The 6th Energia Belfast 24 Hours Race at the Mary Peters Track on Friday and Saturday has attracted a record field from all corners of the World. The event includes the Irish National Championships.
Competitors are heading to the South Belfast venue from Hungary, Italy, Germany, Poland, Australia, Spain, the Falkland Islands and the Philippines as well as from 20+ Irish counties.
Irish record holder at 152 miles Eoin Keith from Cork returns after placing second in a six day race in Hungary and will be at the front along with Limerick based Polish runner Thomas Kilmas and Italian Corrado Buzzloan.
Last year’s winner Jan Uzik from Slovakia is not competing owing to the imminent birth of his second child but the Irish challenge will be strong from Brian Ankers from Offaly, Don Hannon from Wicklow, Billy Holden from Kilkenny and Grellan McGrath also Cork who set new figures of 81 miles for the 12 hours last year.
Spanish-based Eddie Gallen will be in his 31st 24 hour race while one local who could make a big impact is Justin Maxwell from East Coast who is an ultra trail international with an impressive marathon best of 2:38:11.
Malcolm Gamble comes from Australia, Tim Redmond from Dromara has set himself a goal of running 2015 miles this year for charity John McGerty from Ballymena is celebrating his 50th birthday while David Higgins from Armagh is running the entire distance in fancy dress also for charity.
There could be a home winner in the Ladies. Susan McCartney from Belfast ran 122 miles in the Worlds while Gillian Cordner from Carrick has completed 100 marathons. Ruthann Sheahan the Irish record holder is not going as she has not regained full fitness after coming 11th in the Worlds.
As always the runners will be looking to hit the 100 miles mark and claiming the special jacket awarded for reaching this target.
Joint Irish champion John O’Regan is guiding Sinead Kane from Cork the first visually impaired athlete on the race while Gerry Forde from Blarney is the first ever wheel chair competitor. The response has been amazing. Race director Ed Smith said “It’s just been crazy. We could have doubled the number of competitors the main problem has been to accommodate them all on a 400 metres track”
The sponsors Energia have backed the race from it’s inception. Marketing Manager Michael Ringland said “We’re delighted to again be involved in this race. It presents an eye watering challenge which has grown year on year into something special and unique”. Energia this year have entered two five person relay teams.
For the fifth time the event has received backing from Belfast City Council through it’s Support for Sport initiative. Pure Running, Athletics Ireland and Athletics Northern Ireland are also backing it.
The 24 hours race, 24 hours relay and first 12 hours race start at 6.45pm on Friday, runners will change direction every two hours. There will also be kids races on the track on Saturday.