The chair of a Christian lobby group claims this weekend will see “a day of shame” for Belfast, with an all-time record number of entrants running the city’s first ever Sunday marathon.
Almost 5000 people are planning to run the 26 miles, almost double last year’s 2800. Until now the record was 3,800 runners in 2012.
However the overall size will be much larger, with the team relay, 2.5 mile fun run and 9-mile walk taking the total participants up to 18,000.
Organisers believe the rise in participants is primarily due to the historic move to a Sunday race. Another key factor, they say, is the new faster course, which eliminates the “old tortuous and lengthy” climb on the Antrim Road.
A Belfast Marathon spokeswoman said a third factor is the end of the Duncrue Industrial Estate section, where there were no supporting crowds. Instead, the new route will pass through cheering communities in the north, south, east and west of the city.
Wallace Thompson, chair of the Caleb Foundation said the race has for many years been a day of pride for Belfast.
“Sadly that is no longer the case,” he said. “This Sunday will be a day of shame for Belfast. The number of participants may well have increased, but it is no longer a cross-commmunity event, for a section of that community now feel excluded simply because they hold to a high view of the Lord’s Day.” He also queried the impact on Sunday church services in the city.
Three former men’s champions - all Kenyans - will clash; Eric Koech, Joel Kositany and Bernard Rotich. NI’s top runners will be Laura Graham and Gladys Ganiel.