me climb at my own pace but on the descents she took the lead and charged ahead.  Thankfully I was able to keep up and managed to make ground on both Lucy and Ruth. I was disappointed I could not see very much all day and really I still cannot picture any of the peaks I visited.  I had been wondering which way I was going to approach Scafell so Nicky took me round by Lords Rake – it certainly is not for the faint hearted and somewhere you would only go if necessary – ie on a BG round.  I was relieved to have got through that as it was treacherous in the wet conditions. It was all downhill to Walsdale and I was looking forward to the scree slope which Dale had told me about - despite having to stop and empty my shoes when I reached the bottom. It was nice having to wade through the river which was in full flow and have my shoes cleaned from the scree slope. Then down to the car park where my support crew had kindly got me a nice chip from the hotel.  Unfortunately, I only managed about five chips but I think Nicky enjoyed them! After another change of clothing I was ready for the off.  I think I learnt on this leg the importance of good gloves – my hands had got cold on the third leg and with a limited amount of dry gloves with me Nicky had kindly gave me a pair; once my hands warmed up I could really feel the heat coming into my body.


My navigator over Leg 4 was Ian Fitz who kindly introduced himself to me and along with Dale and William, we set off up Yew Barrow.  There was a slight hope that the skies would clear and maybe we would have some visibility on the tops – this may have happened for a short time (5mins) but generally the cloud remained and I could not see a thing.  Ian was very encouraging on this leg and went out of his to explain what lay ahead (trying to convince me that the climbs were not really all bad).  We met a very cheerful Willie Kitchen at the Black Sail Pass, where he gave me some jelly sweets.  Onwards and upwards we went along with fading light.  Anyway, we made it to Honister in the dark and spot on the schedule.

To my amazement, the car park was what I thought, full of people who seemed to want to give me things to eat.  My support crew of Hazel and Mary had carefully prepared pasta, soup and hot coffee and whilst I was not really interested in eating I was force feed.  My main request was for some pain killers because at this stage my quads were really sore and with no time to change any gear I set off on this leg with Dale, Hazel, Helen and Tom.  


At this point I was pretty confident we had enough time to make it back to Moot Hall and I was not too anxious, however I suppose anything could go wrong and that probably was in the minds of the supporters. On the ascent of Dale Head I was soon caught by Lucy who seemed to be going strong.  She pulled away from me but by the time I was coming off Dale Head we were together again, I think it was at this point that both supporters and navigators thought it would be good to try and stay together so as not to make any navigation errors.  So we all remained together coming off ‘Robinson’ which proved to be a tricky descent.  Once down on the grassy track, Lucy took off like a rocket but as I tried to keep up I could feel some cramp coming into my calves so I thought it best to ease off a bit.


During the whole day I had not looked at my watch, but as I hit the road with about 4 miles to go I took a glance at my watch; I had 1 hour to make it from New Lands Church.  It was at this point I met Mary coming tearing towards me all eager to get me back to Keswick.  William had my Hoka shoes all ready at the side of the road for me to change into but I  ran past them as I knew I hadn’t time to change and also I was afraid I would cramp.  

Helen suggested I take my coat off, so I did that and of course before too long it started to rain again but not for long.  There are two routes which can be taken to complete the BG Round so I could see that Lucy and Willie Kitchen were going to take the trail route whilst I decided I would just stay on the road.  Everyone was very quiet on the road while I walked the slight inclines and shuffled the rest until we came to the path across the field.  To my surprise Lucy came up behind me and stayed with me as we both ran over the bridge into Keswick Town.  I could not believe that this was the end and the both of us held hands as we approached Moot Hall.  Apart from the local police and local party goers, a good number of the Dark Peak FR supporters were cheering us as we both hit the green door on Moot Hall, the finishing point.


The long journey was completed successfully and after a few tears of exhaustion/jubilation, I hugged all of my Northern Ireland support team. Everyone congratulated us both and Martha kindly had a very welcome warm cup of tea.  After a few photo shoots I was glad to sit down on the street bench.  My legs were pretty shot through at this point and when Lucy invited me for a dip in the river, I declined as I really had had enough water for one day.  We then made our way back to our luxury accommodation (not) and on the way out of Keswick we got pulled over by the police – just what we needed some luxury beds in the local police station! So after a nice hot shower at the campsite I was ready for sleeping after what had been a long day out in the mountains.


Many thanks to my supporters (Dale, Willie, Hazel and Mary), who had to endure a sleepless, wet weekend tramping round the mountains of Cumbria.  It was very special to have some great friends present during this my lifetime challenge.  Special thanks to Dale who encouraged and had confidence in my ability to complete the Bob Graham Round.


Compiled and written by Denise Mathers.

Skyrunning arrives in Northern Ireland with NiRunning's Mourne Skyline MTR:

Special Preview:  Mourne Skyline MTR 
This month (Friday 17th and Saturday 18th October 2014), NiRunning will bring the phenomena that is ‘Skyrunning’ to the shores of Northern Ireland for the first time.  The Mourne Skyline Mountain-Trail Race will see a plethora of talent take to the stunning Mourne Mountains.  
This 'Monthly Feature' will be centred around this and the world class line-up.  Please read on and see what this event will bring to the running scene in Northern Ireland...

The exciting weekend of action kicks off on Friday 17th October 2014 when competitors take on the ‘Granite Trail Race’ (‘GTR’), a 2 mile uphill only event, starting in the centre of Newcastle (County Down) and finishing approximately 1,000ft above sea-level at Millstone Quarry.  The impressive field will be headed by Northern Ireland international men Seamus Lynch (Newcastle AC) and David Steele (Newcastle AC). 

The ladies race will include highly respected European Cross Country (team) and World Mountain Running Championship (team) medallist Sarah McCormack (Moorfoot Runners and Ireland) who won the recent Snowdon international mountain race.  Sarah will be joined on the ‘GTR’ start line by Irish team mate and fellow World Mountain Running Championship (team) medallist Sharon Trimble (North Belfast Harriers).

On Saturday 18th October 2014, the Mourne Skyline MTR will see a sell-out field, including Stevie Kremer (Team Salomon), who last weekend was crowned Skyrunning World Champion (over the ‘Sky’ distance) for the second time, cover a gruelling but incredibly scenic 35k course incorporating 3,370m of ascent.  Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, Slieve Donard, which stands at 850m above sea-level will be the final peak, before the athletes descend quickly into the Donard Park finish area.

The Men:
Kim Collison (England), Paul Teirney (Ireland), Jayson Cavill (England), Paul Navesey (Centurion Ultra Team), J Marshall Thomson (USA), and local men Allan Bogle (City of Derry AC) and Andrew Annett (North Belfast Harriers) look to be the strongest candidates in a field littered with talent from across the globe.  Former adventure racer and newly crowned British ultra-running Champion Kim Collison will be high in confidence after his victory at the Lakeland 50 trail race in July (2014).  This noteable achievement followed an excellent (joint) win at the notoriously tough Fellsman 61 mile ultra in the Yorkshire Dales in April (2014).  Kim, who completed the Bob Graham Round in 2009, also collected a prize at the Scafell trail race and finished well up the field at the Transvulcania La Palma Ultra.

American athlete J Marshall Thomson (Dynafit) hails from Colorado and is an experienced and successful trail runner, with numerous mountain race victories to his name.  Most recently, Marshall secured a win at the Power of Four 50k in Aspen, having smashed the course record.   Looking back, Marshall also proved his worth at the Pikes Peak marathon, where he narrowly missed a podium spot after finishing fourth in what was a classy field.  Irish international Paul Teirney proved excelled over 100 miles when he claimed the runners up spot at the Lakeland 100 mile race in 2012; since then, Paul, a former Wicklow Way 82 mile Ultra record holder (13 hours 38mins), has finished second at the Wicklow Way Ultra in both 2013 and 2014.  England based Jayson Cavill has been one of the most impressive performers of the inaugural Skyrunning UK Series, having placed on the podium at two of the three races.  The Pickering Running Club member followed up his second place finish at the V3K with a win at the Peaks Skyrace; he (Jayson) also won the gruelling Blakey Blitz Fell Race back in April (2014).

Paul Navesey (Centurion Ultra Running Team) is another athlete worth watching; after a note-worthy 2013, Paul has brought his form into 2014, winning the Centurion South Downs Way 50 miler in a new course record.  The talented distance runner also showed his speedy edge when taking second place at the Canterbury 10 mile road race in 56:27.  Another man known for his ability over shorter distance and not mentioned above is Jens Jakob Anderson (Denmark); the ‘www.runrepeat.com’ website creator has a 5k personal best of 15:58, which he may hope to put to use on the final 3.1 mile descent off Slieve Donard to the finish in Donard Park.


On the local front, Allan Bogle (City of Derry AC) has already proved himself against the best in the UK this year.  In memorable foggy conditions, the City of Derry Spartan secured an excellent win at the British Championship race at Slieve Donard just before the summer.  He (Allan) went on to take sixth place in the overall British Championships standings.  Also on Allan’s CV are wins at the Balearic Mountain Running Championships in Mallorca and an impressive top spot at the Lurig Challenge 2014. 


Although having raced sparingly in the mountains recently, North Belfast Harriers man Andrew Annett has a classy history and if focussed on this event, he’ll play a major part at the front.  In 2013, Andrew, who was part of North Belfast Harriers winning team at the NI & Ulster (Road) Relay Championships two weeks ago, finished in thirteenth place at Snowdon International Mountain Race last year (2013).  More recently, he has clocked 1:11:31 for his first ever half marathon (on the road), and 5k and 10k bests of 15:48 and 32:38 respectively. 


Established Irish international Martin Rea (North Belfast Harriers) will also toe the line as he prepares for the World 100k Championships in Doha (November 2014) and he’ll be joined on the men’s start line by no less than eleven Northern Ireland international’s, which will include the in-form David Steele (Newcastle AC), Deon McNeilly (Newcastle AC), Sam Herron (Mourne Runners), Dale Mathers (Newry City Runners) and Ryan Stewart (Dundee Hawkhill Harriers) amongst others.  Shane Donnelly (Acorns AC), Billy Reed (East Antrim Harriers), Nicki McPeake (Unattached), Matthew Hewitt (East Coast AC) and Gary Bailey (Unattached) all have vast knowledge of the Mourne Mountains and will therefore have high hopes of finishing well up the field.


The Ladies:

In truth, the ladies field at the Mourne Skyline MTR has attracted a lot more attention in the international press than the aforementioned men’s line-up. Much of this is because of the addition of current Skyrunning World Series Champion Stevie Kremer (Team Salomon).  The American international burst onto the scene after winning the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) ‘Long Distance’ event in 2012; Stevie proved this wasn’t a ‘one hit wonder’ when she went on to take second place at the world famous Sierre-Zinal Mountain Race in the same year.


From there, the down to earth athlete has grown in stature, winning the Limone Extreme, Marathon Du Mont-Blanc Skyrace’s in 2013, and with it, the Skyrunning World Series.  Now, Stevie is one of the superstars of the Skyrunning circuit and one of the most respected (and in-form) athletes in the World. After wins at the Matterhorn Ultraks, Zegama and Sierre-Zinal this year, and a second place finish at the Limone Extreme Skyrace last weekend, Stevie retained her Skyrunning World Series Champion status (at ‘Sky’ distance).

Another athlete who is in-form at the moment and will also grace the Central Promenade start-line is Jo Meek (Winchester AC); the England based athlete has enjoyed an incredible 2014. After finishing in second place at the Marathon Des-Sables in 2013 it would have been easy for Jo to sit on that success, but the dedicated runner took confidence from it and hammered into 2014, and on doing so, she (Jo) has won the Le Grand Trail du St Jacques (70k), Transylvania Trail Traverse (106k), Iznik Ultra (80k) and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Marathon (27.8 miles); interestingly, in Pembrokeshire, Jo finished in first place overall!  An excellent year was made all the better when Jo was crowned British ultra-running Champion after winning the Lakeland 50 trail race in July (2014).


The list of Champions continues in the form of Sharon Trimble (North Belfast Harriers) and Diane Wilson (Dromore AC).  Originally from Northern Ireland, Sharon is an Irish international who lives in Scotland – Alongside Sarah McCormack (’GTR’ competitor), Sharon is a World Mountain Running Championship medallist.  


The 2:51:44 marathoner is also a former Scottish ultra-running Champion and a regular on the podium over all terrain; with her knowledge of the course and if she is on top form, Sharon is a real threat to Stevie and Jo.  Diane is the current Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA) Champion and a lady who knows the Mourne Mountains exceptionally well; she (Diane) also won the Hill & Dale Series in 2014 and clocked a new course record when winning the Carrantuohill mountain race in Ireland; interestingly, Carrantuohill is Ireland’s highest peak.  Diane also claimed a top ten finish at the Ben Nevis mountain race in Scotland this year (2014), taking seventh place.


Former NIMRA Champion and current Northern Ireland international Shileen O’Kane (Lagan Valley AC) will also play a major part in proceedings. Despite suffering a broken wrist over the summer, the talented athlete, who placed within the top ten in her Vet45 category at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in last month (September 2014).  Respected ultra-runners Susan McCartney (Up and Runners) and Joanne Curran (BARF) should also finish well up the field – Like, Shileen, Susan has enjoyed an excellent year despite setbacks.  The England based athlete had knee surgery earlier this year, but has still managed to win the Mourne Way 52 mile Ultra and claim a very credible twenty second place in the CCC race at UTMB (Ultra trail du Mont-Blanc).  Comrades Ultra finisher Joanne Curran has really begun to show good form beyond marathon distance and a win at the Causeway Coast Ultra earlier this month, where she came through late on, has re-iterated her potential over the longer distances.


Runner up at the Peaks Skyrace, Kim England (Pickering AC), will also perform well, as will the likes of Hazel McLaughlin (Lagan Valley AC), Taryn McCoy (BARF), Anne Sandford (Lagan Valley AC), Violet Linton (LV), Denise Mathers (Newry City Runners), Miriam Bridge (City of Derry AC), Angela Stevenson (Newcastle AC) and Kathleen Monteverde (BARF).

Commonwealth Games 2014 - A look at the NI runners set to compete...

Commonwealth Games 2014:

As the much anticipated Commonwealth Games officially kick off today (Wednesday 23rd July 2014), we (NiRunning) were keen to highlight the local runners who will be taking part in the prestigious Games, which will take place in Glasgow, Scotland until Sunday 3rd August 2014.  In total, there are twelve local athletes who will swap their club kit for that of their country as they take part in running specific events, putting all of their training and dedication into practice.


As the local heroes settle into the Athletes Village with the rest of Team NI, we have based our July 'Monthly Feature' around them, and provided a brief profile on each of the twelve runners who will wear the Northern Ireland vest with pride. The 'mini-profile' includes the events in which they will participate as well as their targets, hopes and expectations. 


Please have a read and show your support for Team NI throughout the Commonwealth Games – You may notice a few familiar faces from the local running scene representing Team NI in Triathlon, namely Eimear Mullan (Springwell Running Club), Russell White (Dromore AC), Aileen Reid (City of Derry AC) and Emma Sharkey (Lagan Valley AC). 


The NiRunning team would like to wish the entire Northern Ireland squad a massive GOOD LUCK as they go into the Commonwealth Games.   Throughout the competition, it is our intention to provide a daily, running specific, round up within the 'News' section of our website.  A full Commonwealth Games schedule is available HERE.

Kerry O'Flaherty:


Full Name:  Kerry Anne O'Flaherty

Age:  33

Based:  Loughinisland (Northern Ireland)

Club:  Newcastle AC

Coach:  Richard Rodgers and Geoff Watkin

Achievements:  Current Northern Ireland 3,000m and 3,000m Steeplechase record holder, AAI National 3,000m Indoor Champion (2011), Inter Counties 3,000m Champion (2012),  AAI National 1500m bronze medallist (2014).


What is your proudest moment in running so far? I’ve been running for around 20 years so it’s difficult to choose one moment. However, I love running, I get excited about racing, I’m passionate about the sport, it’s all about realising potential, so I suppose that evening, the 1st June this year when I achieved the Commonwealth Games standard in the 3k Steeplechase at the International Flanders Athletics Meeting in Oordegem, Belgium.


The spring preparation and the early season had gone really well in the States but I returned home still needing to run 5 seconds faster than my season’s best to make the Standard. I had won in a ‘gun to tape’ victory at the BMC meeting in Watford in the middle of May but had been disappointed to only register 10:10 - 15 seconds outside the Standard. So, it all came down to returning to Oordegem in Belgium where a year previously a wobbly water barrier had cost me the rest of the season. The gun went and with 22 girls in the race the first lap was a bit scrappy, the first water jump came and went smoothly and I got into a good rhythm of running. Coach Rodgers was on the back straight and I could hear him shout "on pace."  I felt relaxed and strong, I just needed to hold it together and not panic. Two laps to go and I could hear, "you need two 79s!" I knew it was there, I just needed to keep it controlled and try and wind it up last lap.  


The last two laps of a chase can be brutal as I had experienced before in Stanford, this time it was different, I still had the running in the legs. The bell went and I was still on it, by how much I wasn't sure. Into the home straight and gunning for the line, as I crossed I could see 9:52, 9:53.  I was delighted but not celebrating yet as you have to wait for the photo finish to know the exact times, it felt like an age. 9:52.94, within the Commonwealth Games Standard of 9:55 and nearly 4 seconds off my existing Northern Ireland Record and an Irish ‘B' standard for the European Championships. We were delighted.  


What event will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  3,000m Steeplechase - It's a straight final on the evening of Wednesday 30th July 2014 (7:45pm).


Personal Best (for this event):  9:52.94 (31/5/14 – Oordegem, Belgium)


Target:  Hopefully I will run my fastest ever 3,000m Steeplechase and a top ten finish would be fantastic.


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games?  I hope to enjoy the experience of a ‘first major Games’. It will be the biggest race of my career so far, with 40,000 spectators due in the stadium that evening. I hope I can fully embrace the support of the crowd and put all the years of training into my performance. I would like to do Northern Ireland proud and everyone who has supported me from my family and coaches, to the support I receive from Athletics NI, the Sports Institute NI and sponsors Hydro Run UK, Arctic Sports Recovery and X-Bionic UK. I’d love if the Commonwealth Games were to be my proudest moment.

Leon Reid:


Full Name:  Leon Hugh Reid

Age:  19 (20 on the 26th July 2014)

Based:  Bath (England)

Club:  Birchfield Harriers

Coach:  James Hillier

Achievements:   European Junior silver medallist over 200m in 2013 (Reiti, Italy), Represented Great Britain & NI at Junior level.


What is your proudest moment in running so far? My proudest running moment would have to be winning a European Junior Championships silver medal in Reiti, Italy (2013).


What event/s will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  100m, 200m and the 4x100m


Personal Best (for these events): 100m – 10.44secs (18/5/14 – Loughborough, England) and 200m – 20.62secs (20/7/14 – Reiti, Italy)


Target:  My target is to run fast – I’m not looking for times just want to be fast in my races.


What are your hopes and expectations for the Commonwealth Games? My expectations are to be able to enjoy myself in front of a big crowd and make the people back home be able to smile at my performances.

Katie Kirk:


Full Name:  Katherine (Katie) Ann Kirk; Yes my name is actually Katherine but I hate being called that, my parents don't even call me Katherine! 

Age:  20

Based:  Holywood (Northern Ireland)

Club:  QUB AC - Queens University Belfast AC/Queens Harriers 

Coach:  Mark Kirk

Achievements:  British Indoor bronze medallist over 800m (2014), Northern Ireland Junior 400m record holder, European Junior Champion (as part of 4x400m Relay) in 2011, British Junior 400m Champion over 400m (2011), AAI National 800m Champion (2014).


What is your proudest moment in running so far? Running a Northern Ireland junior record for the 400m in 2011 and running my Commonwealth Games qualifying time this year.  This year has been a really good experience for me so far and I have been loving the racing and training. I am very proud that I have ran well this year and I genuinely have surprised myself with my performances.  A British Athletics senior indoor bronze medal and an England Athletics U-23 title have been the highlights so far! 


What event will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  800m


Personal Best (for this event):  2:02.78 (22/6/14 – Bedford, England)


Target:  I would love to run another PB and make it to the semi-final.  Anything can happen and if I made the final I would be over the moon. But I won't be disappointed if I don't. 


