Anyone who has run a marathon knows the importance of their shoes fitting properly and an enforced swap shortly before Sunday’s Rotterdam event clearly cost Stephen Scullion. Possibly the setting of a new Irish marathon record.
After pacing himself impressively up the 35km mark, passing halfway in 1:04.42 and by then certainly on course for a sub-2:10 clocking at least, Scullion had to stop and walk for a short period, his feet “numb” given he was running in a pair of shoes too small.
He still managed to finish in 2:14:32, unfortunately just two seconds short of the qualifying time for the European Championships in Munich in August.
Conditions on the day were ideal, Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Abdi Nageeye winning in 2:04:56, taking more than a minute off the Dutch record he set here in 2019, and for Scullion the long-standing Irish marathon record of 2:09:15 might have been there for the taking.
The issue for Scullion arose on the morning of the race, all elite runners at major city marathons now going through a pre-event shoe declaration process to ensure they comply with new regulations introduced in early 2020 and revised last year.
The critical element is that the maximum thickness of the sole is 40mm, and any new development shoe must also be approved in advance.
When Scullion’s chosen model of shoes failed to comply, he was forced to borrow a pair and race in them instead, the ill-fitting size only causing a real problem later in the race.
“Rotterdam was fabulous until about 37km and my poor feet went numb,” he commented afterwards.
“Tried to run faster than ever today, had some issues with shoes being approved [World Athletics regulations], and had to borrow some, sadly they were too small, very last-minute stress morning of the race.
“At 37km feet went numb and I walked for a little bit, then got myself to the line. Life is good, these things happen. There will be another day. I am happy and there will be more opportunities to run fast.
“I took a big swing today for 2.09.15 and didn’t pull it off, but it’s a very positive step for me. 2021 was a tough year, on and off the roads. That’s the best, most controlled I’ve felt in a marathon. A few things to work on and I’ll run sub 2.10 again that’s for sure.”
John Treacy’s Irish marathon record of 2:09:15 stretches back to Boston in 1988, although Scullion has come close before, with his 2:09:49 run in London in October 2020.
Scullion dropped out of the Tokyo Olympic marathon last August after some difficult preparations, the returned to race the Boston Marathon two months later, running 2:22:57 in a race he admitted “really hurt”.
It's possible Scullion might get another shot of the European marathon qualifying time, that being one of three championship options this summer: the Commonwealth Games are set for late July and early August, the marathon standard there being 2:13:00, and there's also the World Championships in Oregon in July, the qualifying time there being 2:11:30.
The 33 year-old from Belfast produced the best Irish finish in some years when the Dublin Marathon was last staged in 2019, running 2:12.01 to finish second outright.
Paul Pollock, also racing in Rotterdam after competing in Tokyo, was on course for a 2:12 clocking around halfway, before dropping out shortly before 35km. Tokyo Ethiopia's Haven Hailu won the women's race in 2:22:01.
For now, the only male Irish qualifier for those upcoming marathons is fellow Belfast runner Kevin Seaward, who clocked 2:11.54 when finishing third in Manchester last Sunday, the second fastest time of his life, at age 36.