Belfast City Marathon

Lynne McDowall writes - I left behind the shores of Bonny Scotland and headed by ferry to the Emerald Isle for my first marathon – the 35th Belfast City Marathon. I love visiting Ireland so I was excited about having a little break over there in addition to running the marathon.

We arrived in Belfast on the Sunday afternoon, the day before the marathon which was due to be run on the Bank Holiday Monday. My parents travelled with me and it was my Dad’s first time in Ireland so we were all keen to do some sightseeing. I took a quick walk from our hotel near Queen’s University to the start line outside Belfast City Hall to check that it wasn’t going to be too far to walk down there on the morning of the race, I didn’t fancy tiring myself out just before running 26.2 miles. I decided that it would be fine and enjoyed some dinner and relaxation for the rest of the evening to prepare for the big day.

I slept well considering the anticipation I was feeling about the next day. I woke some time before my alarm was due to go off at 6am to hear rain against the window. I didn’t mind that from my point of view, it would be good weather for running, but I felt it would be a shame for the spectators and for my parents who were hoping to explore the city centre while I was running the race. Happily the weather gradually brightened up while I was getting ready and having breakfast (two crusty wholemeal rolls, a pain au chocolat and coffee, I saved the Ulster fry until the next morning!). By the time I left the hotel around 8.20am to walk down to Belfast City Hall it was lovely and sunny, although very breezy with a sharp cold edge to the wind.

The area around the start line in Donegal Square, outside the City Hall, was absolutely buzzing with excited and apprehensive marathon runners and marathon relay runners. Over 17,500 competitors in total were due to take part. The atmosphere was electric. I made my way to the appropriate part of the start area and was delighted to bump into Clare, my fellow Bella Harrier also running the Belfast marathon. It was great to see a friendly face and to get the chance to wish each other luck in person.

The 9am start time finally arrived and off we set. I couldn’t believe I was running my first marathon, something I’ve wanted to do for many years but only recently felt ready to have a serious go at thanks in no small part to the encouragement of my fellow Bella Harriers. Right from the start the Belfast spectators were amazingly supportive, and in fact their encouragement was much missed when the route took us through more remote areas to which few spectators had ventured. The start of the race and the first few miles were a little crowded as is usual in these big race events but it wasn't too bad.

We headed east for the first few miles and the atmosphere was absolutely fantastic with crowds cheering all along the route. The first challenging part of the route was the long stretch along the Sydenham By-pass, past Belfast City Airport. It was a bit of

a slog along the motorway with few spectators to cheer us on our way. It was nice to get back into the city centre for a bit, and especially good to see a couple of familiar faces in the crowd – thanks to Karen and Cormac for your support!

The route then took us out the Falls Road and in the residential areas people were out at their front gates cheering us on and holding out bowls of jelly sweets for us. I remember passing a pub around the 10 mile mark which was blasting out the theme tune from ‘Chariots of Fire’ from loudspeakers. I found this strangely moving! Next came the long gradual uphill slope of the Antrim Road between about miles 11 and 14. This was undoubtedly tough going but we were rewarded at the top with a stunning view over the city and Belfast Lough and then with a nice downhill to around the 15 mile marker.

Another long and rather lonely slog was ahead of us, along the cycle path which runs between the motorway and Belfast Lough. I would say this was when I began to feel some real fatigue, particularly around 18 – 20 miles. There was a strong wind here, the rain even came on for a bit and once again it was slightly remote with few if any spectators. This was where I had to start digging deep psychologically.

As we started to come back into the city again it was great to see some crowds again and this definitely gave me a boost. One lady shouted ‘Go Glasgow!’ which was amazing to hear. Perhaps she recognised the vest. Cormac popped up again here shouting encouragement, and a bit further on I saw Karen again, who enthusiastically cheered me on and asked me how I was feeling. I cannot emphasise enough how much the support of the crowd helps during the tough spots of a marathon, and it was especially great to see familiar faces. Karen told me I was looking strong, and at a time when I was starting to feel anything but this was a massive boost.

The twenty three mile mark onwards was when things got properly tough for me. The furthest I had run in training was 22.71 miles so I think the fact that I knew I was entering uncharted territory was playing on my mind. I think I went into a kind of trance at some points and memories are hazy here. I do remember thinking that Ormeau Park, the finish, was never coming and actually feeling really irritable and a bit upset at this point. It was a real rollercoaster of emotions. I was running alongside one of the pacers at this point and I asked him, ‘where on earth is this park, is it never coming?’ He was so encouraging and told me to stick with it and that the route was all downhill from this point.

Finally the park came into view and the 26 mile marker gave me a massive boost! Ormeau Park was thronged with people and there was a commentator announcing all the runners’ names and towns as they crossed the finish line. After crossing the finish line I felt totally elated through the absolute weariness – I had completed my first marathon! I collected my goody bag and unusual but lovely medal and staggered around for a bit trying to find my parents, which seemed to take ages. I was cold and very tired and started to get really quite emotional again despite the

race having gone so well. When I finally found my parents and got some warm clothes on again I was so relieved!

I definitely found the marathon distance much more draining emotionally and psychologically than I had anticipated. However it was a fantastic experience and the sense of achievement is huge. I will do another one, but I will definitely need some time to regroup before tackling the marathon distance again!

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