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? I simply hope to go there and run the best that I can. I would like to think that I will be satisfied with my performance and give it my all. I am a very competitive person and general on an occasion I do perform well. So I hope to continue that theme and come off the track exhilarated and excited by the experience.

Paul Pollock:


Full Name:   Paul Gerard Pollock

Age:  28

Based:  London (England)

Club:  Annadale Striders / Kent AC

Coach:  Andy Hobdell

Achievements: AAI National Marathon and Marathon Champion (2012), Represented Ireland at World Championships in 2013 (21st place in Marathon) and 2012 (34th place in Half Marathon).  Northern Ireland Half Marathon record holder.


What is your proudest moment in running so far? Running has given me so many happy moments that it's near impossible to pick just one. However, one that stands out in my mind is a race I did a long time ago, when I first took up running. It was one of my first ever track races and it was set up by, my then coach, Bobby Rea, in order for me to run sub 3.56 for 1500m, the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Melbourne 2006. Held at my home track (Mary Peters, Belfast) two of my old clubmates at Abbey AC paced me round and thanks to their efforts I narrowly dipped inside the time, with 3.55 on the clock. I will always look back on that time with Abbey AC with fond memories. Bobby has since passed away and the club has folded. For anyone who says that running is an individual sport, I would point them towards the friendships formed in that club and remind them of that night of racing. I may have been the one who ran 3.55 but it was my clubmates that made it possible.   


What event will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  10,000m (Friday 1st August 2014)


Personal Best (for this event):  28:32 (4/5/14 – California, USA)


Target: My target is to break the Northern Ireland record at Commonwealth Games 10k (28.32).


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games?  Unfortunately, due to injury in June of this year, it is a race against time for me to be fit enough to compete to the level I would expect at the Commonwealth Games. That said, training is starting to come along well and I think if I come away from the Games with the NI 10k record I would have to be happy with that. The Games this year are all part of a much bigger plan, culminating in the Rio Olympics in two years time. I fully expect to come back in four years, with the desire to win the Commonwealth marathon on the gold coast. With that in mind, I want to enjoy this experience of racing in front of friends and family in a packed stadium, learn what I can from the competition and hopefully come away with a positive outcome having raced against some of the best athletes in the world.

Christine McMahon:


Full Name:  Christine McMahon

Age:  22

Based:  Glengormley (Northern Ireland)

Club:  Ballymena & Antrim AC

Coach:  Ian Neely

Achievements:  European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) silver medallist over 400m hurdles in 2009, European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) bronze medallist in 4x100m Relay.  AAI National 400m hurdles Champion 2014.


What is your proudest moment in running so far? A silver medal in 400m hurdles at the European Youth Olympics in 2009. I see this as my break through performance, proving to myself that I had the ability to do well in 400m hurdles if I was willing to put in the hard work.


What event will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  400m hurdles


Personal Best (for this event): 56.97secs (28/6/14 – Nivelles, Belgium)


Target:  To be happy with my race(s). If that means a position in the final or a PB then that's even better!


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? I hope I will step up to the occasion and perform to the best of my ability in my event. I'm expecting an electric atmosphere in the stadium, great facilities and a very memorable trip!

Gladys Ganiel:


Full Name:  Gladys Ganiel

Age:  37

Based:  Belfast (Northern Ireland)

Club:  North Belfast Harriers

Coach:  Matt Shields

Achievements:  AAI National Half Marathon silver medallist in 2013, NI & Ulster Senior XC Champion 2013.


What is your proudest moment in running so far? It’s hard to choose, but I was of course happy and relieved when I ran the qualifying standard for the Commonwealths last year in the Berlin Marathon. I ran an evenly paced race and my last two kilometres were my fastest of the race, so that gave me confidence that I can run the marathon faster. I also am proud of my PB in the half marathon at the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in Dublin in August 2013 (75.08 on a course that was not flat and fast). I think that is a classier time for the half than 2:39 is for the full marathon.


But in some ways, I am also proud of what could be considered one of my worst races – when I ran 2.43.46 in Rotterdam in 2012. That was my third marathon in five and a half months as I was chasing the Olympic A standard. It was probably a mad thing to attempt Rotterdam after having run Dublin at the end of October and Houston in January, but in the Olympic year I felt I had to try, even though training through between Houston and Rotterdam was really tough. I ended up hurting my Achilles during Rotterdam, but still finished in a respectable time. Doing those three marathons and getting hurt (I couldn’t run for 4-5 months after Rotterdam) was kind of like a point of no return for me – after having invested that effort, and then the additional effort it took to heal and rehabilitate the Achilles, I didn’t want that to be the end of the road, so to speak.


What event will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games? Marathon


Personal Best (for this event): 2:39.26 (29/9/13 – Berlin, Germany)


Target: I know, and the people around me know, the effort that it has taken to get to Glasgow and I want a performance worthy of that effort. There will be a few girls in the race who are capable of running right around or sub-2.30: Three Kenyans, two of the English, one of the Scottish, one Canadian, and one of the Australians. I am unlikely to contest against that group, but there also are women in the race in the 2.34-2.39 range: one of the English, two of the Scottish (if you assume Hayley Haining isn't back to the form when she set her 2.29 PB in 2008 – though you never know!), two of the Australians, one from Lesotho, and after that I am not sure who other countries are putting out. I want to be competitive with the women in my range. 


The course itself is probably not one you would normally set a PB on, but I think on a good day you could run close to your PB on it, so depending on what the conditions are like on the day, I would probably be happy if I am in my PB range. 


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? I just hope to get the best out of myself on the day. With the marathon it is always a mixture of dread and anticipation heading into a race because you know how difficult the event is and at some point, you are going to suffer. Irish runner Keith Kelly, who was on the team with me at Providence College, once said before I was about to do a 10,000 meter race that it’s not the race you are nervous for, but the pain you are going to go through, and I think that’s right. At the same time, there are races when you actually enjoy working through that pain, so I am hoping for that experience!


I expect running in Glasgow will be as close as we athletes get to competing before a home crowd in a Commonwealth Games, and that is something really special. As an immigrant, albeit one who has been around for 14 years, I am so grateful for the way people have supported me as an athlete. That starts with my husband, Brian O’Neill, and his family, and includes my coach Matt Shields, Ray Treacy in Providence College (my coach at university who still gives me advice when I ask), the clubmates in North Belfast who run with me (especially over Divis & Black Mountain and on long marathon-paced runs), the Dublin Marathon’s Marathon Mission programme, and those in ANI and SINI who have put so much time and energy into helping me become a better athlete. 

Jason Smyth:


Full Name:  Jason Smyth

Age:  27

Based:  London (England)

Club:  Derry City Track Club

Coach:  Clarence Callender

Achievements:  Paralympic gold medallist over 100m and 200m at London 2012.  T13 100m and 200m world record holder. Northern Ireland 100m record holder.


What is your proudest moment in running so far? My proudest moment in running to date was winning double gold in world record time at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the T13 100m and 200m.


What event will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games? 100m and 4x100m Relay


Personal Best (for this event): 100m - 10.22secs (21/5/11 – Clermont, USA)


Target: My target at the Commonwealth Games is to run a season's best time.


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? I hope to make the most of the whole experience and enjoy ever minute of it as it is a rare occasion I get to compete for Northern Ireland.

Peter Glass:


Full Name:  Peter Glass

Age:  26

Based:  Newtownards (Northern Ireland)

Club:  Liverpool Harriers / North Down AC

Coach:  Brendan McConville

Achievements:  Scottish Decathlon Champion in 2013, Scottish Decathlon record holder.


What is your proudest moment in running so far? My proudest moment in athletics was competing with my coach/training partner and best friend Brendan McConville while I achieved the Commonwealth Games qualifying standard last year (2013).


What events will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  4x100m Relay and Decathlon *Main Event – Decathlon*


Personal Best (for these events):  Decathlon – 7,510 points (14/7/14, Grangemouth, England).


Target:  My target is to score 7,700 points or more!


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? My hopes and expectations going into the Games are to gain as much experience as I can and then push for even bigger competition e.g World Championships and Olympics!

Ben Reynolds:


Full Name:  Ben Reynolds

Age:  23

Based:  Bangor (Northern Ireland)

Club:  North Down AC

Coach:  Tom Reynolds

Achievements:  Northern Ireland and Irish 110m hurdles record holder, Represented Northern Ireland at Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008.


What is your proudest moment in running so far? My proudest moment in running would be racing against arguably the greatest hurdler in history, Lui Xiang, at the World Indoors Championships in Istanbul (Turkey) 2011.


What events will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  110m hurdles and 4x100m Relay


Personal Best (for this event): 110m hurdles - 13.49secs (25/6/13 – Belfast, Northern Ireland)


Target:  Top 8 finish.


What are your hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? To thrive off the occasion and to perform to my potential.  If I do that I should make the final and then who knows. My aim would be a top eight finish.

Amy Foster:


Full Name:  Amy Foster

Age:  25

Based:  Newtownards (Northern Ireland)

Club:  City of Lisburn AC

Coach:  David Reid

Achievements:  Northern Ireland 100m and 200m record holder, Joint AAI National 100m Champion, Represented Northern Ireland at Commonwealth Games in Delhi (2010), World Student Games Semi-Finalist (2013).


What is your proudest moment in running so far?  My proudest moment in running so far would be running an Irish and Northern Ireland 100m record this year (11.40secs).


What events will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  100m


Personal Best (for this event):  11.40secs (10/5/14 – Clermont, USA)


Target:  I would like to reach the 100m final.


What are your hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games?  I hope to give my best performance and enjoy my second Commonwealth Games.

Jason Harvey:


Full Name:  Jason Harvey

Age:  23

Based:  Belfast (Northern Ireland)

Club:  Crusaders AC

Coach:  Paul McKee

Achievements:  European Junior Championships Semi-Finalist (2013), Irish record holder as part of 4x400m Relay team (at World Junior Championships 2008).


What is your proudest moment in running so far?  Probably winning my first ever indoor medal as a youngster in High Jump in Nenagh and having my Granny and Grandpa there with the look of joy on there faces.  I will never forget that day! 


What events will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games?  400m hurdles and 4x100m Relay.


Personal Best (for this event):  400m - 50.13secs (28/7/14 – Dublin, Ireland) 


Target:  I would like to make it to the final!


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? I always go into a competition with a determination to do my best. You never know what will happen on the day of the competition and I am coming into the Games with high confidence. Anything is possible with my event, a full second can be taken off by getting the race perfect. So I'm looking forward to taking each round as they come and you never know what will happen. 

Danny Mooney:


Full Name:  Danny Mooney

Age:  26

Based:  Belfast (Northern Ireland)

Club:  Letterkenny AC

Coach:  Teresa McDaid

Achievements:  Irish Indoor 1500m silver medallist in 2014, NI & Ulster 1500m Champion in 2011 and 2013, NI & Ulster 800m Champion in 2012


What is your proudest moment in running so far?  Definitely has to be qualifying for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 1500m, but winning the AAI National indoors in 2012 with my team mates in 2nd and 3rd place (Conor Bradley and Ruairi Finnegan); that was a great day.  


What events will you be competing in at the Commonwealth Games? 1500m


Personal Best (for this event):  1500m – 3:42.11 (17/5/13 – Watford England)


Target:  I would like to make the 1500m final and run a personal best (ideally 3:39.99)  


What are you hopes and expectations going into the Commonwealth Games? Initially stay for and healthy leading up to the Games. I would like to compete to the best of my ability and be competitive in my event no matter what the out come. I plan to enjoy the atmosphere and opening ceremony but focus on competition and representing Northern Ireland. 

Local runners set for epic challenge: 6 marathons, 6 days, 6 countries...

Northern Ireland trio embark on worthwhile challenge:

Exactly two week's today, Tuesday 17th June 2014, three runners from Northern Ireland (accompanied by their support crew) will begin the epic challenge of completing six marathons in six day's, with each of the 26.2 mile runs taking place in different countries.


Tara Malone, Paul Floyd and Darren Hamilton, will complete the challenge in order to raise much needed funds for the very worthwhile MacMillan Cancer Support, a charity that has helped so many people, none more so than participant and 3:13 marathoner Tara, “"personally I have wanted to participate in an event to raise money for a worthwhile cause for some time now, so when I was asked to take part in this, I didn't hesitate. I have a close relative who is the same age as me and is currently being treated for cancer; my hopes are that when participating in the challenge, thinking of her is what will keep me going”."


Paul, who recently clocked a new personal best of 2:58 echoed Tara's words, adding “"knowing friends and family who have suffered or are currently suffering from Cancer and the support they have received from MacMillan has inspired us to train hard and will ensure that we won’t give up until the challenge is complete.”"


The opening leg will see the trio complete the Meadow Marathon route in Edinburgh (Scotland); from here, the group will travel to England and Wales, where they will take in the Blackpool Marathon – England - (Wednesday 18th June 2014) and North Wales Half Marathon (Thursday 19th June 2014) course, obviously, completing the latter twice.


On Friday 20th June 2014, the endurance enthusiasts complete 26.2 miles on the Isle of Mann, before returning to the island of Ireland for a jaunt around Phoenix Park (Dublin) on Saturday 21st June 2014.  The grand finale will be in Belfast, starting with 10k on the Mary Peters Track, before making their way across the City to the finish line at Belfast City Hall.  


Fellow runners are welcome to join in on the final leg of the gruelling endurance test, Tara added. “we are trying to get people to join us on the last day where there will be options of running with us from the half-way point, the final 10k point and last 5k section to the City Hall”.  When looking toward the upcoming challenge, Paul has no doubts about the level of the task ahead, "“I took up marathon running about eighteen months ago and despite having run a number of single marathon's it is still never easy to run 26.2 miles.  I wanted to participate in an unthinkable challenge, something far beyond anything I had accomplished so far. The idea of running 157.2 miles in six days has captured the imagination of many people and I hope that this unique event will help to raise valuable funds for a very worthwhile cause in Macmillan Cancer Support.”"


Paul added, “"all three of us are pushing our bodies and minds to the absolute limit of endurance to prepare for this event which I am sure will still be extremely tough. We will be depending on each other to work as a team during the emotional rollercoaster which the mental and physical strain this week will no doubt bring. I will look forward to our friends, families and fellow runners joining us to run the last few miles to the finish in the grand finale in Belfast.”"


Whilst talking about his hopes and expectations for the challenge, Darren spoke of his drive to firstly complete the distance safely alongside his friends, Paul and Tara. On top of that, the Newtownards based runner wants to ensure that they raise a "“respectable"” amount for the worthy cause.


He then went on to talk about his strategy for the six day event; "“I expect that over and above training, then the recovery/fuelling between each run and not running the actual 26.2 miles, will be the key to completing each stage.  It will have a few up's and downs, both physically and emotionally, but the euphoric feeling that I'm expecting when a sea of green MacMillan t-shirts descends on Donegal Place towards Belfast City Hall on Sunday 22nd June 2014, it will be a bit special.”"


Tara was of the same opinion as Darren regarding the physical and mental aspects of the challenge, she went on to add, "“it's like nothing else I have done before but I know that if I keep training and keep positive, and think about all the good that comes out of raising money for MacMillan Cancer, Support I will complete it. Team work will be key, I know by the three of us pulling together, staying together and motivating each other along the way, we will all finish together at Belfast with the other runners who are joining us on that special last day.”"


On the subject of team work, the MacMillan Cancer Support team will be behind the three friends all the way, and will also provide t-shirts and sponsorship cards for those participating in the challenge alongside Tara, Paul and Darren.


All of the routes are on the specially set up facebook page "6 marathons, 6 countries, 6 days".  Instructions and approximate timings for those wishing to join the energetic trio on the final day (Sunday 22nd June 2014) are as follows:


-          10am:  Start from Mary Peters Track, Belfast (26.2m remaining)

-          12pm:  Stormont Estate, Belfast (13.1m remaining)

-          1.15pm:  Dublin Road/Bruce Street Junction (10k remaining)

-          1.45pm:  Stranmillis Roundabout at Lockview Road (5k remaining)

-          2.10pm:  Finish at Belfast City Hall


To donate to this worthwhile cause, you can use the Tara, Darren and Paul’s Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/6marathons6countries6days or TEXT DUTT65 plus amount (£5 for example) to 70070.  More information on the help, support and services provided my MacMillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland can be found HERE.

Inspirational runner Ivan Prue fights back against MS:

Inspirational Ivan tells of fight back against MS:

Ivan Prue is a familiar face to many runners; his tall, burly frame makes him stand out, but it's his positive outlook on life and smiling face that makes him memorable and a pleasure to be around.  However, the 'gentle giant' and 3:12:00 marathoner has been fighting a personal battle over the past five years, one that will undoubtedly make you take a step back and appreciate your own health.


In 2009, at the age of 37 years old, Ivan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS).   The Bangor based runner is one of 4,500 people living with MS in Northern Ireland.  Recently he has stepped forward in support of the MS Society’s ‘Treat Me Right’ campaign, which was launched during MS Week 2014 (28th April – 4th May 2014). 


There is no cure for MS and Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, and the highest incidence of male MS in the UK.  No one knows the exact cause of MS but it is likely to be a mixture of genetic and environmental factors.  Ivan is backing the 'Treat Me Right' Campaign as he personally knows the life changing impact that receiving an effective MS medicine can have. This is his story. 


Misdiagnosis:

Ivan experienced his first MS symptoms in 2005 with some tingling sensation in his legs, feet and hands and dizziness. Ivan, who worked as an Estates Manager at a local college, said doctors dismissed his symptoms as a viral infection and the symptoms subsided. 


Ivan explained, “Looking back it was probably the start of my MS. At the time I was overweight and it really made me take a step back and look at my life. In some ways those early symptoms completely transformed my life. I decided I needed to get fit so I started running.  I got the running bug and developed a love for marathons and cycling. I’m glad I was misdiagnosed at this stage because it gave me time to change my lifestyle and prepare my body for the onslaught of multiple sclerosis later”. 


Ivan was regularly running marathons and holds a 26.2 mile personal best of 3:12:00; he also boasts 5k and Half Marathon personal bests of 18:31 and 1:26:00 respectively.  Aside from running, Ivan was enjoying 60 mile cycles at weekends; but one day he just couldn’t stay on his bike and he knew there was something wrong.


Running away from MS:

“I went out for a cycle and I just kept falling all over the place.  My balance was awful and I had a bad fall off the bike and ended up in A&E. It was really scary. I got all the tests – a CT scan, an MRI and a lumber puncture. That’s when the doctors told me I had MS. It was devastating.  All I could think about was “Am I going to be in a wheelchair?”


Ivan was given steroids and says he was so frightened of the prospect of losing control of his body that he started walking laps around the hospital ward, determined to fight back against MS; “When I got out of hospital, I think I was in denial about MS. I raced a ’10-miler’ at the Rathlin Run and actually came 14th.  I kept training and completed the Dublin Marathon in 2009.  I actually fell and fractured my rib during the race at mile 25 but kept running and finished in a respectable 3:16:00.  I think I thought I could run away from MS”. 


Later that year (2009) Ivan had a devastating relapse which left him in hospital for a month.  “I can only describe this period of my life as hell.  I had a massive relapse and was completely wiped out.  I went from being a marathon runner to feeling like a baby.  I couldn’t move, it was like having a stroke.  My facial muscles dropped, I couldn’t speak, walk or get out of bed.  I felt like I was just wasting away in that hospital bed but I couldn't deny my MS anymore.  I call MS “my monster” – I’d be running away for years but it finally caught up with me.  I had to tell my close family and friends about my MS.  My mum was absolutely heartbroken and it was such a difficult time for everyone.  One of my running mates broke down in tears when he saw me in my hospital bed”. 

Treat Me Right:

Having had two significant relapses in less than a year, Ivan was prescribed Tysabri – a disease modifying therapy which is designed to reduce relapses and slow the progression of MS. 


“It was a massive decision for me to start Tysabri.  It is like receiving chemotherapy but for MS. I have blood tests pre-infusion and go to the hospital every month for infusions.  It is scary because Tysabri has serious side effects including the risk of PML – a potentially fatal viral infection of the brain.  The longer I stay on Tysabri, the greater the risk, which for me is 1 in 100. I can’t deny that this is frightening but I’ve been relapse free for three years now and the medicine has helped me to get my life back”.

