Back-to-back events give Graham the edge over Belfast run rivals
Irish marathon champion Laura Graham has confirmed she will race in next week's 36th Deep RiverRock Belfast Marathon.
The 31-year-old Kilkeel woman plans to repeat her experience from a year ago when she competed in both the London and Belfast Marathons in the space of eight days.
Last Sunday Laura ran her second fastest ever time in London - 2 hrs 42 mins 38 secs - despite the tough, hot London weather conditions.
"I really felt that in the final stages I just lost my mental focus," she said.
"I am disappointed that I didn't better my PB but the weekend has been an excellent experience and one that will help me going forward."
Given her two back-to-back marathons from last year, Graham now starts firm favourite to take next Monday's Women's title and become the first NI winner since Barbara Brewer back in 1999. A year ago Laura finished second in the race in a time of under 2 hrs 49 mins.
A trio of international athletes are also making a welcome return to Belfast, which now has an excellent entry of more than 2,600 runners for the main marathon and some 1,800 in the five-person relay teams.
Hungarian Tomas Nagy made the rostrum two years ago when he finished third in a time of 2 hrs 24mins 19 secs behind winner Joel Kipsang Kositany, who then went on to achieve a hat-trick of victories in last year's event. Nagy will be making his third visit as he also finished seventh in last year's event.
Bernard Rotich of Kenya is no stranger to the region as he has competed here on both the road and cross-country.
The 30-year-old got the bronze medal in the Greenmount Cross Country International in 2012 and finished second in the Brighton Marathon the following year in a classy time of under 2 hrs 11 mins.
However, despite this run, he had to settle for fourth in the Belfast Marathon in 2014 in 2.23.29 behind popular winner Freddy Sittuk (2.18.29). Rotich recently finished 10th in the highly competitive Kenyan Police Cross-Country.
Moroccan Mostafa Channi is also a familiar figure in Belfast having finished fifth in both 2015 and last year. The 25-year-old ran under 2 hrs 20 mins in the Moroccan Marathon last year.
Channi's team-mate Abdelhadi El Mouaziz will also be well to the fore in Monday's race. He was second in Edinburgh last year in 2 hrs 20 mins 19 secs and was 11th in Seville in February in a similar time.