Belfast Falcons spread wings for marathon debut

By Richard Morgan
BBC NI reporter

image captionThe Mencap team take to the park in training for Monday's marathon

A crisp Spring morning at Ormeau Park was the setting for the Belfast Falcons, a running group whose members have learning disabilities.

They have been training for the Belfast Marathon fun run for six months.

It is the first time Mencap, the marathon's charity partner, has entered a team of runners with learning disabilities.

Team member and charity ambassador James Martin said it had been tough going.

"It's been really good to have the training, apart from getting up early in the morning. You just have to get out there and do your best," he said.

"I am really looking forward to taking part in the marathon. I hope it's a nice day. I'm going to do my best and not worry about the time."

The group did some laps of a tennis court and a series of exercises involving running in and out of cones, before setting off for a jog around the park.

Liam McGarry, of Belfast Running Club, coaches the team every week.

"We decided we wanted to try and open the club a bit more," he said.

"I've done a lot of courses for couch to 5k, but I never really saw enough people with learning disabilities and I thought it's a perfect opportunity to get out in the park and enjoy it and the attitude has been brilliant.

"It's been rewarding and challenging in a good way as you're testing yourself and learning things and you see the members have a laugh and you can see how they support each other."

Barbara Norris, who has a learning disability, said taking part in the marathon had been a confidence booster.

"Being able to run is a massive opportunity for me. It's been hard work, but having the trainer, Liam, coming along to coach us has been amazing and he's done so much for us. I just enjoy being part of a massive running family".