 

“I tried to keep working throughout all of this because I loved my job but in the end my MS monster forced me to retire.  I simply couldn’t manage anyone let alone myself and I retired in January 2014.  Having gone through all of this I firmly believe my health is my wealth and I have to make sacrifices to keep my monster at bay.  I’ve decided not to run away anymore.  I walk with my MS, knowing that it’s a part of me”. 


No time to waste:

Ivan is backing the Treat Me Right campaign which is calling for revolutionary new oral MS medicines to be made available in Northern Ireland. At present there is one oral tablet available with two more expected within the next two years. However, people with MS in Northern Ireland can wait up to 6-9 months longer to access new MS medicines than people in England and Wales. 


“I know I’m lucky because my monthly infusions have helped me to manage my MS but it is tough. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a merry go round constantly going to hospital for treatment. That’s why I’m excited about the new oral medicines – the first non injectable disease modifying drugs.  To be able to take a tablet, rather than sit in hospital every month would be amazing. When your MS is aggressive like mine, there’s no time to waste and that’s why it’s important that MS medicines are available here in NI as quickly as possible”. 


Ivan credits the support he received from his MS consultant and nurses, as well as exercise and a healthy diet, for helping him to fight back against his MS. “I’ve gone from being fit and healthy to being partially paralysed and depressed, and now back again to almost the old Ivan. I still struggle every day with the hidden symptoms of MS like numbness, blurred vision, ‘brain fog’ and buzzing in my ears but I’m able to run and cycle and I’m getting married to my fiancée Fiona in September this year.  Sadly there is no cure for MS but I’ve accepted my MS and hope for a cure in the future. 


“MS affects everyone differently but I want to show other people who are diagnosed with MS that you can take baby steps to fight back. Whether it’s gentle exercise or taking a positive approach, with the right medicines and support it is possible to live life to full”. 


The Future:

In the near future, Ivan aims to retrain as a councillor, meanly focussing on helping people/families recently diagnosed with MS.  After being re-lapse free for almost four years, he also intends to 'get back out there' and enter a few local running events.  In fact, just last Friday (16th May 2014) he completed the Les Jones 10k! Ivan completed this in 46:58, an excellent effort.  However, the determined athlete, as ever, will look to improve, he said, “It showed me the I'm not race fit but I loved every minute. Starting and finishing, no drug could ever match those happy feelings.”


As always, Ivan wore his orange MS Society vest, a piece of kit that always attracts interest from fellow runners.  “People always ask why I'm not in a club. I point at the back of my MS Society vest; "I'm an MS Super Star" that's my club! I'm a running groupie.  All club's are my friends.”


NiRunning says:  Ivan's story is one of inspiration and determination and one that we should all take something from; as Ivan very rightly states, “our health is our wealth”, we should enjoy everyday... every run, because you do not know what is around the corner.  We wish Ivan and Fiona all the very best with their wedding in September.


Further information, advice and support on MS can be obtained by contacting the MS Society in Northern Ireland.  Their website can be found HERE.

St Malachy's set for ISF World Schools XC Championships:

St. Malachy’s to take on the World:

A six strong team of runners from St. Malachy’s College in Belfast will travel to the Valley of Springs in Northern Israel to compete in the ISF World Schools Cross Country Championships (U-18). The competition which takes place near the banks of the Sea of Galilee will be an incredible sporting and cultural experience for the young men involved.


St. Malachy’s earned their place in this competition by winning the 2013 Irish schools U17 title at Jordanstown last March (2013). They will take on national champion teams from 17 other countries hailing from across Europe and as far away as Australia and China. The team depart on an arduous journey from Dublin via Istanbul on Saturday 29th March 2014 with the race over 5km taking place on Tuesday 1st April 2014.


There will be no fooling around for the lads from North Belfast who train six days a week all year round in preparation to compete at this level. From the unforgiving runs up the Cavehill to the tough interval sessions in the wind and rain at Mallusk, the boys have left no stone unturned in their meticulous preparation.  The team consists of a mixture of fifth years and lower sixths and is led by Paddy Robb, a multiple Irish Champion over 1500m and cross country. Paddy will have aims at a top 10 finish individually. He is backed up by James Smyth, Chris Connolly, Ronan O’Fril, Kieran O’Reilly and Darryl McNicholl, all but one of whom have represented Northern Ireland/Ulster at different events over the last few years. 


This will be the third time St. Malachy’s competes at these Championships. In 2006 in Italy the team that included Paralympic Champion Michael McKillop finished in 6th place. In 1996 in Turkey, a team led by prodigious talents Gareth Turnbull and Colm McClean and including current coach Joe McAlister won team Bronze medals. Two years ago Douglas community school from Cork finished in 12th place. The St. Malachy’s team will also be accompanied by experienced coach and former Northern Ireland 400m international Michael Cooke.


Athlete profiles:


Patrick Robb

Paddy is a two time Irish schools 1500m Champion and 2012 Irish U17 cross country champion. He has represented Irish schools in the schools international and competed on the Northern Ireland team in UK schools games and the London Mini Marathon a number of times. He has been selected for that team again this year.


James Smyth

James has progressed brilliantly over the last few years and is now one of the top schoolboy runners in Northern Ireland. He has been selected to represent Northern Ireland in the London Mini marathon in Mid-April. James was the second finisher on the team that won the Irish schools last year and has represented Ulster at the Tailteann games.


Christopher Connolly

Chris was a prodigious talent as a junior boy (finishing 2nd in Ireland over 800m) and is coming back into the form that seen him win many races in the younger age groups. He has previously represented Northern Ireland at various events including the London Mini Marathon and UK schools games.


Ronan O’Fril

Ronan is a tremendous sportsman and has represented Northern Ireland and Ulster at both running and basketball. He has represented Northern Ireland at the UK schools games and the London Mini Marathon (which he has been selected for again this year). He has also represented Ulster at Celtic international and Tailteann games. 


Darryl McNicholl

Darryl is a talented athlete who has been a vital part of successful college squads and is ready to make a step up to the next level. He has been a medallist at district schools and a top 5 finisher at Ulster schools.


Kieran O’Reilly

Kieran is the youngest member of the squad and another versatile athlete. He is a member of the Irish water polo squad, a talented soccer player and has previously represented Northern Ireland at the London Mini Marathon. Kieran is a former Ulster champion and has finished as high as 4th at All Ireland level.


Mr Joe McAlister (Coach)

Joe has represented Ireland at World and European XC Championships and World road running championships. Joe was a member of the St. Malachy’s College team that won bronze medals at the ISF cross country in Turkey in 1996.


Mr Michael Cooke (Coach)

Michael is a former Northern Ireland Junior (U20) and current Ulster schools senior boys record holder at 400m. He has represented Norhern Ireland on numerous occasions.


Note from NiRunning:  We would like to wish St Malachy's the very best of luck for the upcoming ISF World Schools Cross Country Championships.

Derry City Track Club's Timothy Shiels grabs 'second chance'...

Monthly Feature, courtesy of Chris Caldwell and used with the kind permission of Tyrone Constitution Newspaper:

When I received an email last week to tell me that an Omagh resident had been chosen to represent Ireland in the 800 metres at 'the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on March 25' my interest was piqued, but I had no idea just how interesting the subject of the potential story would turn out to be.


Initially I thought I'd be writing a few paragraphs about a guy called Timothy Shiels, who is to travel to Hungary for the World Masters Athletics Championships where he would compete in the 35 to 39 age category.


However, after spending some time chatting to Tim it turned out his story was about so much more than just his running ability - he has gone from being 'a homeless drug addict to getting married, having a family, running from Derry to Dublin in seven days to raise money for an orphanage, becoming pastor of Omagh Community Church, winning an Irish title and has qualified for the European and the World Championships after taking up competitive running just seven months ago!


Before starting to run for more than just fun, Tim began jogging to lose some weight, but he was soon doing a little more than just keeping fit.  “I did some silly things. Like a couple of years ago I ran from Derry to Dublin!" he announced before explaining: "I have a friend who lives in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Him and his wife moved out there to set up an orphanage (Zimbabwe Orphan Care, Jabulani Children's Home).  For them it's more than an orphanage it's their home and they have been granted so much favour by the local government that every child that comes into their care they can adopt them. Tim added, “So they have made this life-time commitment to every child that comes across their path so I thought I have to do something outrageous for them to raise their profile and raise a whole load of money for them.  “I love running and I like to talk so I decided to go for a run and talk to some people to raise some money for them. We did it over seven days - it averaged over a marathon a day.  It was class! I met loads of people and raised a fair few thousand for the orphanage."


Then, seven months ago, Tim started running competitively and after a disappointing outing at the outdoor Irish Championships he decided to seek the help of a coach and success soon followed.  “Last year I went to the Irish Championships in August down in Tullamore," he explained. "It was just after we had been in a car crash and I had an injury to my left leg and I didn't do as well as I thought I might have.  I walked away from that thinking I could do a lot better than that, so I looked for a coach.  “I remembered there was a guy in Derry called Malcolm McCausland, who is probably the best middle distance coach in Northern Ireland, so I asked him to coach me and he said yes.  I'd been training with him for four months when I became national indoor champion on 25th January 2014. It was my first ever attempt at running on an indoor track and my first ever attempt at the national championships indoor and now I'm national champion and I'm going to the World Championships - it's ridiculous! The second time I'll run on an indoor track will be at the World Championships - it doesn't make any sense, but it's class!"


Initially, Tim didn't think he'd be going to the World Championships, thinking he'd be travelling to Turkey in August for the Europeans, but he is thrilled to have been given this additional opportunity - one which he is keen to take.  “When you become national champion it opens the door for you to compete in different things," he beamed. "Originally I had thought I was going to go to the European Championships and then my coach said 'the World Championships are yours lad'. This wasn't part of my plan.  My plan was to go and potentially win the gold medal at the European Championships, but now this has landed on my lap, it's a great opportunity.  If nothing else, it will be a great training ground and a great introduction to competition at the elite level for the Europeans.”


“It's hard to say how I'll get on.  I had said that to make the final would be outstanding and to win a medal would be extraordinary and I believe in the extraordinary so anything is possible. If I make the final anything is possible. If I make the final I'll be a hard man to beat, that's what I'm telling myself.  Two years ago it was won in a time that's achievable for me, so we'll see. You never know what happens on the day.  I talk a good race but you have to run a good race! There are a number of competitors running quickly at the minute but these are times they have run in the past and our race is in the future and so we'll have to see who produces the goods on the day. I'm not really concerned about what anyone else is doing, all I'm concerned about is doing my best on the day and hopefully my best will be good enough."


The 38-year-old father-of-five, who moved to Omagh in October, has certainly had a colourful life so far and he is keen to make the most of his 'second chance' after coming off the rails when he was younger.  “I was told when I was younger that I had great potential, but I made a series of choices that made it impossible for me to realise that potential," he explained. "I do certainly feel that this is my second chance and a fantastic opportunity to realise that potential. When I was a kid I ran competitively, but long story short, I got mixed up in drugs, ended up homeless and was in an awful mess."


After meeting Sister Consilio Fitzgerald (well known for her drug addiction work) in Dublin, Tim has transformed himself from that 'awful mess' into a loving father, dedicated pastor and an elite level athlete.  “I met a nun, did a stint in rehab and got myself back together," Tim said was the short story of his renaissance.  I met this lady called Sister Consilio in Dublin and she got me into rehab. It was originally a 13-week programme at a place called Cuan Mhuire, Athy, Co Kildare, and I ended up staying there for 18 months because she offered me a job at the end of the 13 weeks."


After that he moved into a halfway house in Dublin, he met his wife and they started their family before moving to Derry where his spiritual development continued through the Cornerstone City Church.  “That's really where my life took off," he explained. "When you are surrounded by people who inspire you to be the best that you can be, who will love you no matter what mistakes you have made in the past, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, they let you make mistakes, it's a great breading ground for growth. We grew a lot in our time with Cornerstone. The guys loved us, blessed us, encouraged us and I would say empowered us."


From there, Tim and his family moved to Omagh where they became involved with the Community Church and its growing congregation, based at the YMCA building in Campsie Crescent.  “My wife and I, about 18 months to two years ago, thought we'd come and start a church in Omagh," he added. "We felt that was something we were being led to do. We had a massive sense of burden about Omagh - Omagh kept us awake at night. We dreamt about it. We fell in love with Omagh. We have some friends up here and we felt why don't we just come and start a church! 


“So, we sold our house and we moved to Omagh and we came here in October with the idea of starting a church. When we got here we met the people who are in Omagh Community Church and they invited us to take their church over and we said yes.  It's quite extraordinary and it makes no sense. We acted in faith, we came to start a church and God gave us one."  Tim's faith is obviously a major part of his life, and he believes that faith helps him on the track as well. “My faith gives me great strength," he observed. "That's why I say I believe in the extraordinary - I am a former homeless drug addict who's now going to run in the World Championships!


“Faith is a wonderful thing. Faith inspires hope in people and I've got great hope. Look at what I've come through. My best days are ahead of me and I fully believe that God isn't finished with me," he concluded. 


Note from NiRunning:  Once again, we would like to thank Chris Caldwell and the Tyrone Constitution Newspaper for this excellent article.  We would also like to thank Athletics Ireland for the photograph and wish Tim all the very best for his upcoming races/events.

Train like Mo Farah and Galen Rupp at David Graham Fitness (Belfast):

NiRunning visit David Graham Fitness to check out new underwater treadmill:

As runners, we are always looking for that ‘edge’, something that we can do a little different, that will hopefully lead to a new personal best or as we look towards the elite end of the running spectrum, qualification for the upcoming Championships; in particular, this Summers World Junior Championships and the Commonwealth Games.


In the case of local athlete, and Northern Ireland record holder for the 3,000m Steeplechase, Kerry O’Flaherty (Newcastle AC), that little ‘edge’ is in the form of the new underwater treadmill at David Graham Fitness (Gasworks, Belfast).  The international star has followed in the foot steps of London 2012 Olympic hero, Mo Farah and his training partner, man of the moment, Galen Rupp, both of whom are avid believers in the benefits of the under water treadmill.


Infact, double Olympic Champion Mo Farah, has stated (in an interview with Runners World Magazine) that changes made to his training by his coach, Alberto Salazar, which included the use of physcoligists and the underwater treadmill have played an instrumental part in his progress in recent years; “the shift (in training) has been to start using psychologists and doing extra bits on the side, like training with an underwater treadmill.”  He continued, “the underwater treadmill means you can run extra miles without the same injury risk as running outside.  If you feel any niggles or if you've already clocked up more than 100 miles that week, you can just add a few extra miles on the side.  I probably use it three or four times a week now.” 


Personally, having attempted aqua-jogging in the past, I was initially doubtful of the type of workout that could be performed/executed ‘under water’.  However, after a visit to ‘Hydro Run’ at David Graham Fitness with Kerry O’Flaherty, I came away with a lot more knowledge and more importantly, the belief that the machine can enhance an athletes training as opposed to just keep them ‘ticking over’ whilst injured (although, in fairness, this is also a massive 'plus' for the machine and something that makes it equally attractive).


The setup includes, a treadmill, which visually, isn’t much different to the one you would see in your local gym, and underwater camera’s.  These allow you to monitor your foot strike; the resistance of the machine can also be adjusted via remote control.


Kerry described the ‘Hydro Run’ underwater treadmill as the first thing she has found “that replicates proper running”.  Not only that but it now allows the Newcastle AC lady to add in an extra day’s running to her training schedule with no risk of injury; this is something that the versatile athlete has been unable to achieve: “Before, I found that I was maxing out at 60-70 miles per week, anything longer than that and I was starting to break down.  Now, I do two sessions per week on the Hydro Run machine and that takes me up to the mileage that I want to be doing, this means that I should be able to compete at a higher level.”

Hydro Run provides a metabolic and cardiovascular environment as effective as land training, but with the reduced stress on your body.  Kerry described how she could enjoy “a proper workout with no soreness after”, interestingly, when I asked for comparisons, Kerry explained that whilst she was chatting to me (quite comfortably I might add), her heart rate was at 160bpm, and to get the same heart rate whilst cross-training, she would need to be doing a proper session on the cross-trainer, after which, her muscles would be sore.


I was fascinated in the story behind Hydro Run and why David Graham decided to bring the underwater treadmill to Northern Ireland, making it available to local athletes (and not just elite competitors).  David informed me, “Hydro Run came into existence in a very roundabout way, it came down to good timing.  I had been working towards getting an Endless Pool for a couple of years, my intention was to use it for Swim Analysis and for it to be used for physiotherapy.  I only really became aware of what an underwater treadmill was when I read about Alistair Brownlee using one to rehab his Achilles before the London Olympics. Then last year I read some articles about Mo Farah using one every week as part of his on going training. That is when I really took notice of what an underwater treadmill was. 

Interested in how David thought that the underwater treadmill would benefit the local running community, I put the question to him, he replied, “I see the treadmill being of benefit to local runners in a few ways. Firstly, when you pick up an injury and are unable to run it can be used to increase the training you are doing whilst still recovering from the injury.  It also means you feel that you are still ‘running’ and not stopping entirely.  Secondly, when things are going well and you are doing a good amount of training it allows you to add in some safe extra miles.  The reduced impact makes it a safe environment to progress our training and take you to that next level.”


On top of all this, research shows that underwater running builds strength and power.  Running against the resistance of the water enables athletes to build power, using water’s property of viscosity (drag), and achieve a greater workout in a shorter period of time.  It is refreshing and exhilarating, Kerry O'Flaherty spoke of feeling “rejuvenated and relaxed” when she works out in the water; athlete have also talked about it's soothing, calming effect.  Warm water also releases endorphins that add enjoyment and satisfaction to a workout.


Another local runner I spoke to about the Hydro Run underwater treadmill was Melissa Eccles.  Some may say that the North Down AC member is slightly biased as she works with David Graham at Hydro Run; however, being a runner herself, I think that Melissa, with her knowledge of the treadmill and having spoken to the athletes who have used the machine, is in the perfect position to tell us the benefits:  


“As runners we are always wanting to progress and improve our performance but the risk of overuse injuries from running on land limits us, especially if you have been injured before - you are always worried about doing too much and risk further injury.  But with Hydro Run, the fact that you can come in on your lunch break or before/after work and sneak in an hour of running without increasing your risk of injury and actually recover quicker from your hard work on the roads is something that I think is really exciting for the Northern Ireland running community.  With access to the same facility used by the likes of Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, I hope Hydro Run will motivate and encourage us to reassess our training and implement a new, positive outlook to training and performance. With the limits being broken down thanks to unlimited hydro run mileage I hope we can help runners reach new potential!”


Sessions on the underwater treadmill are NOW available, they cost £30 for 1hr or £20 for 30mins.  Block sessions are also available at the following rate:  6 x 30mins for £90, or 6 x 1hr for £150. 


For further information on Hydro Run or to book a session, please visit www.davidgrahamfitness.co.uk or email [email protected]  You can also follow them on facebook (facebook.com/hydrorununderwatertreadmill) and twitter (HydroRunUK).


Note – Some information for this article has been taken from Runners World website and PRWeb website.  Article by Ryan Maxwell (NiRunning).

Northern Ireland lady overcomes adversity to become World Champion!

An interview with Orla Smyth:

As we welcome a new year, when people use Christmas over indulgence to inspire them to lace up the trainers on a cold winter night; there isn't a more perfect time to introduce you to our latest 'Monthly Feature', which is based around one of the provinces unsung heroes, Orla Smyth.  Orla is an inspirational athlete who has overcome adversity to become a decorated sporting star, who works tirelessly to promote transplant sport and organ donation.  If this doesn't inspire you to get out there, nothing will!


As an 11 year old child, Orla Smyth was diagnosed with a degenerative kidney condition.  At such a young age she had no idea at the time of what was to come,“I sat in the hospital appointments and it went in one ear and out the other.  I know my mum probably took it all in but at that age I was just a normal kid doing things that normal kids do.”


The modest athlete describes herself as a normal child, but having represented her school at various sports and played soccer for Northern Ireland at Under 16 and Under 17 level, she was more than that – an up and coming star, all of this, at a time when she was dealing with an ongoing illness that would later mean a lengthly period away from the sports that she loved so much.


