Graham and Ganiel eyeing local joy in biggest ever Belfast Marathon
Northern Ireland's top female marathon runners Laura Graham and Gladys Ganiel head the local challenge at the 38th Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon, which will this year be held on a Sunday - May 5 - for the first time.
There is a record entry of 4,700 signed up for the province's biggest participation sporting event, with a further 11,500 - 2,300 teams of five - signed up for the relay.
The main entry for the full marathon event is a 50% increase on last year. The chief reason for this is the change from the Bank Holiday Monday to Sunday, and there is also a large number of elite international competitors who will be vying for the top prize money.
This includes the usual African threat plus local stars Graham and Ganiel.
Mother-of-four Graham (33) has major credentials in this event with an emphatic victory two years ago in a personal best time of 2hrs 41mins 46secs. She was runner-up last year, some two minutes behind Kenya's Caroline Jepchirchir who took the win in a PB of 2.41.23.
After her Belfast race last year, Graham suffered a serious leg injury and has just recently made her comeback.
After extensive rehabilitation, the ever-determined Mourne Runners athlete has bounced back with useful wins in the Larne and Omagh Half Marathons.
She will therefore be relishing her first marathon race in a year to see if she can approach something akin to her previous form en route to a possible Olympic Games place next year.
Former Commonwealth Games runner Ganiel will be making her first appearance in Belfast following an illustrious career, the latest achievement being a 2.42.42 time in the Euro Championships in Berlin last summer.
The 42-year-old north Belfast woman was second behind Graham in the recent Larne Half in a time of 76mins 6secs which is her fastest in six years.
This could lead to a good performance, and she might get close to her sub-2hrs 38mins PB.
In Belfast, however, both Graham and Ganiel will struggle to shake off the attentions of last year's winner Jepchirchir, whose sights are firmly set on another victory. She was delighted with her first win last year following the birth of her daughter.
Her form since then certainly points to her being first past the post again.