Emer McKee of Willowfield Harriers

Emer McKee runs 16:40 for 5K – aged 12!

Willowfield Harrier stuns the athletics world with the fastest 5K ever recorded by a 12 year old girl

With around 3 million people registered for nearly 600 parkruns in England alone, the 5K has become the most familiar distance in the nation and one that practically everyone has an idea of their expected pace and time.

So 16:40 is clearly pretty fast and, in fact, represents a new world single age-group best time for Belfast parkrun regular Emer McKee – a 12-year-old schoolgirl who has been a member of her local club, Willowfield Harriers (est. 1898) since she was nine.

Emer ran 27:31 at Belfast Victoria parkrun in 2015 and since then her time improved to 18:33 in 2019 but with the encouragement of her club coach, Rebecca, she started racing in the ChampionChip Ireland Running Series last year, achieving 17:47 at Lisburn in October. Remarkably, this was only six seconds slower than the world's fastest for an 11-year-old. 

The breakthrough, which has caught the interest of the world's media, came on Sunday 25 April in the ChampionChip Ireland 5K at Down Royal Racecourse, near Lisburn, shortly after Emer had run an even faster unofficial time trial (16:37) at her favourite Victoria Park training ground. 

Emer finished 21st overall (1st female) at Down Royal in an official 16:40, which beat the previous best of 17:16.8 by Annabella Veltcheva (USA) in Clermont, Florida, in March 2017. Astonishingly, the plucky youngster took a tumble during the race and still recovered to take almost 37 seconds off the record.

The high-quality race was won by Conor Bradley (Liverpool Harriers, 14:17) and there were 153 finishers in 34:56. Emer McKee's time puts her 25th in the UK senior women's ranking for 2021, led by Beth Potter's unratified world record time of 14:41 at the Podium 5K in Barrowford on 4 April.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Emer paid tribute to her club as she said: "I started doing parkruns and I then joined the running club when I was nine and everybody there was really nice and supportive and friendly. All my coaches have helped me to just keep at it." Regarding her tactics, she added: "Normally I'm just running as fast as I can and just waiting for it to be over".

Emer's "bursting with pride" mum Catherine said: "With lockdown, she hasn't been able to do much training with her group, so she has been training by herself. She's so determined and so motivated. She just gets out there in all weathers”.

So, when we get back to parkruns, just note where you are at 16:40 into the event and think about that 12-year-old girl from Belfast who would be first to the cakes every time!  

Images: Emer McKee courtesy Willowfield Harriers on Facebook

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