"I'm gutted – but it's a happy gutted," said Maria McCambridge after her outstanding Dublin Marathon performance last month, which earned her the Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Month award. She's happy with a personal best of two hours 34 minutes and 19 seconds, but gutted that she was beaten to the line by Kenya's Esther Macharia – by just four seconds.
Mixed feelings, then, but for the 39-year-old winning her fourth National Marathon title, the day proved she wasn’t kidding when she had earlier declared herself to be “in the best marathon shape of my life”. And having controversially missed out on the 2012 Olympics in London, when she ran the qualifying standard but was not selected, Rio 2016 is now firmly on her radar.
Considering the less than perfect weather conditions in Dublin, McCambridge is confident there’s enough left in the tank to beat her new personal best.
“I just closed my eyes, and ran as hard as I could,” she said of the ordeal. “I couldn’t really see, anyway. The wind was blowing my contact lenses out of my eyes, and I couldn’t make much out. It was very, very strong too, and blowing all over the place.” There will be calmer days.
It’s only six years since McCambridge ran her first marathon, having won bronze with the Irish team that won World Cross-Country bronze in 2002. In 2004 she represented Ireland in the 5,000 metres at the Athens Olympics.
It's been an on-off love affair since, but speaking to The Irish Times ahead of last month's Dublin race, she said her passion had returned after being tested by disappointments.
“I feel like I’ve fallen in love with running all over again, that there is still some life in left me,” McCambridge said then. “Because I did go through some hard periods there, dark days really, where I struggled with the motivation, questioned if I had any future in the marathon, and got very disillusioned.
“It’s still a long way to Rio,” she added.
Cambridge will be 41 then, but under her new coach, Chris Jones, head of endurance at Athletics Ireland, the sportswoman of the month is finding a new lease of life, and a belief that the best might yet be to come.