It was eleven years later, after a period of feeling tired and lethargic, that Orla found out that she would require dialysis and a kidney transplant.  Ironically, this devastating news came after the active, then student, had represented Queens University in a Gaelic Football match against UUJ.  It was at this time when Orla was forced to give up sport to concentrate on work (after qualifying as a Solicitor) and making sure that she was getting the necessary dialysis.  Orla went through her first transplant operation in 2004.  Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful: “I became very unwell and started on dialysis.  I had it every night for eight hours.  During the week was quite difficult because by the time I got home from work and had dinner, I only really had time for dialysis.  The weekends were a bit better because I could stay in bed a bit longer in the morning.  I was actually on dialysis on my honeymoon, which isn’t exactly how I expected to spend my honeymoon.”


In 2007, Orla went through a second operation, which went much better.  Approximately six months after the transplant, Orla tried her first run, a one mile jog to her local Tesco with her husband, Declan.  This is where the Belfast woman's successful running career began, since then, she has competed in several British Transplant Games and World Transplant Games.  However, prior to excelling on foreign soil, Orla showed her potential in Belfast.  In 2011, she was the face of the Transplant Sport fundraising campaign at Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon, which she went on to complete in 3:58:28; she recalls, “it was tough, a really hot day... but I think I could definitely do another one quicker!” 


It was after this that Orla burst onto the world scene; in the last two World Transplant Games, Orla has won no less than twelve gold medals, as well as one silver medal.  In four British Transplant Games, she has won gold medals in every event that she has entered! (This was the 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and 3k). Over and above this stunning medal haul, Orla also holds World Transplant Record's over 400m (68.31secs), 800m (2.35.00) and 1,500m (5.37.86).  Immediately after divulging her record times, Orla added, “I always feel a bit embarrassed with my 'record times' compared to real runners”.  However, this was something I was quick to quash;  having started running just four years earlier and over and above that, battled through such a serious condition – the unassuming, enthusiastic runner should replace 'embarrassed' with PROUD!


The buzz of her first World Transplant Games experience is something that has stayed clear in Orla's mind, “After the Games in Sweden in 2011, it felt unreal as I really had worked so hard to be fit to compete and get the records there, but the records and medals are just one thing about the games.  You meet so many amazing people that it's a hard come down after them (the games) you really are in a bubble of positivity with people who really are living life to the full and being surrounded by people like this, who all have amazing stories and attitude to life, that when you come back to 'the real world' it takes a while to adjust again.”


After her success in 2011, it would have been easy for Orla to settle on her achievements and take a step back, but the ambitious and talented athlete built on her medal winning performances at the next World Transplant Games in South Africa; however, she paid the price for her determination and willingness to push herself through the pain barrier, when many would have given up.  Orla explained, “After South Africa, on the athletic front, I felt really relieved as I was carrying an injury and when the last race was over I knew I wouldn't run again for few months (I got a stress fracture in left tibia after recovering from one in the right tibia) and to be honest I just felt like I really needed a break as I was exhausted; actually that's when I really got in to yoga and it has been a life saver - mentally and physically!”


One thing is clear when speaking with Orla, no matter how much she achieves or how busy she is, she never forgets the reason why she is able to compete and enjoy sport again and the support that everyone has provided, “I think a lot about my donor and family when I am training and competing; especially when I am finding things really tough.  I know it's never as tough as what they had to go through and I am just so eternally grateful for the chance I have been given to be well enough to take part in sport again.”


Away from the track and roads (and work!), Orla is involved in two very worthwhile organisations, assuming the roles of Secretary at Transplant Sport NI and Volunteer Champion at Volunteer Now; “I am secretary for TSNI, which is a charity completely run by volunteers.  We aim to promote the organ donation register through sport, by showing the difference that a transplant makes to peoples lives and hopefully encourage more people to become organ donors and sign the register.  We also want to offer transplant patients and those waiting on transplants opportunities to stay fit and active and try to keep themselves as healthy as possible, of course the social side of things too.  The charity is made up of people from all walks of life, all with the common bond of receiving a lifesaving transplant”


Whilst talking about Volunteer Now, the gratitude that Orla has for Volunteers is obvious, “I was delighted to be approached by Volunteer Now to become one of their Volunteer Champions; I have been lucky enough to have been given a second chance at life and I want to grab every opportunity that comes along.  I want to make a difference and anything that I can do to demonstrate to people, not only the real difference volunteers have made to my life, but also how much I personally get out of volunteering is too good an opportunity to pass.  The impact and positive influence that volunteers have had on my success is immeasurable.  Without their help and advice I wouldn’t be in the position I am at the moment and in reality sport would come to a standstill if it wasn't for the amazing volunteers who give their time and expertise to sport both on and off the pitch.”


Considering her hectic schedule, it is surprising that the dedicated athlete has time to train, but Orla still manages to fit in eight or nine training sessions per week and puts this down to the help and support of her family and friends, “I do have a really busy job but my work are great and very flexible. Sometimes it is a challenge to fit everything in and anyone who trains a lot is no different. My husband, Declan, is as busy as me and very involved in sport (Gaelic football and he runs with City of Lisburn AC), our family is very understanding as well. However, being busy is not a chore.  I was used to having to be in one place for 8-9 hours a day when I was on dialysis, so I will never complain about being too busy.  I am just one of those people who likes to be busy, but it's doing things I love!”


Talking with Orla, it's hard to believe that without an organ donation, none of this would have ever been possible.  The enthusiastic and inspirational woman is incredibly grateful to have been offered a second chance, “all I can say is that I am here talking to you about running because someone signed the organ donor register and the amazing courage of her family to support that decision.  By being an organ donor you really are giving people a second chance at life and saving peoples lives.  The way I see it is that your organs are no use to you after you die, yet there are thousands of people waiting for an organ to stay alive.  Three people die everyday in the UK because there are not enough organs available and I just see that as such an unnecessary waste of life.  Most people support the idea of organ donation but they just never get round to registering or telling their family and loved ones (who will always have the final say) their wishes.  Put it this way, I never thought that I would be on the transplant list waiting for an organ, but every single day of my life I will be eternally grateful to my donor and her family who have enabled me to set new goals and work so hard to achieve them.  They have given me a passion for running and staying healthy, that I am not sure I would ever have had if I hadn't have come through this - how can you thank anyone enough for that?”


Going into New Year, Orla has already got her sights firmly set on a new challenge, the 26extreme Mourne Way Marathon in June 2014, an event that she is “really looking forward to”.  As this is the first off-road marathon she has entered, thanks to her husband (Declan), who entered her as a Christmas gift, Orla is keen to use the opportunity to promote the organ donor register and how much it can change someones life.  She adds, “if it wasn't for renal failure, I don't think I would have ever contemplated a marathon”; now, with the help of her coach Eric Frizzell (City of Lisburn AC), friends, family and City of Lisburn AC club mates, the inspiring woman is gearing up for her second attempt at the distance.  


None of this would ever have been possible without the help of a kind hearted person and their family who had signed the organ donor register.  More information on organ donation is available on the Northern Ireland Transplant Association website HERE.


Links to further information:  Donor Register and Transplant Sport Northern Ireland (facebook page).

Justin Maxwell:  A view from the Sky!

Justin Maxwell - Skyrunning World Series 2013:

In 2013, Northern Ireland man, Justin Maxwell (East Coast AC) embarked on a running challenge that he had been looking forward to for quite some time, the Skyrunning World Series; a Series of top class races in various spectacular parts of the world.  


Having watched Justin’s progress throughout the Series, and his continual improvement on a race by race basis, I considered putting together an article regarding his achievements, on the basis that his performances were doing Northern Ireland proud; however, given the fact, that as many of you know, he is my brother, I had originally decided to steer clear of this to avoid accusations of favouritism etc.


This was until I was approached by quite a few people who were very interested in the Skyrunning World Series and wanted to know more about it, and also Justin’s views on the races and what he thought about the places and the travelling.   So, I took the opportunity to sit down with Justin last weekend in Dublin (Dublin Marathon weekend) and put a few questions to him about the Series, his travels, and what advice he could offer any other runners who had an interest in entering any of the 2014 races.  Here goes…

 

What is the Skyrunning World Series? How did you get involved?  The Skyrunning World Series is a circuit of five races held in Europe and America. In 2013 there were four events in Europe (Spain, France, Switzerland and Italy) and one in America (in the state of Colorado).  The races in the Sky World Series are usually more than 22km and less than 50km in distance, with at least 1,300 metres of positive vertical climb.  To complete the series athletes must finish at least three races.  Other Skyrunning circuits include the longer Ultra and extremely tough Vertical Kilometre Series'.  Back in 2012 I made an enquiry with the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF), just to see where the 2013 events would be held and if I would be welcome to participate.  At that time I was contacted by a member of the federation (Lauri Van Houten - Vice President/Executive Director) who advised me of the 2013 calendar and helped me plan out my participation in the series.  Lauri helped me with travel plans and kept me updated on all the relevant race information.  That was me sorted.

 

Personally, I know a bit about the Series.  To me, it's quite extreme and at times dangerous, why would you want to take this on?  It's challenging, I enjoy working hard and the feeling of satisfaction when it’s over.  The dangerous or extreme aspects of the courses, that I have encountered, add to the fun and enjoyment - when it’s over.  I'm not a top quality descender and found the technical aspect of the Zegama race quite tough.  Steep, rocky and wet ground all make descending hard, in Zegama a few of the descents had all three factors.  As well as the steep descents there was about 1.5k of uneven rocks from the Aizkorri summit across to the peak of Aitxuri.  There was no real path, just directional markers to show you what way to climb - on either side there was a massive drop, but spectacular views. 

 

What races did you do?  Before the Sky World Series started, I wanted to try Transvulcania La Palma on 11th May 2013.  Transvulcania takes place on the volcanic island of La Palma and is an 83km event; it was the opener in the Sky Ultra Series.  I had no intention of completing the Ultra Series but wanted to get a feel for Skyrunning and that kind of distance, previously I could only imagine what the competition was like, as well as the demands of altitude.  In the Sky World Series I completed the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon on 26th May 2013.  Zegama is a small town in the Basque region of North Spain. The Marathon event and Skyrunning brings a lot to Zegama and this was evident once the race competitors appeared and then left.  The locals were fantastic, very friendly and welcoming.  A month later (30th June 2013), I ran the Mont Blanc Marathon in Chamonix, France.  I had previously entered the 80km event, but changed to the marathon distance in order to be considered for the Sky World Series.  Chamonix is perfect location for anyone who loves being outdoors and in particular, in the mountains.  The festival which incorporates the marathon and other events for all standards goes on all weekend and really makes the place buzz.  On 24th August 2013 I went to Zermatt in Switzerland for the Matterhorn Ultraks 46k event.  Like Chamonix, Zermatt is a runners paradise, nestled up high in the valley overlooked by the Matterhorn.

 

How do you feel the races went?  Transvulcania was a good experience and a great way to try out the 50 mile plus distance.  I learnt that fuelling is important and that long downhill's are tiring.  In Transvulcania there was a section of downhill lasting approximately 21km, it was quite technical in places and really hurt my legs.  If I go back, I would be looking to improve my time.  I was disappointed with my run in Zegama. I tried hard, but the course just didn't suit me.  As I explained previously, the steep technical descents and rocky sections really hampered my progress.  I felt Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn races went well, I felt great, especially at Mont Blanc.  At the Matterhorn I was running well and feeling good until I missed a turn close to half way.  I lost 8-10 minutes and what seemed like quite a few places.  This mistake dis-heartened me slightly, but I kept going and pulled some places back.  I feel that I finished strongly and most importantly I enjoyed it.

 

I know from watching your progression through the Series that your performance in Mont Blanc (France) really 'raised the bar' with regard to your own standard.  It was a really disciplined run; you worked your way progressively through the field to finish in 36th place in what was a top quality line-up.  Had you learnt from previous experiences?  Yes, particularly the realisation that some of the climbs will take longer than what we're used to at home.  I was learning that if I want to run most of the way I needed to slow things down on the ups and then push harder on the flats and downhill.  Fuel was another aspect I felt I was beginning to learn.  As most of the races take longer than what the normal mileage would suggest I was trying to take on enough food and drink to enable me to continually push on, rather than feeling empty and weak.  This worked well at Mont Blanc. 

 

Speaking in terms of experiences, what have you learnt from the overall Series?  Again, considering the time I was running for I feel that learning to fuel myself correctly was good.  By doing that, I seemed to keep cramps away and feel energic.  I was loading up on salts and electrolytes in the days before the race.  I wasn't over eating, or carb-loading as such, I ate normally and kept topping up through the event.  I learnt about Climbing and descending too.  Climbing, slow and steady and downhill can be as tiring as uphill!! I have learnt that to compete well in Skyrunning I need to continually practice these aspects of the sport. Fast hiking as something else I had never considered before, everyone and I do mean everyone, will hike at some point in most Sky racing.  I felt that at stages were I needed to hike I was losing lots of places, to those who are used to this type of terrain and technique.  That is something I will practice in future.

 

Do you have a favourite out of all the races?  When you mention the word race, I immediately think Mont Blanc, because of the course, the scenery, the way I felt and the result.  But when I think about the likes of Transvulcania, Zegama and the Matterhorn I have good memories, for different reasons. Transvulcania in La Palma was a beautiful course and it was amazing to run from sea level, around the rim of a volcano and back down to the finish in the atmospheric town of Los Llanos.  Zegama, although I don't feel the course played to my strengths I really enjoyed the place.  During the race the support was amazing, it was so loud and I felt like I was a competitor in one of those iconic Tour de France climbs! The locals were friendly, genuine and respectful.  They tried their best to help us none Spanish speaking guests. Like in Transvulcania,  I had the opportunity to meet and run with some people whom I will always consider to be friends. The Matterhorn Ultraks race in Zermatt was fun.  Jane and I spent some time there before and after the race and our accommodation had a fantastic view of the Matterhorn itself.  The place was still buzzing after Kilian's successful summit record, from the other side of the legendary mountain.

 

This year, the interest in the Skyrunning World Series has been evident within the Northern Ireland running community, is there any advice you would offer people who are thinking about entering a race?  Go for it! The 2014 Calendar will be available by the end of November 2013.  What I plan to do is practice long climbs, both hiking and running, as well as long technical descents.  Time on feet over undulating terrain, such as the trails along the Causeway Coast and the Mourne Mountains would be advantageous.  If you want to be competitive add in some speed work, particularly for the Sky World Series events and those races shorter in distance. 

 

Immediately, (having been born in Ballymena), I'm thinking; is there not a great expense to travelling to these races, some of which are in quite remote places? With so many low cost airlines doing flights to lots of places in mainland Europe I found that with a bit of planning the expense didn't work out too bad.  My wife Jane kindly agreed to forget about a two week beach excursion and a few weekends away to allow me to pursue this dream.  I have always wanted to test myself against the best runners in the world and that is what Skyrunning can offer, I feel that it was worth the sacrifices I, or we made.  We usually travelled from Dublin and the flight schedules normally meant leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Monday or Tuesday.  I worked with Lauri (from ISF) and some race organisers to find reasonable, well located accommodation.  All the accommodation can be sourced from a simple internet search too. 


Geneva, like most big European airports had good transport to the places where I raced, such as Chamonix and Zermatt.  These links can be arranged online and if you share this with others the cost is reasonable, although Swiss rail can be expensive but for peace of mind it is an easy way to move around.  I had to hire a car to get to Zegama, as transport from Bilbao airport to the town wasn't smooth.  Jane accompanied me to Zegama, Chamonix and Zermatt.  We had fun in places that we wouldn't have thought about travelling to had it not been for running.  Now I think Jane (like me) feels more at home with trips like these, rather than the beach holidays she once adored.

 

Will you be competing in the Skyrunning Series again? What are your aims/plans for next year?  I hope to, I want to improve and establish myself in Skyrunning. It is highly unlikely that I'll ever win anything but it is the type of running that I love and I really enjoyed myself this year.  I feel that the previous experiences have helped me and I can be more competitive.  I’m eager to try the Sky Ultra Series in 2014, but if the calendar is similar to that of 2013 the races that suit my qualities are in America, as well as Transvulcania.  Obviously a trip or two from Belfast or Dublin to America (for UROC 100k and Speedgoat 50k) will cost slightly more than a few weekends in Europe.  That is something I'm working on and we'll see what happens, at the minute I really don't know and I can't plan anything properly until the 2014 schedule is released.   That said, I'll definitely be travelling to the Skyrunning World Championships in 2014, to represent Ireland. The Championships are confirmed and will be in Chamonix at the end of June.  The course is in the same area as the Mont Blanc Marathon but over an 80km route.  In 2014 I aim to try the 100 mile distance, it is a challenge that I would like to attempt.  I'm not sure were that will be yet.  Other races such as the Irish 50km Championships in Donadea (Ireland), Wicklow Way 51k Ultra (Ireland) and the HOKA Highland Fling (53 mile event in Scotland) are races  that are on my radar for 2014.  That said, I'm conscious of taking on too much! I want to be competitive, not just tired, going from race to race.

 

As you know, NiRunning will be working with Skyrunning UK in the near future.  What do you think about Skyrunning coming to the UK? Will it work?  I think it is brilliant, very exciting.   As you said before, the interest in Skyrunning here in Northern Ireland has grown massively in 2013 and I feel that the UK as a whole is the same, based on all the forum and social media sites that I read.  UK based media outlets, such as Talk Ultra, Mud Sweat and Tears and your own NiRunning are definitely 'stoking the fire', as such, and are easy ways for our running communities to follow the series and to feel part of it.  If these races and competitors come to the UK then we all have a better opportunity to participate and challenge ourselves against the worlds finest.  Not only that, but we can show these elite runners what we have in the UK and see how they get on over our terrain, on our doorstep,  where it is we who have the local knowledge and chance to recce the race routes.  Look at how UK runners, with a good fell and trail background have progressed in Skyrunning events.  


Athletes such as Andy Symmonds, Tom Owens, Ricky Lightfoot, Angela Mudge, Tessa Hill and Anna Lupton have all been successful in one way or another. We have so many other top mountain and fell runners who haven't dabbled in Skyrunning yet and I believe that given this opportunity they may be attracted to the races.

Ryan Armstrong:  What a difference two years make...

Hill walking enthusiast to endurance specialist:

Up until 2011, Ballymena Runners’ Ryan Armstrong was a hill/mountain walker, regularly taking on long distance challenges; something that he found a passion for whilst in the Valencia region of Spain, where he lived for 3 years.  Now the polite and enthusiastic runner competes at long distance events all over Ireland, and beyond!  


Recently he completed a gruelling “Quadrathon”, an event that saw competitor’s complete four marathons in four days.  This week, we (NiRunning) caught up with Ryan to have a chat about his progression and his new found love for the sport.


It turns out that a chance encounter with experienced marathon runner and endurance enthusiast Ken Beggs (East Antrim Harriers) at the Mourne Way Marathon in 2011 convinced Ryan that running was the next step to take; “I think that deep down I always wanted to get into running, but used all the excuses possible to delay it.  It wasn’t until I spoke to Ken that I decided it was time."


Ryan continued “Ken inspired me as he was not interested in time as much as taking part in marathons and ultra marathons. I did feel that I was taking the easy option and did not like the fact that walking was classed as non-competitive with no prizes."


Most people would take on this new challenge with some hesitation, but not Ryan.  A short time after completing the Mourne Way Marathon Walk, he registered for the Dublin Marathon.  When questioned if this was a step too far to start with, the Antrim man replied “I was already completing marathon walks so I thought it would be a good challenge, although I was going into it with limited training, the plan was to run most with the occasional walk if needed."


Despite the sore and stiff legs after his first marathon, this did not deter the gritty character who had clocked a sub 4:30:00 finish at the first attempt; instead it further fuelled his desire to compete over long distances.  The next few months were spent trying to cut down his times, from 10k to marathon distance.  In this time Ryan joined Ballymena Runners and the Marathon Club Ireland, two clubs that Ryan insists have helped him to where he is today, “in November 2012 I joined Ballymena Runners, which was great for winter training.  This was something I missed the previous year, when the racing season started in March 2013 I noticed a massive improvement in my times due to the club training.  


“I also joined Marathon Club Ireland which is linked to the Marathon club UK. The main aim of the club is to help members achieve a common goal of completing 100 plus marathons, allowing members to upgrade to the 100 Marathon Club kit. The club is mostly based around social meetings at marathons due to members coming from all parts of Ireland.”


