Belfast Marathon: Christian runner feels ‘excluded’ with race switch to Sunday

Karen Alexander proudly displays her silver medal after competing at the World Mountain Marathon Championships held in Podrdo in Slovenia
Karen Alexander proudly displays her silver medal after competing at the World Mountain Marathon Championships held in Podrdo in Slovenia
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A committed Christian who was the second fastest NI woman in the Belfast Marathon for the past two years says she now feels “excluded” as it has switched to a Sunday.

Karen Alexander, a teacher from Cookstown, contacted the News Letter to voice her concerns ahead of the first ever Sunday Belfast Marathon, this weekend.

She was prompted to speak out after Wallace Thompson, chair of Christian lobby group the Caleb Foundation, raised his own concerns in the News Letter on Tuesday.

Mr Thompson 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. 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 what impact the race would have on Sunday church services across Belfast.

The number of applicants to run the 26 miles has hit an all-time high of almost 5,000 this year. Organisers believe the rise is due to the move to a Sunday as well as cutting out a “tortuous” climb on the Antrim Road and avoiding Duncrue Industrial Estate, which had no supportive crowds.

After reading Mr Thompson’s comments, Ms Alexander contacted the News Letter to say she was “delighted that finally someone with Christian beliefs has spoken out”.

She added that Mr Thompson “is correct” in saying that the number of participants may well have increased, but that it is “no longer a cross-community event” as some Christians will now feel excluded.

“I do feel excluded and would love to be preparing once more to compete in the Belfast Marathon,” she said. “For many years Belfast Marathon has been a highlight of my running life. In 2008 and 2014 I was fortunate to make the podium, claiming third overall female on both occasions.

“In 2017 and 2018 I finished as the second Northern Ireland female behind Laura Graham. In fact last year I set a new personal best of 2:54 at the age of 40.”

A Home Economics teacher, for many years she has taken pupils from Magherafelt High School to enjoy the fun run part of the marathon.

“Last year we won the prize for the largest school group. The children, many of whom come from Christian backgrounds, have been very disappointed that this fundraising opportunity is now no longer part of the school calendar.

“As a rule I do not race on a Sunday unless I am competing for my country. It is such a shame that this local event is yet another race which I cannot participate in. However, I feel that by not racing on a Sunday I am making a stand for my beliefs.

“Let’s face it. The issue of competing on a Sunday has been a long lasting debate. Eric Liddell is the famous name which comes to mind.”

Devout Scottish Christian Liddell refused to compete in his specialist distance of 100m at the 1924 Olympics as the race was scheduled for a Sunday. Instead, he won gold when he entered the 400m instead, the story being immortalised in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’.

“I am aware that those with Christian beliefs have their own stance on this issue and I do not hold it against, or judge, anyone who goes ahead and takes part on a Sunday,” Ms Alexander said.

“Perhaps Wallace Thompson could be persuaded to organise an alternative marathon on a different day to help raise money for the Caleb Foundation?”

She added: “I do want to add that I hope every runner has a good run and most importantly finishes it safely. I have many good friends in the running community and sincerely wish them all the best.”