Marathon runner Gareth notches up the miles for Cancer Focus NI
12 May 2021
Ballynahinch man Gareth Armstrong is aiming to run this year’s Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon on September 19 for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, the official charity for the event.
Gareth has already run the race for the charity five consecutive times - and has also conquered five of the world’s six most prestigious Abbott World Marathon Major marathons.
He is “cautiously optimistic” that he’ll be able to run his final Abbott World Marathon Major in Boston on October 11 to become a Major Six star finisher. Since 2018, Gareth has completed the course in Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago, New York and London. The Belfast race on September 19 will be his last long training run before the Boston finale.
Gareth had hoped to raise a total of £10,000 in 2019 and 2020 for Cancer Focus NI but due to the coronavirus he had to postpone the Boston leg until this year.
“It’s been a long and difficult year for everyone. But it is so good to be able to get out into the countryside and run for miles and miles, it’s a real de-stresser. We’re all so hopeful that we’ll soon be able to race in formal events again and get back to some normalcy.
“The pandemic has taken a severe toll on Cancer Focus NI and the charity has had to reduce its excellent care services for local cancer patients and their families. However, the staff are working hard to gradually increase services again so they can help as many people as possible at one of the toughest times of their lives. I want to help them to continue their vital work and I’d encourage everyone who can to get behind them too.”
Gareth (37), who works in outdoor activities mostly with young people, said: “I’ve always been sporty, especially horse riding and rugby until about 2014.
“Then I had meningitis, which knocked me for six and nearly finished me. That was a life-changing moment for me. The after-affects such as fatigue can be worse than the illness itself and that’s something that will probably always be with me. It does give me a lot of determination though.
“That experience sparked me into fundraising for charity, first for meningitis and a few other charities,” he explained.
Then, three years ago, Gareth changed direction and decided he was going to run the six WMMs for Cancer Focus NI – a mammoth task.
“My grandmother and grandfather both passed away from cancer and also one of my school friends. That was a big shake up – you don’t expect someone you were at school with to die from cancer so young.
“I seem to know so many people now who have been affected, particularly women who’ve had breast cancer, including work colleagues and partners of friends. I went to four funerals last year, all my friends’ parents just in their 50s, people I knew really well. It’s just a devastating and such a common disease.
“Some of these people had used Cancer Focus NI care services. I very much wanted to raise funds for a local charity and I wanted to see how the money was being spent – it makes you feel like to you are actually doing something to help.
“It becomes very personal when you see someone close to home having to deal with cancer and see the effect it has not just on them but their whole family. The best way I thought I could help was by doing six marathon majors and the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon for Cancer Focus NI.”
He added: “I’d like to thank the people of Ballynahinch in particular for being such magnificent supporters, I couldn’t do any of this without them.”
If you would like to support Gareth, check out his JustGiving Page, http://www.justgiving.com/Gareth-Armstrong2020?.