Murdo said : I’ve always wanted to run the four UK capital city marathons and having been lucky enough to have run the others, I entered for Belfast late last year, was accepted and allocated number 114; nothing like being early!
The marathon is held on the May bank holiday Monday so we made a long weekend off it, flying over on Friday and spending a few days up on the North Antrim coast (beautiful, highly recommended) before travelling to Belfast around Sunday lunchtime.
Packs (including numbers and T-Shirts) were to be collected from Wilmont House, an old (small) stately house in Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, Upper Malone Road in Belfast. Well, in Belfast is a bit of a misnomer, being about five miles out in the suburbs, similar to going to Musselburgh to pick up your pack! As we had a car and went there on the way in, it wasn’t an issue for us but I heard a number of complaints about difficulty in finding the park, lack of public transport, having to take a taxi etc. This is a recurring theme on the marathon forums. You can pick up your pack on Friday, Saturday or Sunday plus Thursday for relay runners.
Let’s be clear, while this is shown as a marathon with supporting walks, relay and fun run, the actuality is that the relay is heavily subscribed and the remaining events equally supported. This year’s entries included 1584 relay teams (each of 5 runners – 7920 in total), 1947 full marathon runners, 1877 walk entries (with 9 and 26.2 mile options) and 1286 fun runners (3 miles).
As part of your pack, the carrier bag had your number on it plus you were given a label so that you could leave warm, clean clothes etc at the start and these would be transported to the finish in Ormeau Park (about 1½ miles from the start) for you to have at the end. Good idea but as I didn’t use it I can’t comment on its efficiency.
The run started at 09:00 outside City Hall for all events less the fun run (09:20). While there was some attempt to segregate, or at least provide signage to allocate areas to runners, relayers and walkers, these were completely ignored with everyone ending up in a large mixed group. Sounds like complete chaos but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Once the run started, after a half mile or so, it had sorted itself out and I wasn’t delayed or frustrated by anyone during the whole race.
The run is a an elongated figure-of-eight course taking in a mixture of city centre, business and industrial areas, housing estates, suburbs, cycle tracks and city parks. You can see the route and elevation profile here: www.mapmyrun.com/run/united-kingdom/belfast/217792106
The first 7 miles are flat except for a small hill at around 3 miles. Once you are back in the city centre, after being out at George Best Airport, the next 7 miles rise constantly although not steeply to mile 14. This section takes you through areas of the city that display their republican or loyalist affinities by the painted murals on the gable ends of terraced houses. The route continues onwards (and upwards) through the estates and suburbs passing through one of the peace wall gates before you eventually turn downhill sharply (mile 14) for a mile or so. I found this part actually quite demanding after the previous steady 7-mile climb. The route takes you round a park and onto the waterside cycle track back into the city via a light industrial area. You can see the two big Harland & Wolff cranes (Samson and Goliath) for most of the route but particularly in this section. At around 21 miles you are back in the city centre where there was plenty of support if rather unrestrained onlookers. The next section (including a cobbled bit!) takes you through the centre and onto the riverside towpath before turning at 23.5 miles onto Ormeau Road which is a mile long inclined drag then turning sharp left into Ravenhill Road and a long slow descent to the finish in Ormeau Park where you get your medal, water and a packet of crisps!!.
The event is well supported throughout with enthusiastic and vocal spectators and unobtrusive but effective marshals, both of which make the event special. The section through the industrial estate is understandably quieter but in these areas there were DJs blasting out sounds very, very enthusiastically to bemused participants. Mad, but certainly cheered you up when you needed it.
There were plenty of water stations, every 3 to 4 miles or so, and as the relay sections were about 5 miles each, these were mostly used by the marathon runners. Water in plastic cups (much cheaper than bottles) but not really a problem. The relay changeover points looked chaotic to me but then they always do. There were meant to be mile-markers every mile but I didn’t see the majority, some were painted on the roads which were actually easier to see. There were free buses laid on to take you from the finish back into the city centre. We used these and they were close to the finish, very regular and quick.
The run was chipped but unlike the usual kind that you Velcro to your shoe or tie around your ankle these were integrated into your race number (the picture shows the back of the race number). You ran through an arch at the beginning and end which recorded your times. There was also a marshal with what looked like a hand held metal detector who scanned your number as you finished just in case the arch hadn’t picked you up. Seemed to work okay to me. Weather was warm and sunny with intermittent cloudy periods throughout. Ten minutes after I finished, the heavens opened and there was a longish torrential downpour followed by sporadic showers.
Finished in 3.44.45 (333rd) which was a PB by 3 minutes for me – yeehaa. Nice medal as well.
In conclusion, an excellent run made special by the support and marshals. Of the four capital marathons, this has a real local feel to it in the best possible sense. There are a number of minor glitches (pack collection location, mile markers etc) but these will be sorted. The amount of relay runners shouldn’t put you off; it doesn’t affect your run.
If you’re looking for a long-term challenge, I would recommend the 4 UK Capitals to you. Getting accepted for the London Marathon is the only difficult bit (apart from the running!) and they each have something different and unique to commend them.