Belfast City Marathon 2022

Report by Malcolm Baggaley
Race Date: Sunday 1st of May 2022

I am currently sitting on the ferry back from Belfast with a lot of time to kill so this could be a long report, but hey, why run a marathon if you can’t tell everyone about it right?!?

As is always the case, a marathon is never just about the day itself, it’s a long road of training, and preparation. My main aim for this spring was the Manchester Marathon at the start of April. But, just as the long runs were ramping up, I caught Covid back when that meant not leaving the house for 10 days. Replacing running with eating, as well as the fatigue of Covid, did nothing positive for my fitness so, even before I got out again, I was on the lookout for a May marathon and came across Belfast.

Little did I know that Covid would not just wipe me out for the 10 days but, ever since, I’ve struggled with heavier breathing and simply running out of juice towards the end of long runs and races. I went into Manchester having done only a single run over 15 miles, and it showed on the day with my pace dropping off by half way and I was taking walking breaks by the 30km mark. Finishing in 3:48, I told myself it was a training run, but looking back, it was everything I had in the tank at the time.

Anyway, enough about Manchester, you’re here for the Belfast report. The four weeks in between the two marathons were spent racing, interspersed with medium runs, I didn’t get over 13 miles in this time, although I did want to. If you’d asked me last week if I was confident, the answer would have been a resounding no, but I was going to enjoy it anyway.

I’d borrowed my sister’s campervan and got the ferry across from Birkenhead a couple of days before and after a little jaunt to Belfast Victoria parkrun (absolutely pan flat and would be great for a pb attempt if it wasn’t the day before a marathon), it was on to the expo to pick up my race pack. Sadly, the expo wasn’t much to write home about, but aside from that it was hard to fault the organisers with the rest of the weekend.

After some brief sightseeing, mainly the Titanic museum, I headed back for a lazy afternoon on the campsite. I was staying close to the start line, which was at Stormont, so the alarm wasn’t too early on Sunday for my pre-race bagel, banana, and coffee, and then the mile or so walk to Stormont. Unfortunately, it was chucking it down from early morning, meaning ponchos and warm layers were in order (sorry Worskop Halloween Half long-sleeved top, you’ve gone to a better place now, a Belfast charity shop). For the race though, vest is best. The start line itself was in the grounds of Stormont with the parliament buildings looming in the background. It was also at the bottom of a hill making for a great view from halfway up when the front runners got underway.

My race plan was the same as in Manchester, set off at 3:30 pace (5:00m/km) and see how long I could stick it out. I lined up alongside the pacer but as they all jogged to the line I walked and ended up starting closer to the 3:45 pacers. A relatively downhill first 5km saw me overtake a dinosaur, a tractor (I’m sure that was cheating) and some people walking already (they were in for a long day). I slowly caught the 3:30 pacer as they were doing even splits down the hill, and I slotted in just in front of them (I don’t particularly like running in the middle of a big group like you get around the pacers). In the first 5km, passing some of the east Belfast murals that adorn the streets, the crowds were big and loud, and so was the music.

The next 5km went by relatively easily, sat just in front of the pacer, and at about 7.5km we passed through the first relay exchange where there seemed to be as many people waiting to start leg B as there were running the marathon, it was absolutely packed and gave another boost with all the noise.

Kilometres 10-15 were through Ormeau Park, where we would eventually finish, and over into the city centre. Again, the crowds were big and loud, with lots of jelly babies, water, and orange slices on offer for those that wanted. I stuck to my gels and water, but it was still nice to see. In terms of my race, I was feeling surprisingly good, still ahead of the 3:30 pacer, and knowing that I had a good minute chip time in hand on them due to walking to the start line instead of jogging.

I got to halfway feeling pretty fresh, albeit drenched, and I was already quicker than I was 4 weeks earlier where my pace had begun to slow through the 20km mark. In this 5km, there was another crazy-busy relay change at around 19km. The relay was an organisational feat in itself, with over 1500 teams taking part, each with up to 5 runners each. The legs were not even, I spent a good portion of the race trying to figure this out, and runners could do 2 or more legs if they wanted to, which explained why leg A runners were still around well into the second half of the race.

The next 10km were the toughest on the route map. Overall, there is only just over 200m of climbing in the full race, but a lot of that comes in this 10km. It’s not steep, especially by Sheffield standards, but it is very long, fairly consistent, and comes after you’ve already ran a half marathon. Thankfully the years of training in Sheffield paid off and I was able to hold my pace well up the hill, it even took me a few kms to realise I was on the climb already. The steepest was the last km at the top, between 30-31km, which was tough coming after the kms of climbing leading into it, but we were rewarded with a run past Cliftonville FC, around a little park and pond, and some great views down over the city.

