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Belfast marathon: The poignant reasons behind our efforts

As runners besiege Belfast today for the city's marathon, Stephanie Bell talks to a veteran runner aged 70 from Co Antrim, four siblings from Dunloy and an ex-Linfield footballer from Dundonald - all of whom have special motives for pulling on their trainers

Over 15,500 runners will throng the streets of the city today for the 35th Deep RiverRock Belfast Marathon.

Thousands of pounds will be raised for a whole host of charities as people take up the challenge for causes close to their hearts.

Young, old, seasoned sports men and women, newcomers and wheelchair competitors will participate side-by-side as a great swell of people pound the pavements. Starting from the City Hall at 9am, the main 26.2 mile marathon race will follow the same route as last year past many of the city's landmarks before finishing at Ormeau Park.

Thousands will also take part in a Team Relay, 8-Mile Walk and Fun Run.

After the race, runners and their families will celebrate with a fun day featuring bouncy castles, face painters, food vendors and a live road show with U105.

The official transport partner, Translink, will be offering a free park and ride facility from two major car parks in Belfast city centre to the finish line in Ormeau Park. These include Ormeau Avenue and Cromac Street. The service will operate from 10am-4pm.

We caught up with some of the hardy runners who each have a very different reason for taking part.

Christine Grant (45) will be running the marathon today with her three siblings: brothers Fergal (49) and Niall McCamphill (47) and sister Claire McCamphill (37), for Motor Neurone Disease (MND). Their father Aidan McCamphill (73), from Dunloy, was diagnosed with MND seven years ago. Christine, a marketing manager, lives in Belfast with her husband Michael (43), a designer and daughters Amy (10) and Zara (8). She says:

We all got together last Easter for a family holiday in Donegal and decided we wanted to do something together. After talking about it we decided on the marathon.

We have all been training and keeping in touch with each other’s progress and it has definitely made us communicate more than normal and brought us even closer together as a family.

Our fundraising target was £3,000, but we have raised £7,000 already — which is just fantastic.

We are absolutely delighted with the support we have got from friends and family and business contacts.

It is as much about raising awareness of MND as it is about funds. Daddy was very active and involved in hurling at club level for Dunloy Cuchullains and representing Antrim at County level, and Gaelic football. Even when he retired, he took up golf, running and cycling.

He was also very health conscious and there was no unhealthy food in our house. It was a big shock when he was diagnosed.

We hadn’t heard of MND (a fatal, rapidly progressing disease that affects the brain and spinal cord) before, we didn’t know what it meant.

For the first couple of years dad was able to continue to garden and play golf, but now he is confined to the house between his bedroom and the living room.

He is completely immobile and my mum, Agnes, is his full-time carer.

His speech was one of the first things to go.

But his brain is still active and it is heartbreaking to watch, as everything is going on around him and he is unable to participate.

He has seven grandchildren who are all into sport and he doesn’t get the chance to go and see them play.

Sadly, he is not able to be the grandfather we know he would have been.

It is a horrible disease and you don’t know what time you’ve got.

Dad is in the palliative stage and he doesn’t have a good quality of life and it is tough on mum as well.

Research is really important, because there are so many unknowns about MND.

It is important that we learn more about the disease, especially for the next generation, which is why our fund raising is for Motor Neurone Association Northern Ireland.

We are all looking forward to taking part in the marathon and having a bit of fun, with a family get together after it.”

To support the siblings go to

Ex-Linfield player Norman Kelly (45), who is sports manager at Hanwood Centre Sports Facility in Dundonald, will be flying the flag for Down’s syndrome when he takes part in the fun run today with his fiancee Sarina Ennis (37), a coffee shop assistant, and their son Adam (11). The couple’s one-year-old son Cody has Down’s syndrome and the family will be taking part with their ‘Team Cody’ hoodies to raise funds for Mencap. He says:

I have a football background and would be fairly fit and Adam recently took up cross-country running in school. We had been to a couple of small runs together and then decided as a family to take part in the marathon for Mencap and to raise awareness of Down’s syndrome.

Cody was diagnosed at birth with Down’s syndrome and initially it was a shock, but we accepted it very quickly.

Even though we have friends who have children with Down’s syndrome we didn’t know a lot about it, so we did our research and have been to local support groups.

Cody has been brilliant. We are very lucky that medically he is fine and doesn’t have any heart problems. He has been through lots of tests in his first year and is doing really well.

He is quite a lively wee boy and we are enjoying every minute of him. Cody has really opened my eyes.

He is such a happy-go-lucky, lively one-year-old, who is doing everything a baby of his age should be doing.

I am so proud of him and he loves going out and is very sociable.

He loves to talk to everyone when we are out and, hopefully, that will continue.

He can be demanding too and keeps us on our toes. Adam is brilliant with him and is also very proud of him.

We will be wearing our Team Cody sweatshirts when we’re running. It was Adam who came up with the slogan — ‘one extra chromosome is extra happiness’.

Adam is quite excited and we have been doing a little bit of training.

We know the atmosphere is going to be good and we just hope to have a really good family day out. My parents will be there with Cody at the finishing line and, hopefully, we will also raise some money for Mencap.”

Seventy-year-old Maureen McCourt will be running her 68th marathon today, and this year hopes to complete the milestone of 70 marathons to celebrate her 70th year. Maureen works part-time as a health promotions nurse with the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association (NICHSA). She lives in Nutts Corner and is married to Richard (72), a retired civil engineer and has four children and five grandchildren. She says:

I used to work as a nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital and now go out and about promoting a healthy lifestyle to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke as a health promotions nurse with NICHSA. It is right up my street as I’ve benefited from a healthy lifestyle.

I always enjoyed keeping fit and even ran classes in my local church hall in Crumlin years ago. I took up running when I was 35. My training circuit was around the house and I would park my youngest daughter in her pram and do laps of the house.

I did my first marathon in Antrim in 1982, the year before the Belfast marathon started and, interestingly, it was for the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association. I could never have known then I would end up working for them.

I have done what used to be referred to as ‘the big five’ marathons — New York, Chicago, Berlin, London and Boston.

The lovely thing is that, without encouraging them, my children also do some running, too. And 10 years ago we decided as a family to do the Paris marathon. It was just incredible, having the six of us run it together.

For our 25th wedding anniversary, Richard and I went back to Greece where we had our honeymoon and took part in the Athens marathon.

One year, I did three marathons in 21 days but I average about two a year, and most years will do the Belfast and Dublin marathons.

It doesn’t get any easier the older you get, but I think it is just brilliant that I am able to do it.

It used to be about timing but now I am just happy to finish. My best time, quite a few years ago, was three hours and 20 minutes.

For my 70th year, I hope to finish my 70th marathon, so after Belfast I plan to do Derry and then another one in the autumn.”

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