It took blood, sweat and a few tears. But the sun was shining and spirits were high as 17,500 people pounded the asphalt as they took on the 2015 Deep River Rock Marathon yesterday morning.
The 26.2-mile route was a daunting task, weaving its way around all parts of the city for those taking part in the full marathon, team relays, a wheelchair race, an eight-mile walk and a fun run event.
There were serious athletes among the throng, including previous winners vying for the podium once more, as well as first-time runners, charity fundraisers and fancy dress runners.
>>Finishing times for every individual winner - click here<<
Kenyan Joel Kipsang Kositany repeated his 2013 victory, winning the men's race in two hours, 19 minutes and 36 seconds, while Ethiopia's Berhan Gebrenmichael won the women's event in two hours, 40 minutes and 57 seconds.
But the 2015 Belfast Marathon won't be remembered by thousands for who was standing among the winners at the end. It will be remembered for an overwhelming sense of camaraderie, lively support from the sidelines and thousands of pounds raised in the name of charity.
Amanda Ferguson was at the finish line to hear from nine marathon runners about their personal inspiration for taking part in yesterday's event.
Peter Connolly (37), a software engineer from Portadown, was running for Meningitis Now after his cousin Caitriona died from the infection aged just 20.
“This year is the 10th anniversary of my cousin’s death. She contracted meningitis on a Friday and passed away on the Sunday so her family and friends go together to run the marathon and I couldn’t refuse, so here I am,” he said.
“I did 4 hours 14 minutes and we have raised lots of money. There is a ball in Titanic Quarter on June 6. It will be £60 a head for a big night with three courses and entertainment and that is for Meningitis Now in association with Caitriona. We would love people to support it.”
Sean Wilson (25), a welder from Dunmurry, was running for Macmillian Cancer Relief in memory of his mother Geraldine.
“My mum passed away with cancer two years ago. Macmillan supported me and helped us and my mum out so we decided to raise money,” he said.
“I have raised £1,040 for them. They were there for everything we needed and made life easier for us. I have been thinking about my mum every day from the day she passed away until right now. I was thinking about her on my way round. I have her Mass card with me today and her wee bracelet. She would have loved it. I did 3 hours 42 minutes. I only decided to do the marathon four weeks ago and I was injured for two weeks, so I didn’t have much training.”
Chris Montgomery (58), a plant fitter from Lurgan, was emotional at the finish line as he completed the marathon for the Alzheimer’s Society in memory of his mother Rosaleen.
“My mummy died two years ago. Last year was my first marathon. I was a non-runner.
“The whole hype at work was about whether I was actually going to do it. Last year was 4.11. I came in today at 3.46,” he said. “There were people out there a lot sorer than me.
“She would have been so proud of me. Mummy had Alzheimer’s for 12 years. She still knew us at the end. We were lucky enough that way, but I speak to people the last couple of weeks and what people go through is desperate.
“Last year I raised about £2,000 and this year about £1,300. I have had a few bugs this year and the weather went against me, but I am happy with what I have achieved.”
Emma Ward (24), a recruitment consultant from Belfast, was raising funds for this year’s nominated marathon charity Marie Curie.
“This is my third marathon.
“My wee nephew has a severe nut allergy so I did it the first year for his charity, Allergy NI.
“I ran it again for him in the second year, but then his wee charity closed down and I didn’t want to stop doing marathons. So I thought I would continue doing the marathon and do it for Marie Curie.
“I am feeling sore. I think I should have done more training this year. I did 3.31 last year and 3.38 this year so I was a wee bit disappointed, but I was just glad to finish it.
“I have raised £400 already.”
Former marathon champion Mary Jennings (60), a teacher from Dublin running for Waterford Athletics Club, has taken part in more than 20 Belfast events and this year crossed the finishing line wearing a sling.
“I won it in the millennium year 2000. When I was still young, free and single in 1988, I was Mary Ryan then, I came second in a time of 2.54,” she said.
“Two days ago I damaged ligaments, muscles and nerves in my shoulder so I am delighted with 3.40. Belfast is great, it’s all about the runners.”
Gerard McAdorey (45), a director of GM Marketing from Belfast, ran the marathon to highlight prostate cancer among men his age after a friend was diagnosed.
“A good friend of mine, Paul Stinton, was given a late diagnosis of prostate cancer and unfortunately he is terminal so I did the marathon today for Prostate UK to raise awareness of prostate cancer,” he said.
“If men have any symptoms, keep asking questions, and insist on scans.”
“This is my fourth marathon, and if it wasn’t for the people out on the road supporting us it wouldn’t be the same. They really make it. You need to be told you are great when your feet are killing you.”
Team Stormont, raising money for Marie Curie, included Mairtin O Muilleoir (Sinn Fein), Ross Brown (Green Party), Chris Smyth (UUP), Mark H Durkan (SDLP) and Conor Murphy (SF). The runners all know people whose lives have been touched by cancer. Mairtin (55, left) says:
“Against all available evidence it has proved Stormont politicians can do something together. I did 3.50, which is ridiculously fast for a man my age! The aim will have to be to do what Dublin did this year and bring the diaspora back.”
Jenny Arnsby (26), a student from Hertfordshire, travelled to Belfast for the marathon to enjoy the city and raise money for Marie Curie in memory of her father and a friend.
“I have always wanted to come to Belfast and I thought why not,” she said. “Brian is my dad and John is one of my best friends who both passed away from cancer. I have raised close to £500 but hopefully now I have finished I might get some more.”