Not even the after-effects of COVID-19 could stop Gladys Ganiel from winning her hometown marathon over the weekend.
The 45-year old Harrington native and family have called Belfast, Northern Ireland, home for some 15 years, and just six weeks removed from contracting the coronavirus she won the women’s division of the 40th Belfast City Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 43 minutes and 49 seconds.
Ganiel — who runs for the North Belfast Harriers and works as a reader in sociology at the Queen’s University School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work — finished comfortably ahead of second-place Gillian McCrory, who was timed in 2:52:06.
“[Reaching the finish line] was a massive relief because in the second half of the race it had gotten quite humid and I was struggling quite a bit on the Ormeau Road and down Ravenhill and so forth,” Ganiel told UTV reporter Sara O’Kane.
“Just to be able to stop, I was delighted about that. But as you were running in and crossing the finish it was great to have loads of people there that you knew and people that had been supporting you on the course, and to feel like you had done something positive in your hometown was a great feeling as well.”
Ganiel has ranked among the top Irish marathoners for more than a decade, with the dual U.S.-Irish citizen qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials and placing 12th for Northern Ireland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. She also was an alternate for Ireland’s 2016 Olympic marathon team.
She said she tested positive for COVID-19 about two weeks before she was set to run the Manchester (England) Marathon on April 3.
“That happened only two weeks before Manchester,” she said. “I did Manchester anyway and I had a decent enough run there but I felt I really didn’t get everything out of myself with the training disrupted and from COVID and so forth.”
Ganiel finished 10th in the women’s field at Manchester in 2:41.44.
“I recovered quite well from Manchester, I felt OK,” said the 2020 Maine Running Hall of Fame inductee, who ran her personal-best marathon time at age 42 with a 2:36:42 effort at the 2019 Dublin Marathon.
“The first few times [after that] I went out for a run I thought, ‘I’m just going to give Belfast a go,’ and you always want to win the marathon in your hometown so I said I’ll try it and see how it goes and I’m really fortunate that it turned out well for me on the day.”
The Belfast Marathon, a running staple in Northern Ireland, was held on its traditional May Day weekend date for the first time since 2019, as the 2020 race was canceled due to the COVID-19 and the 2021 event pushed back to last October.
Ganiel finished third in the Belfast women’s field last fall in 2:45.03.
Ganiel began running at age 13 and was a three-time Class C cross country state champion at Narraguagus High School who finished sixth at the 1994 Foot Locker national championship. She also won three state titles in the 3,200 and two in the 1,600 for the Knights’ outdoor track team.
She helped Providence College win the 1995 NCAA Division I cross country title and was an ECAC 10,000-meter track champion for the Friars before winning the 1999 Walter Byers Scholarship, the NCAA’s highest annual academic award.
Much of her academic work at Providence was focused on Northern Ireland and its political and religious history, which she was introduced to by her many Irish teammates recruited to Providence at the time. Ganiel wrote her undergraduate thesis on “Religion and Politics in Northern Ireland” and later used the Byers scholarship to pursue her master’s at the University College Dublin.
Ganiel earned her doctorate in politics from UCD in 2005, and soon after that moved to Belfast full time where she and husband Brian O’Neill now are raising their son Ronan.