The decision was made on June 29th. With the Dublin Marathon looking more and more unlikely, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the Belfast Marathon. I felt in good shape and decided to challenge myself to do the longer distance. Training started that very day, and fast forward 12 weeks I found myself up north ready to race.The marathon was scheduled for 9am on Sunday, 3rd October, but truth be told it really started on Saturday. We arrived up on the train and headed straight for Ormeau Park to collect the race pack. We were met with a huge queue that barely moved at all. In total, we were two and half hours waiting in the line. By the time I reached the top I realised why. There were less than 10 volunteers, and they were working with pen and paper, manually checking everyone in. It didn’t make any sense why they wouldn’t send the numbers out in the post in advance. I’m sure plenty of people (like myself) would have paid extra for postage if it meant not having to be on our feet for hours in the cold.
The race itself started promptly at 9am at Stormont. The first 6 miles or so were on the roads heading from Stormont towards the city, before cutting through Ormeau Park. I met a couple of familiar faces who are regulars at Cabinteely Parkrun and chatting with them broke up the first few miles. After running through the park, we headed up Ormeau Road towards the city centre. Gabriel, my long-suffering supporter, was waiting patiently for me with supplies at mile 9 in front of City Hall. There were great crowds all around the city centre, creating a fantastic buzz. After that, we headed out of the city and into areas I wasn’t familiar with. We passed through both the Falls Road and the Shankill area before continuing on towards the Waterworks park. The rain was coming down as we ran through the park, passing the 20 mile sign, but that didn’t deter the supporters and they lined the footpaths all around the park. In terms of my own running, I didn’t feel great from early on but I continued on with a pace that was probably too fast. A lack of experience probably pushed me to keep running at a pace that I would normally do week in, week out, when actually I should have realised that on the day it just wasn’t right. The middle miles from around mile 10 to 15/16 were tough as I physically didn’t feel at my best and mentally was thinking about how many miles I still had to do. From mile 16 onwards, I was running at a steadier and slower pace and managed to get comfortable again.
Everyone says the marathon only starts at mile 20 but actually for me, despite the pain in the legs, this was probably where I was mentally at my sharpest. I kept telling myself there was less than an hour of running to go. As we approached the city again, I was more familiar with my surroundings and had a good idea of the course back to Ormeau Park. After passing the train station, we turned onto a tow path and it was a long straight run up to the bridge at Ormeau Park Road. At mile 23, I got a bit of a shock as we passed a man being given CPR on the side of the path. As we continued on past him, we met numerous volunteers, nurses etc., running towards him to assist. I believe an air ambulance arrived shortly afterwards and I can only hope that he is making a full recovery.
At the turn on the bridge, I spotted Gabriel waiting with a caffeinated gel and energy drink. I took both on straight away as we started the long run all the way up one side of the park, around the top and then almost all the way back down the Ormeau embankment on the other side of the park, before we finally saw the sign – “Mile 26”. Hallelujah!!
A wise man advised me at training recently not to sprint the final metres up to the finish line and to just enjoy it. I took that on board and as soon as I turned the corner into the park and saw the finish line, the pain went away, and I could finally smile and enjoy the moment. I spotted Gabriel again, gave a wave, and motored on towards the line where I threw my hands in the air in celebration.
Overall, there was a great buzz in the air both during the marathon and afterwards in Ormeau Park. There was fantastic support on the course – both from people cheering and the official and unofficial volunteers handing out everything from water, energy drinks and bananas to ham sandwiches and tea! The course itself was hilly in parts, with most of the downhills coming in the second half, although some were so steep that there was no respite.
A few days on from the marathon and I’ve had time to reflect on two of the questions people have asked me.
Would I do another marathon? 100%. I’m already looking forward to Dublin next year. I enjoyed the discipline of training and with the experience of having done one marathon, I know I could make some improvements next time both to the race itself and the training.
Would I enter Belfast again? No, not unless the organisation improved. The race itself was great and there was brilliant support, but the chaos of the race pack collection would put me off. There were also sections where I felt that cars were encroaching on the course – event management could definitely be improved.
The countdown to the Dublin Marathon 2022 starts now!