Unusual proposal caps remarkable day for Belfast marathon man Oggie Winters
The new Belfast City Marathon route has been hailed a success by thousands of runners who pounded the pavement yesterday - including one man on track to run his 500th race and another who went the extra mile.
Eugene Winters, who is better known as Oggie, celebrated his 475th marathon just two days after turning 62 and only seven years after he took up the sport.
Despite being slightly bemused by his performance time, he had no complaints.
"Belfast Marathon was my first one and I did it in 3hrs 52mins which is the same time I got today, so I don't know what that means," he said.
"I've done all the world majors and I just came home from Poland last week - my personal best was 3hrs 37mins in Berlin two years ago."
The ex-smoker from Portstewart - who ran the East Antrim marathon on Saturday and hopes to run another 26 miles in Limerick today - is striving towards 500 races in 500 weeks to raise money for charity.
But he also pursues his passion for the mental and physical health benefits it brings.
"Running is good for the soul, the mind and the body," he said.
"I was 16 stone when I started and now I'm only 12.
"Just get up and get out there. The challenge of life is good."
But it was Dublin man Rob Kelly (33) who drew the loudest cheers from hundreds of spectators gathered in Ormeau Park.
The pressure he was under to make sure he reached the finish line to meet his unsuspecting girlfriend meant he was sweating more than his competitors.
Orlagh Hester (34) was overjoyed to realise that the gruelling distance had not taken its toll on the residential care worker after he fell down onto one knee.
"I'm totally in shock," the psychotherapist said after the unusual proposal. "I'm speechless, and I'm never speechless."
She did however manage to say 'yes', leaving Rob relieved that his plan had come together. "It meant I couldn't give up, especially because her dad knew what was coming - that would have been a difficult phone call to make," he said.
The couple enjoyed their first date in The Barge bar in Dublin five years ago after connecting on Tinder, the popular dating app.
"It's been a great success story for us," they agreed.
Former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie, who enjoyed playing squash and hockey during her time in the RUC, always made time for running as part of her strategy for coping with a stressful job.
She started participating in relay races following the loss of her sister-in-law to cancer 10 years ago. But this year she was motivated by another tragedy.
"I'm running for the MS Society because a very good friend of mine who ran the full marathon today has been diagnosed with it," she said. "She's a wonderful young woman who is only 25 - an inspiration to us all. It's amazing that she is still running because it's an awful thing to have to deal with. That's why we're raising money for research."
Running trio Phillip Vint (51), Stephen McCartan (58) and Gareth Kelly (38) were just over their best time of 3hrs 45mins and are more than happy to use the fact of the course being "a wee bit longer" as an excuse.
Phillip, who completed his 65th marathon and has run every Belfast race since 2006, managed to complete the London Marathon in 3hrs 24mins last week. "It's shocking stuff," he said of his latest performance.
Air Ambulance NI paramedics Glenn O'Rorke and Mike Patton were feeling lucky to have been allocated the glory leg of the relay race team which was made up of 10 medics and a pilot.
"We struggled a bit to get enough people on the team because one of our doctors was running the first leg for the Royal Victoria Hospital but he agreed to stay on and ran the second leg for us," they said. "Thankfully we got the best bit."
West Belfast Coolers runner Joanne Ryder (38) was greeted by her two biggest supporters, daughters Nellie and Betsy, as she finished her second ever marathon - she is already on the ballot for London 2020.
Father-of-two Adrian Haughian (52) from Kilkeel ran his first ever marathon in Belfast back in 1993 and returned 26 years later for his 50th race.
"I had to make sure my 50th marathon was in Belfast where it all began," Adrian explained as soon as he crossed the finish line. "I've been to London, Lanzarote and all over Ireland.
"I'm just exhausted and thankful for this man here who always helps me get to the end."
He was referring to his best pal Jim Campbell who tagged along for the last few miles with a cheeky banner expressing shock that Adrian is still married to his wife Anne.
The two construction firm owners make up one third of a private WhatsApp group who go out up to six times a week.
Jim, who has run 11 marathons, received some assistance from one of his three daughters who helped create the sign.
"It's just tongue in cheek," he said. "Running takes up our time and our wives put up with it."