Tuesday 24 October 2017

McKiernan's enduring class inspires Britton's new direction

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

IF Fionnuala Britton had any doubts about the new direction her athletics career and coaching is going, she hadn't too far to look for optimism after finishing second in Saturday's Spar Great Ireland Run.

She was runner-up to current European Cross-Country champion Gemma Steel, it was her first time in three attempts to make the podium and she did it in a time that was almost 50 seconds faster than when she was fourth last year.

Her new coach is Joe Doonan, the man who helped the legendary Catherina McKiernan to win the London Marathon in 1998.

Now aged 45, the elegant Cavan veteran was still the third Irish woman home behind her yesterday and eighth overall.

With Britton now targeting the marathon, yesterday's performance indicated that she is starting to find her 'road legs', and she admitted approaching Doonan because of his achievements with McKiernan.

"The biggest thing is the experience of having brought Catherina to where she was," she said of her new coach.

"What Catherina ran, if she ran those times now they would still be world class. If I could be as good as what she did 15 years ago that would still be brilliant now."

The transition from world-class cross-country runner to marathon, will not be without its speed bumps.

Britton freely admitted "if someone had told me there was a cross-country marathon I'd have jumped at that because I love running cross-country and I never had a good race on the roads.

"I've always trained a lot on the roads and I do like it, but it was more that my road races came between seasons, or in the build-up to something that was something more important to me, so they were never going to be that good.

"It's hard to tell off one race but it's a positive way to start," she added. Last year I was gone within the first two miles, I was struggling from the very start whereas today I felt good most of the way."

Her progress in the coming year, which will include two half-marathons before she goes for Olympic qualification in a big city marathon next autumn, will be fascinating. Her next race is another 10km, the Great Manchester Run on May 10.

She was always in the mix in this elite women's 10km that was down to a three-way tussle by the half-way mark.

Steel's ability to hold her off was impressive given that she was 18th at World Cross-Countries in China only a fortnight ago and still recovering from that long trip.

Like Britton, Steel has had no shortage of people urging her to move up in distance.

"People are trying to encourage me to do the Amsterdam marathon in October and I've seen Fionnuala's success so maybe I should take a leap of faith and do it," Steel said.

"But I also want to defend my title in the Europeans (XC), that's a big priority as well, so it'll be a case of weighing up the pros and cons."

It already looks like a large contingent of Irish women will be vying for marathon spots at next year's Olympics and Leevale's Lizzie Lee should be among them.

Nine months after having her first child, Lee finished an impressive fifth in 34:18, ahead of Britain's Jess Coulson and Poland's Dominika Nowakowska, and that also secured her second place in the Irish National 10km championships, which are run in conjunction with the Great Ireland Run.

For the second year in-a-row, McKiernan also made the national podium (in 35:15), nearly half-a-minute clear of Newcastle's Kerry O'Flaherty and DSD's Sarah Mulligan.

The national men's 10km title went to Mullingar's Mark Christie, who finished eighth overall in the men's race in 30:10, just two minutes off Kenyan superstar Japheth Korir (28:15). Clonliffe's Sergiu Ciobanu (10th overall) took second (30:20), 12 seconds clear of DSD's Brandon Hargreaves (11th overall).

Irish Independent

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