The City's big running weekend is almost here and all those miles of training will be finally put to the test on Sunday next at the O' Neills Walled City Marathon, the seventh staging of the local 26.2 mile classic and the first year with new commercial sponsor, sports and leisure company O' Neills.
Race registration for the 1000 or so entrants will be hosted this Friday and Saturday at the O'Neills superstore in Waterloo Place just yards from the race finish in the historic Guildhall Square and the race itself starts at 8 30am on Sunday at the Everglades Hotel on the Prehen Road.
The course hugs both banks of the river, taking the participants on an urban and rural odyssey through streets, parks and greenways, in and out of the Walled City to an iconic finish in a spectator packed Guildhall Square.
Kenyan Eric Koech is the hot favourite to repeat his 2016 victory and go one better than his runners up spot last year when he posted a 2hr 23m 47s clocking behind the sub 2hr20m winning run of his compatriot Dan Tunai.
Local men Chris McGuinness and Mark Mullan should front the home challenge with both capable of running sub 2hr 40m but will have to be wary of Enniskillen Running Club's Dave Slater, Mayo AC's John Higgins, Shane Donnell of Rossea Ac and Murlough AC's Alan Johnson in the battle for podium places.
The female race has a leading local contender Denise Ward who hopes to beat her 3hr 02m PB and duck under the 3 hour barrier for the first time. The opposition includes another potential sub 3 athlete, Natalie Hall of Armagh AC and Donore Harriers Grace Kennedy , Aisling Murray of Carmen Runners and Fiona McQulkan of North Down AC may also play a significant role upfront.
Two top Wheelchair athletes from these parts will battle it out for the top spot. James Divin and Karol Doherty have an ongoing battle over a variety of distances, last time out was at the recent Buncrana 5K where James just edged out Karol in a tight finish. Another terrific tussle is expected on Sunday.
The course is quite spectator friendly and has a reputation for the communities along the route coming out to support the runners. That should be repeated again this weekend especially in the closing stages around the Peace Bridge, Fahan Street and Waterloo Place and Guildhall Square. Support is critical all along the route though and is always much appreciated by the participants, front runners and down the field runners alike---get out there and do your bit!!
First finishers expected by 10 50am onwards in Guildhall Square and they will keep on coming until around 2 30pm.