Fionnuala Britton 10th in Euro marathon with fourth fastest time by an Irishwoman on her debut
FIONNUALA Britton's gamble to run her very first marathon in the European Championships this morning rewarded her not only with 10th place but a time of 2:31:46 that was the fourth fastest ever by an Irishwoman.
Ireland's two-time European cross-country champion surprised everyone by deciding, very late, to run the gruelling distance for the first time in Zurich, doing it just four days after she finished 8th in the 10,000m on the track.
The pace - a championship record of 2:25.14 for French veteran Christelle Daunay - was much faster than she wanted or expected for her marathon debut.
But the petite Wicklow woman looked exceptionally fresh after she crossed the line and immediately declared herself "pretty happy.
"I didn't know what to expect in one way and that was definitely not what I expected!" she said smiling.
"I've just heard it was the fastest marathon ever run in Switzerland it was quick, especially on that (tough) course.
"I have to be happy enough with it," the Kilcoole athlete said.
"Top 10 doesn't sound as good as I think it was today, given the pace they ran on that course. It was always going to be hard to be anywhere near it.
"I don't think anyone expected that pace but being able to finish and not dying completely, I don't think that's bad!
"I'd hoped it would have been more like a cross-country race," she admitted of her dream of winning a medal.
"In the 10,000m we jogged around on a flat track for 8.5km and I thought if it was the same here it would be anyone's race.
"But those girls went out very fast, I couldn't keep up with them. Right now I'm just glad that it's done," she added.
The 29-year-old Wicklow woman was, significantly, the youngest in the top 10 finishers.
French winner Duanay is 39 and the woman who fought it out with her so long, Italy's Valeria Straneo is 38. Portugal's Jessica Augusto took bronze and she is 32.
Britton's hope of coming in under the radar to nick a medal depended on the pace being slow which, considering the hilly course, it was expected to be.
But they went through half-way in 1:12.33 and 35km in two hours and 22 seconds.
An early breakaway of seven left Britton running most of it on her own but she stuck to her task and her major splits were 10km (34:40), 20km (1:10.08), half-way (1:14:07), 30km (1:46:40) and 40km (2:23:47).
Some people thought her decison, two weeks ago, to enter it was a crazy one but her performance proved them wrong.
In Irish athletics' history only Catherina McKiernan, Carey May and Sonia O'Sullivan have run faster and, on her debut at the gruelling distance, it underlined what many have believed for a long-time: that Britton has a promising future as a marathon.
But she said "it's back to cross-country now" for next season, though confirmed that the marathon will definitely be her choice of event for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Ireland had two other runners in the race. Dundrum South Dublin's Sarah Mulligan, also making her debut at the distance, finished 36th in 2:42:43 and Clonliffe's Barbara Sanchez was 41st in 2:43:59.
For the first time the European Championships also included a 'team' competition within the marathon.
Ireland's trio finished seventh of 12 teams and were 17 minutes off the bronze won by Russia, with Italy taking team gold, 10 minutes faster than Portugal.