Marathon heroine Linda 'shocked' by Olympic feat

RUNNING in her first ever marathon, Linda Byrne produced the star performance at Monday's National Lottery Dublin Marathon, from an Irish point of view at least.

After a career of ups and downs, the Dundrum South Dublin athlete showed impressive maturity when she backed off the fast early pace set by her former clubmate Maria McCambridge of Letterkenny.

Byrne's clubmate, Ava Hutchinson, also showed in the early stages, but still she held back. Byrne found herself closing on McCambridge around half way and moved to the front at around 16 miles.

When she went through 20 miles in 1 hour 59 minutes, she was on target for a time of around 2:36 and held on to finish in 2:36.21 seconds.

That not only gave her the Irish title, but an 'A' qualifying mark for London 2012. Afterwards, Byrne confessed that she was "absolutely shocked".

She plans on running another marathon early next year to nail down her Olympic place. Her victory was well deserved. After a brilliant career as a junior followed by a DCU sports scholarship, she wasn't sure what to do next.

So she turned to the roads with great success, although her decision to try a "practice" 17-mile run at last year's Dublin Marathon raised a few eyebrows.

By the end of the year, Byrne had run herself into the ground and had to take a long break. She resumed training with coach Enda Fitzpatrick in May and ran a few low-key half marathons over the summer.

When she finished the Athlone Quarter-Marathon in 1:59.45 a month ago, she timed her run perfectly.

That question was answered on Monday, although it didn't prove easy. "The last five miles was very tough. It was just a matter of getting through each mile and keeping the same pace," she said.

In the men's race, hopes of having two or even three men under 2:20 minutes proved unfounded, with only race winner Sean Connolly of Tallaght breaking the barrier when he finished in 2:18.54.

He had hoped for faster, but it was simply not his day.

With the "Marathon Mission" still aiming for a full quota of marathon men and women at next year's Olympics, he will try again in spring, along with a number of others disappointed with their times on Monday.