by Brendan O’Donnell
I’LL start with the positives, the big event of late being the Waterside Half Marathon in Derry. Nearly 2,000 athletes took part in the event which has become one of the premier Half Marathons on the island, albeit, I think our own Strabane Lifford Half Marathon will eclipse that figure next year.
The race in Derry has a feel good factor about it and a large contingent of local athletes made the short trip to the banks of the Foyle for yet another well supported event.
With nearly seventy club athletes taking part, local athlete Claire McGuigan was the headline act yet again, with an impressive 1.22.52 personal best run to come home second woman overall. Paul Kelly also had an excellent run and is coming into form at the right time for cross country, running 1.19.53 to finish 23rd overall. James Stevenson smashed his personal best with a 1.20.36 run while brothers Bill and Michael Duncan took the honours in the M50 category, Bill first with a 1.22.21 run and Michael third running a 1.27.29 personal best.
Linda McGrath was second local home in 1.55.21 with Ursula Coyle returning from injury to finish third local in 1.56.42. It was a great day for the Glenelly Runners branch of the club and coach Lorraine McGrinder, with one of four relay teams taking first overall out of 76 teams. The focus for many of these athletes will now turn to cross country over the coming weeks and the Dublin Marathon at the end of October.
Unfortunately many of the headlines were about the Childrens Fun Run which was organised as part of the Half Marathon day.
An incident took place in the 2km event where a number of children including several from our own club took a wrong turn and ended up running alongside the main Half Marathon group several kilometres from the designated childrens race route.
In the first instance, this was a serious incident and nobody should under estimate the consequences of young children running unsupervised away from the race route and the distress that some children felt or indeed that felt by their parents when they realised they were lost.
While the full facts haven’t been established, it would appear to be down to a simple marshalling error or lack of a marshall at a key point. This was open season for the headline writers and Facebook critics who called the event a disgrace and shambolic. World hunger and poverty are a disgrace, but to call the event, the organisers or a marshall a disgrace is in my opinion over stepping the mark and doing a disservice to those who organised the race with the best of intentions.
Foreseeing all the terrible things that didn’t happen isn’t helpful either and what is important is the learning from what was essentially a simple but critical error. The Council have rightfully opened up an investigation into the matter and have been in contact with the parents involved.
Hosting any event carries with it a huge burden of responsibility and personally speaking, all that matters is that all participants come home safely. For our own club, we ensure we have medical support at every road, track and field or schools event and we carry out risk assessments for each event we organise.
Having been involved alongside the Council with our own Half Marathon event in May, the level of expertise and engagement they have around Health and Safety was an eye opener for me. Running a road race carries with it so many risks but it is one of the fundraisers of choice for a lot of organisers who don’t foresee the dangers in bringing large groups of adults and children on to public roads with live traffic.
Many of these events also have no medical cover and we have seen at our own events how important this can be including individuals hospitalised at each of our own Half Marathons in recent years.
Over the past year there has been a steady stream of road races held across the North West affording local athletes an abundance of opportunities to compete. Most runners are oblivious to the organisation behind the scenes and the reliance on a large number of people to make the event happen.
Generally these are the people in hi visjackets who are there long before the event getting things ready and long after the event tidying up. The marshalls are also the people who receive the dogs abuse from irate motorists when they’re simply trying to ensure the safety of runners. Generally, they’re not up on Facebook afterwards sharing in the after race joys and praise.
However, when something goes wrong, they are in the firing line for even more abuse, not from the motorist this time, but from some of those who have taken part.
Having been involved in organising races for many years, we rely heavily on the same people to turn out and marshall the race. Most people nowadays want to run their home town race or be out around the course cheering others on. Not many want to do that marshalling role which commands so little respect.
Fifteen minutes before our Riverine 10K a number of weeks ago, only two marshalls were available and you can imagine our relief when the Strabane Community Rescue team arrived with whom we had arranged to provide cover. Whatever happened in Derry, I can sympathise with the organisers who may not have had one of their unpaid volunteers in place. Rather than being critical, maybe offer to help out for next year.
While the intentions of the organisers may have been noble and good, providing full inclusivity for children as well as the adults, it was an unnecessary distraction, with the main focus being on what nearly 2000 people were there for i.e. the Half Marathon. In hindsight, the high risk event was the Childrens race and not the Half Marathon itself where adults were involved. And in hindsight, they probably just shouldn’t have bothered with the Fun Run.
Some other club activity during last week included Thomas Mullen at the UK School Games in Loughborough. The Holy Cross athlete was below par in his 400m hurdles, however, he anchored the 4x400m Northern Ireland team to a fourth place finish.
Producing the fastest of the four legs, unfortunately Mullen had too much to do to capture a team bronze. Next up on the athletics front is a Cross Border Primary Schools Cross Country event in Lifford on Thursday 15th September with all schools in the area from both sides of the bridge invited.