Belfast Marathon: Laura Graham is first Northern Ireland winner in 18 years

Laura Graham with husband Thomas and children Leila, Darcy, Payton and Jaden after her Belfast Marathon triumph
Mother of four Laura Graham finished almost five minutes clear in Belfast

Laura Graham has become the first Northern Ireland athlete to win the Belfast Marathon since 1999.

The 31-year-old set a new personal best of two hours 41 minutes 47 seconds as she won the women's race on Monday just eight days after running the London Marathon.

Mother-of-four Graham, from Kilkeel in County Down, told BBC Radio Ulster: "It doesn't feel real."

Kenya's Bernard Rotich won the men's race in a time of 2:16.04.

Graham's winning time was six seconds seconds inside her previous best when she clinched the Irish National title at last year's Dublin Marathon. She finished almost five minutes ahead of Belgian runner-up Els Rens (2:46.21), with Kenya's Salome Kimutai Jepkoech (2:54.01) in third.

The Mourne Runner's time left her eighth overall as she became the first Northern Ireland winner since Barbara Brewer's 1999 triumph.

"I just ran my own race. Something I always do even if I fail," Graham added.

"It (running) started all with those kids of mine. I'm doing it for them. Payton, Jaden, Leila and Darcy."

Graham ran her first Belfast Marathon six years ago to raise money after her father had suffered a heart attack.

"I just went out for a run one day and decided I would give it a go. I ran here a few months after my first child. With that, I got a bug for it."

Kenyan Bernard Rotich is about to cross the finishing line in Belfast
Bernard Rotich took control of the men's race at the 21-mile mark

Rotich makes decisive move at 21 miles

In the men's race, Rotich broke clear at 21 miles after a leading group of five Africans had been together for most of the race.

Rotich and compatriots Emmanuel Kiprotich Meli, Daniel Tanui and Hillary Chirchir had been in the lead group along with Morocco's Abdelhadi El Mouaziz.

However, the group began to fragment as the Moroccan dropped out before Rotich made his decisive move.

He crossed the line in two hours, 16 minutes and four seconds as he finished well ahead of compatriots Tanui (2:17.41) and Kiprotich Meli (2:18.12).

A delighted Rotich said that he had felt "very confident" on the start line.

"I knew I would do something this year," Rotich told BBC Northern Ireland.

"In 2014 I was here but I was not properly prepared because I had an injury.

"I took the lead at 21 miles and at that stage I knew I would make it."

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