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The Waterside Half Marathon’s back to back Craig brothers

20 August 2018

A home men’s winner in the Waterside Half Marathon is a rarity these days but there was a golden period in the early days where local runners dominated and two Derry brothers were at the forefront.

Foyle Valley’s Keith Shiels’ 2013 triumph represented a first local win at the event for 28 years since Paul and Gerard Craig claimed back to back titles in 1984 and ‘85 respectively making it a three in a row for local runners following Brian Mitchell’s 1983 victory.

The Malin Gardens siblings were two of the shining lights in an athletics boom in the North West in the early 80s that saw Marathon and Half Marathon events hosted in the city for the first time.

Both brothers had earned running scholarships to Southern Illinois University in the US in the 1970s and represented Ireland all the way up to senior level.

Paul would go on to settle in Boston in the mid-80s but his return to Ireland in the early part of that decade saw him win the Derry and Belfast Marathons within three weeks of each other in 1983 before winning the Waterside Half Marathon in an impressive 1.04 in ’84.

Older brother Gerard put his Illinois degree in Sports Management to good use with a career in the Community Development and Leisure Department of Derry City and Strabane District Council and enjoyed a long running career that included his 1985 WHM win and a stellar international career that included representing Ireland at the World Cross Country Championships.

In the 1984 Waterside event, Paul had Gerard for company until the 20km mark when the younger sibling pulled away to win.

“We trained together but we always agreed that the best man would win on the day and we would just race it out,” recalled Paul who is enjoying a summer back in the North West with his wife Mary following his recent retirement as a Design Specialist at Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital for Sick Children in Massachusetts.

“Sometimes Gerard would beat me and sometimes I would beat him and in ‘84 I managed to pull away on my own and win.

“I had gone back to the US permanently by the 1985 Half Marathon but by all accounts Gerard was well in the lead until the Caw Roundabout but was pushed all the way in a field that included Tommy Hughes who went on to win the inaugural Walled City Marathon in 2013.

“Waterside was the first Half Marathon I ever did so I was delighted to win in my home town.”

The WHM was first hosted in 1981 off the back of a huge surge in interest in running that coincided with Paul hitting the form of his life.

“When I returned to Derry from College in 1980, running had really began to take hold and there was a huge growth in participation in Marathon running particularly,” he recalled.

“I liked the Marathon because there was a lot of strategy involved compared to shorter races where you just had to go with the breaks.

“I ran the New York Marathon in 1981 and that really fuelled my enthusiasm, there were 25,000 runners in the field and one million people watching and the support was fantastic.

“New York was a real breakthrough run for me, I’d run 2.17 in my first outing and I had a really good five or six years after that.

“When I returned to the States there was a really strong group of Irish runners there at the time that I linked up with that included Irish record holders and Olympians.

“There was John Treacy, Jeff Smith, John Doherty and Richard O’Flynn who were all at elite level and I benefitted from training alongside them.

“At the US Nationals there was a race where there were five Irish runners in the top 13.

“I was running well but I sustained a stress fracture in my ankle in 1986 and it ended my competitive career, every time I tried to come back I was able to get so far before I broke down again and there were only so many times I could put myself through that cycle.

“I retired in my late 20s but Gerard ran well into his 40s and was still winning All Ireland age group events before he called it a day.”

The growth in participation numbers in running during that period has been replicated and surpassed locally in recent years with running club memberships at an all-time high.

 “The numbers taking part are really impressive and it’s great to see the resurgence of the sport at all levels,” he noted. “Some of the guys who were running in those days are still actively involved today and they have done great work in helping it grow again with Noel McMonagle from City of Derry Spartans bringing the Marathon back and Gerry Lynch, who made a comeback himself as a senior, directing the Waterside Half Marathon.”

“I’ve watched the growth of athletics in the North West online and on social media and it’s great to see such high participation numbers in the sport in recent years, not just in the Half Marathons and Marathons that are being hosted locally but in the many 5k and 10k events that are taking place on a weekly basis.”

Runners considering entering this year’s WHM are being advised to book now to avoid disappointment following an extension to the deadline for registrations which will close in the coming days.

The Waterside Half Marathon is one of the longest running athletics events in Ireland with a scenic route that takes in both sides of the River Foyle, passing many of the city’s historic landmarks including its famous walls and the Guildhall.

The 13.1 mile course has runner, wheelchair and three person relay categories and is open to athletes of all levels and abilities.

You can register online now at http://www.derrystrabane.com/whm.

Ends