The sole intention was to run inside the Olympic marathon qualifying time and Fionnuala McCormack did exactly that, also running herself into Irish athletics history as the first woman to qualify for a fifth successive Olympics.
In the expected ideal running conditions in Valencia on Sunday morning, McCormack clocked 2:26:19, inside the required 2:26:50 for the Paris Olympic marathon next summer, the third time the Wicklow athlete has qualified in that event.
It also comes just five months after giving birth to her third daughter, the 39-year-old McCormack calling on all her experience to stay inside the qualifying mark throughout, after passing halfway in 1:12:23.
Ethiopia’s Worknesh Degefa took the women’s win in 2:15:51, and while McCormack slowed a little in her fourth 10km section she had enough resilience to stay inside the qualifying time, finishing in 34th place.
McCormack had spoken beforehand about having that qualifying time as her sole target, rather than chase a personal best. It was no easy task, however, as it was almost three minutes faster than the 2:29:30 required for the Tokyo Olympics.
McCormack’s four previous Olympic appearances have come in four different events: the 3,000m steeplechase in Beijing 2008, the 5,000m and 10,000m in London 2012, then the marathon in Rio 2016 and the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
In running the marathon in Tokyo, she matched Sonia O’Sullivan and race walker Olive Loughnane as the only Irish women to compete in four Olympics.
Even by the recent super-shoes standards, Valencia produced an astonishing depth of times. Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma became the fourth fastest man in history, winning in 2:01:48, with the top 37 men all running sub-2:09, while the top 40 women all ran sub-2:28.
In preparation, McCormack ran a half-marathon time of 1:10:13, also in the Spanish city, on October 22nd.
McCormack will now turn her attention to the European Cross Country in Brussels next Sunday, where she will look to extend her women’s record of Irish international caps in athletics to 44, and mark her 18th appearance in the event, from junior upwards.
She has attempted this sort of marathon-cross country double before, just two years ago, when just four months after Tokyo, she ran her marathon best of 2:23.58, also in Valencia. She then raced the European Cross-Country in Dublin just seven days later, once again the top Irish woman in ninth, the team finishing just outside the medals in fourth.
For Hiko Tonosa, also running in Valencia, the dream of qualifying for Paris also looked to be on for long stages, after he passed halfway in 1:04:04, only to finish in 2:15:01 in what was his debut marathon, outside the 2:08:10 required for Paris. Kevin Seaward was also chasing a third successive Olympic qualifier but dropped out in the last 5km after falling off the pace.
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