For the Belfast City Marathon to support an Athletics NI Marathon Potential 2024 special project that will deliver Olympic standard marathon runners for Paris 2024 and beyond by creating opportunities for Northern Ireland’s potential best marathon runners to come together on a regular basis to train, learn and compete together.


Northern Ireland has a strong tradition of marathon running and can lay claim to the 1912 Olympic Marathon Champion, Kennedy Kane McArthur. Although McArthur became a native of South Africa, he was born in Dervock, Co. Antrim and celebrated his success in the town, where he was greeted with a torchlight procession, just eleven days after winning the Olympic gold medal. This was followed with a silver Olympic medal at the LA Olympics in 1932 from Sam Ferris who hailed from Dromore. Marathon champions are as inspirational today as they were then, and their stories provide motivation for the hundreds of people who sign up to run or walk the revered 26.2 miles that make up the marathon distance.

Over the years, Northern Ireland has produced several international marathoners including John McLaughlin (2:15:43), Tommy Hughes (2:15:39), Marty Dean (2:16:49), Greg Hannon (2:13:06) and, on the women’s side, Teresa Duffy (2:35:27). 

More recently, Athletics Northern Ireland has enjoyed supporting the progress of Paul Pollock (2:15:30), Kevin Seaward (2:13:39) Stephen Scullion (2:14:34), Laura Graham (2:37:05), Breege Connolly (2:37:24) and Gladys Ganiel (2:37:55). In addition to contributing to the targets that Sport NI set for athletics, they have encouraged others into the marathon and into more active lifestyles as we enjoy this current ‘running boom’.


It is expected that some of these athletes will continue to improve and represent Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics, but it is unclear where the next cohort will come from for Paris 2024 and so a strategy is needed to make sure we have a pipeline of talented endurance runners who have targeted the marathon as their long-term ambition. 

This project has been inspired by the Dublin Marathon Mission, which was put in place in 2009 after a dearth of Irish representation at the Olympics in the marathon event. It identified athletes with potential for the marathon and provided support with coaching, group training and training camps with the purpose of raising the standards of elite Irish Marathon running to a level where all places on teams for Major Athletics Championships are qualified for and Irish elite athletes become increasingly committed to and competitive in the annual Dublin Marathon. Good progress has been made and six Irish athletes qualified for the event at the 2016 Rio Olympics and more were in contention. They continue to offer group training sessions, seminars and workshops and also directly support athletes and their individual projects. Some sessions have taken place in Northern Ireland but are normally delivered in Dublin, which makes access difficult for some athletes. The athletes that benefit financially from the Dublin Marathon Mission are those that are on the top tier of our pathway and also benefit from our Podium Potential Programme. There is a need for an accessible, educational programme for the tier below.


2024 Target

At least two Northern Ireland athletes in the top 32 positions at Paris 2024.

This will need –

  • Identification of talented endurance runners capable of transferring from shorter distances to the marathon
  • A development programme that includes education, training and competition opportunities for developing athlete-coach pairs to
    • accelerate learning and specific marathon development
    • help athletes to cope with the ebb and flow of their development pathway and the key transitions (e.g., from national to international level).
  • Funding from the Belfast City Marathon for the above (Sporting Winners funding is focused on those who have already reached European or World Championship standards and so funding is needed to bring the next tier through).


The main purpose of this project stems from the need for a succession plan for the marathon event. The current crop of athletes, that have already achieved marathon success, are well-supported by the Sport NI Sporting Winners programme but this funding does not extend to those that show potential but have yet to register performances for the marathon. We need a programme that can provide relevant and appropriate training and competition opportunities for those with the potential to transition to the marathon. We believe Northern Ireland can develop a pipeline of marathon runners who will represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games and Great Britain & NI or Ireland at major championships, achieve future Sport NI targets and inspire the wider marathon running community.



Application Pack for 2020

For 2020, athletes that meet the below eligibility requirements can apply for support and inclusion in the Marathon Potential 2024 project. Athletes should consider themselves to be approximately two years away from Commonwealth representation and/or four years away from Olympic representation and will currently be recording 70.00mins HM/32 mins 10k (men); ~78:00 HM/36:00 10k (Women). They will be interested in coming together approximately once per month for group training sessions, three times per year for educational sessions, to compete at appropriate inter-area competitions, as a team, and to train for between 1 – 2 weeks at an annual warm weather training camp.

Funding has been secured from Belfast City Marathon and will be supplemented by athlete contributions. The costs will be set at £50 for each competition that requires an overnight stay and athletes will be required to pay for their own travel to training days and camps. There could be up to seven competitions per year. To be successful in their programme applications athletes and coaches will need to demonstrate how the support and services on offer will progress their marathon development. Athletes will be assessed for inclusion based upon their performance standards and performance potential.


Eligibility & Availability

Age Group: We are looking for athletes 23-35 years of age, although consideration will be given to athletes outside of this age group if they show the potential to progress to the Olympic Standard by 2024.

To be eligible an athlete must be eligible to compete for Northern Ireland & Ulster.

The Marathon Potential 2024 Programme aims to support athletes and coaches who have identified their own strengths, weakness and areas for progress over the next 3-5 years and who will benefit most from engaging with the education, training and competition support available. Selection will prioritise athletes who demonstrate the potential and desire to represent Northern Ireland at a senior Commonwealth Games and GB&NI or Ireland at the Olympic Games.

Selection Criteria


Road performances will be assessed on personal best times. Consideration for cross country/mountain running performances will be made. Performance trajectory will also be considered.


A panel of experts led by the Director of Coaching and Athlete Development will discuss each athletes' performance potential based upon information provided in the application form relating to: 

  • Training age
  • Coaching relationship and environment
  • Training history
  • Training gap analysis
  • Motivation
  • Commitment to the marathon
  • Availability to engage with the programme for maximum impact
  • Coach engagement
  • Injury history 

The selection panel will also be aware of and discuss maturation and peaking ages in the marathon event.

Selection Process

  1. Athletes who apply will be compared to each other based on performance standards, potential to progress and the likely impact of engagement with the programme.
  2. Athletes will then be ranked in priority order for selection to the programme.


Each athlete will be evaluated after one year in the Programme and invited to reapply demonstrating their progress and ongoing commitment to the marathon. Athletes will aim to progress their performances over one-two years before transitioning to the Athletics NI Commonwealth Potential or Podium Potential Programmes.