Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Marathon has now gone the distance

It took a great leap of faith 31 years ago to host the first Belfast marathon at a time when the city, like the rest of Northern Ireland, was convulsed by violence.

Little wonder that in those days the vast majority of the intrepid runners were local people. But that has changed over the years, slowly at first and then faster and faster as the momentum of the political peace process gained pace.

The broadening appeal of the event is seen every year in number of the elite athletes from distant shores. They give it international credibility and the falling records – a new women's mark was set yesterday –show that the standard of competition at this level continues to rise.

But the marathon is not just about record setting or which international athlete comes first. It is essentially the people's day out.

People can chose their own level of competition, be it to complete the course no matter how long it takes, to participating in a fun run or as part of a relay of friends or work colleagues. No matter the distance covered, whether running or strolling, for every competitor that is a landmark achievement. They have set their own goals and go home satisfied at their own little bit of personal history.

But it is the selflessness of those taking part which is the huge success story. Many have deeply personal reasons for running, perhaps in memory of a loved one, or to fund research into some condition with a special meaning for them, or simply to prove that they can do it. It is the manifestation of human nature at its best. Those taking part are doing something meaningful as well as having fun, if running 26 miles can be described as that.

The vision of those who dreamt up the Belfast marathon on those unpromising days 31 years ago has probably been fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams with around 17,500 people taking part yesterday. But the event is a tribute to their optimism as well as a signal of a society becoming more normal with every passing year.