In 2013, as part of his goal aim of completing 100 26.2 mile races, Ryan decided to take on a challenge, he set out to complete six marathons in six weeks. There was one small problem; as he really wanted a good for age entry for the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon, Ryan had to get that attempt out of the way first, as the chances of achieving this would become less likely with tiring legs.  In May 2013, Ryan started his challenge with the Belfast Marathon, which he completed in 3:07:18. He then went on to complete the following marathons:


Kildare Marathon (12/05/13) - 3:24:33

Newry Marathon (26/05/13) - 3:40:19

Walled City Marathon (2/06/13) – 3:28:07

Mourne Way Marathon (8/06/13) – 4:59:07

Forest Marathon (15/06/13) – 3:38:23


“I knew I had to go for good for age in Belfast as it would not be possible when doing 6 in 6 weeks. The Kildare event was held in bad weather but I was happy with my time. I found Newry Marathon very hard as I felt that the previous marathons had started to take their toll.  The Walled City Marathon was a great atmosphere which helped bring down my time. I think everyone knows how hard the Mourne Way Marathon course is, so I was happy with the time there. The Forest Marathon in Galway was one of the hardest as it was an 8.5 x 5k looped course; in saying that I will know what to expect next year.”  


Not content with having completed his six marathons in six weeks challenge, the now almost obsessed athlete decided to enter a ‘Quadrathon’ with a number of his Marathon Club Ireland friends.  The Quadrathon was an event organised by events company Extreme North and consists of four marathons in four days. The stunning route is set around the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal, Ireland and takes place every August.  The four marathons cover most of the Inishowen 100 mile coastal route, starting and finishing at the same point.


Asked whether it was hard to complete 26.2 miles on each of the four days, endurance enthusiast Ryan replied, “I was surprised each day how fresh I felt! I think knowing you have another marathon the next day, you do hold back a bit.  A good state of mind helps, its important focus on the job in hand, one marathon at a time.”


Day 1: Kinnagoe Marathon – 4:19:22 

Day 2: Buncrana Marathon – 3:52:28 

Day 3: Culladuff Marathon – 4:07:20 

Day 4: Mallon Marathon – 3:56:23 


The event provided Ryan with the opportunity to catch up with several of his Marathon Club Ireland friends from North and South of the border, as well as some Marathon Club members from England; something that he enjoys and looks forward too.


Having enjoyed an amazing year, albeit a busy one, Ryan has no plans to slow down and has plans; “I am looking forward to London 2014 as I got my good for age in Belfast this year. I am also planning to get my 25 marathons medal presented at Dublin Marathon 2014, although I think I will have done 29 by then.”


The remainder of this year will see Ryan take on The Causeway Coast Marathon and the Dublin Marathon. This will bring his total for 2013 to 12 and overall total to 19.  Beyond 2013, Ryan would one day love to represent Northern Ireland at veteran level, and having recently gained membership to the Northern Ireland Masters Athletics Association, this is something that he will be working towards.


As our chat came to an end, Ryan was very keen to re-iterate; “I realise that I would not be competing in the races or achieving anywhere near the times that I have so far without the support and coaching at my club, Ballymena Runners.”


NiRunning would like to wish Ryan all the best with his future plans, and future running.  His story, moving from a long distance walker to a marathon and endurance specialist in such a short time is nothing short of inspirational, something that I am sure we can all take something from.

New running group takes to the streets of Carrickfergus:

New Carrickfergus group were 'Barn to Run':

The Northern Ireland running community welcomes a new running group to the province.  The new group, called Barn Runners, started approximately three months ago because a small but keen group of runners in the Carrickfergus area decided to set up a running group based around a relaxed and friendly environment.  


The aim is to offer both a starting point and guidance for those who were new to running, along with structured training options for those keen to further develop their running.


Through their previous experiences within established running clubs, a number of the founding members had realised that a large percentage of ordinary casual runners felt somewhat intimated with the thought of joining and running within a 'big running club'.  This sparked Alan Rinchey, Dr Donal McKeown, Neil Reynolds and Neil Porter into action; with the invaluable assistance of their fellow early members, the group worked on providing a place/group where people could meet and run with those of very similar abilities, under the guidance of experienced runners.  This was based on the belief that Barn Runners would open the doors to a wider variety of those who simply enjoy running.


Since their formation, things have moved quickly for Barn Runners; progressing from a small group to over thirty members in just three months.  This is an achievement that the group are very proud of and put down to the time and dedication by many of the members to ensure that others can enjoy the benefits of running in a group.  In keeping with their ethos, being a member of Barn Runners costs nothing (other than the option to purchase running kit).


The group has no official club status and is not currently affiliated to Athletics NI, but this is because the current main objective is to keep things as simple as possible.  The aim of the group is to get people running and focused on their own personal goals, or just simply to run in a friendly and fun environment.  Barn Football Club has also offered the use of their facilities as a meeting point for the aptly named running group (Barn Runners), and the new running kit features the colours and design of the Football Club (Black and Orange).  


Although the club have featured at several races, including the Belfast Solstice 5k amongst other events, one of the main events Barn Runners have participated in was the recent Portaferry 10 Mile Road Race.  Eighteen members made the lengthy journey to the shores of Strangford Loch, with sixteen taking on the popular race.  This was the first 10 mile event for most of the runners - in fact half of the runners only took up running in the past year and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the beautiful route.  


The next main event for Barn Runners will be the Belfast Half Marathon on Sunday 22nd September 2013, followed by the Dublin Marathon on Monday 28th October 2013.  Again, this will be the first Half Marathon and Marathon for most who have signed up to the challenge.  Veteran runners Alan Rinchey and Donal McKeown, who both have a wealth of experience in long distance running, help and advise the runners training for these events.  However, the group highlight that there is no obligation whatsoever for members to participate in running events and races.  It’s not always about the speed or the distance - just to get out there and run is an achievement in itself.


Barn Runners have set up a Facebook page to provide regular updates, and to communicate with members.  A social event will also be organised before the end of the year to be held at the Football Club, with further events and activities to be confirmed once the group becomes more established.


For anyone interested in joining Barn Runners, training takes place at 7pm on Tuesday nights and Thursday nights, with some runners also meeting for longer distance training at weekends from Hazelbank in Newtownabbey.

Northern Ireland man completes infamous Comrades Ultra-Marathon:

Last Month (Sunday 2nd June 2013), Northern Ireland man John McManus, originally from Larne but based in Belfast, travelled to South Africa for one of the worlds most challenging races, the Comrades Ultra Marathon.  Below is an interesting and enjoyable review of his experience.


My Comrades Marathon Experience by John McManus:

"Business, pleasure....or the marathon"... this was the first question I was asked by the passport control officer after I landed in South Africa.  It put a smile on my face.  From that point on every conversion I had leading up to the race involved Comrades in some form or other, from the taxi drivers to the baggage men in the hotel.  


Everyone, I mean everyone, had their own opinion as to whether the UP or the DOWN run was easier, whether they had run the race or not.  For those that aren't familiar with the Comrades Marathon, it's a point to point race between two cities, Durban on the coast and Pietermaritzburg in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains.  Each year the route changes direction, starting in Durban one year and Pietermaritzburg the next.  Sometimes even the route and distance change slightly....but it doesn't matter, no one cares, it doesn't have to be 26 miles and 385 yards like we know a marathon needs to be. In South Africa things are different.  There's no dividing line between a marathon and other distances... ultra-marathon running is just considered as running.


This year it was the UP.  I didn't necessarily want to run the UP but decided to take part this year to celebrate my 30th birthday.  The course was 86.863km long and took in the infamous 'Big 5' hills - Cowies, Fields, Botha's, Inchanga and Polly Shortts.  As I would find out on the bus tour of the course two days before the race, they weren't the only hills - in fact, the whole course just seemed to be hill after hill after hill! After the tour, any expectation of finishing time went out the window!  


On the plane over from Dubai to Durban I was sat beside a guy who turned out to be the former chairman of the Durban Running Club.  He wasn't racing Comrades this year but had completed the Comrades several times.  He asked if it was my first and what time I was expecting.  I told him that my first priority was to finish, my top goal was to go sub 9 but I would take anything in between.  He replied "I thought I was in sub 9 shape one year, I ended up with 10 and a half hours... but that's Comrades!" And as we left the plane in Durban he looked back and said "...watch out for Polly Shortts..." Polly Shortts... it's the last big hill of the Comrades UP run and lies a brutal 80km from the start.  It is 2km long and is insanely steep, and it feels like you're climbing Everest when you've covered that much of the race, but I'll get to my struggle up Polly later....


Race Day:

The alarm clock went at 3.00am.  I managed 5 hours broken sleep.  I immediately got up, sorted my kit, put on factor 50 kid's sunscreen and wondered down to the special breakfast buffet the hotel had put on in the lobby.  The lobby also had the entrance to the hotel bar where a strange mix of intoxicated partiers met runners eating breakfast before the biggest ultra-marathon in the world.  I was forcing down toast, yoghurt and coffee as I watched security guards chase a couple through the lobby after making off with a beach ball from the fake beach set up in the bar.  Any other Saturday night/Sunday morning that could have been me trying to sneak a beach ball out of a bar but not today! After breakfast I went back to my room to make some final preparations and then it was time to go. 


The Start:

I arrived at the front of the hotel and met a number of other UK and Australia based runners and we made our way to the start.  It was 4.30 am when I turned the corner to see Durban City Hall, the music was blasting out of the PA system, deafening! I had to remind myself of the time and started to wonder how anyone in Durban was getting any sleep! The answer was that no one in Durban was sleeping as I soon found out.


I made my way through thousands of runners, arrived in my seeding pen and immediately sat down. I had worn a long sleeved t-shirt, as by all accounts, the start is always cold.  Wait a minute.... I wasn't cold at all... in fact, it was warm, very warm... it was 18 flipping degrees!! The next 45 minutes dragged as one by one runners stood up as the pens filled.  Then with 15 minutes to go the music stopped and the South African national anthem started.  Next up was Shosholoza.  This race had been on my mind for 3 years and this was one of the moments I was looking forward to most!  14,000 South Africans sang and it was nothing short of incredible! 


It was followed by what seemed like the longest rendition of Chariots of Fire... ever but everyone was awaiting the next sound, the cock's crow.  In 1948, local runner Max Trimborn, couldn't contain his nervous energy on the start line.  He needed to do something... so he cupped his hands and issued a lusty rooster crow.  The other runners enjoyed it so much that they demanded repeat performances in subsequent years.  Trimborn obliged for the next 32 years, sometimes dressing up in feathers and wearing a rooster vest.  By the time of his death in 1985, the crowing had been preserved on tape.  To this day, it still starts the Comrades Marathon "Cock-A-Doodle-Do".  Comrades is filled with little things like this, so many traditions and so much history it's hard to remember them all!  With all this build up, the start of the Comrades marathon is emotional and it's hard to explain how the start of any race can be emotional to someone who hasn't done THIS RACE.


The cock crowed, runners flooded onto the streets of Durban and the 12 hour clock was ticking - although all runners wear chips, Comrades works to a gun time only.  There's no chip time at Comrades and, as I'll explain later, the cut off's are strictly adheared to! I shuffled across the line about 40 seconds after the gun and shortly after beginning to run I started to notice the people at the side of the road, they were standing on bus shelters, hanging off buildings, all for a better view of the race coming by... there were people everywhere!! It was 5.30am on a Sunday morning... did these people not have a bed to lie in?? It's not as if they had to get up to run the race like us loonies!


As we quickly made our way out of Durban we ran onto the N3 motorway and hit the first of the unnamed hills.  I looked around me and the view of thousands of runners streaming up the motorway in the darkness was surreal. I expected the crowds at the side of the roads to thin leaving Durban but they never did... endless people! Coming off the motorway, we hit the first village/suburb outside Durban.  These folks were having a party, BBQ's left, right and centre, people dancing at the side of the road... people drinking beer! (I love this place!!) I took some water on at this point and a gel.  I had a 2 minute walk as I did.  My plan was to walk every 9km and get some energy in.


The uphill grind carried on until we hit Cowies Hill, the first of the big 5, at 14km in.  It was about a mile long and with gradients of up to 15%.  This early in the race this hill wasn't too much of a problem thankfully. The sun was starting to show at this point and I was well aware I was sweating lots despite me taking it relatively easy.  A quick descent off Cowies and onto the approach of Field's Hill.  Fields Hill seemed to never bloody end... it's the longest hill on the course, 3km.  To try and save my legs I decided to walk/run it.  As I did I talked to other runners and made some friends.  Every runner welcomed me to South Africa and gave me the thumbs up when they realised where I was from.... brilliant craic!


Miles covered: 13.5miles

Time Elapsed: 2hrs 7 mins

Mind: Two big ones done... keep her lit!

Body: Some downhill would be nice...

Overall: To early to think about a Bill Rowan??


As I crested Field's Hill and carried on forward to Botha's Hill at 35km I ran with an Irish guy, Kieron, now living in Sydney.  We talked about the race and also the Marathon des Sables which he completed in March.  But as we ran together he was getting more annoyed that every second person in the crowd was shouting out "Ireland!" or singing Ireland's Call.  The support I was getting from the crowd was incredible.  He was wearing an Australian vest and had to remind the crowd to shout for him too.  I cheekily joked he was getting some of the splash from me.  It was about this point I was offered a Comrades speciality, salted potatoes! I managed to eat one but felt a little sick, maybe it was the food but the temperatures were rising and I had trouble eating the rest of the day.  From this point on I lived off Pepsi and water... a long way to go without something solid!  


I had the same plan for Botha's Hill as I had for Fields, walk/run. Botha's wasn't as bad a Field's and as the temperatures were rising I appreciated the shade on this section of road.  After the top of Botha's it was mainly downhill to half way, had the race organisers put this section of the route in by mistake my legs were thinking?!  


Approaching half way, I collected a flower from the Game aid station to place at Arthur's seat just after the Comrades Wall of Honour.  Arthur's Seat is literally a hole cut out of the side of hill and is reputed to be a favourite resting spot for Arthur Newton, a 5 times winner of the Comrades.  Legend has it that runners who greet Arthur and place a flower in his seat will have a good second half.  Every little helps so I followed tradition!  Drummond, the half way point was now in sight.... but so was the fourth of the big 5 hills, Inchanga! I could see the whole climb and it looked horrific!!!


Miles covered: 27.0miles

Time Elapsed: 4hrs 31 mins

Mind: If I felt like this the morning of a marathon, I wouldn't even bother getting out of bed!

Body: John Boy, I'm starting to get her tight!

Overall: Tired but the tough half is over...


The heat and, despite taking it easy, the constant grind of the first half was starting to take it's toll by the time I reached half way.  I made the decision to walk the whole of Inchanga, 2.5km, in the hope I felt better at the top.  There was no shade on this hill and my calfs were starting to scream! I felt no better at the top but the course was a slight downhill at this point and I continued to run.


As if running an ultra isn't enough of an emotional rollercoaster, it's at this point of the race you past Ethembeni School (translated 'Place of Hope') for physically disabled and visually impaired kids from the region, many of whom are orphans.  I visited the school the Friday before the race and it's possibly the saddest place I've ever been.  International runners at Comrades have supported this school since the 1980's, when it had no running water or electricity, and make donations of money, clothes and toys.  Now thankfully, the school is better equipped but still lives off the donations of the Comrades runners each year.  We got an amazing welcome as the children performed zulu dancing and sang.  On the day of Comrades, these children line the street outside the school and cheer.... if this doesn't give you a boost at this point nothing will!


The next section of the race is called the 'Harrison Flats' which aren't flat at all.  However, on an UP run they are slightly downhill... but things were getting very painful and I was starting to have to fight off cramps.  From this point on there was definitely a lot of 'managing the situation' going down! As I covered this section, I noticed the wind was picking up.  Pre-race there was talk of something called a 'berg' wind but I didn't take much notice as I assumed in the heat a little breeze would be nice.  But a 'berg' wind is anything but nice, is a hot blast of air straight in the face and drys up everything it touches! Along with the wind, temperatures were now touching the mid 30’s.  Passing aid stations, no amount of water could quench my thirst! 50 yards pass every aid station I was just gasping for more! 


It was this part of the race that I was having some dark thoughts as I started to see many runners sitting under trees at the side of the road, head in their hands, and runners pulling up crying with cramps.   I just keep recalling what the Australian Ambassador for the race advised us on the bus tour..."do not ever stop moving forward... no matter what."  Eventually I reached Camperdown and the famous Nedbank Green Mile...


Miles covered: 38.0 miles

Time Elapsed: 7hrs 2 mins

Mind: What was I thinking!!!!

Body: Agggghhhhh!!!!!

Overall: I hate the Comrades Marathon!!!


The Nedbank Green mile was nuts! There was everything from rock bands to scottish pipers along with thousands of spectators!  The support in this section was incredible!! I even got a shout out from the compere of the Green Mile, high 5'ing him as I went by!  This lifted my spirits for a short while but soon enough I was back to screaming agony!


The lead up to Polly Shortts was tough, lots of little hills that just keep chipping away at your will! To make things worse, the rescue vehicles started to appear.  On the bus tour we were told not to look directly at them... women would see Australian surfer types behind the wheel of lovely air conditioned cars with ice cool soft drinks while men would see topless Swedish models offering beer... but it's your imagination we were told!!  I made a point not to look!


I don't recall a great deal of this part of the race... it was just physical and mental hardship like I'd never experienced! Before Polly Shortts is a little introduction to 'soften you up'.... Little Polly.  There were so many hills at this point I wasn't sure what one I was on! I asked another runner if it was Polly.  He replied "Little Polly.... you'll know when you're on Polly!!" I nearly cried... little polly was horrible, what was Polly Shortts going to be like?!  As I topped Little Polly there was a downhill to the foot of Polly Shortts.... there it was!!! Very few runners outside the top 10 manage to run on Polly Shortts... this year, even the winner walked on it!


With exactly 78km done I started my ascent of Polly Shortts... it was a killer!!! Not just for my legs but the road wound around corners and just when you thought you were at the top, it went on!! Walking was becoming a struggle and my calves were in a very very bad way, I just wanted to lie down and cry! After what seemed like an eternity I reached the top... I have never been so relieved about anything in my life EVER!


All downhill from here I thought!  I was still managing to run the down this far into the race.  However, as I started to shuffle off the summit of Polly Shortts a pain shot up my calf... CRAMP! I don't know how I managed it but I somehow fought it off and continued to shuffle.  7km left... on a good day this would take me 25 minutes... today it would take me over an hour.


The wind kept on blowing as the km markers were lying on the ground toppled over.  With about 3km to go there was another hill... what the f***?!?! Are you kidding me?? Polly Shortts was the last hill!!!  I'm sure under normal circumstances this hill is nothing but it felt like Mont Blanc!!


I carried on in a zombie like trance as we entered the city of Pietermaritzburg.  I could hear the finish... and finally I could see it!!! I mustered something akin to a run as I entered the stadium and ran on to what was the only flat section of the entire course, the Pietermaritzburg cricket oval!!  The crowds were mental, I felt like I had won Comrades!! You do a lap of the oval and from afar I caught sight of the finish line... you beauty!! All the pain went away for the last 100 metres as "John McManus, from Northern Ireland" got a shout out on the PA. 


The finish of this race is like no other.   At other finish lines, people sprint or get competitive trying to get one place higher or go slightly faster... not at Comrades, it doesn't matter.  People look around them and finish together... the finish is truly unbelievable!!  10 hours 50 minutes and 24 seconds and I had completed Comrades!


Miles covered: 54.0 miles

Time Elapsed: 10hrs 50 mins

Mind: Never again!!!

Body: John, I want a divorce!

Overall: Where can I lie down??


The Aftermath:

I nearly collapsed after the finish but saved that for 10 metres further so I could get what I came for, my Comrades Marathon medal! My legs seized up and I fell to the ground.... every nerve in my legs was twitching, it was like that scene from Alien.  I was expecting some creature to pop out! As I sat there with my head in my hands, medical staff came and asked if I needed help.  My mouth was so dry I could barely answer them but eventually got out that all I needed was some water.  I sat for 30 minutes waiting for the pain to go.  As I did, body after body was getting stretchered by to the medical tent… it was carnage!


