Gladys Ganiel launches late bid to make it to Rio Olympics

Marathon runner posts Olympic-standard time just nine months after having first child

Gladys Ganiel of North Belfast Harriers ran 2.38:53 in the Seville marathon last weekend, making her one of five Irish-qualified runners to post a time inside the Olympic standard for Rio. Coming just nine months after having her first child, it was some achievement – all the more so since she has never been a full-time athlete.

Were you happy with the time?

I think I was because it’s a PB and it’s less than nine months after having a baby. You would have to be happy with that. But at the same time, I wanted to get under 2:38 to get closer to the girl who is in third on the list for Rio (Breege Connolly, 2.37:29) .

In some ways, you might think I am in the mix because I do think the course is harder and the weather conditions were tougher than in London last year.

You only had a baby nine months ago?

Yeah. Really, to be honest, if the selection criteria hadn’t said you should run your marathon by the end of March, I would have left it until April to do it so that I would have more time after the baby. But with that deadline, I figured I should do the one in February, just to give me time to recover and prepare for Rio if I got it.


How did you find training after having a baby?

I had one of those babies who doesn't sleep, so not great! He has only really slept for seven weeks of his entire life. Fortunately, those seven were within the 10 weeks before Seville so at least that was something. The lack of sleep was hardest, definitely. But I read a lot about how to come back after pregnancy and I got great help and advice from Lizzie Lee, who ran Berlin 13 months after having her baby.

The important thing was to make sure the core was okay and not move in certain ways that could damage yourself. I was really conscious of that and I had a very good pilates instructor and S&C coach and I knew that if I was going to go for the Rio time, there was really no margin for error. Fortunately, the pregnancy was natural and there was only one small tear so I healed pretty quickly.

Is it not an awful lot to take on?

Well, I’ll be 39 next month and I’ve been running a long time – since university. And all through getting my PhD and starting off with my first job, I didn’t compete. I missed out on some good years.

But the older I got, the better shape I got into. I ran for Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games and I really loved it. I was in good shape when my husband and I decided to have a baby and I thought it would be really good fun to see if I could get back into shape afterwards and try to qualify for Rio. I loved the training, I loved the hard work.

Do you hold out much hope of getting selected?

I don’t know. Obviously you want to be one of the three fastest anyway, just for your own mind. But I do think the course I ran on was more difficult and the conditions weren’t as good. But look, whatever. I did what I could on the day.

Did you ever consider full-time athletics?

Not really, no. I guess I always wanted to work. I grew up in the US and right after I finished university, I got a scholarship to do a Masters anywhere in the world.

And I had run at Providence college where a lot of the top Irish runners go so I was interested in Ireland anyway. I came over and did the Masters at UCD and I stayed to do a PhD and I really enjoyed the stuff I was researching. If I had been a full-time athlete, I wouldn’t have been able to develop those interests and it wouldn’t have been as fulfilling for me.

Your working background is fascinating – how would you explain what you do for a living?

The simple way is to say I’m a lecturer and research fellow in conflict transformation and then when you tell people you’re based in Belfast, then it makes sense to them! My focus is religion and the role of religion in conflict. Religion quite often gets a bad rap. People don’t quite understand the role is plays in conflict – they either say it doesn’t matter at all or they overemphasise it.

You have described the system in Northern Ireland as “designed to produce deadlock and slowness”. That doesn’t sound like something a high- performance athlete would have much patience for...

Well, I think if you’re going to be a marathon runner, you’re going to need patience. There’s no room for being impatient when you have two-and-a-half hours of running ahead of you. I often say this to people – I think that 80 per cent of success is turning up.

That goes for being a distance runner or being a student doing a dissertation. Show up, put in the work, keep at it day after day even just doing a little bit and you’ll get there eventually.