When I was growing up in Derry, there was a limited selection of sporting things to do. Sure, I was part of the school netball and athletics teams, but that was all that was really available. Since moving back to the North of Ireland this year however I’ve noticed an explosion of sports and associated events, with the local masses participating.
It all started last month when I saw more and more runners out on the roads. Running was for the few elites when I was young and so there’d be one or two events in the calendar. But just last Saturday morning I was driving into Derry only to see around 60 bodies decked out in florescent gear running towards me on the road. There were all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities, both men and women, spread out across a 2km stretch. It seems that there is not only Spartan Athletics Club still around but also Foyle Valley AC in addition to the BOLT running club for beginners.
This year’s inaugural Derry City Walled Marathon has seeming captured many an imagination, with many out already training for it. With limited numbers and entries already closed, others are setting their sights on the Belfast City Marathon or the Omagh Half Marathon later this year.
And if its not runners out on the Saturday morning, its cyclists. I’ve never seen so many lycra clad lads out in freezing wintery conditions on skinny, sparkling road bikes. Such was the curiosity that I even picked up a road bike from Limavady’s Roe Valley and joined the Foyle Cycling Club. I’ve been out with them twice already for 80km Saturday spins throughout Counties Donegal and Londonderry. Around 40 people turn up, with mixed abilities being divided into three groups: there’s the elite lads, the social cyclists, and the great unwashed in between. And there’s great talk already about the Sportives coming up, starting in March with the Breenagh Tour.
Finally I’ve had a lot of luck in finding orienteers in the area. Back in December I went to a North West Orienteering Club score event in Limavady’s Roe Valley Country Park. And then yesterday I was out with the Fermanagh Orienteers near Enniskillen for a wet, slippy, technically tricky run that tested my memories of contours.
So my fears of not find kindred spirits in the north west of Ireland have proved unfounded. There are plenty of runners, bikers, and navigators around who are out and about training and racing who are happy for me to tag along.