I eventually managed to stand and make my way over to the international tent.  Free beer... awesome! I sat with a fellow Northern Ireland man I had met on the way from Dublin to watch the last 20 minutes (which would take the time to the 12 hour cut off). I stayed in the stadium until after the very last finisher had crossed the line (so did every other runner).  I have never done this at any race in my 20 odd years of running... but this is Comrades.


With about 15 minutes to go I looked up at the screen and the counter said 8,000 runners!  That can't be right; 14,500 started in Durban I thought!?  Yep, over 6,000 were still out on the course or at the side of the road somewhere with 15 minutes to go!!  In the end over 4,000 runners didn’t make it to the finish before the clock struck 12:00:00


As runners streamed in the clock ran down.  The finish of this race is probably the most cruel thing I have ever seen but I couldn't look away or stop cheering the runners still coming in.  So many runners giving everything to get to the finish, some collapsing yards from the line.... inspirational!! Even more inspirational were the runners who stopped and lifted them up, heroes… the epitome of the spirit of the Comrades Marathon! Then 12 hour cut off came and the finish was blocked, heartbreaking for runners literally yards from the line after running all the way from Durban not being allowed to cross!


The Ultimate Human Race:

I had read a lot about this race before I went out, people calling it everything from the greatest footrace on earth, to a life changing experience.   Although I have never been so excited to do a race before, I took most of this with a pinch of salt.  It was later that night after the pain subsided I realised I had taken part in something special.  In South Africa, they call the Comrades the Ultimate Human Race, a cheesy title but after experiencing Comrades, this title really fits! The old saying goes that if South Africa held the Comrades every single day it would be the greatest country on the planet with the spirit it creates!  


I was told by others that it would be hard to explain to non Comrades runners how special this race is, it's a race you have to do to understand.  And those people who know what it's like, KNOW.  I feel I've been inducted into a club.  This country really has got the greatest race on earth and you'll just need to do it yourself to find that out.


Despite going to hell and back on 2nd June 2013, if I was only allowed to take part in one race ever again, it would 100% be Comrades, no doubt.... and I will be back to do it again!  


P.s. but I still hate you Polly Shortts!

Andy Deal prepares for 24 hour challenge in aid of SANDS NI:

Andrew takes on massive fundraising challenge:

Andrew Deal, a member of Springwell Running Club and event director of the Portrush ‘parkrun’ will take on an amazing challenge later this month; on the 22nd June 2013 Andrew will start the ‘parkrun’ on East Strand beach, Portrush, but unlike the other competitors who will take part in the 5km time trial, Andrew will continue running for 24 hours, until 9.30am on Sunday 23rd June 2013.  Why would he do this? … you may ask, but read on and you will understand.


Many of us would consider this as one the hardest things we could experience, but for Andrew, it’s not.  In December 2009 Andrew’s eight day old daughter, Poppy Rose died in his arms after being born with a genetic complication; speaking about the pain and suffering, the brave fire fighter says, “this as you can imagine devastated the family, and life will never be the same again.  Anyone that has been in the same situation as we have knows that losing a child creates extremely powerful emotions; devastation, being lost, numbness, fear, anger, disbelief, pain and the list goes on. It can break you in two at such random times.  Yet these extremely powerful emotions can, when the time is right, allow you to achieve the unachievable, face your worst fears, make you strong and even suffer extreme pain because we have been through worse.  So I will be taking myself out of my comfort zone completely to achieve something that I thought I could never do.”


Andrew and his wife Kirsty express their appreciation for SANDS NI, a charity who help and support bereaved parents and families, and have been there for them when they needed it most. Kirsty is one of the ladies behind SANDS Coleraine.  


Andrew adds, “SANDS NI has really helped our family with their monthly meetings; bereaved parents are able to be the Mummy’s and Daddy’s of the children and babies they have lost.  They are able to freely talk about their feelings and emotions to other like people, without the person listening recoiling into their pocket for fear of making us upset, crossing the street to avoid contact, wondering isn’t it about time you got over it.  We never get over this, ever.”  


As a keen marathon runner, Andrew wanted to take himself out of his comfort zone and thought this challenge would do just that, he explains how he came up with the idea, “As a youngster I used to loathe the cross country run in the rain and wind, but having done 4 marathons now, I see things differently.  My first one was the New York City Marathon on our first wedding anniversary with my wife; recently, I have been drawn to going a little further.  The Causeway Coast Ultra (organised by 26 extreme) is right on our doorstep and that’s 39 miles, I’ve listened to Marathon Talk podcasts on my training runs to get more of an understanding about how to run better and achieve more.  This then lead to listening to Talk Ultra podcasts (an Ultra is anything more than a marathon) where running 50, 60, 100 miles or more is not considered to be weird.  Part of these podcasts talked about 24 hour runs and seeing how far you could go in that time.  I had ran marathons to raise money for SANDS NI before but now was time to up the ante, maybe the time was right.


The 24 hour run will be entirely on the Portrush ‘parkrun’ course, which in itself brings an extra challenge because of the terrain; something that Andrew has thought about, “Running for that length of time and distance will always have a detrimental effect on the body, there needs to be changes of clothes and shoes, blister management, first aid and hopefully a good masseuse to rub my legs.  Running on sand increases the effort you require to run as the ground isn’t solid and stationary like the tarmac of the road.  Strangely enough, who has been on the beach before us also plays a big part as we are finding out from the parkrun; race horses can churn up the sand and cause quite large holes.  Plus, it’s not always flat so you have to make sure you lift your legs up a little higher to avoid trips.  Having said all this, I can think of no better place to do the run.  The 22nd June is the day after Summer Solstice, so the hours of darkness will be limited, which I’m hoping will benefit me.  The sea in the summer months is never really that rough and I’m hoping there’s no large changes in tides as I’ll be up and down the dunes and that’s the last thing I need at 4am 

after 75 miles.”


Sensibly, Andrew has put a lot of effort into training for the challenge, building up the miles gradually and also running at night so as to train his body to deal with the exercise when it would normally be enjoying some downtime.  When asked about his training, Andrew explained, “Believe it or not, the training for a 24 hour event is very similar to marathon training.  Through the week there will be two or three sessions of about 6-8 miles, one of which will be a faster tempo run and another will be up and down hills.  The main difference to marathon training is the longer runs at the weekend, with a marathon you would do progressively longer runs up until about a month before the event and then gradually reduce them.   However, with the 24 hour event I will be doing two days of these longer runs, preferably back to back.  So on a Friday I might do 18 miles then the same again on the Saturday, up to a maximum of about 30 miles for each day. This allows the body a chance to get used to running on tired legs. 


Walking is also a big part of a 24 hour event, running for 24 hours non-stop is in a league way above mine, so the plan is to start out slow and easy to allow my body to conserve energy for the last quarter.  The plan is to try to break the 100 mile mark within the 24 hour period, as Talk Ultra podcasts have explained that a 100 mile event is basically a 75 mile warm up to a marathon.  I have been training on and will continue to train on the beach at East Strand for some of my runs, just to get my legs used to the sand.  I have also had to start running in the middle of the night to make sure I can run at these times and to test out any kit I will have with me e.g. head torch etc.  Feeding is also a big part of the process and that’s normally taken on board at the walking stages.  I will plan to do 6-9 miles running with 3 miles walking.”


Andrew is encouraging other runners and friends to get involved and support his efforts to raise much needed funds for SANDS NI (Stillbirth & Neonatal Death Support).  This could be in the form of running with him for a while, coming out to support him during the day and through the night.  Assistance from local businesses would also be appreciated, in the form of donations such as; food, any soft drinks, sun tan lotion, plasters, towels, sports gels, protein powder and fruit amongst other items.


If you would like to help and support Andrew during his 24 hour run, please contact him via the event facebook page:  www.facebook.com/24-hour-deal.  If you would like to support Andrew’s efforts via a monetary donation, please do this through his JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/24-hour-deal or alternatively, to donate £1 then you can text DEAL 72 £1 to 70070.

Northern Ireland running community welcomes a new club:

Introducing..... Magherafelt Harriers:
This month, the Athletics community in Northern Ireland welcomes a new club to the scene, with the establishment of Magherafelt Harriers as an Athletics NI affiliated club.

Magherafelt Harriers was established to meet the needs of the runners living in the Magherafelt Council area and beyond.  Kevin Murphy, the elected Chairman of the newly formed club had this to say, “It was evident that there were a large number of runners, on any given night, running around the town.  Many of the current members are also members of Triangle Triathlon Club, Carn Wheelers Cycling Club and the recently refurbished Magherafelt Leisure Centre.  It seemed to be the natural progression to form a local running club.”

After an initial meeting was held in Bryson’s Bar, Magherafelt on 12th March 2013 the founding members committed to establishing a new club under the auspices of Athletics Northern Ireland.  Under the guidance and advice of the provinces governing body, Magherafelt Harriers completed the necessary process to become an affiliated club.  The Club colours are Black and Red, this includes a Red and Black vest, sporting the club’s official logo and black shorts.

The elected committee are as follows:
Chairman:  Kevin Murphy, Vice-Chairman:  Alvin Taylor, Secretary: Rodney Young, Treasurer: John Joe Muldoon, Press Officer:  Paul McErlain, Training & Development:  Francis Stewart

The aforementioned Committee agreed that Magherafelt Harriers’ principles would be built around: 

  • Training hard and training together to meet individual and collective needs,
  • being competitive in the Irish running scene,
  • supporting each other,
  • raising funds for charity,
  • forging strong links with other Clubs,
  • travelling abroad to races,
  • recognising that we are involved in a hobby and participate in sport for enjoyment.

After the initial development work was undertaken, Magherafelt Harriers held an open night, generously hosted by Simplicity Restaurant.  This attracted a crowd of about forty runners which convinced the founding members that they were on the right path.  Runners completed the necessary application forms on the night and many paid the associated membership fee.  After such a successful open night, Kevin said that he was “confident that the membership will continue to grow”; especially because of the positive media interest.  Magherafelt Harriers welcomes runners of all abilities and they boast a membership of experienced runners who are keen to guide and motivate others. 

Club Chairman Kevin Murphy has represented Northern Ireland on the Track and over Cross Country.  He has also taken part in the European Triathlon Championships.  Vice Chairman, Alvin Taylor is a well known competitive runner and regularly features in the veteran category prize-lists, while Club Treasurer John Joe Muldoon, a member of the famous Muldoon sporting clan, has raced in places as far away as New Zealand. Secretary, Rodney Young is also an experienced runner and has represented Ireland in the World Duathlon Championships.  Paul McErlain is a regular competitor and leads the annual expedition to the Dublin Marathon.  Presently, Paul can be seen pounding the pavements at all hours in preparation for a Double Ironman which will include a 52 mile run.  Francis Stewart is one of the most improved runners in the local area.  Having started with a 4h 45mins Marathon in Rome, he is now crossing the finish in sub 3h 14mins.  An inspirational runner, Francis is keen to progress into coaching and will participate in courses offered by Athletics Northern Ireland.   The Club has a number of runners who take part in a variety of races across Ireland and abroad. Just last weekend (21st April 2013), Niall Higgins and Darren Church represented Magherafelt Harriers at the Virgin London Marathon.  Niall clocked 2:56:42, while Darren crossed the line in 2:59:03.

The new club will have an active ladies section, including local runners Karen O’Kane and Jane Higgins.  Keen to promote this, Kevin Murphy pointed out that “this is a key area where we see opportunities for immediate action.”   Another aspect important to the Club’s ethos, is regular trips to races and events, this will include the Dublin Marathon, London Marathon, Great North Run and Edinburgh Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.  In the past, club members have ran in Barcelona, Rome and Torremolinos and they hope that similar trips will be planned in the future.

When asked about race promotion ideas and plans, Kevin added “the Club is in the process of organising a series of 5k races in the scenic setting of Lough Fea.  The entry fee will be £3 and the first race kicks off at 7.00 pm on Tuesday 30th April 2013.  These will be timed races, offering those new to the sport an opportunity to try a race in a friendly environment.  In the future other local forest trails will be incorporated into our racing programme.  In the medium term the Club will organize a road race under the auspices of Athletics Northern Ireland.”  Another thing the Club Committee are keen to do is forge strong relationships with other Running Clubs.  Over the coming months club members will be representing Magherafelt Harriers at the Lavey 10k, Maghera 10K, Ballymena 5m Road Race, Jude Gallagher ‘Round the Bridges’ 10m Road Race.

The Rainey Rugby Club has also offered the use of their facilities as a meeting point for Magherafelt Harriers, for which the Committee are grateful.  For anyone interested in joining Magherafelt Harriers, training takes place at 6.30pm on a Tuesday and Thursday night and at 8.30am on a Sunday morning, meeting at the Rainey Rugby Club.

To communicate with the increasing membership the Club will set up Facebook & Twitter accounts to provide regular updates.  As soon as these accounts are active, NiRunning will of course promote them via our own Facebook (NiRunning) and Twitter (@NiRunning) accounts.

The diary of an endurance enthusiast:  Gillian Cordner (Seapark AC)

Gillian Cordner (Seapark AC) shares her Clonakilty Back2Back Marathon experience:
It was Friday 15th February 2013, the day before our back to back marathon challenge; Gary Connolly (Seapark AC) and I arrived in Clonakilty, Cork (Ireland) around 5pm after a six hour drive. 

My legs seriously needed stretching!  Luckily, the race pack collection was at the hotel where we were staying, so we didn’t have to venture out too far.  This was also a good opportunity to chat with the race organisers and other runners competing.  We knew beforehand that a fellow Northern Ireland runner and friend Gerard Rowe (Murlough AC) was competing on both days.  We met him and his wife Jane (Gerard and Jane along with Carol McMenamin are founders of ‘Born2Run’ events) and had a good chat about race plans/pacing etc.

After that, it was carb loading with pasta (and a sneaky pint), before preparing my race day kit and getting an early night as we had an early start on the Saturday morning, with the marathon starting at 9am.  Gerard and Jane offered us a lift to the start, this was really the start of a developing friendship over the weekend, there was great camaraderie between runners all the way!

There were a lot of runners staying at our hotel (the Quality Hotel), so it was nice being able to have a quick chat with everyone at breakfast, there were more than a few nervous faces over the tables!  This was most people’s first multi-day event, so no-one really knew what to expect.  Breakfast was porridge and a bagel, I always bring my own as you never know what hidden ingredients are in the porridge made in a hotel and I always have a fear of needing to make a pit-stop; a ‘la Paula Radcliffe at the edge of the road! 

After a good breakfast, we headed off to the start at Incydoney Hotel.  I have to say the event was extremely well organised, with no hanging around, apart from at the bag drop and the marshall’s and organisers were the most cheerful I’ve ever seen.  Although, the Incydoney Hotel actually kicked us out on the Saturday and refused to let us use the toilet, which was a pain, but the organisers sorted this for Sunday and we were allowed in.  The start is beside a blue flag beach and is the most gorgeous and inspiring start to a marathon ever, it just made me want to run to enjoy the scenery!

Not having done an event like this before, I have to say that I was quite nervous standing on the start line.  However, I was more excited; I knew the training had been completed (including 80mile weeks) and knew I could run 26.2 miles no worries, but to get up and do it again on the Sunday?  I wasn’t so sure!

The marathon course was amazing and given that we had run it previously; on 8th December 2012 I was still familiar with it, so knew where the upcoming hills and even worse, the steep downhills were and had prepared for these.  We (Gary and I) had also been careful to work out strict pacing, with an aim to finish Day 1 around 4:10 and Day 2 around 4:30 – this didn’t quite go to plan however! Our training before the event had gone really well, with the only difficulty having been running at a much slower pace.  As I normally run 8 minute miles and we had been practising reducing this, with the aim of running around 9-9:30 minute miles in Clonakilty.  We certainly reduced it on Day 1 but not quite as much as planned.  Gary (Connelly) and I ran together and as we’ve trained together, this worked well.  We know when the other is struggling a bit and know what works to perk them other up! I have to say we both found the other a real strength and support during the event.

I felt really strong on Day 1 and could have pushed on harder but was expecting Day 2 to be really difficult, so I held back in an attempt to keep some energy. We ran a steady pace until about mile 23 and then I pushed on; it was a nice feeling to have kept some reserve in the tank and to be able to have a sprint finish at the end of a marathon.  I loved it! I did try to overtake a girl just in front of me but I literally couldn’t get past as the finish was on a footpath, so she finished a couple seconds in front of me.  I was not impressed! (However, I managed to get about thirty minutes on her on Day 2, so it was all good!).  I finished Saturday’s marathon in 3:52:40, with Gary Connolly following in 3:56:20.  This was faster than planned but we both felt great and had plenty of energy left so were very happy campers!

Gary, Gerard and I all met up at the finish line (I was first home, wahey for the girls!) and agreed that the course had again proved to be challenging (especially the tight hill at mile 25.5) but very enjoyable.  We all felt happy with our run but were already getting anxious about doing it again the next day!  We headed back to the hotel, quickly changed, had some food and went a short walk to stretch the legs.  I had then planned to sleep for a couple hours before heading to the Jacuzzi for a bit of pummelling of the legs but I was so excited/anxious about the whole thing that I couldn’t sleep,  so ended up just chilling out reading for a while. The Jacuzzi worked wonders on the legs though, I couldn’t have faced a massage and this was definitely the next best thing.  A late dinner of you guessed it yet; another bowl of pasta and another early night rounded off Day 1, with the first of two (hopefully) medals proudly displayed on the mirror bedroom wall.  It was strange to be going to bed sober the night of a marathon (not to sound like I have a drinking problem, but I am fond of a few to celebrate!).

Waking up on Day 2 was an odd experience.  I’ve gotten used to waking up the day after a marathon and giving myself a pat on the back…. “well done, now you can chill out today and bask in your own glory” etc etc …. Not this time, I got up, had breakfast and headed to the start line again!  Breakfast was the same again (I’m a creature of habit) and again Gerard and Jane gave us a lift to the start.

Just like Day 1, the organisation was fantastic; no hanging about, the event started dead on 9am and away we went for round two.  The marshalls around the course were awesome and there was some great spectator support as well, despite the rural course.  Plenty of locals came out to help, handing out sweets and drinks to the passing runners.  There were also guys riding bikes (part of the event team) carrying massive bags of drinks, gels, energy bars etc) and this just summed the whole event up for me.  They were so encouraging and so helpful, and it really brought a smile to the runners’ faces!  The chat between the runners was great and it was turning into one of the best marathons I had run, even though it was becoming more challenging as the course went on!

The course was the same both days, so for those runners who had run Day 1 it was a bit more familiar.  This was now the third time over the course for me, after having completed the marathon last year and also on the Saturday, so I felt at home.  I had expected to be in agony from about mile 13 but I have to say, I felt strong the whole way around.  Again, Gary and I were careful with our pacing, probably more careful than on Day 1 and kept to about 9:15-9:30 minute mile pace.  Although I felt strong, this pace felt realistic and I don’t think I could have gone much faster until the mid-way point.  It felt like my legs were taking a long time to get stretched out!  The support from Murlough AC was great, with Jane and her daughter cheering us on at several points.  I genuinely think that familiar voices and support from home always makes a difference!  I also spent time chatting to fellow runners that we’d been talking to on facebook about the event beforehand, so it was good to put a face to a name.  I found this a more sociable event than the typical marathon.

Come mile 15, mile 20 and the legs were still feeling great although the whole way round I had the feeling I’d get to mile 24 and the wheels would come off.  I noticed that a lot of runners took off at the start, at the same pace they had run on Day 1 and while it was tempting to do the same, our slower pacing proved the right thing, as from mile 13 we were passing all those runners who had just been a bit too quick off the mark.  While it was great to feel so energetic to do this, I did feel for them as there was still a long way to go!

The downhills proved trickier on Day 2, Gary had a recurring leg injury which caused him some difficulty running down hill and I’d injured my toe on Day 1 and this caused a lot of pain when going downhill.  Luckily there were only three steep downhill sections and as we both enjoy uphills, the course definitely worked in our favour.  The weather was perfect on both days, just a good temperature with a bit of rain to cool us down.  The course also has a bit of trail and the scenery was just breath-taking, so that spurred me on the whole way around.

Water stations were provided at regular intervals and the support at this was fantastic also, it really felt that everyone understood the commitment each runner had put in to this.  I reached mile 20 and felt great, it was then that I realised I was actually going to do this.  I had remarked to Gary on Day 1 that I would be so proud of myself if I completed the event, given that I only started running in March 2011 and from about mile 22 I found the experience quite emotional, which is totally out of character for me when I’m running!

