A bright new face arrives on the Irish athletics scene this weekend as Galway native Nicola Duncan makes her international debut at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The 30-year-old Galway woman has been resident in Edinburgh for a decade, where she works as an actuary – a demanding job that often sees her working 12-hour days.
When I called recently, at 7.30am in the morning, the newest Irish international runner had already completed a demanding British Military fitness class and was about to embark on another busy day at the office.
Nicola only discovered her talent for distance running five years ago when a friend offered her a race number for a 10k she herself was unable to attend. That first entry into a mass participation event ignited a spark for Nicola that has lit a flame of success for the 5ft 1in, teak-tough athlete who grew up in the Taylor's Hill area of Galway city.
Before she took to distance running, Nicola had enjoyed a measure of success as an inter- provincial tennis player. She grew up close to the local tennis club and from an early age was competitive on the court.
She soon brought her competitive nature to bear in her running performances – completing her first marathon in Edinburgh in 2009 in 2:58 and, four years later, posting a personal best of 2:36.44 in Amsterdam.
That time earned her qualification for this summer's European Track & Field Championships in Zurich.
Nicola is coached by Nick Anderson and has also received sound training advice from well-known Galway City Harriers stalwart PJ Coyle. Nicola is a niece of PJ's wife, Susan, and the GCH man has played a quiet but very supportive role in her running development.
Nicola may be small in stature, but she has speed and stamina in abundance and a fresh approach to her training and racing.
Her day starts early – around the 6.30am mark. On Mondays, she will have completed 10 miles before she starts work and she follows this with an evening class in Hot Vinyasa Yoga.
On Wednesdays, Nicola takes in an early morning British Military fitness class and in the evening she runs a steady 10 miles to complete the day's training. Also mingled into the training mix will be a lunchtime tempo run on Thursday followed by an evening spin class.
On Saturdays, she usually completes a long run of anything from 16 to 22 miles followed by yoga in the evening.
She takes a rest from running on Fridays, but still completes a spinning class before work and more Hot Vinyasa Yoga after work.
It is this dedication that has honed her into an elite athlete. In February of this year, Nicola finished second in the Barcelona Half-Marathon in 1:12.12 – a race won in a world-record time of 1:05.12 by Kenyan runner Florence Killagat. Earlier this month she finished ninth overall and was first woman in the Global Energy Inverness Half-Marathon.
Nicola competes in Edinburgh with Portobello AC and she is also an affiliated member of Galway City Harriers. She was out of running for a while early in 2013, due to a fractured pelvis, but continued to cross-train and do pilates and yoga to help maintain her fitness during that difficult period.
It was only when she joined Portobello that Nicola fully realised that she had potential as a distance runner. "I learnt a lot when I joined the club as I was pretty clueless about training up to that point," she said.
On Saturday, Nicola and Paul Pollock, of Annadale Striders, will be the only two Irish elite representatives in the IAAF World Half-Marathon in Copenhagen. Nicola has come a long way and talking with her you feel that her best performances are yet to come.