Monday, 25 April 2011

Belfast City Marathon will be Greg McClure's 50th!

When the 30th edition of the Belfast City Marathon gets underway on Bank Holiday Monday, one man among the crowd will be chasing his own significant milestone.

Greg McClure of North Belfast Harriers will be aiming to complete his 50th career marathon. The 54-year-old Lisburn man finishes most of his marathons in and around the 3-hour mark. He has a personal best of 2.57.35 from the 2007 Belfast City Marathon and has dipped under the 3-hour barrier ten times – all since he turned 50 years old. Just two weeks ago he chalked up another sub-3 hour clocking, cruising through the London Marathon in 2.59.14.

The Belfast City Marathon is McClure’s favourite race and he has carefully planned his schedule so that his 50th marathon will coincide with the event. McClure ran the inaugural edition of the marathon back in 1982 but in 1983 he gave up running and didn’t return to the sport until 1999. Watching the Belfast City Marathon in 2000 inspired him to rededicate himself to marathon running.

McClure says, ‘I was watching friends of mine run the Belfast Marathon in 2000. I remember standing on Balmoral Avenue and cheering them and thinking, I would love to be in this. The question was nagging me – could I finish a marathon again?’

McClure ran seven marathons between 1981 and 1983, his best coming in London in 1982 when he recorded a time of 3.06.55. He describes his training at the time as ‘ridiculous,’ and admits that he didn’t really know what he was doing in terms of training, diet or shoes.


But McClure had enjoyed running, and says that during the 18 years when he didn’t train he ‘always had pined for it.’ During that time he says he smoked and drank too much, and his health deteriorated. It was the desire to quit smoking that led him out the door to try and run his first mile all over again in 1999.

So when McClure lined up for the 2001 Belfast City Marathon, his goal was just to finish. He completed the course in 3.44.50. He ran Belfast the next two years in succession, gradually improving his times to 3.16.04 and 3.13.40. His sub-3.15 clocking in 2003 was significant because that guaranteed him an entry to the London Marathon as a ‘Good for Age’ category runner.

McClure says, ‘The obsession with London started to kick in after I ran 3.16. London had been the highlight of my running in the 1980s, because it was the fastest by far and that 3.06 almost sounded respectable. And it was done off no training, well, not no training, but ridiculous preparation in terms of what we would think about today. I had entered the ballot a couple of times for London, and hadn’t got in of course. Then I discovered their good for age entry system. So then the only way to get into this London Marathon was to break 3.15. So in 2003 Davy Wright and I ran to try and break 3.15 in Belfast and we did by about a minute and a half. And that was me into London and I’ve run London every year since that.’


As McClure got faster year on year, rolling back his years in terms of improving health and fitness, McClure began to set himself new goals. He wanted to run faster, and he wanted to run more marathons. So in 2004 he ran four: London, Belfast, Longford and Dublin. In 2005 and 2006 it was five: London, Belfast, Longford, Berlin and Dublin. In 2008 it was six: London, Belfast, Newry, Longford, Berlin and Dublin. In 2009 and 2010 the list expanded to seven: London, Belfast, Newry, Longford, Berlin, Dublin, Barcelona in 2009 and Cork in 2010. So far in 2011, he has Barcelona and London under his belt.

Somewhere along the way, McClure realised that he had run more than 30 marathons. He says, ‘I’d seen the 100 marathon club and thought, I’m never going to get to that. Maybe someday I will, I don’t know. But 50 just seemed a goal. And I thought, I’ll not think about 100 but I’ll do 50. I can do that in 3 or 4 more years if I keep going the way I am. And then I wanted to construct it so Belfast would be the 50th. So I had to work that out last year, and that was one of the reasons I went to Barcelona – to get another one this year so Belfast would work out. I thought 50 is another reason to keep going.’


