Election candidates are starting their sprint for the finish line as May 5 approaches.
However, there will be no promises of a fast finish from two of those standing.
The SDLP’s Foyle candidate Mark H Durkan and Alliance representative in North Down Andrew Muir are not just running for the Assembly over the next few days.
They will also be pounding the streets of Belfast in next Sunday’s marathon.
While a few other candidates had signed up to take part in the event, the pressures of their respective campaigns curtailed their intentions.
But for Mr Durkan, there was no backing out — despite his other distractions.
He said: “I’m going to have a good time. And that’s a good time in the enjoying yourself sense, not a good time for the marathon! The training has taken a bit of a hit these past few weeks.”
Mr Durkan will be running for a local charity.
“I’ve done the Walled City marathon three times before at home here in Derry,” he said. “I’d love to see that make a return, but I took a bit of a head stagger and entered for Belfast. I hope it’s kind to me.
“I’m not setting any targets. The training has nose-dived a bit I’m afraid. It wasn’t helped when a bout of Covid did its own relay around the house at the end of February. The routine has been out of sorts since that.
“I have completed a marathon in a time of 3 hours 32 minutes, but just making it round will be the main aim next weekend. The demands of an election campaign can really sap you physically and mentally. Getting out running can help, though finding the time for it can be an issue.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a good runner. An enthusiastic runner would be a better description. I enjoy it. It helps your mental health and the spirit shown by all the others taking part in a marathon does wonders for the soul.
“The charity side of it is another bonus. I’ll be running for the Addiction Recovery Centre in Derry. They’re heavily involved in exercise as a way of overcoming problems people may be suffering. If me struggling around the Belfast Marathon raises a few pounds to help them, then I’ll take the suffering!”
Lining up alongside Mr Durkan will be Andrew Muir, who is running for the Assembly in North Down. In terms of marathon running, he won’t be going all the way on this occasion.
He said: “It’s just a relay leg for me this year. And it’s not the glory leg, the last one. I’ll be heading out from the start then sitting back to watch the rest.”
A veteran of 10 marathons, Mr Muir is no stranger to running. It has been a passion of his since first pulling on his trainers at North Down Athletics Club in 2009. He will be part of the club’s relay team, with another passion of his, the Rainbow Project, to benefit from his efforts.
He added: “I decided not to push it too much this time. I learned a harsh lesson in 2019 when I signed up for the marathon when the local council elections were happening. With the mix of the miles running and the miles around the doors, I ended up injuring myself.
“I have so much admiration for DUP Alderman Brian Kingston who managed supporting an election campaign at the same time as training for and running in the Boston Marathon. That’s one of the holy grails for marathon runners. He’s left me feeling a little like I’m copping out!
“Belfast is always special too. It’s a great event and the relay part means so many more people can be involved who might not be quite ready to take on the full distance.
“It can be a little disheartening when near the end all these fresh runners on a relay leg come flying past you. I completed the Belfast City Marathon in 2017 in 3:15:27, but my personal best was in Dublin in 2018 at 3:07:58.”
Andrew’s love of the sport has fuelled park runs in his local area, and he was involved in bringing the Saturday morning events to Bangor and Crawfordsburn.
He said: “It’s a great way to start your weekend. Wonderful for the body and mind, though stepping up to a marathon can be gruelling. For the London Marathon in 2018, I was training in sleet and snow, then on the day it was warm and sunny, temperatures in the mid-20s. I suffered in that one and it was a reminder that you need to be prepared for everything.”
Next Sunday’s Belfast City Marathon, now in its 40th year, starts at 9am from Stormont Estate and finishes in Ormeau Park.