Neglecting runnings past successes

I had the opportunity to attend an event in Belfast on the 16th August about an anniversary of a historic race that occurred in Belfast 50 years ago, and I had never heard of it or the people involved before. Which made me think about how we are neglecting the major events that happen in running and specifically the events in running that happen in our own countries.

Let’s start from the beginning, my girlfriend Victoria is a junior broadcast journalist for a local TV station here in Northern Ireland and she had a story about the anniversary of when the 4-minute mile was first broken in Northern Ireland 50 years ago. She invited me along, part because she knew I love running and partly because we like hanging out with each other!

So I wasn’t expecting much, just a race and some little speeches before the presentation, Victoria gets her interviews and footage and then home time! How wrong was I going to be!? It became a truly insightful event and made me realise how little I knew about Northern Ireland’s athletic history and how there must be so many others in the same boat as myself.

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The event started with Victoria getting some shots of the area and of the participants warming up. The event was created in short notice, so there weren’t too many running clubs there as they couldn’t get runners to commit in time. But still over 5 teams, which was perfect for the small course width that is at Abert Foundry. The old track was a little in disrepair so the runners had to use the outside of the pitch, which is not ideal for sprint running, but it wasn’t about times, it was the event, so none of the runners seemed to mind, they just wanted to come first.

A few older people arrived, well dressed and they were shaking hands with the organiser, so naturally, I assumed they athletes from yesteryear. They were happy and talking away to people who approached them. Victoria and I try to work out where we should be when filming the actual races. We pick her position and record the first race which was the relay. Moving quickly as possible to up the track during each changeover and so we can get it the camera up to the finish line. It was great running from everyone involved. With a mix of young runners and average age runners, men, women. Such a great variety. I almost thought there was going to be a female runner per team, but due to how hastily it was put together, I guess there was simply no time.

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The second race occurs and they are whizzing around the pitch in the rain at great speeds, and if I am honest I got a bit jealous of their speed and the fact they were participating. But I guess most runners would get this feeling as we all want to be out there performing, not watching. I think almost everyone in the second race dipped below 5 minutes which considering the conditions was great.

When it came to the speeches and presentation I could settle and just listen to the stories from older athletes and runners from that day 50 years ago and it truly hit me how under appreciated this event is now. Hearing how great a runner Derek Graham was and the other runners of that era were and the times they were running back then was wonderful to experience. Learning how limited the technology was and how even Pacers were illegal in races was interesting to learn also. With one athlete saying how ‘Pacers’ had to keep running and finish the race. Adding that during the 4-minute mile attempt, how when finally tiring from the immense effort he had put in to keep the time under 4 minutes that Kip Keino tapped him on the butt and thanked him as he then overtook to keep the pace going. who for I had only heard of because of this event.

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Listening and laughing with the athletes as they shared their stories was heartwarming. Then reading that there was indeed a list of athletes who had dipped below the 4-minute mile was a surprise, I had never known that. Why wasn’t there more events talking about all these achievements or at least remembering them? Victorias station was the only one that stayed for the entire event. The larger broadcast company did their interviews before the races and left soon before the speeches. Which was a shame to me, as although I love watching running races, the speeches were by far the best part of the evening.

But as the speeches went on the more annoyed I was about the lack of interest Northern Ireland media has for running. They only appear to care if someone from Northern Ireland wins, but some events host 100’s of runners each week and there is barely a footnote in a paper or from tv or online groups. Mainly just the Belfast half and marathon is mentioned and I feel that is due to the total number of people involved (90% relay runners). But I know there is usually a race in some form every weekend, so is it difficult to help grow an awareness and renewed interest in running in this country?

Is there something that runners like myself can do? As we were leaving, I wondered this and thought what could I do to promote running as a sport to others. Then I shook this off as I feel most runners would talk openly about running. The one thing runners do is chat to anyone with an open ear as most of us want more people involved as it is a sport that we love. It just isn’t as interesting as football or rugby it seems. I hope events like this keep getting notoriety and help engage people to take up running by hitting the park runs, doing their couch to 5k’s.

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Everyone loves the Usain Bolt’s and Mo Farah’s, but in a time when reporting and technology were limited, how do we make sure the athletes of 50 years ago are remembered? Events like this one, which will hopefully become a yearly event are a great start and maybe something that should be considered more than just organising a new race at a random part of the country. Have it on the location of where a feat was achieved or from where that athlete was from to have new and youngsters learn of these achievements and give these athletes the recognition they deserve.

I hope events like this keep getting an increase in notoriety and help engage and help people to take up running by hitting the park runs, doing their couch to 5k’s. Northern Ireland has a surprisingly rich athletic and running history and we should finally embrace and recognise that. Otherwise, the athletes of yesteryear will just be forgotten and that is too much of a shame to happen.

Kip Keino during the 1967 race followed by Ian McCafferty, Derek Graham and Billy Bryans

Tomview the video about the event have a look at it here If you want to chat more about any of my posts, please follow me on TwitterInstagram and also to receive updates, Until next time, thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon!


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