The streets of Belfast will shake to the beat of thousands of feet on Monday as the city marathon takes place once again.
More than 17,000 runners, joggers and walkers are taking part in this year’s event, sponsored by Deep RiverRock.
Almost 3,000 of these will be competing in the main marathon, while 2,150 relay teams will also be taking part alongside 2,300 walkers and 1,300 fun runners.
"Road racing is one of the fastest growing sports and this is evidenced by the absolutely huge interest in this year’s marathon," said Danny O’Connor, chairman of the marathon organising committee.
Entrants have come from over 20 countries to take part in the marathon including Kenya, Moldova, Ukraine, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United States, Hungary, Switzerland, Indonesia, Canada, Qatar, Netherlands and Iceland.
Leading the entry list will be Kenyan John Mutai who will be aiming for a hat-trick of wins on May Day following his victories in the 2007 and 2008 Belfast Marathons. His main challenge will come from the Ukrainian Vyachesla Prikhadko who finished third last year, and fellow Kenyan Zak Kihara.
The local field is headed by the veteran Alan McCullough, while the most experienced — and most travelled — entrant is Coleraine veteran Peter Ferris who is running his 319th marathon — an Irish record.
Heading the female entries is 2006 winner Joyce Kandia who laid down her marker for 2009 with an impressive victory in the Titanic Quarter 10K warm-up race last month.
The event starts at the City Hall at 9am and finishes in Ormeau Park, with the route taking in all parts of the city, from Sydenham to the Falls Road, and Whitehouse to the Ravenhill Road.
While most roads will stay open throughout the event the area around City Hall will be closed to through traffic between approximately 7.30am and 9.30am. Disruption also can be expected along the Albertbridge Road, Holywood Road and Sydenham Bypass until shortly after 11am.
Challenge in the pipeline for Anna
Among those taking part in the race will be Anna Marshall, an education officer with Northern Ireland Water, who will help to raise funds for WaterAid.
The charity works with communities in the developing world to help provide access to safe water.
Anna recently visited Uganda to see first hand what local people there experience every day without the essentials of clean water and sanitation. Her trip inspired her to run the marathon and raise much needed funds for the charity.
“I tell schoolchildren on a daily basis what a precious resource water is and how we need to appreciate how readily available it is,” she said.
“My experience in Uganda really brought home this message and inspired me to train for my first marathon as a fundraiser for the charity.
“While I know the money raised will make a massive difference, after a day’s work I really needed to motivate myself to get out and train — especially when I had to run 20 miles. The commitment required is massive.
“What really helps to put this into perspective, though, is that I hope to run the marathon in four and half hours, yet in Uganda women and children often have to walk for this same amount of time every day to collect water from an unprotected source, which could cause illness and possibly death.”
To sponsor Anna log onto www.justgiving.com/|annamarshall1 or you can also donate via www.wateraid.org.