A record breaking field of 2,000 athletes will take on the 26th annual AES Larne Half Marathon this weekend, Saturday 24th March.
Attracting participants from around the world, the Larne Athletic Club hosted event covers a stunning 13.1 mile coastal route and is part of the prestigious Pure Running Half Marathon Series.
Former Champion, Fiona Stack (Raheny Shamrock AC) is the headline entry in the ladies race. In 2014, the well-known Irish athlete claimed victory in 1:19:24.
Fiona will need to show the same kind of form if she is to hold off Northern Ireland international, Amy Bulman (Willowfield Harriers), a podium finisher in Larne last year.
Experienced distance runners Louise Smith (North Belfast Harriers), Suzanne Higgins (Lagan Valley AC), Diane Watson (City of Lisburn AC), Susan Smyth (Dromore AC) and Beverley Mitchell (Albertville Harriers) will all be vying for a podium place.
Spectators will also be able to catch a glimpse of former AAI National 24-hour Champion Louise Smart (County Antrim Harriers), who was this week named on Ireland’s team for the upcoming European 24-hour Championships.
Larne AC’s own Patricia Blair should lead the local contingent home.
Foyle Valley AC’s Keith Shiels will head the challenge for top honours in the men’s race. Given his personal best of 1:09:32 for the distance, it’s hard to see anyone beating the North West based athlete to the picturesque Promenade finish line.
However, with Neill Weir (Willowfield Harriers) and Mark Long (City of Derry AC) also in the line up, nothing is guaranteed.
The classy pair will be chasing Keith all the way, and their recent form looks good - Neill claimed a runners up spot at the SSE Airtricity 10 mile road race in 53:44, while Mark, who boasts a 13.1 mile personal best of 1:12:39, helped his City of Derry AC team to a memorable win at the NI & Ulster Senior XC Championships earlier this month.
Interestingly, Mark will travel from his Newcastle-Upon-Tyne base for the event and is keen to record a personal best after the Reading Half Marathon, which he was set to race, was cancelled at the weekend.
The aforementioned trio will be joined on the Tower Road start line by North Belfast Harriers men Joe Malone, Philip Goss and Andrew Considine, who will all play a part at the front.
The same can be said for Ballymena Runners athlete Ben Morrow, who will return from warm weather training in Kenya for the event.
Northern Ireland international mountain runner Timothy Johnston (Mourne Runners), Slieve Gullion Runners star Joe McKevitt and triathlete Rhodri Jones (Springwell Running Club) will all battle for a high placing.
In the race for the first local finisher, Northern Ireland and Ireland international Justin Maxwell (East Coast AC) and Larne AC’s David Noble should feature.
The race will kick off at 11am from Larne Leisure Centre, with the Walk starting an hour earlier at 10.00am.
Larne AC officials are once again keen to ensure that fellow Larne residents understand how the event will unfold as the runners make their way around the route.
The club are extremely grateful for the ongoing support that all the local residents give to the event, and how they help to create a memorable atmosphere along the route.
Naturally, with so many participants travelling from outside the borough, traffic is likely to be particularly heavy from 9.30am around the Circular Road, Curran Road, Tower Road, Leisure Centre and Redlands.
It is therefore recommended that anyone intending to travel to these areas allow extra time for their journey.