By Paul O’Malley
It was a day to remember in Ballina last Sunday as thousands of people gathered in the Market Square for the start of the Mayo.ie Western People Women’s Mini-Marathon.
It was the first time Ballina had held the prestigious event since its inception in 2010, and the North Mayo capital certainly marked the occasion in style by having three local ladies finish in the top three places. The winner Norah Newcombe-Pieterse, who was claiming the top prize for the second time in four years, finished in an impressive 36 minutes and 47 seconds, closely followed by another Ballina native Sinead Whitelaw (nee Roache) on 34:49 and Serena Tuffy on 39.00.
The atmosphere on the Market Square was incredible from early morning with well-known former broadcaster Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile, from Mount Falcon Estate, overseeing proceedings as MC.
With the celebration of Ballina’s 300th birthday this year, the decision to move the Mini-Marathon from its spiritual home of Castlebar to Ballina made perfect sense, especially as Ballina has such a fantastic athletics tradition with two fine clubs active in the local community.
There was a trickle of rain in the minutes leading up to the start of the race but this subsided in time for the sound of the starting horn. Before this, participants were put through their paces by Paul Ginty from Quay Fitness Studio. Paul had a very captivated and hard-working audience on the Square, which was flooded with people as far as his eye could see on stage. With jumping jacks, knee lunges, and stretches to get the blood flowing, it was not a surprise to hear one participant describe Paul’s workout as ‘the hardest part’ of the entire day!
At 12 noon, the starting horn sounded and the huge field of participants set off. Some 2,023 women registered for the event, and according to the official results, over 1,600 actually took part.
Another 1,000 children participated in the Mini-Mini 2km event, which was contested through the main streets of the town. Daniel Gallagher, from the Quay NS, was first over the finish line, zipping past and throwing his arms up in victory.
There were scenes of jubilation when Norah Newcombe-Pieterse bounded across the finish line shortly after 12.35pm.
An elated Norah told the Western People of her pride at winning the first-ever West of Ireland Women’s Mini-Marathon held in Ballina.
“It’s a hometown win and it’s all the sweeter. Ballina has really pulled out all the stops and the support on the route was incredible.”
Norah dedicated the victory to her late father John, of Blackrock Court, Balina, who passed away in March.
“I ran today for my dad,” she said. “He passed away a month ago. It was emotional but I’m so happy. He was such a staunch supporter of Mayo AC. He was at every race I ran, every starting line and every finish line and he’d be proud today.”
After Sinead Whitelaw and Serena Tuffy had finished in second and third places respectively, the remaining top ten finishers were Michelle Needham (39:38), Sarah Byrne (39:48), Roxanne Sands (39:53), Mari Johnston (40:11), Martina O’Connor (42:31), Angela O’Connor (42:37) and Triona Moran (42:51).
There was a tremendous sense of poignancy on the day too with many competing for a charity cause or in memory of a loved one. Amanda Farry, a mother of two from Coolaney, Co Sligo, who is currently receiving treatment for stage four cancer, raised over €13,000 to help support Tubbercurry Cancer Support Centre and completed the marathon in 1:19:24, alongside her friend Mary-Therese Tomas (1:19:24) and others.
Just after 2pm, the last group of participants crossed the finish line and brought an end to an excellent sporting occasion in Ballina with the sun still shining overhead.
Aidan McNulty, Commercial Manager, Western People, thanked everyone who assisted in organising the event, especially the main promoter Mayo Sports Partnership, the two local athletic clubs – Moy Valley AC and Ballina AC, Ballina Municipal Council, Mayo.ie, Ballina 2023, and the many volunteer stewards who made the day possible.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better or more enjoyable event,” he said. “A huge amount of planning went into the staging of the Mini-Marathon, starting last January, and it is great to see that it has all paid off. The Western People are thrilled to have been able to bring this event to our hometown and we really appreciate the support of all of those who made it happen. This has been a great day for Ballina and North Mayo.
“We have had a fantastic April in Ballina with the visit of US President Joe Biden so it was great to end the month in style with the Mini-Marathon. I think everyone in the town will remember April 2023 for years to come.”