The Race Begins at Twenty One: Belfast City Marathon 2023

Race Date: Sunday 30th April 2023

This project was unfinished business. After being disappointed with 3:18 here in 2017 it was resolved to return and run better next time. All was set for the race in 2020 but that was abandoned for all sorts of reasons. With 750 miles under the belt, including eight twenty milers and averaging at 53 miles per week, taper started three weeks before the race on 9th April. Other sessions, hills and long reps, had gone well and performances at Stamford 30k and Retford Half suggested that a target of 3:30 wouldn’t be unreasonable. The last four weeks in particular, including a week in Portugal with some of the club’s best athletes, had been solid. Had even researched gels, discovering that the berry ones tasted nicest, so arriving at Belfast International Airport on the Friday confidence should have been abundant so where was it?

Training had gone well with the snow and slow recovery after the Stamford 30k being the only real blips.

Reduce volume by 20% but maintain intensity is what some of the books say so you don’t have to get up quite so early on Saturday morning. But the taper brings its own problems. When is it reasonable to start looking at the weather forecast? Why do I feel so fat when the scales tell me that I’m lighter than I have been for over four years? How do explain why I am home early from training? Why am I drinking more beer than ever? Why does my right knee hurt? Was it because I wasn’t doing my one legged squats properly last Sunday or is it my racing shoes that I tried out on Thursday? Why can’t I get any new ASICS DS Trainers? Should I have done a 23 mile long run? With the rest of the training group doing either Manchester or London, how do I organise sessions so that everyone (including me) is working at the correct level? Have I got a sore throat? Why do I think that I could run as quick as my last marathon back in 2019 when I’m four years older and now a good way the wrong side of sixty? Talking about my concerns with Val (former Steel City and top lass who returned to Italy in 2020) her response was “trust the process”. My own words thrown back in my face.

It was the missus’ plan to go shopping on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday as I would be good for nothing so, as we packed on Friday, the order was to leave plenty of room in the suitcase so no choice of racing shoes. More maranoia. Numbers had to be collected from the Titanic Exhibition Centre on Saturday hence the Friday departure. We got tickets on the hop on hop off tour bus, collected my number and then continued with a tour of the rest of the city. Sightseeing made easy and keeping off the feet. Thoroughly recommend the tour to anyone visiting the city but wrap up warm.

No matter how often I looked at the weather forecast it was raining as I left my hotel to get the shuttle bus taking competitors to the start. Showers were forecast against a background of increasing temperatures. This was a new course for me, starting at Stormont with the finish in Ormeau Park as before. No wave starts or pens as at London and elsewhere but bright yellow markers indicated where we ought to stand, which no-body seemed to be taking any notice of whilst the presence of the first tranche of over 8500 relay runners added to the confusion. Five minutes in, the 4:15 pacer, initially identified as the 3:15 pacer, came into view yet the 3:30 pacer was behind me! What a load of rubbish. There are elections in Northern Ireland in a couple of weeks and the blue DUP banners found in certain parts of the city confused as they were the same colour as the mile markers so it’s no wonder the first mile was a little off the pace.

View from Stormont towards the city centre. The start line is at the blue gantry at the bottom of the hill so no flying start for us.

With over 1700 relay teams the four changeovers were bedlam with people everywhere but at least they had numbers back and front. Support all along the course was immense. The people of Belfast wanted to make visitors welcome with impromptu water stations and jelly babies aplenty. The sun started to come out at about fifteen miles but where were those showers as would have been so welcome. The thermal tops that had been packed were certainly not needed.

A feature of Belfast it the Beer Bus. Evidence of how flat the city centre is they are usually powered by a hen party intent on having a good time.

The centre of Belfast is pancake flat but the need to visit all parts of the city (the route is approved by the Parades Commission) means that the course itself is not. This made pace judgement awkward whilst a significant incline at 18 miles added to the fun and was where the 3:30 pacer with his entourage went past.

The ground still wet, Stormont provides an impressive backdrop to the start. One placard held up in the crowd proclaimed that we were working better than their government.

The traditional advice is that “the race begins at twenty” but at Belfast it’s downhill from twenty to twenty one miles so effectively the race begins at twenty one. This was reached more or less on target (although the 3:30 guy was now in front of me) but after that it all started to go wrong. Losing about six minutes over the last five miles wasn’t quite falling off the cliff but close to the precipice. The real skill in completing the marathon is first of all setting a realistic target and then getting the pacing right and both were absent.

This chart of a group of Steel City performances prepared by Rob Byers depicts how the best results are usually obtained by those who can keep it going on an even keel past twenty miles.

The people on the shuttle bus back to the city centre were ever so kind, finding me a seat so I didn’t have to try and get up and down the stairs. Did I look that bad? The post mortem started as soon I got back to the hotel. “Why do you run marathons? You have never been happy and you’re too old” the coach said. On reflection, perhaps she’s right but I enjoy the training and the process of identifying a specific target and training towards it. Twenty six miles has never been my distance but this performance was unacceptable. Or is it that the old 2xhalf marathon time plus 10 minutes predictor doesn’t work for slower runners. Should it be add 15 minutes? If so, my target time was wrong and a less ambitious pace would have left something in the tank. Something to be researched perhaps.

Brian Jenkins, seen here crossing the line, was pleased with his 4:02:12 not far off his pb on a not flat course. Official race photos are on sale at £39.95 for the set.

There were 3341 finishers but this included walkers, the last of whom crossed the line after 8 hours 23 minutes on the road. A five leg relay race was also held in conjunction with the marathon. Winner was Mohammed Oumarrir (Morocco) 2:22:54 and Shewaye Woldemeskel (Ethiopia) 2:37:20.

Link to Belfast Half Marathon 2023 Results

Posn Cat Name Time
674 (9) M60 Peter Brown 3.36.16
1488 M55 Brian Jenkins 4.02.12


On Monday evening we got an e-mail advising that our easyjet flight to Manchester on Tuesday afternoon was cancelled due to French industrial action. We got a flight with Ryan Air leaving half an hour later but their baggage allowance is three kilos less than easyjet so it was just as well that the suitcase hadn’t been packed to the gunnels with a choice of shoes. On Tuesday I started developing a proper cold so probably did have a sore throat on Saturday night so dodged a bullet there.

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