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Belfast City Marathon: Laura Graham turns up the heat for stunning triumph on a day to remember

By Brian Hill

Long distance ace Laura Graham repeated her eye catching feat of 12 months ago when she again completed two marathons in the space of eight days in London and Belfast.

However this time she achieved the double in spectacular style with an emphatic, controlled victory in the 36th Deep RiverRock event in Belfast where she set a new personal best time of 2 hours 41 minutes 46 seconds.

The 31-year-old mother-of-four put what she referred to as the stress of the London race well and truly behind her to become the first local winner since Barbara Brewer back in 1999.

She ran with good male marathon and relay runners for most of the race at an even pace, with the half way point reached at the top of the vicious Antrim Road hill in an impressive 80 minutes 32 seconds.

Laura's female opposition were never really in contention with Belgian Olympian Els Rens and Salome Jepkoech of Kenya some two minutes in arrears.

The easy striding Graham appeared full of confidence and eager to take full advantage of the perfect conditions in the latter half of the race.

The Mourne Runners athlete continued to work with strong male runners and improved her overall position in the closing stages, encouraged by the large cheering crowds.

She crossed the line for an overall eighth place in a time which was nearly a minute faster than her London run a week ago over a much easier course.

A jubiliant Graham, commenting on what was only her seventh marathon, said: "I just ran my own race. I always do. I took up marathons six years ago after my dad had a heart attack.

"I felt good today and really kicked in towards the end. This was different from London where I really felt drained. I have no firm plans but might run Berlin in the autumn.

"Another PB would be nice. Today doesn't feel real but all the hard work is worth it."

Rens took second in 2.46.20 with Jepkoech third in 2.53.59. Radka Churanova of the Czech Republic was one place lower than last year in 2.56.06. Karen Alexander of Sperrins was seventh in just over three hours.

Rens said she had difficulty with the Antrim Road hill followed by the sharp decline.

The men's race had the usual field of classy African athletes, some of whom were returning to Belfast determined to secure victory at the second attempt.

Kenyan pair Dan Tanui, who was third last year, and Bernard Rotich (fourth in 2014) were in a five-strong leading bunch who went through the half way mark in a respectable 68 minutes 34 seconds.

The leaders also included Emmanuel Melly and Hillary Chirchir who, along with Tanui, are part of Ciaran Collins' Project Africa scheme designed to provide opportunities for up and coming runners.

Shortly afterwards this group broke up with Rotich and Melly opening a 100 metres gap by 19 miles. At 21 miles Rotich made a decisive move and opened a significant gap on his rivals as he raced past the Waterfront area.

Rotich, who has raced twice in the Greenmount Cross Country, relished the cheering crowds on the Ormeau and Ravenhill Roads before crossing the finish line in an impressive 2.16.02, the third fastest in the history of the event.

Tanui overhauled Melly in the closing stages for the runner-up spot in 2.17.40. Melly was timed at 2.18.11 followed by Chirchir (2.21.02). El Mouaziz of Morroco was fifth in 2.26.33 followed by Jarlath McKenna (2.30.31). North Belfast's Lawrence O'Hara was first local finisher in 2.39.17 which was a huge 10 minutes PB from last year.

A delighted Rotich, who has run 2 hours 10 minutes for the distance, said: "I am very happy as I trained hard for this race. I felt good at 20 miles and when I broke away a mile later I knew I could stay away.

"I was fourth in 2014 but I had an injury then. I knew I could do something today. I am going back to Kenya to see if I can qualify over 10,000 metres for the World Championships in London."

A frustrated Tanui said he would be back next year.

Among the 3,000 marathon runners was Barry Minnock, who finished in a respectable 2.54 despite wearing a full suit plus waistcoat, shirt and tie. Barry, who said this was a world record for a suited runner, was raising funds for Action Cancer.

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