Four-time Olympic Gold medallist Sir Mo Farah is hoping to set a new record along the Mid and East Antrim coastline when he takes to the starting line of the Antrim Coast Half Marathon on September 12.
Sir Mo, arguably the greatest distance runner of all time, said in a video message this week that he is ‘really excited’ to join the elite-only line-up in Larne after accepting an invitation from race organiser James McIlroy.
“I’m really looking forward to taking part in the Antrim Coast Half Marathon”, he continued.
“One of my really good friends, James (McIlroy), is organising, so I said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it!’
“I’m just really looking forward to it. I can’t wait. This is a fast course, and I’m really excited. Let’s see what I can do!”
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Peter Johnston, said he was delighted by Sir Mo’s announcement.
“We at Council are delighted to see the return of the P&O Antrim Coast Half Marathon, and to have Sir Mo Farah among the elite runners this year, is just fantastic news for our borough and for Northern Ireland as a whole!
“The course route showcases the best of our breathtaking coastline and will help us to put Mid and East Antrim on the world stage.
“I would like to welcome Sir Mo to the area and I have no doubt he will put on a thrilling display on the day.
“I am confident that all competitors will have a fantastic experience whilst maintaining public health guidance, including strict conditions on the number of entrants.
“I wish all those involved the best of luck in what is now rightly considered one of the top sporting events in the country.”
Featuring the cream of British and Irish distance running, both elite and amateur athletes will descend on the Coast Road with what promises to be one of the best half marathon races in Europe.
The race organisers are kindly asking members of the public to watch the race – which will be live streamed via the BBC and on www.antrimcoasthalfmarathon.com – for everyone’s safety.
Roads will be closed and not accessible for the duration of the race and start, finish, warm up areas will be completely closed to the public, in line with public health guidance.
Sir Mo Farah currently holds the British record for half-marathon distance, and will be competing just days after he tries to overcome Haile Gebrselassie’s world record at the One Hour run in Brussels.
Five-time British Olympian Jo Pavey, former European Champion Gemma Steel and Irish international Ann-Marie McGlynn are just some of the female elite athletes entering the fray with the men’s side including former Armagh 5k winner and British international Ben Connor and Scott Overall, one of Britain’s most decorated marathon runners.
Local favourites will include Commonwealth Games athlete Gladys Ganiel, Ulster Champion Jessica Craig, Tokyo Olympic Games qualifier Stephen Scullion and Rio competitor Kevin Seaward.
James McIlroy, elite entry manager who himself represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games in 2000, along with race director William Thompson, have constructed the course to be the fastest half marathon to take place in Ireland. The current Irish all-comers record stands at 62.29 for men with the women’s all comers’ record of 72.26.
Speaking about the quality of the field, Mr McIlroy said: “The P&O Ferries Antrim Coast Half Marathon will have the finest men’s and women’s fields ever assembled taking to a start line on the island of Ireland.
“The new course route has been created to be one of the fastest anywhere in Europe. With one of the most iconic finishes to any road race, sweeping in off the Antrim Coast Road and finishing at the Chaine Memorial Tower, we are hopeful for a record-breaking day.”
Following guidance from governing bodies Run Britain and Athletics Northern Ireland, the race will follow strict regulations in public health terms:
The course has been changed to allow for wider roads and social distancing;
The main event will be started in waves of 30 starting by time zones;
Each participant will adhere to strict hygiene regulations including non-contact temperature checks before being allowed to enter the warm-up area;
There will be no spectator zones on the course. Anyone wishing to watch the race can follow the live stream via social media or the race website.
There will be no shower facilities, bag drops or vendors, with the entire event being held outdoors.
According to Mr Thompson, ensuring the health and safety of all involved with the race is his main priority.
“All officials and athletes must continue to monitor themselves for any signs of Covid-19 and anyone showing any signs of ill health or the virus should not attend the competition in any capacity.
“We want to see a competitive, yet socially safe, return to racing,” he said.