All marathon runners know it's not only the distance that kills, it's the pace, and Sinead Diver bravely survived on both fronts to finish seventh best woman in the London Marathon – and sharing some significant honours that came with it.
Still very much the Irish woman running for Australia – as Diver is happy and proud to put it – it was fearless and also a little risky, Diver effectively running at the front of Sunday’s race until a little over halfway, the more experienced women lurking somewhere behind. Only she hadn’t travelled 10,500 miles just to get herself on TV.
In the end Diver again improved her marathon best to 2:24:11, at the age of 42 knocking over a minute off the 2:25:19 she ran to win in Melbourne last October, that already the second fastest ever by an Irish woman, her London time now the third fastest by Australian standards.
That’s because she can lay claim on both, the Mayo-born Diver, now representing Australia, travelling back from her adopted home in Melbourne for the sole purpose of mixing it with the very best women marathon runners in the world: London’s elite field certainly boasted that.
Also the mother of two young sons, her 2:24:11 now puts her top of Australia’s list for selection for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. She’ll be 43 then, London again proving that’s just a number – the latest remarkable run in her relatively short career.
Indeed Diver was the only elite woman to go with the pacemakers for the first half, finding herself some 14 seconds clear of the main group when passing halfway over London Bridge in 71:22. Diver was passed not long after, Kenya's Brigid Kosgei producing the fastest second half ever of a women's marathon (66:42) to take the win in 2:18:20, improving on her second place from 2018; countrywoman Vivian Cheruiyot, last year's winner was next in 2:20:14.
Still there was much for Diver to be delighted about at the finish: “I wasn’t expecting to be leading, obviously, and was a little bit freaked out, and didn’t want to look behind,” she said. “The group caught me, and then there was a lot of surging, but I stuck to my own race, prefer to go steady. I thought I may pay for it later on, but I hung on.”
She was helped by perfect running conditions - which also helped Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge win the men’s race for a record fourth time in 2:02:37, the second fastest in history after his own world record of 2:01:39, set in Berlin last September. Britain’s Mo Farah found that pace too hot to handle, dropping back around halfway, though still holding on for fifth in 2:05:39, shy of his best of 2:05:11 run in Chicago last October.
That made it 12 wins in 13 marathon starts for the 34 year-old Kipchoge, including the Olympic title in Rio in 2016. Second place went to the Ethiopian Mosinet Geremew, in 2:02:55, Farah’s run inevitably overshadowed by his pre-race spat with the Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, and alleged pre-race training incidents, although Farah insisted there were “no regrets” and he stood over all he said.
Divers top-10 finish effectively guarantees her selection for the Tokyo (London being one of the six Marathon Majors where under the new IAAF qualifying criteria, the top-10 gain selection). Her 2:24:11 all the more impressive considering she only took up competitive running around nine years ago, after moving to Australia in 2002 for work purposes. After missing out on Rio 2016 because of injury, Tokyo may offer plenty of consolation.
Some consolation too perhaps for being originally turned down by Athletics Ireland for selection for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, even though she did have the qualifying time (only for Athletics Ireland to make it 45 seconds faster). That prompted her decision to represent Australia, her home since 2002; likewise at the 2017 World Championships in London, which would mean sitting out four years if she wanted to represent Ireland again.
Diver also moves ever closer to Catherina McKiernan’s Irish record of 2:22:23, set in Amsterdam in 1999. Diver’s 2:24:11 here, incidentally, faster than the 2:26:26 that McKiernan clocked when winning the London in 1998.
She had quietly hinted at another personal best going, and possibly the Australian record of 2:22:36, set by Benita Willis Johnson in 2006; she'd only be eligible for the latter, and not the Irish records, but again considers herself in the mix for both. All her family had travelled from Belmullet in west Mayo to be in London to cheer her on, including her mum and dad, three sisters, and her brother.
“I do still see myself as an Irish woman representing Australia, even after 17 years in Australia now, I do still feel very Irish,” she said before Sunday’s race. “It’s unusual, but that’s the reality, and I’m really proud to be representing both countries in the way that I am.”
She moving with her Limerick-born husband Colin to Melbourne in 2002, now also home to their two sons Eddie (9) and Dara (6): “The Irish thing is still very much in my heart, it might not say it paper, but I consider myself lucky to be part of both, and I’m thankful for the support,” she told The Irish Times during the week. “There’s no negativity around it anymore.
She also credits her improvements over the last year to a switch to a new training group at the Melbourne Track Club, under the guidance of Nic Bideau, Sonia O'Sullivan's husband, although she still trains in her spare time, away from family and IT work commitments. All her preparations for London suggested another lifetime best was on the cards, running 1:08:55 for the half marathon in Japan in February, the fastest ever time for a woman over the age of the 40.
Best of the Irish in the men's race was national champion Mick Clohisey, who clocked 2:15:06 to finish in 25th place, just off his own lifetime best of 2:14:55, and putting himself in the early mix for Tokyo 2020 selection.