I’d never made it to 30km of a marathon without having at least one period of walking, but this time I was still feeling pretty good, and was on pace for a sub-3:30 and a pb by over a couple of minutes. I was enjoying it so far, a massive difference to both my Manchester experiences where I was already in survival mode by this point.

I was still a fair way ahead of the 3:30 pacer but could hear the hordes of footsteps in the distance behind so knew I wasn’t overdoing it in terms of pace. The sun had started to come out now and the rain had stopped. A couple of gentle downhill kilometres and we were back in the city, at the 35km point.

I don’t know why I didn’t see it, I really should have seen it, if this was a movie it’s where the storm clouds would be gathering behind the protagonist who was carrying on oblivious to the inevitable. At 35km I ran into “the wall!!” I took my last gel on schedule but knew it was already too late. The 3:30 pacer, and the now much smaller group, trundled past, followed 30 seconds later by the second 3:30 pacer and his 3 hangers-on (I checked later and both pacers came in under 3:29). I tried to draw on reserves of energy and tag onto the back but there was nothing there to up the pace, this was now my one speed, slow and steady.

My “A” goal for this race was just to try and run all of it, so I dug in, I was still moving forward at least, so that was a bonus. My pace was now down just south of 5:30m/km, but it felt much slower and much harder. With 4km to go, we were running alongside the river and could see Ormeau Park on the other bank, and could hear the finish line, but the route went far past the park and we came into it from the other side, all I could think of was how cruel the organisers were.

And then, at 40km, the last little kicker of a climb, short and sharp, it took a lot out of the legs that deep into the race. But, I was now heading back to the park, on a very long, straight road, having lost the noise of the pacer group, it was just me, my head, and my screaming legs (they were very loud). This road went on forever, but I did something I don’t think I’ve done in the last 2km of a marathon before, I overtook people, not many, but enough to keep the old spirits up.

Just as the noise from my legs was starting to get the better of me, I turned the corner at the end of the road and could again hear the finish line, but this time I was heading there. A bit more road, lined with faster finishers, and a fair few spectators, gave a big boost to drown out the noise from the legs. One final turn, into the park and the finish was there. I’d slipped beyond 3:30, and indeed had slipped beyond my pb (3:32) but I was not far off. I wanted to push but every muscle in my legs were so tight and in the interests of running every step, I didn’t want to risk cramping up so close to the finish.

I crossed the line, still running, in 3:33:36. It was 15 minutes quicker than 4 weeks earlier and was so much quicker than I thought I had in me right now.

A sidebar for those Strava stat geeks, and those who will indulge me for a paragraph. To try and help with the mental challenge, I changed my watch to give me 5km splits instead of every 1km. Counting out every 42 of the splits was mentally draining in previous marathons but I also needed the reassurance of pacing. I am terrible at consistent pacing, no matter what the race distance, or even in training. I’d never raced with a pacing group before, and I think this decision helped massively, even if for most of it I was hanging in front of the group. My 5km splits were: 23:49 (downhill), 24:22, 24:22, 24:21, 24:13, 24:44 (uphill), 24:19, 28:15 (after hitting the wall). It’s also always worth taking stock of progress too, it wasn’t all that long ago that I was happy getting a sub-30 minute parkrun and here I was “disappointed” at a 28:15 5km late in a marathon.

After the finish, a short lie down and some sugar, it was onto a couple of shuttle buses and a reminder why the running community are the best. Such a great atmosphere in the park and on the buses, and I had a fair few marathon recommendations for future marathons, with more than one suggesting Dublin, Striders trip anyone?

The mile and a half walk back to the campsite felt a lot longer than it had in the morning, but at least the sun was out, and I had a pizza delivery on its way.

With Covid and a niggling Achilles really hampering things earlier in the year, to improve 15 minutes from 4 weeks ago was very pleasing and surprising. It gives me a lot of positives to build on to reach a time that reflects my pace at other distances.

The race was well organised, with over 10,000 participants, 3000+ doing the full marathon and 7000+ taking part in the relay (there was also an 8 mile walk option). The route was all within the city, and with lots of people to cheer everyone on. Wouldn’t say no to giving it another go at some point in the future.

The race was won by Paul Pollock from Annandale Striders in 2:16:16, with Gladys Ganiel from North Belfast Harriers winning the women’s race in 2:43:49. I was first (only) Strider home in a chip time of 3:33:36.

Full results for the marathon are here
Full results for the relay are here

Pos Bib Firstname LastName Cat Finish Chiptime
635 4265 Malcolm Baggaley M40 3:36:11 3:33:36

Malcolm pushing through the wall in the last few km.

The Start Line

T-shirt and medals

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