KENYAN STAR, Eric Koech lived up to his pre-race favourite's tag as he claimed his second Walled City Marathon victory in challenging conditions on Sunday morning in the seventh staging of the spectacular 26.2 mile classic.
The 2016 winner, representing Project Africa, crossed the line at the iconic Guildhall Square almost six minutes clear of runner-up, Foyle Valley's Chris McGuinness in an excellent time of 2:34:19 as he became the sixth Kenyan winner in seven years.
A runner-up to course record holder and compatriot, Dan Tanui last year with a time of 2:25:29 , the 37 year-old Koech took almost nine minutes longer to finish the stunning 26.2 mile course along the banks of the River Foyle this year in testing conditions but it was more than enough to clinch the top prize.
And he was thrilled with his time considering it was his second marathon in the space of a month after finishing runner-up in the Belfast race in April.
"It was very tough but I'm happy because I win," said the Kenyan. "This time was tough with a lot of wind. I did good because I finished well. This is my third time and second time winning. Last year I was second."
Koech, who has a best of 2:16:33 for the distance, felt if his good friend and last year's winner, Tanui had of entered it would've pushed him on for a better time but he insists he will return to defend his title in 2020.
"If Dan (Tanui) was here I would've run a better time," he claimed. "But I'm happy because that's what I wanted to run. Derry is my home. I get a beautiful welcome and they know me well and were cheering me on. They called my name and that made me happy. I'll come back again.
"Hopefully I will be in Dublin next," he added. "I don't know right now but hopefully. I was in Belfast three weeks ago and got second. So two marathons in a month is difficult."
Local man, McGuinness finished runner-up with a personal best time of 2:40:20 ahead of third placed, Shane O'Donnell of Rosses AC while Gary Hegarty (unattached) finished in fourth. City of Derry Spartans' Mark Mullan, who finished in fourth place in 2018, crossed the line in fifth with a time of 2:49:04.
Hall wins women's race
It was a tight tussle in the women's race as Armagh AC's Natalie Hall finished as first female home in a time of 3:03:39, narrowly ahead of Donmore Harriers' Grace Kennedy (3:04:32) and Aisling Murray (Carmen Runners) who crossed the line in 3:05:27. City of Derry Spartans' Denise Ward was the first local female home in an impressive 3:14:14.
The 2019 female winner found the going tough and suggested it could be her final marathon.
"It's my first Derry one and I think it's my last marathon," said Hall. "I can't go through that again. I'll concentrate on shorter stuff for a while and get my speed up again.
"It was really tough. I got to about eight miles and I could've stopped. I was out injured for about a month and don't think I had the training done but it's done now," she smiled.
"When the sun came out it was very hot but my pacer and the crowds kept me going. There were a few lonely parts but I'm happy enough. My PB is 2:57 and I was around 3:03 or so. So it wasn't too bad. A win is a win I suppose."
Two top Wheelchair athletes, James Divin and Karol Doherty were involved in a titanic battle with Doherty clinching victory this time out in an excellent, personal best time of 2:39:40.
Over 800 runners had lined out for the seventh staging of the popular event with race organiser, Noel McMonagle delighted with the turnout.
"We're delighted with the response and how people in Derry have turned out to support this event again and we're grateful to O'Neills for their sponsorship.
"This is the first year we've had a bit of wind on the course and it's marred times slightly but there were plenty of smiles on the faces of those who crossed the line so I think everyone enjoyed the event."
Check out the Journal's Live Blog from the event with social media reaction, videos, interviews and much more here