2012 is a special year for Belfast. At the start of the year the Northern Ireland Tourist Board launched a new campaign: ‘ni 2012, our time our place’, with the belief that it was time to confidently put Northern Ireland on the global tourism map. This year not only sees Northern Ireland host its part of the Olympic & Paralympic Games 2012 Torch Relay, it also marks the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s maiden voyage, the famous liner built in Belfast’s shipyard. But 2012 is also the 30th anniversary of the Belfast marathon, an event that has run since 1982 at the height of the Troubles. It physically and literally crosses the peace line of Belfast, bringing together over 20,000 people from all walks of life in a collective positive surge through the city.
And so it was that this Bank Holiday Monday I ran 3.5miles as part of the Belfast marathon relay race. I had chosen to do the shortest leg of the relay, unaccustomed as I am to public displays of fitness. In fact, my only race preparation was to do a short jog around the block on half a dozen occasions over the last few months, just to make sure that I had it in me to run at all. The day before I settled any race nerves with a glass of Rioja, and my warm up on Monday morning involved running up and down the stairs in my sister’s house in a bit of a tiz as I hurriedly got ready to take up my post at Bridge End.
I was the second runner in our relay team and my route included crossing Queen’s bridge, running up High Street and Castle Street, up Falls Road, past Clonard, through the peace line over to Shankill Road and finally pass the baton to my team member (and previously unknown friend of a friend) at Hillview Road. It was a blustery, rainy day but the sun came out just before I started.
The whole experience was a joy. It felt exhilarating to run alongside fellow second-leg runners who no doubt, like me, had chosen the shortest distance as they too were unfit and unprepared and thought they could surely manage the 3.5miles. It was clear that many of them were struggling early doors as a group of second-leggers stumbled to the water station merely half a mile from the starting point. But we were united in our efforts and, as we pounded up the Falls Road, I felt invincible.
I had a giggle to myself when I saw the placards and heard the banter from the supporting crowd. ‘Fair play te ye’, ‘Keep her lit’ and my favourite – ‘Run like you’re being chased!’ It was like a scene from Fr Ted. Even better was the sight of the old man I passed at Clonard who had set up a trestle table beside his car and was giving out cups of Holy Water. As I came up towards Hillview Road a lone DJ in his DJ box shouted, ‘That second wind’s comin, I promise ye!’ But I didn’t need a second wind; the first one was still keeping me strong. It was impossible not to be caught up in the euphoric atmosphere of the day. Too soon I was at the third relay changeover point. Because I had never met my team mate before I shouted ‘Stevie’, ‘Stevie’ constantly as I ran alongside the 2,000 or so runners who were waiting to take up the baton. A few comedians shouted back to me ‘I’m Stevie, love’ and ‘I’ll be your Stevie’ but finally I found the right man and he was on his way.
Our team was made up of myself, my sister Mairead and her three friends Rebecca, Emma and of course Stevie. We completed the 26.2 miles in 4 hours 30 minutes, a mere 80 minutes behind my husband John who ran the whole thing himself. But that didn’t stop us bringing out our supporters club including 11 month old cousins Maggie and Nancy, and celebrating with a glass of bubbly afterwards. What started simply as an easy way for myself and Mairead to help lose the baby weight had ended up so much more. It was a great day to be in Belfast and I felt so proud to have been part of this wonderful event in the city with the thousands of other competitors.