On Monday 16th September 1991 Ballymena Runners left the Seven Towers leisure Centre on their first ever training run a week earlier Dr PJ Fox put his ideas forward on forming a new running club a committee was formed and the club name of Ballymena Runners was adopted. On that bright September night on our first training run no one would have imagined how many lives would be changed in the next few years and that some club members and indeed the club as a wholewould go on to achieve results beyond their wildest dreams.
In 1993 with club membership remaining very strong the club decided to organise its first ever event "The Ballymena 5" - the event was so successful that it would become a major fixture in the Athletics calendar.
Alistair Neeson would be our first star runner and would go on to win some very good events and titles Alistair was a strong and highly disciplined athlete training regularly in the harsh environment of Glenariff glen.
Glenariff in 1995 would provide the club with its second event"The Race over the Glens" this event in a few short years with a new date of New Years Day (2000) would become a classic.
The next few years the club would help with the British & Irish Veteran Championships being staged in Ballymena and the world Cross-country Championships in Belfast.
Each year would see major progress and a third race "The Mid Antrim" was now up and running with our own runners taking the honours and with the addition of Ray Curran to the club major success was just around the corner. Ray would go on to win World Veteran Team Gold in the 10k Cross-Country.
After a runners up spot in the Belfast Marathon relay the club would finally gets its rewards with a great victory in 2000 this would be followed with "The triple" of East Antrim Shield ,The McConnell Shield (2001) and the big 1 "The Junior" Cross-country in 2002 for a small club like Ballymena Runners this would be a remarkable achievement.
Ballymena Council would honour our club in 2003 with the club winning Coach of the Year, Team of the Year and Disabled Athlete of the Year with the club receiving its awards from Dame Mary Peters. Council would also present the club with Disabled Athlete of the year and performance of the year on other occasions.
Alex Brennan and Sharon McBurney would represent our club and Northern Ireland at the World Mountain Championships in Alaska again a tremendous achievement.
2004 would see the club move its popular 5 mile road race to the Ecos park and with the club staging the Northern Ireland 5 mile Championships it would prove to be a wise decision with our club taking the Men's and Ladies team Gold.
Ballymena Runners now had runners who would go on to represent Northern Ireland both at Cross Country and mountain running this has continued every year with as many as 6 in any one year going onto reach International standard.
The clubs first 20 years has been remarkable and I am sure the next 20 will be every bit as exciting.
In 2006, fifteen years on from the club’s beginnings change was in the air. The club had established itself locally as a group who trained regularly in the Ballymena area whilst competing against the best in the local Athletics scene.
Those who had given so much of their time towards running the club passed the reigns over to newly signed up club members. This small group found a willing new club chairperson in Robin Alexander. Robin brought a steadying influence to a club who had lost numbers during the dip in popularity seen during the preceding years. Under his guardianship, the committee was re-invigorated and regular meetings where once again back at the heart of driving forward the club.
During this period, the drive to reconnect with lapsed members and a renewed focus on improved club communications paid dividends. There was a new spring in the step of the club with an infectious new found passion for running very much in evidence. Success at races and events continued but the real changes were evident in the social interactions. The committee tested out the demand for club dinners and combined them with the club awards which were now expanded to reflect the changing dynamics of the club. The social side of running was further promoted by Santa Runs and breakfast runs in the Glens plus the sending of regular PowerPoint shows for all members to share their successes.
New members were joining, nevertheless there was an underlying feeling that for the club to truly thrive further impetus was required. The committee didn’t need to wait too long for the answer. Club member Susanna Allen proposed that the club sponsor a local parkrun and get behind an initiative which would help spread our love of running to a new audience. The committee agreed, although it wasn’t without significant challenges from those who felt that the risks attached were high. Susanna also highlighted that if beginning runners were going to perhaps wish to train with Ballymena Runners then our training run structures would need to change to reflect this.
After agreeing on perhaps the most difficult actions which the club had made for many years, the challenge was now finding someone who could have the renewed drive and energy to see it through. Stephen Brown was the perfect partner to work alongside Robin and the committee to bring the club along on an unchartered journey. The growing momentum was further enhanced by the club’s ground breaking Cosy Sofa to 5K programme. The timing could not have been better, tapping into a boom in running both nationally and at a local level.
The membership numbers have multiplied beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The challenges of such an increase have been significant. Thankfully the drive, passion and planning and pragmatic skills demonstrated by Club Secretary Stephen are more than a match. Not content on resting on the clubs laurels Stephen and Robin have driven the committee to further increase our presence in the community with the support of local charities and a renewed focus on providing quality running events.
The great side effect of the growth is that the newer members’ enthusiasm for running has reminded many of the club members what it was that they loved about the sport. The camaraderie and social side of the club is fantastic and is matched by the ability of the club to welcome runners of all abilities. Runners who are united not by times ran, distances ran but by the club colours that symbolise much more than can be measured – friendship, fun, pride and a sense of belonging to something that bit special. It would be easy to point to the fact that Ballymena Runners was chosen as Club of the Year by Athletics NI and gauge our success by that. To truly appreciate the club and it’s fantastic people then the best recommendation is to pop by the Seven Towers Leisure Centre from 6pm any Monday.