The craic was great the whole way round, and Gary was a fantastic pacemaker as I have a tendency to run on and forget about pacing.  He kept us in check and again this paid off as from about mile 23 I felt that we could then push on and we did, again overtaking many runners.  This was such a good feeling, to be overtaking with strength at the end of a marathon as opposed to feeling wretched!  Several runners commented that they couldn’t believe we were so strong given we had run Day 1 also, not that we were running quick but we were finishing well.  This is not me blowing my own trumpet but is testament to the training and planning we had done for the event.

I crossed the finish line in 4:05:25 and Gary ran 4:05:54, resulting in combined times of 7:58:05 (Gillian) and 8:02:17 (Gary).  I/We were well chuffed!  As I mentioned previously, I had found the last few miles quite emotional, I felt on a real high but approaching that finish line I did have a wee tear in my eye.  I was so chuffed to have done it and felt great to have my training partner just behind, Gerard then followed closely after and we had a great celebration with his wife and daughter.  Actually, when we were congratulating each other the organisers announced that they were considering a triple marathon event next year and the three of us just turned to each other with a huge grin and agreed that we’d be up for that!  

There was a lot of mingling at the finish line and the organisers congratulated everyone individually.  They were so personal and supportive at the end, it was a lovely touch.  First Aid was on hand and administered where needed and energy drinks and snacks were provided as well as tin foil blankets.  All runners finishing knew how hard the other had worked and a great chat was had by all!  We exchanged stories on the way back to the hotel; this brought a feeling of satisfaction and pride! 

At the hotel, I have to be honest and say that the great plans of hitting the bar did not go quite to plan! Several pints were had during the afternoon, as we exchanged more success stories.  However, by 8pm that night my head was bouncing off the table, I was absolutely exhausted! I hadn’t, in all my planning, actually anticipated how tired I would be afterwards.   Lots of food throughout the day and an early night rounded off the day nicely.

We reflected the next day while travelling back home and felt really positive about the while event; no injuries, legs not particularly sore, but what a sense of achievement! This totally beat the feeling after running a marathon; it’s just something else altogether.  I think I’m hooked!

About a week later I was well chuffed to get a note form the organisers advising me that I had been 3rd lady home overall (the results had originally stated I finished in 4th place).  Now, I am a very proud runner who no longer feels like a newbie and plans are already underway to run Hadrian’s Wall in June 2013, another 2 day event.  I can’t wait!  I would just like to add a huge thanks to Gary for the training (especially listening to my madcap ideas about the latest event I’ve entered us for) and for the terrific pacing on both days.  He did us proud!

Peter Fleming runs '40 at 40' for NI Cancer Fund for Children:

NiRunning catch up with Ballymena Runners’ Peter Fleming after he completed his “forty at forty” challenge on New Years Day 2013:
“Running races in Paris November 2012” – This Google search illustrates how consuming the challenge had become….  He would race at every opportunity!  The challenge in question was that set by Peter Fleming with encouragement from his wife Julie. 

In short, to celebrate reaching the age of 40 in 2012, Peter from Ballymena Runners was going to compete in forty events starting with Race Over The Glens on New Years Day 2012 and finishing with the same race on the 1st January 2013.

Further questioning reveals the inspiration behind the challenge.  “Originally I had planned to head off on an overseas trip to celebrate the big 40.  It wasn’t until I realised that London Marathon would fall on the big day itself that I had a change of heart.  A plan began to formulate which would allow me to participate in a sport I love whilst raising money for the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children. 

Cancer is an illness which has affected my close family members over recent years and NICFC have a respite centre in the Mourne Mountains for families of young children fighting the illness”.  With this in mind Peter set an achievable sponsorship target of £1,000 which would provide a holiday weekend for 24 families in Narnia, the magical respite lodge nestled in the Mourne Mountains.

This might seem a fairly straightforward task but considering there are 52 weeks in the year it didn’t leave much room for illness or injury.  Asking Peter what the main challenges he faced in racing forty times, one theme reoccurs.  “Time, which was the biggest pressure.  Juggling family life, work commitments and then finding time to race was tough.  Thankfully I have a great non-running partner in Julie who has always supported my running adventures.  Without her support it would not have been possible to complete all forty.  Her normal reply to an innocent question such as “Would you like to go to Belfast this weekend shopping? … would be,  what times the race at?”

In order to fit all forty runs in, surely something had to take a back seat? When I quizzed Peter about this, the reply was really surprising.  “Running did, or to be more precise, training did!  I knew that continuing with my regular training pattern of four runs each week plus embarking on such a heavy racing schedule would lead to injury.”  Peter continues “The real piece of luck was that I only suffered from one cold in January 2012 and my calf muscle gave me problems for a week or so after the George Best 5 Mile race in May 2012.  Racing a five miler just one week or so after completing both London Marathon and Belfast Marathon would probably not recommended by most coaches.”

A whole year of racing must have led to plenty of personal bests (Pb’s) then?  “Not exactly, as you know, most runners like to reward themselves after a race.  So I might have actually gained a few extra pounds.”  It wasn’t all bad news Peter reveals, “I was pleased with my base level of fitness as I was still able to run London, Belfast and Dervock Marathons.  The real test was running the Causeway Coast Ultra as I knew I was winging it with little training.  Finishing it ahead of a few rivals and running 20:06 for 5km in December 2012 were just two highlights on the journey.”

Whilst on the topic of highlights, I’m certain you’ve been asked many times what your favourite race in 2012 was?  “That’s a real tough one because they were all very different, whether in terms of participant numbers, terrain, goodie bags etc.  Obviously the races promoted by my home club, Ballymena Runners (Race Over The Glens, Fairhill 5 and the weekly Ecos parkrun) were top notch as they are year upon year.  In fact the Ecos parkrun and the Race Over The Glens were the only two races which I ran more than once in my challenge”

That’s a very diplomatic answer Peter.  The Ballymena man smiles and then reveals more of his favourite 2012 races.  “It’s impossible to select one but if I were to have a top ten list it would include the following.  The Virgin London Marathon, The Grizzly in Devon, Race Over The Glens, The O’Brien Challenge, The Lurig Mountain Race, The Seven Sevens, Dervock Marathon, NiRunning Magic Mile, Tom Mills’ Slemish Charity Run and the 26Extreme Causeway Ultra Marathon.”

Can people still support the fundraising effort?  “Yes Ryan, the online sponsorship page, Virgin Money Giving | Fundraising | Peter Runs Forty At Forty will receive donations for another couple of months and every penny really will make a difference to these young children and their families.  If anyone wishes to find out more about this charity and the it’s work they can follow the following link www.nicfc.com

What’s next for you Peter, more races?  “Nowhere near as many, I’m really looking forward to this year and training has commenced in earnest for London Marathon! No silly hats this time, just a determination to Pb in style.  My pacing duties continue this year with Belfast Marathon and the Walled City Marathon along with a couple of Half Marathons.  I would really like to Pb over as many distances as possible, we’ll just have to wait and see.  

“Ryan, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their donations, and thank Julie and the kids for their support”

Of course, work away!  Anyone else you’d like to mention?

“Yes, a big thanks to you Ryan for the great work you are doing at NiRunning, it really helped me find races more easily and also my running buddies/buddettes at Ballymena Runners and everyone else in our great local running community.”

What NiRunning think: Sometimes we get so used to seeing celebrities take on challenges (Eddie Izzard, John Bishop etc), doing outstanding things for great causes that we kind of expect it from them.  However, to see a local runner, a man most of us would know and recognise take on a year long challenge to raise money for a local respite centre is quite humbling.  To think that every £1,000 he raised could create a special weekend for twenty four families is staggering, well done Peter!

The picture used above shows Peter after the Lurig Challenge Run and London Marathon.  It's quite obvious by the Lurig picture that he didn't jog around the forty races!

Ballymena Runners celebrate their 20th anniversary:

20 years and stronger than ever:  Ballymena Runners

Recently, Ballymena Runners celebrated their 20th anniversary with a function in the towns Adair Arms Hotel.  Over 130 people attended, with past and present members, friends and families, club sponsors, special guests and Ballymena Mayor, Alderman PJ McAvoy all keen to celebrate the popular club's achievements.


Compere for the evening Peter Fleming got the proceedings under way by welcoming all the guests.  He then invited former Club Chairman Dr PJ Fox to open the speeches, Dr Fox outlined how the club was formed in the early nineties and remarking on the impressive expansion of the club to its present day.


Club lifetime members, Stephen Armstrong and Robert McGaughey followed with Stephen highlighting some of the individual performances achieved by club members past and present.  Stephen mentioned notable performances over the years from club runners including Alistair Neeson, Brigid Quinn, Angela Faulkner, Nigel Turner, Eddie King, Ray Curran, Sharon McBurney, Neil Douglas and Iain Taggart to name a few.  He went on to congratulate all those from the club that have earned International selection including; Ray Curran, Eddie King, Alex Brennan, Mark Alexander, Jonny Steede, Jonny McCloy, Jason Wilson, Noel Connor, Sharon McBurney, Mabel McFall, Neil Douglas and Cahal McAuley. 


Stephen went on to give a special mention to Roy White who has achieved the remarkable feat of completing over 100 Marathons and an even larger number of Half Marathons, before commending the inspirational Darrell Erwin on his strength and determination, not only to return to fitness after a tragic accident, but to become an accomplished and successful wheelchair athlete.  Darrell has won Belfast Marathon a staggering five times, as well as the Longford Marathon, this tribute received a worthy standing ovation from all guests.


Robert McGaughey took to the stage next, highlighting the club and team achievements over the years.  Robert mentioned the success of the’ Race Over The Glens’ and also the ‘Glenariff Mountain Race’ and the club's ‘5 Mile Road Race’ which was resurrected this year with an exciting new route around Ballymena Town Centre.  He went on to talk about the exciting weekly ECOS parkrun initiative, before paying tribute to the winning team performances at the Belfast Marathon Relay, McConnell Shield Cross Country, NI Junior Cross Country and numerous wins at the East Antrim Challenge amongst others.


After the meal, current Club Chairman Robin Alexander addressed the room.  He remarked on the vast changes and growth of the club in the last year and how it has progressed.  He commented on the new initiatives within the club, such as the beginners groups that were introduced in 2012.  This group has been largely responsible for increasing the club membership.


Robin also commented on the fact that the club is one for all abilities and standards and welcomes everyone interested in joining.  He also highlighted the large number of female runners there now are in the club with the male/female split now almost 50/50.


The final speech of the evening was from Club Secretary Stephen Brown.  Once again Stephen reiterated Robin's comments on how the club has progressed and expanded especially over the last year.  He then thanked those in the committee and those club members for their assistance in achieving this goal.  Stephen went on to say that the club wouldn't be 'resting on their laurels' and there were more exciting initiatives to come in the future.


Ballymena Mayor Alderman PJ McAvoy also spoke on the night and praised the club for its efforts in promoting sport within the borough and was also happy that the Council was involved in supporting the ECOS parkrun.  Club friend and Athletics aficionado, Dave McKibben congratulated the club on reaching it’s milestone.  Both Tommy and Phyllis Walsh were also notable guests on the night.


A brief history; Ballymena Runners:


In early September 1991 a group of like-minded people who had been running together in a social group, gathered together in Ballymena with the aim of creating an official running club in the town.  They went on to set up a committee under the leadership of Dr PJ Fox, forming a new club known as Ballymena Runners AC. 


A week later on the 16th September 1991 that same group left their adopted base, the Seven Towers Leisure Centre, on their first ever training run.  On that bright September night no one would have imagined how many lives would be changed, how many friendships would be formed, how many miles would be clocked, how many races would be completed and how many fantastic individual and club performances would be witnessed over the forthcoming years. 

In 1993, with the club now thriving, they hosted their first ever event, ‘The Ballymena 5’.  The event was so successful that it went on to be a major fixture on the Northern Ireland running calendar.  The club’s success in hosting this race only fuelled their desire to progress, and two years later in 1995 the Ballymena Runners introduced their second event, ‘Race Over The Glens’.  This race, which is now held traditionally on New Years Day, has become a classic – attracting 300 runners each year!   Another year on and the ‘Mid Antrim 7’ was introduced and in 2001 our youngest race, ‘The Glenariff Mountain Race’, was born. The success of the club’s events has been largely down to their commitment and renowned hospitality within the local running fraternity. 

Individually, Alistair Neeson emerged as Ballymena Runners’ leading competitor in the early years and set the bench mark for fellow club members.  In the late nineties Ray Curran ‘came home’ to the club and soon after went on to win World Veteran Team Gold in the 10k Cross Country and numerous Northern Ireland Veteran titles in the same discipline.  International track man Eddie King joined the club and increased its profile even further.  Alex Brennan and Sharon McBurney also represented Northern Ireland, and Ballymena, at the World Mountain Championships in Alaska, again a tremendous achievement.

After a 2nd place finish in the Belfast Marathon Relay, Ballymena Runners finally got it’s reward with a great victory in 2000. This was followed by the prestigious McConnell Shield in 2001 and the Junior Cross-Country title in 2002, which for a small provincial club like Ballymena Runners, was a remarkable achievement.   Ballymena Borough Council honoured our club in 2003 when Mary Peters presented members with awards for Coach of the Year, Team of the Year and Disabled Athlete of the Year.


In 2004 the club moved its popular 5 mile road race to the ECOS Park and staged the Northern Ireland 5 Mile Championships.  It would prove to be a wise decision with Ballymena taking the Men’s and Ladies’ team Gold.  More recently, the 5 mile road race course has again changed to include the Town Centre.

Ballymena Runners went on to have runners represent Northern Ireland both at Cross Country and Mountain Running.  This has continued every year with as many as six in any one year going on to reach International standard.  The club’s first twenty years have been remarkable and we are sure the next twenty will be every bit as exciting!

My Running Story:  Dromore AC's Alwyn McKee speaks to NiRunning:

Alwyn Mc Kee:  My Running Story!

“Check your email. I’ve just had confirmation of a place in the Great North Run!”


Monday 7th February 2011: I had taken the excited call from my brother as I was headed back up the road from a golfing weekend at the K Club.  I checked my email on the BlackBerry, “Oh, No (or words to that effect!), I’m in too!”  My fellow golfer nearly swerved off the road as he exclaimed, “No way! You’ll never run a Half-Marathon!”


His disbelief was hardly unwarranted.  Not only had he witnessed me downing as many pints of Guinness as we’d played holes of golf over the weekend at the 2006 Ryder Cup venue, he rightly suspected that it was nearly two decades since my last serious attempts at physical activity – ‘climbing’ steep hills on a golf course excepted.  To cap it all, there was the ‘small’ issue of my weight;  yes, I could disparage the two-dimensional BMI calculation but weighing 21 stones, 5 pounds qualified me as ‘morbidly obese’ even if I am 6ft 4 inches tall.


Two days later I attempted my first run.  I now know the stretch I attempted from Moira Station along the canal measures 1.65 miles.  Not surprisingly, I was unable to jog it without stopping . . .  twice!  Several weeks of speed-walking followed, two work colleagues signed-up to join me in sponsored weight-loss for Marie Curie and running gear was purchased.  Always one for gadgets, I invested in a Garmin GPS watch – now I could see how my pace was ‘improving’ and know how far I was covering every time I headed out the door.


By early April, I achieved the breakthrough of being able to run continuously for 30 minutes.  A virtuous cycle was now developing: the more weight I lost, the easier it became to run, the more weight I lost.  In turn, I was finding it easier to choose the healthier food options and avoid the worst of my previous eating habits because I was so thrilled at the progress with my aerobic fitness.  As the end of Summer approached, I was tipping the scales at a ‘sprightly’ 18st 2lbs and was looking forward to my first ever race, the Laganside 10k on Sunday 4th September 2011.


I was going to write that I have never been so nervous, before or since, as I stood on that start line on the Ormeau Embankment but that’s not true; I’m nervous on every start line.  This, however, was the first race I’d taken part in since Primary School Sports Days! My memory of the race is enhanced by the photo of me that is stuck on my office wall; agony, ecstasy and pride all etched on my grimacing face as I crossed the line in 47:22.  An average pace of 07:37 per mile for 6.21 miles when seven months previously I couldn’t run a mile without stopping!

I was hooked!  I do have obsessive tendencies – well, ok, make that full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when it comes to all things Sport.  Now, for the first time in my adult life, I could indulge in analysis and statistics relating to my own ‘athletic’ performance rather than as an armchair fan obsessing about the stats and form of Coleraine FC, Ulster Rugby and our local golfing stars.  Age grading percentages, average pace/mile, average heart rate, negative splits – oh my, I am going to have fun with this! Subscription to Runners’ World followed, discovery of online forums;  with apparent boundless depths of experience and know-how, training tips, equipment tips (not that I needed any encouragement to invest in gadgets and gear), a Northern Ireland forum and, of course, in the Events section: a forum dedicated to the Great North Run.


Ah, yes, the catalyst for my weight-loss and get-fit adventure: the UK’s biggest mass-participation Half-Marathon.  The euphoria of the Laganside 10K quickly faded as I contemplated running twice the distance (and a wee bit) with some inclines involved.  Memories of my first GNR? Getting very emotional as I stood alongside my brother amongst 40,000 others in the mass start with ‘Local Hero’ blasting out and the Red Arrows flying overhead only weeks after they had lost one of their pilots in a display crash.


The sound that thousands of trainer-shod feet make as they strike the tarmac in discordant unison.  The fact that I was keeping pace for my brother (Irish Schools’ U16 Cross Country runner in the mid ‘80s) when at the time of entry, I had indicated 02:30 – 02:45 finishing time and he was targeting 01:45 – 02:00.  Most of all, I will always remember the euphoria of strongly running the last mile along the coast road, up through a tunnel of noise.  We crossed the line, brothers-in-arms, in 01:46:49.


I was pretty pleased with myself.  Not bad for someone still lugging almost 18st around a Half-Marathon course.  However, it wasn’t long till I was analysing the details of my effort: 59.6% age-graded performance (why don’t they have a weight-graded performance? I could be a contender for that!).  What time would I need to run to achieve 70%? 01:31:44. Now, there’s my Olympic-sized challenge for 2012!!


Shortly after my first GNR experience, a family friend suggested I go along with her to the running club.  Now, hold on a minute, running club? Isn’t that for real runners? The welcome and relaxed atmosphere I found at Dromore AC was so far removed from the intimidating experience I had been anxious about.  I started attending as many Tuesday night sessions as work commitments would allow.  Tuesday nights are Speed sessions under the watchful eye of club coach, Michael McGreevy, who has an amazing ability to assess everyone’s ability and put them in the right pace group (always just a wee bit faster than I think I am comfortable with – thanks, Michael!).   These sessions have proved invaluable in my development this year and, I know, will form the bedrock of any further improvements I have in me as a runner.


A runner? Yes, I do actually think of myself as a runner now.  This year, 2012 has seen me compete in three 10Ks and four Half-Marathons and I have just completed my first Marathon. I’ve suffered my first running injury – hurting my hamstring at the end of the Great Ireland 10K in Phoenix Park in April and aggravating it again in a speed session in Dromore mid-Marathon training.  Physio sessions, Kinesio taping and learning the importance of daily stretching all ensued.


I now tip the scales at just over 16st, my weight loss having gradually come to a halt despite 18-weeks Marathon training.  I may have to accept this is close to my sustainable long-term racing weight (although a couple more lbs off is always the thought as I crest each hill!).  In the past two months, a series of significant improvements on my maiden attempts built my confidence ahead of my Marathon debut in Dublin (Laganside 10K: 42:27 compared to 47:22; Great North Run:01:35:35 compared to 01:46:49; Gr8 Dundrum Run: 57:15 compared to 64:05).


Which brings me to Monday 29th October, 2012 and Dublin, the “friendly Marathon”.  Just over 20 months after taking up running and I am on the start line with, hopefully, just under 3 hours 30 minutes ahead of me of an experience I never dreamed I could be part of. 


My pre-race dilemma was whether to try to follow the 03:15 or 03:30 pacers?  My friend, work colleague and training partner was also making his Marathon debut but, having been persuaded by me to start taking running seriously, his natural fitness and career as an Irish League footballer had come to the fore and I was confident he was going to run sub - 03:15.


