Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Marathon: Poignant reasons to run

Four runners in today's Belfast Marathon tell Joanne Sweeney why they're taking part

It's one of the highlights of the annual Belfast calendar, as over 17,600 men and women don their trainers and T-shirts to pound the city streets for this year's Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon.

And while aches, pains and blisters might be the result for some, the tears of relief and joy of crossing the finishing line today are usually more than enough to make up for it.

For many of the finishers, though, there is an added poignancy as they use the event to raise funds or awareness of a special cause, especially if it has helped a loved one in the past.

Many runners take part in memory of a loved one who has passed away, to raise cash and awareness for the charity which supported them.

We asked four of the runners taking part to tell us about the special people they are honouring today, as they limber up on the starting line.

Tamara McErlaoin pictured in Ballycastle ahead of today's marathon

Tamara McErlain

The 18-year-old from Armoy, Co Antrim, and her four friends are running in the relay event today in memory of her brother Callan (16),  who died last June from a rare bone cancer. The girls are raising money for children's cancer charity CLIC Sargent which supported Callan and his family through his short illness. She says:

I will be running seven miles, the third leg, of the relay team race along with my friends Julie Dickson, Ciara Boyle, Annie Laverty and Shari Carey.

Callan went to Cross and Passion College in Ballycastle, the same school that I and three of the other girls running attend.

He passed away on June 17 last year, just seven weeks after he was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, which is a really rare bone cancer. He used to race motorbikes and it was only after an accident in which he broke a bone in his back that doctors discovered that he had this disease, but they can't really do much for it.

Callan was into everything. He loved to be outdoors, loved his mountain biking, cycling, and just had to be on anything on wheels.

He even wanted to do sky-diving. He was a real adrenaline junkie.

After the accident he was taken to the cancer centre in Belfast and wasn't really able to leave it again as he was bed-bound because of the broken bone.

Clic Sargent's social worker Simon Darby was great to us all; he used to bring in buns and nice things for Callan.

Simon even arranged for me to be able to do my school exams at the hospital and was really helpful to my parents, Paula and Terry, while we were there.

Our parents have been helping with our fundraising. There's been great support from all the family and Callan's racing friends as well and so far we've raised £300.

It will be really emotional running the race, as it's so close to the time he died and being in Belfast reminds me of him being in hospital -- but I'm sure he would have done it for me."


Drew Park

The 38-year-old postman, from east Belfast, is running today in memory of his late mother Mary (74), from Lisburn, who passed away last September. He has raised £1,500 so far in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. He says:

I've run several marathons before, and I did the London one last year. I last ran in the Belfast marathon three years ago and my mother was there to meet me at the finish line. I just remember her big smile as she told me how proud she was of me.

This year I'm running for Macmillan Cancer and on the back of my vest will be the words 'Mum - simply the best'. She was a real Tina Turner fan and Simply the Best was her favourite song so that sums her up. Macmillan Cancer were a brilliant help and support to my father Andrew and the rest of the family after she died.

Training for the race has actually really helped me as there are mornings that I wake up and still don't believe that mum's gone.

My mother was diagnosed in early June last year and passed away on September 5 at the Ulster Hospital. She had four children - my brothers Peter and Brian, myself and my sister Joanne - as well as nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, so she was well loved. Mum had lost a lot of weight and needed to use the bathroom a lot for months. We just kept telling her to go to the doctors, never thinking it was cancer. But after a couple of colonoscopies, she was told she had bowel cancer. They thought that she might also have had ovarian cancer as well.

We had hoped that the chemo would shrink the tumour to the size that it could be operated on to remove it, but she went downhill so quickly after that.

Mum was always very confident, strong and determined woman all her life. When she first heard it was likely to be cancer, she just told them to 'Just keep me alive' - she was determined to beat it, right up until the end."


Suzanne McCullogh

The 50-year-old from Glengormley, is running the full marathon today in memory of her nephew, John Perry, who took his own life seven years ago. The mother-of-two is also raising money for PIPS Family Bereavement Service, based on Belfast's Antrim Road. She says:

This will be will be my second full marathon and I've also done two half marathons, raising more than £700 so far for PIPS, over the last couple of years.

To raise money for PIPS is all worth it, particularly if it can help to save one other life or help another family from going through what we have experienced.

I used to run five or six miles, and never would have thought about doing 26.2 miles. But last year I thought that I would love to do a marathon before my 50th birthday, so I got the running bug. I suppose last year was really for me just to see if I could do it but this year is really for John and for PIPS. My sister Pat, John's mother, is also raising money for me.

While I won't have a picture of John on my T-shirt, I will be running in a PIPS shirt and the helpline number will be on the back.

I will be thinking of him all the way when I'm running. And I will also think of my father, who died when I was only four.

John and I were very close in ages, there were just 10 years between us as I'm the youngest of eight and John was the eldest grandchild.

He was just lovely, that's all I can say. He was a married father of two daughters and we will never know why he chose to take his own life.

God help anyone who goes so far as to take their own lives as they must be in a terrible place.

If I can just run a marathon, it's nothing really, absolutely nothing compared to what people go through who do take their own lives or even think about it."


Geraldine O'Neill

The 35-year-old Lurgan mum and her daughter Erin (14) are running in the 5k fun run for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland for her dad, Beragh man Terry Dillon, who last year battled a rare form of cancer. She says:

My dad is a very special man to my mum and all 10 of us children. He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, enteropathy associated T-cell lymphoma, which affects the small intestine, just after Father's Day 2012. We love him dearly and, as you can imagine, it was a tremendous shock for us.

He had really bad pain in his stomach and was rushed to hospital in Enniskillen. The doctors didn't know at first what they were dealing with. He had to have surgery, in which 68cm of his intestine was removed. His doctor said he would go down in history as a miracle man -- normally this cancer recurs within a year but my dad is thankfully in remission.

He has since discovered that he is a coeliac, which is associated with this type of cancer, and is now on a strict gluten-free diet, but he has recovered amazingly well and looks even better than he did before. We had a special party to celebrate his 70th birthday last November, which was a very poignant occasion.

After he was diagnosed I felt I wanted to do something for a local cancer charity, so I took part in the fun run last year because Cancer Focus NI was the official charity and they were raising funds specifically for their men's health campaign, which I was glad to see. This year my eldest daughter Erin wanted to do it with me, and her grandad is delighted.

To be honest, 5k is nothing any more. I'd love to build up to the half-marathon in September. I'd need to start proper training to do that though!"

On course with big race facts

This will be the 33rd Belfast City Marathon today, with thousands of runners from throughout Northern Ireland, Great Britain and beyond competing

Top male runners can finish the gruelling 26.2 miles in just over two hours, while top female runners will complete the course in two and a half hours

This year there will be 2,900 runners doing the main race, 11,000 runners in 2,200 relay teams, and 1,740 walkers over eight miles with 1,950 people taking part in the 5k fun run

The route is the same as the 2013 event, starting at the City Hall and finishing at Ormeau Park

The 26.2-mile course will take the runners through the north, south, west and east of the city

Clic Sargent is the nominated charity for this year's event, which is sponsored by Deep RiverRock, Belfast City Council, Daily Mirror, Athletics Northern Ireland, Podium 4 Sport, Translink, Asics, Randox Health and U105. For details on the charity and its work visit or tel: 0300 330 0803


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