World's toughest on marks for 24-hour race in Belfast
One of the toughest endurance events on the planet comes to Belfast this weekend as 100 athletes from 42 nations converge on Victoria Park for the World 24-hour Running Championships - that's right, 24 hours of pounding the track!
The world event runs alongside the annual locally-held Energia 24-hour race and last year's winner, Eoin Keith from Cork, will be back to defend his title, won after running a remarkable 242km in the 24-hour period.
To warm up for the Belfast event, Keith (48) ran the length of Ireland, from Mizen Head to Malin Head, in just over three days and three hours to break the record by nearly 12 hours.
The entry list includes 74 men and 26 women with ages ranging from 27 to 67 all looking to see how far they can go in that 24-hour period. Entries came in from across the UK and Ireland and from as far away as Australia, France, Hong Kong, Iran, India, South Korea and the USA.
Race Director Ed Smith said: "It's going to be a memorable weekend of racing in Belfast and hopefully people will come out to support all the runners.
"In the eight years of putting on this race we hadn't seen anything near the interest being shown - but we were still surprised at just how quickly the places went.
"The fact that this year's Energia 24-hour race is being run alongside the Schneider Electric 24-hour World Championships means competitors in the local race will be running alongside some of the best ultra-runners on the planet.
"Bangor's Fiona Prue, who won the 12-hour last year, steps up to the 24, Iryna Kennedy from Ballynahinch is one of only two people who will have done all eight Energias and Ian Millgate will be representing the Orangegrove club whose home is Victoria Park.
"And spare a thought for Ian McAuley from Newtownabbey. He got a special '24-hour' tattoo done for the race but he reckons the pain was worth it.
"Another interesting entrant is Sharon Gayter from Cleveland in England. She is in the Guinness Book of Records for running 517 miles (832km) in seven days on a treadmill.
"The oldest competitor is Dundalk 67-year-old Colette O'Hagan, who'll have an eye on the 65+ age group prize.
"And keep a watch on Belgium-based Bridget Brady. Last autumn she became only the second Irish woman to finish the gruelling Spartathlon in Greece."
The USA will have the biggest team with 69 competitors, while the furthest travelled will be Richard Avery and Kim Allen from New Zealand.
SCHEDULE, Friday 5pm: Opening ceremony, Queen's Upper Malone Playing Fields.
Saturday: 1.00pm 12th IAU World 24-hour Championships, Victoria Park, east Belfast. Sunday: 12 noon: Race finish. 6.00pm: Closing ceremony.