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Energia Belfast 24 Hours race: 144 runners on marks for gruelling 24-hour marathon at Mary Peters Track

By David Young

Published 18/07/2015

Claire Martin, Donna Owens, Natalie Bowbanks and Eleanor Forrest, who ran under the Sole Sisters banner
Claire Martin, Donna Owens, Natalie Bowbanks and Eleanor Forrest, who ran under the Sole Sisters banner
Competitors take their first steps at the start at the Mary Peters Track, Belfast, last night
Solicitor Sinead Kane and her guide, the former champion John O’Regan
Malcolm Gamble feels the burn
From left, Alan Kirby, Sarah Gilmore, Dame Mary Peters, Michelle O’Neill and John King of Energia team

Almost 150 runners from around the world girded their loins for a truly marathon run at the Mary Peters Track as the sixth Energia Belfast 24 Hours race got under way.

The gruelling race - during which competitors can cover more than 100 miles - attracted runners from as far away as Australia and the Falkland Islands.

A mini-Glastonbury tent city had sprung up in the centre of the track to house friends and families of the runners as they pound the 400-metre circuit.

The event has been getting bigger every year, according to Michael Ringland of sponsor Energia.

"When it began six years ago, there were just 18 runners. This year there are 144," he said.

Hungarian doctor Laszlo Pal Szabo had come from his job as a locum in the Falklands to compete. He'd previously worked in Omagh and Enniskillen. He said: "I was very glad to compete in this race because I love Northern Ireland very much."

Runners will be on the track for the full 24 hours, with the exception of brief comfort breaks.

Local man David Higgins from Magheralin and his young son Michael were dressed as characters from Despicable Me - David as Gru and Michael as Minion Dave.

He is hoping to raise £500 for two children's charities.

Runner Malcolm Gamble came all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Asked why he put his body through so physically arduous an ordeal, Malcolm said: "It's a bloody tough race all right, but that just makes victory all the sweeter."

Sinead Kane from Cork has just 5% vision, but although she's registered blind, she was not going to let that cramp her style.

A thin blue tether linked Sinead and her guide John O'Regan as the runners got into position at the starting line.

"I've always been told that I couldn't achieve, couldn't do things - so I want to push myself. I choose to be visionary, rather than blind," she said.

As Dame Mary Peters blew a horn to start the 24-hour event, it was clear that Sinead and John - like their 142 fellow competitors - were in it for the long run.

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