Mark McKinstry & Laura Graham win record breaking AES Larne Half Marathon:
Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers) and Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) celebrated victory as a record breaking field of close to 2,000 athletes took on today’s AES Larne Half Marathon (Saturday 18th March 2017). The Larne AC hosted event was also part of the Pure Running Half Marathon Series.
Yesterday’s torrential rain and high winds subsided and conditions for the 25th annual running of the increasingly popular event proved excellent, albeit slightly windy in places.
The seemingly endless field of runners set off on the newly revised 13.1 mile journey which would take them along the famous County Antrim coastline, between Larne and Ballygally. First though, they had to negotiate two miles around the Town Centre – during the middle section of the course, the field also took in hilly inland section in Cairncastle, before returning to the Coast Road.
Pre-race favourite Mark McKinstry made his intentions clear from the off as he took up a position at the head of the pack – he led through 3 miles with John Black (North Belfast Harriers), Francis McDaid (Acorns AC) and Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers) all in tow. In the ladies race, there was very little between Laura Graham, Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers) and Gladys Ganiel O’Neill (North Belfast Harriers) early on.
As the athletes moved inland at Ballygally, Mark McKinstry continued to dominate, while behind, John Black had put some distance between himself and the third placed Neill Weir, who in-turn had opened a gap on the fast improving Francis McDaid. Despite a notable fall, AAI National Marathon and Half Marathon Champion Laura Graham had moved clear in the ladies race, putting approximately twenty seconds between herself and Commonwealth Games star Gladys Ganiel O’Neill at half way. Amy Bulman was looking strong in third place.
After negotiating the tough inland loop from Ballygally to Cairncastle, the athletes descended back towards the Coast Road, re-joining at Ballygally and heading towards Larne Leisure Centre via the Coastal Promenade.
Mark McKinstry looked assured as he continued to lead along the Coast Road – behind, his club mate John Black, who was having the race of his life, was closing the earlier gap. The pair made short work of the return journey and guided by a Police escort, it was Mark McKinstry who dropped down onto the Promenade first. The Northern Ireland international covered the final eight hundred metres with ease, breaking the tape in 1:11:32 (1st place). John Black followed in 1:11:56 (2nd place), before Neill Weir completed the top three in 1:12:16 (3rd place).
It was a similar situation in the ladies race, with Laura Graham proving un-catchable at the head of the pack. The Jimmy’s 10k winner put in an impressive effort along the final stretch of the course, before recording 1:16:59 for 1st place – therefore retaining the title she won in 2016. Gladys Ganiel O’Neill claimed a well-deserved 2nd place in 1:19:12, while Amy Bulman clocked 1:21:16 for 3rd place.
In the team competition, North Belfast Harriers secured victory in both the men’s and ladies race, while in the team relay race, Ballymena Runners topped the final standings.
Top 3 Men: 1st Mark McKinstry (North Belfast Harriers) – 1:11:32, 2nd John Black (North Belfast Harriers) – 1:11:56, 3rd Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers) – 1:12:16
Top 3 Ladies: 1st Laura Graham (Mourne Runners) – 1:16:59, 2nd Gladys Ganiel O’Neill (North Belfast Harriers) – 1:19:12, 3rd Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers) – 1:21:16