Fifth annual Grant Thornton runway run ready for take-off on June 20
IT'S five years since Richard Gillan had the "not so bright" idea of involving the north's business community in a five kilometres run in the dark.
And since then the Grant Thornton runway run at Belfast City Airport - which this year is due off at 11pm on Thursday June 20 - has evolved into one of the mainstays of the Northern Ireland corporate calendar.
"Did we honestly think it would get this big and we'd have such a calibre of businesses represented? Absolutely not," said Richard, partner in charge of business advisory firm Grant Thornton in Northern Ireland.
"But what was a novel spark of an idea has genuinely captured the imagination of the business community, and today we've no trouble whatsoever in reaching our 600-runner target.
"Firms ranging from banks to solicitors, accountants to manufacturers, use it as a team-building opportunity, and for the businesses taking part, it also offers an attractive proposition for networking with existing and future clients."
Since its launch in 2015, some 2,700 runners will have taken part in the Belfast runway run, covering a total of 13,500 km combined.
On a wider context, the airport race forms forms part of the GT5K Corporate Team Challenge which commences in Cork on June 12 and also visits Galway on June 27 and Dublin on September 4.
"For me though, Belfast is still the one which captivates the participants most," Richard added.
"It's an almost mystical run, with the Belfast cranes lit up in the background.
"And while it's primarily a fun event, there is a strong competitive edge, with companies no longer just sending a team of gather-ups or unwilling volunteers, but the very pick of there best runners.
"Certain big banks and legal firms here will always want bragging rights over their business rivals."
With the runway run forming an integral part of Grant Thornton's corporate social responsibility programme, the event benefits a charity, in this case the Simon Community, which works to support those for whom homelessness is already, or likely to be, a reality.
"Many thousands of pounds have been raised for charity, but we've no idea of the exact amount because most of the companies do their own thing and we often don't get to hear about it."
Organisers Grant Thornton continues to grow across all streams in Northern Ireland, doubling its staff numbers to 110 and more than trebling its revenues in the last three years.