Southern Belle - Cork's Lizzie Lee
As she becomes the 'Fit' city series ambassador, the Leevale athlete outlines her family's athletics tradition which has inspired her own achievements.
LIZZIE Lee is one of life's great optimists, always looking on the bright side, with a broad smile and a can-do attitude.
Lizzie Lee is one of life's great optimists, always looking on the bright side, with a broad smile and a can-do attitude. The Cork woman had good reason to smile two weeks ago when she stormed across the finish line in the Michael Manning Memorial 10k road race in Dunshaughlin in 34.08 – a PB improvement of almost a full minute.
A few days later, Lizzie is still in high glee as she describes her performance. "I knew that I was in the right shape to run a fast race, but my finishing time in Dunshaughlin went beyond my expectations," she says.
"I had heard that the course was flat and fast and that is why I travelled all the way from Cork. It's hard to get a flat 10k course in Cork, and it was important for me to test myself to the limit over a course that had yielded some fast times for some top athletes."
As usual, her dad, Garry, Lizzie's most ardent supporter, was at the finish line to cheer his daughter on and then whisk her safely home to Bishopstown.
Family support means a lot to Lizzie. There is an athletics tradition on both her father and mother's side of the family as grandfathers Tom Lee and James Seward were both highly accomplished schoolboy athletes in their day.
Lizzie's parents have always been strong advocates of physical fitness. Garry and Mary Lee are still very serious about their cycling and regularly take part in bike tours.
"My parents were always very active and that was a very positive influence for me growing up," Lizzie said.
After graduating from UCC with a degree in electrical engineering, Lizzie left Cork in 2002 and came to live in Dublin, at the time working on a masters degree at the Smurfit Business School.
It was 2005 – or just eight years ago – before she started to participate in sport and entered her first triathlon, a fundraising event in Chicago, USA, for Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.
At the time she was working in Dublin for Accenture, a business consultancy company, and she signed on for the event with a group of like-minded fundraising Irish triathletes, a team led by former World 5,000m champion Eamonn Coghlan.
Lizzie loved that first competitive outing and continued to train and improve her all-round swimming, cycling and running skills. In Chicago, Eamonn suggested that her best discipline was running, but it was a few years before that message fully registered.
The triathlon events were challenging, exciting and fulfilling, and in 2010 she won a bronze medal in her age group (25-30) in the sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20k cycle and 5k run) at the European Triathlon Championships in Athlone.
She little thought at the time that within a few years she would be a member of the Irish women's team which won the SPAR European Cross-Country Championship title in Budapest – and that she would play a pivotal role on that historic occasion last December.
On a day when Fionnuala Britton led the field to defend her European Cross-Country individual title, it was Lizzie who clinched it for the Irish women, battling all the way to the finish line to place 23rd.
As she crossed the finish line, it was clear that the Cork woman had squeezed every last ounce of energy from her body to finish four places ahead of France's fourth woman. Ireland finished level with France (on 52 points) but beat them on 'countback', which is based on where the fourth runner finishes.
"It was a day you could never forget – one of those days when everything fell into place and you knew that you were having the run of your life," Lizzie recalls.
"I have to put a lot of my success as a runner down to Donie Walsh's training. He creates a great atmosphere for his athletes at the training sessions – a lot of fun, followed by some very serious training. Donie can read me like a book. He knows when I need to push it hard, and more importantly, when I need to rest, recover and back off the hard training."
It is just three years now since Lizzie teamed up with Donie and she still remembers that first meeting with him on the Mardyke track, which has since become something of a proving ground for her.
'I remember that I joined in a session of 12x400m that some of Donie's athletes were completing," Lizzie says. "I thought that I had handled the session brilliantly and I felt well pleased with myself when I went to talk to Donie. However, he quickly put me in my place when told me: 'Don't worry, we'll work on your speed.'
"He has his own special way of helping you keep your feet on the ground, a coach of great wisdom and understanding."
Lizzie has also dabbled a little with the marathon, posting a time of 2.46 in Rotterdam earlier this year. "I just was not ready for that race," she said. "My hip seized up at 16 miles and it was not a great experience for me."
However, she still has her heart set on achieving a fast marathon time – one that will qualify her for next summer's European Championships. She will probably run another marathon in the autumn, and she speaks in glowing terms of Jim Aughney and Dick Hooper, who have helped her at Marathon Mission – a joint initiative between Athletics Ireland and the Dublin Marathon aimed at improving the all-round standards of elite marathon running in Ireland.
She posted a personal best time of 57.17 for 10 miles in Ballycotton this year and set a personal best half-marathon time of 1:18.00 in Charleville last September.
The Rock 'n' Roll Dublin Half-Marathon, which incorporates the National Championships, is her next 'big target' event. She continued her preparation for this event in Cork the day after her great run in Dunshaughlin by completing a 20-mile training run with her Leevale AC teammates.
Lizzie does not have any regrets about coming late to running. "In just a few short years, I have gained a whole lot of enjoyment and success from my running and I think that coming into the sport at the age I did may actually have been an advantage," she says.
"I still have great passion and enthusiasm for my running and a freshness that I might not have if I had taken up the sport at a younger age."
Lizzie works as a project manager at Core International in Cork and describes herself as 'very organised'. She has a smile that can light up a room and was an ideal choice to act as ambassador for the FIT Magazine City Series 10k which takes place in Cork on Sunday, July 21. "I have been a big fan of FIT since the first issue and I am delighted to help promote the FIT City Series 10k in my native city," she says.
Lizzie is hugely appreciative of the backing she receives in Cork. She loved the crowd support on her way to winning the half-marathon at the Cork City Marathon promotion on the June Bank Holiday Monday. She has also received great support from Welch Sports and from Salt Life Therapy, the company that helped cure her sinus problems.
The European Cross-Country Championships next December will be another big target; another chance to deliver big and help the Irish women's team defend their title. In the meantime, there are miles to run on the road that has already taken the smiling Cork woman to great success.
These days, Lizzie Lee averages about 80 miles per week in training.
She still completes a number of swim training sessions every week (usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7am in the pool at the Mardyke).
On July 21, she will defend her National Aquathon title in Salthill in Galway – a 2k swim and 10k running event that she won last year.
Irish Independent Supplement