Eschewing the advice of experienced runners, I elected to start with the 03:15 pacers, stay with them as long as I felt comfortable and hope that I would only slow down in the latter stages rather than spectacularly detonate.  A couple of 20 mile runs as part of the training schedule had not left me feeling that confident – I had struggled in the last couple of miles of each of them and they had been 30-40secs per mile slower than I wanted to run in Dublin! I had read the theory about how the Marathon doesn’t begin until after mile 20 but you can’t buy the wisdom of experiencing it for yourself . . .


I loved marathon day, from waking up at 5.30am like an excited kid on Christmas morning, fuelling on porridge, fruit malt loaf, mashed banana and peanut-butter energy bar.  The nervous thrill of waiting at the start, but even more nerves than usual due to the unchartered, potentially hostile waters that lay before me.  The thrill of heading off through Dublin’s fair city with the cheering crowds lining the route.  I recall someone crying out: “great running” and laughed as I clocked we had only run 2 miles at that stage!


The beauty of Phoenix Park and how strong I felt as we snaked our way through it. The confidence that surged through me as I completed the first-half in 01:36:40, just over a minute slower than my Half-Mara pb.  Immediately followed by the thought, “You idiot! Remember all the advice about going out too hard – you’re going to pay for this!!”  Trying to relax during the ‘no-man’s-land of the marathon from the halfway mark to 20 miles, still keeping up with the 03:15 pacer who never stopped talking and sounding out warnings like, “small hill ahead – keep your cadence!”  Starting to tire and lose contact with the pacer as we approached the 20th mile.  


The Wall! Oh, no!! I’m going to hit the Wall!!! Fantastic crowd support – my God, I needed that support: “C’mon Dromore, not long to go now!” was the regular shout and I wanted to cry back, “it’s still too far!!!”  Burning calves, miles 24, 25 and 26 seemed never-ending – taking me 08:05, 08:11 and 08:01 to struggle through. Then, I could see it!!! That inflatable arch thingy. Come on.  One last effort to raise not exactly a sprint but something that almost resembles running on the finish-line photo. Yeesssss!!!!  Finish time = 03:17:36.  Proud of myself?


Yes, delighted  . . . .  but also another feeling that I now associate with being a runner; immense satisfaction tinged with slight disappointment.  My Olympic Gold target was 03:14:59, a Good-for-Age qualifying time for London.  Guess that means another marathon, another race, another target . . . well, you don’t want to open all life’s Christmas presents at once and not have any to look forward to!

Seapark AC travel to Slovakia for 89th Kosice Peace Marathon:

Carrickfergus runners enjoy annual trip abroad:

Members of Seapark Athletic Club, based in Carrickfergus, recently travelled to Slovakia for the ‘Kosice Peace Marathon’. 


Like most clubs, group outings and trips away are an important aspect of the County Antrim club’s ‘team building’ ethos, with at least one excursion abroad organised each year.  You would be forgiven for asking, why Slovakia?  It’s a long way to travel to compete in a big city race.  However, there was a perfectly good, and genuinely thoughtful reason behind the idea.


Seapark AC member Marain Mach, and his wife, Dorota, hail from Poland and have been trying to get their Carrickfergus running friends to run a Polish marathon for several years, so this year club officials decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to combine the club’s annual trip abroad with the chance to meet the family of their popular members.


In total, fifteen members travelled; six runners, the Seapark AC club president, Alan Richley and family/friends.  Flying to the popular, up and coming Krakow, before taking on the three hour drive to Krosno, Poland.  The group used Krosno as their base throughout the trip - arriving on 4th October and departing on 9th October with the marathon on the 7th October 2012. 


With Marain Mach being from Poland, the travelling Seapark Athletic Club representatives met up with the Krosno Running Club, who provided all transport and put on a BBQ for their guests on the Friday evening (5th October).  Gifts were exchanged, including the presentation of a Carrickfergus Borough plaque to the president of Krosno Running Club.


On race day, Sunday 7th October, the nervous marathoners made the two hour trip to Slovakia, where the event took place, in Kosice.  This was the 89th Kosice Peace Marathon and 30,000 runners competed.


The weather was warm and humid, and the course was run over two laps, despite this it was beautiful and very scenic, running through the town and picturesque park, with easy access for spectators.  Water/feed stations provided water in both small, manageable bottle and plastic cups, energy drinks in small bottles, sponges, bananas and oranges.  The organisation of the event was fantastic, kilometre markers were clear and spectators lined the entire route.


On the day, four Seapark AC vests were amongst the marathon runners while two took on the Half Marathon.  Edward Simpson (1:51:54) and Vivien Davidson (1:59:58) broke the two hour barrier, achieving personal bests.  In the marathon, team spirit and camaraderie was evident , with the four friends running the 26.2 miles together, Bobbie Irvine led the high spirited, but tired group home in 3:31:36, just ahead of Gillian Cordner (3:31:37), Rob Gordon (3:31:45) and Gary Connolly (3:32:19). 


After finishing, competitors received an excellent goody bag, a well-deserved bottle of beer and a beautiful commemorative medal.  Changing facilities were provided, just a few yards away from the finish line.  The jubilant group celebrated their excellent team performance with a nice meal and numerous beverages before taking in some sights in the remaining days of their trip.


Seapark AC are a friendly, welcoming club with an abundance of quality and enthusiastic members.  Please visit their website at:  www.seaparkac.com

Paul embarks on 16 marathon (419 mile) challenge for 'Aware':

Paul Callaghan begins 16 marathon challenge on Thursday 18th October 2012:
Tomorrow, Thursday 18th October 2012, cook and blogger Paul Callaghan will set out from his adopted home town of Ennis, Ireland on a journey that will see him complete a half-marathon in every county in Ireland, in just 12 days (the equivalent of 16 marathons/419 miles). Paul is doing this event in order to raise funds for 'Aware', the national depression support, information and education organisation, having come through his own difficult experience as a result of the recession.


Paul, born in Co. Armagh, had to wind up his plastering business in 2008 as a result of the downturn and for about 12 months he struggled to find a way forward. Paul found some comfort during those tough days in discovering a new love and talent: cooking. He has now developed an engaging and inspiring blog and his recipes, nutrition tips and fitness updates can be found on his website: thesustainablelarder.blogspot.com


Speaking about his multiple marathon run, Paul said, “I know what its like to be in that dark place, where it’s hard to have hope for the future. If it wasn’t for that experience though, I may not have developed my new career as a cook in the way that I have. If it wasn’t for Aware, there may be a lot of people out there today who would still be struggling in the darkness that depression can bring. I’m proof that it is possible to come through depression and I want to raise money and awareness to help this nationwide organisation with its vital work.”


Paul hopes to raise €20,000 for Aware’s nationwide services which include support groups nationwide and online, a local Helpline (1890 303 302) and email support service ([email protected]). More information on Aware is available on www.aware.ie and Paul’s charity page is available at www.mycharity.ie/event/calsocooksontherun


Paul is scheduled to be in Northern Ireland on the following days: 


Monday 22nd October: 7am - Enniskillen Town and 5pm - Strabane Town.

Tuesday 23rd October: 7am - Derry/Londonderry City, 12pm - Belfast City and 5pm - Newry City.

Thursday 25th October: 7am - Armagh City.


Paul hopes to cover most of his miles within the confines of each City Centre/Town Centre.  If you can, please get out and support Paul, he is looking for runners to accompany him for a few miles in each town/city.  As soon as we hear Paul's planned routes we will publish them within our forum.


NiRunning will also be catching up with Paul in Belfast, we'll be interviewing him in relation to his progress and taking a few pictures.  These will be added to our 'News' page.


Please click this link to see Paul's schedule: Paul Callaghan

NiRunning catch up with Northern Ireland team in Switzerland:

Northern Ireland athletes speak to NiRunning:

Last weekend, the 8th and 9th September 2012 three Northern Ireland runners; Don Travers, Justin Maxwell, and Mark Kendall proudly represented their country at the World Mountain Running Championships.


The long distance challenge was held in conjunction with, and as part of the infamous Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland, with the highest point of the 26.2 mile course at 7,234ft and sections of the race at over 2,000 metres of altitude the Jungfrau Marathon is now recognised as one of the world’s toughest marathons.  It is described by many as a ‘must do’ event and regularly sells out long before the closing date.  Here's a little run down on the lads……


Don Travers (Newry City Runners) is 37 years old and has represented Northern Ireland in the past, at the now defunct Knockdhu International Mountain Race, and more recently at the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Running Championships in North Wales (2011).  In the past, Don has also represented Ireland at the European and World Mountain Biking Championships.  He has finished in a podium place in his last three races (Bessbroke Duathlon, Mourne Way Ultra, Newry Marathon) and has a road marathon personal best of 2:37:00.


Justin Maxwell (Larne Athletic Club) is 32 years old and a previous Northern Ireland team mate of Don’s, he too took part in the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Running Championships in North Wales (2011).  Both he and Don completed the gruelling 55km trail race.  Justin has been training well in the run up to Jungfrau, but racing sparingly.  He has a road marathon personal best of 2:38:11 but prefers trail running these days.


Mark Kendall (Newcastle Athletic Club) is 37 years old and is representing Northern Ireland for the first time.  His running backround is mainly in the mountains, but he has recently set some impressive personal bests on the road, his current road marathon personal best is 2:43:51 and with a 5km best of 16:05, he has proven speed.  Mark enjoys training on the trails, mainly around Tullymore, Castlewellan and Murlough.


All three have been training hard for this event and are excited by the prospect of taking part in such a challenging, high profile event.  Thankfully, NiRunning’s ‘insider’ was on hand to speak with Don, Justin and Mark before and after the race, putting some questions to the nervous, but happy athletes. 

Here goes….


What does this International selection mean to you?  Mark: “It means a lot.  Personally, the selection for Northern Ireland is the cherry on the cake for 2012.  It tops off a great twelve to eighteen months for me where I have trained hard and got the results (four PBs at different distances) to reward the hard work I put in.  I also owe a lot of gratitude to Newcastle AC members, some of which have lost money as a result of my success!”


What are your expectations for the race?  Don: “I want to go and enjoy the experience of racing in Switzerland, but give a good account of myself.  I hope to complete the race safe and well”.  Justin: “Previously I have gone into races like this and worked on limiting my losses against stronger international opposition!  Rather than be negative, I want to go out and attempt to work above my limits, test myself against the best and see what comes of it.”


How was the journey to Switzerland, are you ready to race!?  Justin: “Long!  I started my journey at midday and we arrived at our team accommodation, just outside Interlaken, Switzerland shortly after midnight.  Due to the travelling my pre-race ‘fuelling’ hasn’t been perfect, but these things happen!”


On the subject of pre-race eating, what are your pre-race routines?   Don: “On the night before a race I like a good meal, followed by a walk, a good cup of tea and a nice big chocolate bar!”  Justin:  “Usually, I like to have a small bowl of corn flakes, toasted bagel with jam and a cup of coffee.  Then I like to get out for a short walk before leaving for the start line.”


What about ‘in race’ fuelling, what are your plans?  Mark: “I learnt a valuable lesson two years ago during the London Marathon (when it was very warm) to get fluid into my body at an early stage, within the first 3 miles.  I didn't start drinking early enough and suffered badly from around sixteen miles onwards with dehydration.  I also intend to take gels probably at approximately 30 minute intervals, and perhaps more frequently during and immediately after the steep sections of the race.”At this, the guys made their way off to their room for an early night, eagerly anticipating what race day would bring. 


Race Day:  Sunday 9th September:  On race day, after an early start and some breakfast the Northern Ireland team, including team manager Ian Taylor made the short trip to the starting area, located in the picturesque tourist town of Interlaken. With thousands of supporters in attendance the race got under way, traversing the roads and trails through the stunning mountainous terrain almost entirely in the shadows of the ‘Eiger’. 


Justin led the trio into the long steady climbs and was the first of the group to cross the finish line in an excellent 3:39:32 (67th place).  Don was next home, in 3:48:50 (107th place) with Mark completing the team’s participation in 3:56:19 (155th place).  Northern Ireland finished in 11th place in the team standings, an excellent achievement!  For a full report on the actual race, please visit our ‘news’ section.


After allowing them some time to recover and enjoy their well-deserved dinner,  we again harassed Don, Justin and Mark in an attempt to bring you their views on the race, their own performances and what they intend to do next.


How did your race go?  Mark: “I knew the course was going to be a major challenge due to the profile and distance and it definitely didn't disappoint!!  I was happy with the first half.  It was a warm day and I decided to run with a bottle to keep hydrated.  I had a race plan to be at half way at around 1:32. My heart rate was slightly higher than I wanted during the first half, but I managed to hold the pace and hit half way in just over 1:31.  We were aware that the race really started at 26.1km, as this is when the steep climbing began, up the zigzags to Wengen.  I started the climb as steady and controlled as possible but knew after 2-3km, I was trying far harder than I should have been, even to keep a semi-comfortable pace and my legs were starting to get heavy earlier than I anticipated.  At this stage I was very aware I still had 10-12km with a big 5km climb to go, so I tried to control my effort accordingly.


The second half was a personal disappointment as I had been climbing well in training but on the day, frustratingly I just didn't climb well enough.  I was still running but on the more runnable sections of the second half I couldn't turn my legs over to get my speed up after the climbs.  I quickly reassessed my plan so that I could just make sure I made it to the finish!  I broke it down literally km by km to get me through, I also tried to stay positive.  I was focusing on people ahead of me, trying to stay with them, or even better, catch them just to give me a target and to keep my concentration.  It's always very easy to be over critical, but I will take the experience forward and learn for the future.”


Justin and Don were slightly less descriptive but just as interesting.  Justin: “I was very happy with my race, the tactics going into it were very different to any road marathons I have ran, so I was a bit nervous but I do think my plan worked well.  I tried my best!  During the first half I was feeling very relaxed and enjoying the run, the scenery and the fantastic atmosphere.  On the uphill sections I was thinking about keeping a good steady pace and trying to pick off runners who I thought were suffering a bit more than I was.


Don: “I’m very pleased!  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I think we all performed well and finished in the top 5% of runners.  The course was unbelievable, in one of the most beautiful areas of the world, running over fantastic trails and mountain roads.”


Was the event well organised? What was the atmosphere like?  Mark: “The event in true Swiss style, ran like clock-work (excuse the poor pun) the attention to detail, the friendliness and positivity of everyone associated with the organisation was infectious. The atmosphere was superb, particularly the music.  There were drummers, cow bells, a piper who played it’s a long way to Tipperary at mile 25, and brass bands.  The spectators were fantastic, the noise in the towns was deafening and unrelenting throughout the route. The scenery was stunning, it really is an outstanding part of the world.  It's a marathon I would wholly recommend to anyone who wants something more challenging than a road marathon.”  Don: “Yes, the attitude of the Swiss people towards the participants was amazing, something that will stick in my memory.  The views from the top of the course were also fantastic, as was the atmosphere along the entire length of the course.”


Did you enjoy your first International experience Mark?  “Yes, absolutely fantastic.  Justin and Don were superb team mates and we got on really well.  Ian did a great job as Team Manager, with his detailed description of the course, after walking down most of the second half of it on Saturday.  He organised the kit and travel arrangements to and from Switzerland.  The guys all have lots of International experience and I am grateful for all guidance and help they gave me.  It was a great benefit to meet and mix with athletes from the other home nations and particularly, Brian McMahon from Ireland who finished 6th.  It was nice to speak with him after the race and to get an insight into what training he does to compete seriously at the top end of the field.”


What’s next for you all?  Mark: “For me, it’s Amsterdam Marathon in October and London Marathon in April 2013.”  Don: “I have an entry for Dublin Marathon but for the next few weeks I will probably use the bike, just to work my legs and recover from this before starting any hard training.” 


Justin:  “Rest!  I have a break planned, so I intend to enjoy that before setting any new targets.”


With this, the team headed off to the event closing party for well-deserved refreshments.  NiRunning would like to congratulate Don, Justin, Mark as well as Team Manager Ian Taylor on their notable achievement and thank them for their input into this feature! 


Please follow this link for an Interview with Mark Kendall, conducted by Joe Mc Cann (Newcastle AC):  Mark Kendall Interview

International athlete, Kelly Neely announces retirement:

Kelly speaks to NiRunning about her decision to retire and future plans:

After twenty two years of competition, having represented Northern Ireland and Ireland on a regular basis, international athlete Kelly Neely (nee Mc Neice) decided to hang up her spikes after a successful outing at the Inter-Counties Track & Field Championships in Bedford last weekend. 


Kelly kindly agreed to answer a few questions for NiRunning in relation to her exciting and successful career and what the future holds.


Name: Kelly Neely

Associated Club: City of Lisburn AC

Personal Bests:  400m = 55:36, 800m = 2:03:28, 1500m = 4:10:30, 3000m (Indoors) = 9:25:74, 10000m = 36:07


What age did you start running?  I started running when I was 11 years old, I thought I was really fast and could be a great sprinter because I could beat all the boys in my primary school.  How wrong was I!  My good friend at the time trained with City of Lisburn AC, it sounded like fun so I went to a training night and never looked back.
 

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in running?  Breaking the Northern Ireland 1500m record, running 4:10:30 at the Flanders Cup, Belgium (July 2009).  I also won the Lisburn ’sports personality of the year’ award later the same year; it was presented by the great, Dame Mary Peters.
 

Do you have any regrets, or something you wish you could have done?  Yes, failing to qualify for the final of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi 2010 (India).   I had struggled with an Achilles tendon injury all summer but had worked hard to get myself into great shape for the games in October, but it turned out to be slow tactical race which just didn't suit me having raced sparingly!   Also, never competing at an Olympic games!
 

What are your plans for the future?  I want to start a family and concentrate on my business. I am a Personal Trainer for Fitness First, Connswater but also do freelance work. I want to get back into netball and have just had my first training session with Causeway Netball Team! I played for Northern Ireland Under 20 Netball Team but haven't played since so it should be interesting!


Memerable Honours/Achievements?  

11 Northern Ireland Championships titles, 400m through to 1500m


Irish Championships (Outdoors):                    Irish Championships (Indoors):

2002 – 2nd in 800m;                                             2007 – 1st in 800m (2:08:73) and 1st in 1500m (4:21:01);  

2003 – 1st in 800m  (2:13:22);                               2010 - 1st in 1500m (New Irish Championship best and stadium record of 4:14:63, also a world indoor

2004 – 2nd in 800m;                                                         standard time)

2005 – 2nd in 800m and 4th in 1500m;                

2007 – 2nd in 800m;

2008 – 2nd in 800m;

2009 – 2nd in 800m and 2nd in 1500m;

2012 – 2nd in 1500m;  

British Championships (Indoors):                  

2010 - 3rd in 1500m;

Scottish Championships:

2004 (Outdoors) – 2nd in 800m and 2nd in 1500m;

2005 (Indoors) – 2nd in 1500m;

Inter-Counties Championships:

1996 – Northern Ireland Senior Debut! 

2003 – 3rd in 1500m;

2007 – 3rd in 1500m;

2012 – 1st in 800m (2:07:03);

Selection for Europa Cup/European Team Championships:
2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Competed at Commonwealth Games:
2002 – Manchester, UK:  6th in 800m heats (2:06:68) and 11th in 1500m final (4:16:46);
2010 – Delhi, India: 4th in 800m heats (2:04:72) and 6th in 1500m heats (4:18:07);

World Indoor Championships:

2010 – Doha, Qatar: 7th in 1500m heats (4:16:26);

Other Northern Ireland titles:

2007 - Northern Ireland Cross Country Champion
2009 - Northern Ireland 10km Champion


A word from Kelly: “My last ever competitive race was at the Inter-Counties Championships on 25th August 2012, I ran 2:07:03 for 800m, the perfect end to my career as I was racing in my Northern Ireland kit, I loved it! Very proud to be Northern Irish!”


A word from NiRunning:  When we started this project, it was to aid the promotion of Northern Ireland’s running scene and our talented athletes. Completing this feature, finding out a little about what an extremely talented runner has achieved during her career has cemented our belief that we do have an incredible amount of talented runners on our shores. There are many more out there, let’s hope we can find them and give them the recognition they deserve!


We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Kelly on her long and successful career and wish her all the best for the future, and in particular wish her every success with her business and renewed passion for netball.