It wasn't unbearably humid, or midnight for that matter, but winning the National 10,000 metres title has further convinced Stephen Scullion to run the marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.
After safely defending his title – in the pleasant Santry sunshine and temperature of 20 degrees – Scullion promptly outlined why he was willing to tackle the 26.2-mile distance in Doha, when many other runners have already decided against it.
The championships take place from September 27th to October 6th, the men’s marathon set for the final day, starting at midnight to offer some relief from the typically searing heat and crippling humidity. It averages 35 degrees in Doha in October, with 85 per cent humidity.
“It was actually a little warmer out there than I thought,” said Scullion, who took the win in 29:36.33, the south Belfast native now running with Dublin club Clonliffe Harriers.
“Obviously it will be a lot warmer in Doha, and it was tough to decide between the World Championships and a fast marathon like Berlin. I could have looked at Dublin in October as well. But I keep talking to my coach, and really believe I can come top-10 in Doha, if I prepare well. I’ve been back and forward on it, but it’s the World Championships, and you’re selected to run for your country, how can you turn that down?
“I’ve trained in humidity, and it is unpredictable, if a thunderstorm rolls in, it can bounce around. It being midnight there won’t be any sun either. I know as well if you break 2:25 in Doha, it mightn’t be a bad day. It mightn’t be a great day, but because it will be tough.
“I just have a feeling, in Doha, if you f-it up, there’s no going back, and a lot of people will think it’s easy, and start going backwards. You will have to train differently, in the heat, and not super fast. It’s about running fast in the heat and humidity.”
Mick Clohisey from Raheny took second in 29:44.18, after Scullion broke clear at 7km, and is already convinced not to run in Doha, although also selected, targeting the Dublin marathon in late October instead.
Scullion, now 30, ran a personal best of 2:14.34 in Houston in January, the fastest marathon by any Irish man since 2011, and Doha also offers the chance to qualify for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, the top 10 assured of selection.
“I think if these championships were say in Berlin, I’m not sure I could be top 40. In a place like Doha, people beat themselves, and if you stick to your plan, you can shake things up. I’m lucky my girlfriend lives in Flagstaff, where I’m based, and I have good friends living in Louisiana, where I can go and train in the humidity.”
Still, it begs the question why Doha was chosen to host the championships in the first place: “It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Scullion, “but marathons now can be unpredictable, anywhere. There are no rules anymore, the climate just does what it wants. London was 40 degrees on Thursday. The day Doha is over, I’ll work out a plan for Tokyo, but the best chance to make the Olympics is just to get better. If you’re good enough, you’ll be at the Olympics, and I genuinely believe I have a 2:10, 2:11 in me.”
Also intent on running at the World Championships, only in more manageable distances, are Ciara Mageean and Mark English, who both eased their way into their respective finals on Sunday.
Mageean dropped down to 800m and won her heat in 2:08.56, turning on the style over the last 200m to win from Louise Shanahan of Leevale, who clocked 2:10.33. Mageean already has the 1,500m qualifying time for Doha, but may not have it all her own way in Sunday's final, with Nadia Power, recent bronze medal winner at the European Under-23 championships, winning her heat in 2:10.25, with Claire Mooney second in 2:10.52.
For English, who like Mageean is coming off the European Indoor bronze medal run in Glasgow last March, there is still the Doha 800m qualifying time of 1:45.80 to be secured, with races lined up in Birmingham, Cork and the Morton Games in the coming weeks. He won his heat in 1:53.60, easy as he liked.
Ciara Neville clocked an excellent 11.40 to win her 100m heat, which would have been a championship record only for the fact the wind-gauge wasn't in operation at the time.
Sunday's 200m final is also poised to be a fascinating showdown between Marcus Lawler and Leon Reid. Lawler, the bronze medal winner at the World University Games earlier this month, won his heat in 21.83, only for Reid, the defending champion who last summer completed his transfer from Great Britain to Ireland, to clock a very impressive 20.63 when winning his heat.
Thomas Barr withdrew from his 400m hurdles heat due to a minor calf strain, denying him the chance to win a ninth successive National title.