Three former Men’s champions will clash in this Sunday’s 38th Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon which has broken all entry records and is fast approaching some 5,000 applications.
This is a clear result of both the historic switch to a Sunday event plus the attraction of an entirely new faster course which eliminates the old tortuous lengthy climb on the Antrim Road.
Current champion Eric Koech returns to defend his title from a year ago when he enjoyed a two minutes victory margin over fellow Kenyan Dan Tanui in a time of 2 hrs 18 mins 19 secs. This win made up for the 37 year old’s runner up spot in 2016 when he lost out to Joel Kositany. Eric has not raced since his victory in Belfast as he is determined to repeat last year’s result.
However, this is far from a foregone conclusion such is the caliber of the opposition which is probably the best ever. It includes three times previous winner Kositany who took the titles with some ease in 2013, 2015 and 2016. However, Joel has bitter memories of last year when he was joint leader with Koech and looking comfortable with less than 3 miles to go.
He then suffered the athlete’s ultimate nightmare of a pulled hamstring after which he painfully struggled to the finish for 3rd over 5 minutes behind the winner.
This experience has made him more determined to achieve a record 4 victories and finally surpass the 3 wins of John Mutai over ten years ago.
The 31 year old certainly has the pedigree to do this given the fact that he has the fastest marathon best in the field of under 2 hrs 10 mins.
Koech and Kositany will however have to keep a wary eye on yet another Kenyan Bernard Rotich. He is also a former winner from 2017 when he secured victory in 2 hrs 16 mins which is the 3rd fastest time on the old course.
32 year old Rotich who was also second in 2013 is possibly the biggest danger of all next Sunday as he has the best recent form. He followed up his Dublin Marathon victory of 2017 with a very useful time in the same race last October of 2.14.18.
Gideon Kimosop is also a Kenyan from the Rift Valley who has easily the most experience of racing in the Province. He is a treble winner of the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Half Marathon and was 2nd over the full marathon distance in 2015.
In his most recent win here in the Belfast Half last autumn 10k Gideon explained that the prize money in races went a long way towards supporting his huge extended family of 10 back home.
NI’s top marathon runners Laura Graham and Gladys Ganiel head the local challenge on Sunday 5 May.
33 year old mother of four Graham has impeccable credentials in this event with an emphatic victory two years ago in a personal best time of 2 hrs 41 mins 46 secs. She then followed this up last year with a runner up spot some two minutes behind Kenya’s Caroline Jepchirchir who took the honours in a PB of 2.41.23.
In Laura’s golden year of 2017 she ran 2 hrs 37secs in Berlin to place her second in the NI All Time list. However after her Belfast race last year she suffered a serious leg injury which has essentially sidelined her until relatively recently.
After extensive rehabilitation the ever determined Mourne Runners athlete has now bounced back with useful wins in both 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 Berlin form en route to a possible Olympic Games next year.
Former Commonwealth Games runner Ganiel will be making her first appearance in Belfast following an illustrious career the latest of which was a 2.42.42 time in the Euro Champs in Berlin last summer. The 42 year old North Belfast woman was 2nd behind Laura in the recent Larne Half in a time of 76 mins 6 secs which is her fastest in 6 years.
This points to a good performance in a few days when she might get close to her sub 2 hrs 38 mins 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. Caroline was delighted with her first win last year following the birth of her daughter. Her form since then certainly points to first past the post again in a potential fast time facilitated by the entirely new faster course .
The 36 year old Kenyan finished 5th in Dublin last October in a huge PB of 2.36 .23 and followed this up with 10th in Barcelona in March in 2 hrs 41 mins. The current best time for a marathon in Belfast of 2 hrs 36 mins 49 secs could therefore be under threat.
With this quality elite line up Marathon organisers are quietly hoping for very quick times on the new flatter course and perhaps a fastest ever marathon in Belfast which currently stands at 2 hrs 13 mins 41 secs.
For further details and updates on the biggest participation sporting event in Northern Ireland please visit www.belfastcitymarathon.com or follow the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon is sponsored by Athletics Northern Ireland, Daily Mirror, Belfast City Council, Better, Translink, Daily Mirror, Spar, Belfast Live and Framar Health. Sampling partners are Deep RiverRock, Tayto, White’s Oats and Linwoods. This year’s official charities are Belfast Arthroplasty Research Trust (BART); Cancer Focus NI; Stroke Association; Air Ambulance NI and Action Mental Health.