Belfast Sunday marathon move a step in right direction, insists chief despite distance error
The chairman of the Belfast Marathon Organising Committee said he felt "vindicated" by the success of yesterday's race - despite a mistake that led to participants running almost half a kilometre too far.
David Seaton blamed "human error" after runners were misdirected near the beginning of the run by a lead car which diverted from the official route.
What he described as "a small hiccup" resulted in runners having their times adjusted on "a pro-rata basis" - including men's winner Joel Kositany, who crossed the finish line after 2hrs 18mins 40secs. His time was reduced by 92 seconds last night to 2hrs 17mins 8secs.
"There were a couple of teething problems and a few things went wrong," Mr Seaton admitted to this newspaper.
"But that's to be expected when changing an event of this scale.
"We are aware of it, we put our hands up and we will investigate it to make sure similar issues never recur."
The new times were calculated after Belfast Marathon's official measurer John Glover measured the extra distance - caused by runners not being directed along Clara Street in east Belfast - as 469 metres.
It resulted in many runners' personal devices recording distances of around 26.7 miles instead of 26.2 miles.
The event's official timer, Glen Grant of ChampionChip Ireland, conceded the adjustment - based on the average time taken by each runner to cover the distance - was "not ideal".
But he insisted "it's the best solution" as he sought to reassure runners they will not be negatively impacted by the blunder.
"New times have been issued and so far people seem happy enough," he said last night.
Despite the glitch Mr Seaton hailed the 60% increase in participation in the marathon, relay, fun run and walk as proof the organisers made the right decision to make significant changes.
"I think we can build on this as word spreads," he said.
His comments come just days after a group of Free Presbyterian ministers protested at the decision to hold the event on a Sunday, which they believe violates the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.
Rev David McLaughlin of Carryduff Free Presbyterian Church expressed opposition to all sports being played on the Lord's Day, but conceded he doesn't expect the "small, token protest" will change hearts and minds. The clergyman said he was happy to follow in the footsteps of Olympian gold medallist Eric Liddell who refused to run in the 1924 summer games in Paris.
However, Jim Gamble was one of many runners who credited worshippers with "inspiring and lifting" exhausted participants.
"We passed a group of people singing Gospel music in the street outside one church," he said.
"It was amazing and I don't understand the negativity some churches have shown.
"They'll never have a bigger congregation and some parishes made the most of that."
Mr Seaton also praised the many churches which came out in support of the marathon and helped spur runners on.
"My first call this morning was to thank the minister of Stormont Presbyterian Church, which opened its doors very early on Sunday morning," he said.
"It was a lovely gesture and one that was well replicated - I feel that we have been vindicated for our decision to change the event to a Sunday."