McClure explains why the Belfast City Marathon is special for him: ‘Belfast is no doubt my favourite marathon. I love the whole Belfast experience. Belfast is the home marathon. And it’s always been a tough course, even when the courses were different. But you’re at home, the support is local people, people you know. So you start and finish chatting to people that you know. I think logistically it’s easiest. You can get your diet right, your sleep right, you don’t have to travel. And it’s been good to me. I did a PB (personal best) in it oddly enough, despite running Berlin and London umpteen times. The PB is still in Belfast.’

McClure recalls the first Belfast Marathon, and the ‘razzamatazz’ that accompanied the inaugural event. His abiding memories are of running into a strong wind on the Boucher Road, and being given half pints of Guinness after finishing. He says, ‘They were giving out Guinness free at the end out of a caravan, so you got these wee plastic cups of Guinness. It made me feel awful but I think I took two half pints. At least you felt better for a couple of minutes!’

McClure’s personal best was also the first time he dipped under 3-hours. He describes that day: ‘It was windy but I was going well and I felt strong. At the bottom of the Shore Road, I was feeling I was going well and I was starting to think, I am strong today. This could be my day. And that was about 15 miles. And Steven Harkens shouted at me, you’re flying, Greg, you’re flying! And I thought, yes, he’s right. I am. The pace, the time I am at this point in this race is in advance of where I’ve ever been before. I think I felt strong all of the way. I hit some sort of a wall but I didn’t lose much pace. Weather, temperature, all the factors conspired to make it a good day. Two weeks before that year, I’d missed sub-3 hours in London by 24 seconds. The previous London I’d missed it by 12 seconds. And I said to coach Matt Shields, that run in London was the run that set it up. The body had recovered well and then was ready for another goal.’

Aspiring marathon runners can learn a lot from McClure’s extensive experience. He emphasises variety in his training, making it a point to include weekly long runs of 2 to 2 ½ hours and attending a speed work session with the North Belfast Harriers at least one evening a week. McClure races often over various distances to test his body in new ways. He also builds running into his lifestyle, running in and out to work several days a week. McClure is a systems development manager at Queen’s University in Belfast, which means his two-legged commute from Lisburn is about nine miles each way. He sometimes even runs to the shops with his rucksack on his back, buys his groceries, and then runs home again. McClure says he runs about 70 miles per week, and has totalled as much as 90-100 per week.

As for the Belfast City Marathon course, McClure says that the toughness of its terrain, such as the long hill on the Antrim Road, appeals to him. His strategy for managing the course is breaking it up into chunks, racing himself to see what time he will arrive at familiar landmarks. He says, ‘The current course is a good challenge and I enjoy it. I think the good thing about it is you can break it up and that’s how I deal with it. You don’t break it up by mile, you break it up by place. There’s the Antrim Road bit, the downhill bit after 14 miles, the Loughshore, the Duncrue, the Odyssey, the Ormeau Road, the Ravenhill Road down to the finish. So the Antrim Road I know it is going to be tough but once I get to the top I have two very fast miles. So don’t worry about the time, it will come back. When you know the course well you can use those kinds of tricks.’

When asked what sort of goals he’ll pursue after achieving his 50th marathon, M
cClure laughs and says he’s been considering that. He would like to try ultra-marathoning, although he is anxious that the long recovery periods from ultra marathons could interfere with his regular road racing schedule. Apart from his multiple marathons, McClure is a familiar face at half marathons, 10ks, and other shorter events throughout Northern Ireland.

McClure also says that he’ll just keep on running marathons. He says that he remains motivated by trying to break 3-hours every time out, and enjoys the physical and mental challenge of every marathon. McClure says, ‘every marathon I run I realise there is no such thing as an easy one. There are no gimmees in marathons. So it’s a worthwhile challenge, it’s not a walk in the park. Even to run it at 4 hour pace still isn’t a walk in the park. So it is always a worthy thing to take on. Even if I was to run it slower than I thought I could it is still worthy to take it on and finish it.’

By Gladys Ganiel

(Left London & right- Belfast)

1 comment:

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