This year’s Waterside Half Marathon is set to be the biggest and best in the 35 year history of the event with a number of new features set to enhance the experience of the record breaking entry.
As many as 2,000 runners will be on the start line at St. Columb’s Park on Sunday, September 4th for the race which is being hosted by Derry City and Strabane District Council in conjunction with the City of Derry Spartans.
With a record number of female and relay runners signing up before registration closed last week, race organiser Gerry Lynch is understandably elated with the public’s backing of the longest running event on the local athletics calendar.
“The response to the registration process has been overwhelming and shows the high esteem that the event is held in,” he said.
“When we first ran the race in 1981 we had around 100 runners which shows you its growth in stature over the years.
“It has been held every year for the last 35 years, with the exception of 2006, so people know it is an event with a bit of history and there is a strong organising team behind it who can guarantee a high level experience for runners.”
The upsurge in participation numbers in the sport is visible on the roads of the city and district on any given evening and that, combined with the yearly enhancements to the race, means it continues to be the half marathon of choice for most local runners.
“There are a number of factors that have boosted the race’s popularity in recent years,” Gerry noted. “We’ve introduced a new course that is much more spectator and runner friendly and, as everyone knows, there has been a fitness boom in the city in recent years.
“The race has a long established reputation for being a quality event for all levels from elite runners to first timers.
“September is a good time for a Half Marathon as well because runners are preparing for the Dublin Marathon which is the most popular race in Ireland.”
The field continues to be largely made up of local runners with 55% of the record female entry and 70% of the male field of over 1,000 coming from the Derry City and Strabane District area, with a significant proportion of the remainder coming from nearby Donegal.
Gerry continued: “We have seen the number of women runners increase year on year and it has now surpassed the 700 mark for the first time with the average ago of the runner at 36.
“It is also the highest ever number of relay teams we have had with 80 relay groups of three able to enjoy the race experience without running the whole race.
“It is an event that we are always looking to improve and grow. When the race is over we will sit down and discuss how we can accommodate more runners in the future and possibly attract more visitors from outside the city which could have a bigger knock on effect for the local economy.”
One of a number of new elements in this year’s race is the introduction of a pacer system to allow runners to navigate the route in time with their personal goals.
A team of 13 pacers who will cover five different race times, starting at 1 hour and 30 minutes and rising in increments of 15 minutes up to 2 hours and 30 mins.
“We’ve used pacers in the Walled City Marathon with a lot of success,” said Gerry. “They are all experienced runners who have studied the terrain of the course beforehand and they have always been spot on with their timings.
“The beauty of having five different pacers is that if peoples’ goals change during the race they have the option to slow down or speed up to join the pacers behind or in front.
“Pacers will be walking around the start line for half an hour before the race and they will be marked out by helium filled balloons with their pace times written on them so runners can file in behind them at the race start.”
Last year’s route change to take in more of the river front proved particularly popular with spectators as well as runners and Gerry had specific advice for those who wish to support the runners on the day.
“It’s a spectator friendly route with the start and finish at St Columb’s Park and people can stand anywhere along the river bank on the west bank and enjoy the action.
“Between the Peace Bridge and Coshowen runners will be running in both directions so that is a particularly good place to enjoy the action.
“The timing of the races, with the main race starting at 10am and the Fun Run Starting 15 minutes later, means that younger runners can complete their 2K run and then support family members in the main race.”
For further information on the WHM visit www.derrystrabane.com/Subsites/Half-Marathon/About or the Waterside Half Marathon Facebook page.