New Belfast Marathon promises records galore
Four previous winners will compete in tomorrow's record breaking 38th Deep RiverRock Belfast Marathon which has an entry of almost 5,000 - a 50% increase on any previous total.
This should make for the most exciting marathon in years. An entirely new course, combined with anticipated dry weather and light winds, could well facilitate very fast times.
This year's event is a landmark representing the culmination of years of negotiations to secure a Sunday marathon. It is also acknowledged that the new course will be much faster. Gone is the heartbreaking three-mile Antrim Road climb though athletes this time will have to face a testing section after halfway in the north Belfast area.
None of this will present any serious problems for the four previous winners who are racing, including last year's female champion Caroline Kipchirchir.
The Kenyan starts as firm favourite to retain her title particularly after the late withdrawal of local star Laura Graham who has a foot infection .
Graham, who won in 2017 and was second last year, had been expected to challenge for another victory but her plans have been derailed. The Mourne Runners athlete will now be looking for a possible marathon in the autumn with an eye on the Olympics next year.
Kipchirchir said a year ago that she never expected to win especially as it was her first race after becoming a mother. The 36-year-old will be a lot more confident this time especially following a PB of 2 hrs 36 mins in last autumn's Dublin Marathon.
A lot of interest will focus on former Commonwealth Games athlete Gladys Ganiel who is making her first Belfast appearance. The 42-year-old has enjoyed an illustrious career and recently ran her fastest half marathon time in six years. She will be aiming for a faster time than last August's sub 2 hrs 43 mins in the Berlin Euro Championships.
Ukraine's Vera Ovcharuk recently ran 2 hrs 38 mins in Bulgaria and must have a chance.
Also to the fore will be Radka Churanova of the Czech Republic who has a third and two fourth place finishes in Belfast.
The elite men's race has probably its strongest ever line-up with three previous winners and several other podium finishers.
Treble winner Joel Kositany is desperate to take a record breaking fourth title particularly after his soul destroying experience last year when he was joint leader but pulled a hamstring with less than three miles to go. The 31-year-old Kenyan has not raced since then.
He faces last year's winner Eric Koech and also Bernard Rotich, who won in 2017 in 2 hrs 16 mins which is one of the fastest times over the old course. More significantly Rotich ran 2 hrs 14 mins in Dublin last October.
Also in the mix will be fellow Kenyans Gideon Kimosop, who was second in Belfast in 2015, and Dan Tanui who was runner-up last year. Kimosop has won the Belfast Half Marathon three times.
There will be a huge total of almost 19,000 participants tomorrow, with 2,400 five-person relay teams plus 1,000 in each of the nine-mile walk and the fun run joining the near 5,000 marathon runners. The event starts at Stormont (9am) and finishes at the Ozone at Ormeau Park .