Having previously taken part in the 8-mile Walk of the Belfast City Marathon the decision to form a team for the relay was going to be my first experience of running the event.
The idea was mooted a few months ago and for a while we had settled upon a team but, as happens, other commitments and unforeseen circumstances ruled various people out as the event approached. Indeed, right up until around a couple of weeks before we only had three members which meant a couple of us would be running two legs each.
That wasn’t really a problem and plans were made to accommodate this but, in the end, we managed to pull together the full quota of five members … and so The 70s Shams (don’t ask!) were formed, namely Lisa, Terry, Eugene and the two originals, myself and Iverene.
Once individual preferences were sorted out I ended up getting the second leg of 3.3 miles, which was also the shortest leg but I didn’t really mind to be honest. I’ll be running a lot more and a lot further in the coming weeks so this served the purpose of getting me a run without the risk of tiring my legs.
Arriving in Belfast, Lisa (leg one runner) and I walked the 20 minutes or so to the front of the City Hall for the start, whereupon I took her bag which she would collect at the handover and made my way to Bridge End to wait for her arriving.
I somewhat overestimated the time it’d take to get there! I reached my starting point before the race itself had even begun at 9am so I was in for a bit of a wait!
Lisa’s leg was 10k, and she had told me to expect her at around 10:15am. Because I had got there early I tried to keep active and warm as I waited for her to arrive, so there was a lot of jogging on the spot and dynamic stretching. We had been promised a warm, sunny day but as I waited it was cold and overcast.
The race leaders started to arrive after half-an-hour or so and it actually got quite exciting watching them. I’m never quick enough to be in the same company as the front runners at any race (unless they’re lapping me!) so it was great to see them and to be a spectator for once.
Then, right on cue, I spotted Lisa a little further up the road so I readied myself for the off … just as the sun came out!
Taking over from Lisa, I initially went straight into my heart rate training which I’ve been doing a lot of recently but after a minute or so I thought ‘stuff this’ and decided I would run this as hard as I could, whilst being mindful of the sudden heat and the steady rise that awaited me.
My route took me over the Queen’s Bridge, into the city centre via Ann Street, along High Street, Castle Street and out towards the west of the city whereupon it basically it went uphill for the next 2.5 miles. Not massively so, but it was gradual and continuous.
I felt good, and was running fast enough to be able to go past quite a few others which was quite the novelty for me.
I was also quite amused because my route took me along the Falls Road and then onto the Shankill Road, polar opposites politically and culturally, yet so very close to each other.
I’ve never been in either place before but it was blatantly obvious which was which from the colours and murals alone … yet the people looked the same, and supported the runners the same. Such is life in Northern Ireland.
Enjoying myself, I felt stronger the more I ran and I really started to get into it. But then, far too soon, I reached my handover point and, with some disappointment, passed the ‘baton’ to Terry for him to start the third leg.
I could have run on, but I wanted to get the free shuttle bus back to Ormeau Park to cheer all the finishers home.
Getting there, I quickly found a prime spot just before the entrance to the park for the final 100 metres and bedded in for the next couple of hours. As with earlier, it was great to see all the other runners go past and giving an extra cheer to those I recognised from club, or who were struggling. For a few seconds as they passed I was really invested in them before moving on to the next runner.
I have experienced support from the runners perspective, but rarely from the other side, so it was fantastic – on such a glorious day – to soak up the atmosphere.
But the real highlight was seeing Iverene, our leg five runner, approach to bring our team ‘home’. We finished in a chip time of 4:42:25 … it was a fantastic effort from everyone, and I’d like to thank my other four team-mates for a hugely enjoyable experience and an all round great day out.