Laura makes it perfect 10 as top men go off course
Belfast Half Marathon
Local girl Laura Graham and Kenyan visitor Freddy Sittuk lived up their pre-race favourite rankings with victories in yesterday's 4th Deep RiverRock Belfast City Half Marathon.
While Graham was a comfortable winner of the women's event, Sittuk had to fight all the way before overcoming Foyle Valley's Scott Rankin.
The event attracted 3,200 competitors, many of whom were raising funds for the official charity Mencap, and they took advantage of the flat, fast 13-mile course and perfect weather conditions to record personal best times in many cases.
The Graham band wagon rolled on with the 30 year old Mourne Runners athlete recording her 10th Half Marathon victory this year. The result was never in doubt as last year's fourth place finisher had forged a one minute lead at the halfway stage over North Belfast's Louise Smith in a fast time of 38 minutes 36 seconds.
Graham, who looked for a huge PB, then slowed in the second half but still crossed the line for a convincing win in 78.24 which was some 17 second slower than her best time.
Laura acknowledged afterwards: "This was a good day for me but I am cross I didn't get a PB. I was advised not to look at my watch too much and I now regret I didn't keep closer tabs on my pace. However things are going well at present and I am training 80 miles a week for the Dublin Marathon in which I was third last year."
Louise Smith took yet another runner up spot in 81.43 followed by up and coming athlete Amy Bulman of Willowfield who secured a huge PB of 83.14.
The top six were completed by North Belfast's Margaret Meade (83.44), Rachel Parker (83.54) and Helen Carbin (86.43).
In the Men's race, there was the expected neck and neck battle between 2014 winner Sittuk and Foyle's Scott Rankin which was only resolved in the final 200 metres. These two broke clear from the gun with Rankin forcing the pace for the entire race.
Unfortunately both athletes were on the receiving end of a glitch in the normal efficient marshalling when they ran off course in the city centre around the nine miles mark and lost some 30 seconds.
This lapse did not affect the result as they were well clear of the rest of the field.
Sittuk (35) only broke clear of Rankin as they approached the finish line where he managed to secure a three seconds victory margin in 67 mins 52 secs. Rankin, in turn, was a long way clear of London's Adam Kirk Smith who took third in 69.14.
Laganside 10k winner Mark McKinstry of North Belfast was fourth in 71.10 followed by John Black of North Belfast (72.32) and Stuart Donald of North Down (73.22).
The victorious Sittuk said: "I was fairly confident I could beat Scott in a sprint finish even though my legs are heavy due to my 100 plus miles a week training. I am preparing for the Dublin Marathon and may also race at the Antrim Cross next year."
And a philosophical Rankin observed: "I am happy enough even though I lost after leading virtually the whole way. Freddy's sprint finish is better though my speed endurance is now quite good. I didn't get a PB because we went off course."