Armagh International 5k Road Race

Nigel Martin

The Armagh 5k is just under 5 laps of ‘the mall’, right at the centre of Armagh in Northern Ireland. The course is all road in a sort of oval shape, but with tighter turns. Looking at the course you wouldn’t think it was perfect as there are a couple of inclines, so it’s not totally flat. This was the 3rd time in a row I’d done the race and for good reason. Not only does it produce lightning fast times, but like no other race I’ve done, it takes care of the athletes. There is not a large amount of prize money on offer, instead most of the sponsorship money goes into getting the athletes to Armagh, putting them up in accommodation, providing meals and just generally creating an atmosphere which makes everyone feel like a professional, if just for a couple of days. The race has grown in depth rapidly over the last few years with ever tougher entry requirements, potentially 15:30 next year!

I arrived on the Wednesday night along with some others from my training group, but surprisingly no other Sale runners. After arriving at the hotel I did basically what you do up until the evening of the race – rest in bed. There’s a lot of time to kill as the race isn’t until 8:30pm, but it’s perfect as the late time is usually conducive to running fast and any wind has normally died down. Lunch wasn’t until 1:30pm so a few of us did a Shake-out run at 12:30pm. For those not in the know (which included me until a couple of years ago) a shake-out run is just a very easy jog for 10-20mins generally between 4-8 hours before the race. It might not sound important, but I’d say it’s crucial and just as important as a warm-up. Conditions were mild, but with a bit of a breeze. The inevitable question of “what time are you aiming for” was asked. I said 14:15, but I was thinking 14:10 was a real possibility. More importantly my aim was to just stick with the lead group, which I’d need to do given it’s usually won in around 14 flat. Training had gone really well and unlike last year where I was past peak shape and actually a bit over-trained, this year I’d come into form at just the right time. I was confident I could stick with the leaders.

After napping in bed most of the afternoon (another definite performance booster that tends to be unique to this race unless you’re a full-time athlete), I thought at about 5:30pm it was time to get up with 3 hours to go until the race. I had a “proper” filter black coffee with 2 hours to go, having brought a French Press with me! We went out for a warm-up an hour before the race, giving us loads of time. The women’s 3k race was underway as we were doing drills and conditions were perfect. Unlike previous years it was not freezing cold, but a mild ~10°C. The breeze from earlier also seemed to have gone away. The women’s race times were very similar to last year, being won in just under 9:00, then it was time for the 5k. Every meter of the course was lined with spectators 3+ deep. Geoff Wightman, the famous athletics commentator, had been flown in again to do the race commentary. The mall was decorated in lights, anything and everything to add to the atmosphere.

The main ‘problem’ with the 5k now is there are too many good runners. The race is chip timed, but there is just a line in a road, no starting mat. Everyone obviously wants to be at the front. It’s been suggested for future races there needs to be a mat or even a B race. I hung back before lining up, keeping an eye on the likes of Jonny Mellor as I knew he’d be on the front. Everyone moved forward as the marshals came in and I nearly got swallowed up, but then everyone was pushed back to the start and I found myself on the front, which was quite lucky!

The k split times are called out, but I can never see where the markers are, so I’m usually running totally blind. My watch gives an idea, but with the tight corners it’s not accurate. Usually a big advantage I find as all you focus on is racing those around you.

Nigel Martin

I stuck to the back of the lead train and ignored all the moves off the front people were making and just settled into the pack. Gaps opened up at times as a select few ran off the front to form a lead group, but generally we caught them back up. We went under the finish gantry in 2:27, which was after around 900m run.  Each lap is slightly over a k, so my aim was to keep chopping the seconds down, running under 3min per lap. I found the 2nd lap tough and drifted to the back of the group, but we went through again in 5:18 and I started to get more into it on the 3rd lap. I found that the downhill immediately after the incline was where people were really pushing hard. Once I prepared myself for that I felt better. We hit 3 laps in 8:09 (3k called out in 8:20, a PB for me!) and we were down to quite a select group at this point, with Sam Stabler (last year’s winner) still right next to me, waiting to time his long push for home. My watch showed I was running a lot faster than last year, but I still didn’t have better than 14:10 in mind as I was convinced that was as good as I could do. I was inspired running alongside such great runners and the longer the race went on the better I felt. Usually whenever I have a really good run, it’s not particularly painful.

Nigel Martin in NI

4 laps were hit in 11:04, suggesting a sub 14 was on the cards, but still I didn’t register that, blind to how fast I was running. Things really picked up on the final lap. Sam in particular was really flying to catch the lead group, who were a few seconds ahead. I got detached slightly and just kept the England vests in focus, just trying to match their speed as I pushed hard down the ‘back straight’. Some people were dropping back, paying for their earlier efforts, but even they were still running very fast. Helpfully this year they had 600/400/200m to go signs and with 400 to go I was giving it everything. An England vest was just a second or two in-front and I was matching his pace, but it wasn’t until I saw the clock with about 80m to go reading 13:39 that the disbelief set in. I forgot all about the pain and sprinted across the line in 9th in 13:53, thinking that somehow a mistake had been made, since there’s no way I could run under 14... This despite it being the exact same course as the last 2 years. I’d just run 32s quicker than the PB I set in the same race the previous year.

Thinking about it after, the confidence I had that I could run with the leaders, the fact I didn’t know how fast I was going, the perfect conditions and incredible depth were what led to such fast times. This was the 29th running of the race, but this time the top 10 all beat the old course record! A world record of 113 athletes ran under 15 minutes (beating 90 odd the previous year). The conditions have been good the last 2 times I’ve done it, just not perfect. Needless to say, if you can, you absolutely have to do this race!

Nigel Finish

Full race video:


Race results