13/ Marathon

When I was thirty five years old I ran a marathon.  Belfast city’s first-ever marathon race in 1982. The course was a circuit through east Belfast that we completed twice making this tough race of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km) much tougher.  I’ve seen this hill before.” “I’ve already done this wretched stretch of road.”   

The reason for the double circuit flowed from the intractable sectarian divide in N.Ireland.  This was during the period of the Troubles, pre-Good Friday Agreement of 1998.  Sectarianism reached into every aspect and area of the city’s life, overtly and covertly. Political, social, cultural, the economy, the geography, the alphabet...

Residents of one area, or neighbourhood, of the city would be wary of straying inadvertently into another.  Contingent on current climate, time of day, permission / recognition by those watching, possibly this could be an uncomfortable, or disastrous, error.  In these circumstances the risk of setting a route for the marathon run that would traverse the west as well as the east of the city would have been foolhardy. Security over the length of the course would have presented a colossal problem. One group, or another, could easily have taken advantage of the easy opportunity offered by the event.  Journalists from all over the world avid for stories.  Television cameras.

In addition inviting reporters into nationalist areas of west Belfast would have given world-wide exposure to the walls scrawled with anti-British graffiti and the carefully painted murals honouring republican ideals.  So, we set off from Belfast City Hall in the city centre jogging towards unionist east Belfast.  

Happily the Belfast marathon now has developed into a major sporting spectacle in N.Ireland and internationally, an event celebrated by the whole population.  The route wends its way throughout the city without let or hindrance.

Striding forward thirty five years to 2017, my own children and their friends are running in this year’s marathon race in the glorious Dingle peninsular in County Kerry.  Generously, they have decided to dedicate undertaking this gruelling test of their mettle to raising funds for a cancer facility - Marymount Hospital and Hospice - that has given me, and countless other patients, their extraordinary care, unstintingly.

For details of their fundraising efforts, or to contribute, please click here

Yours Truly Crossing the Finish Line at the Inaugural Belfast Marathon, 1982


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