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'I had a good bawl....The day Dublin was cancelled' - Lizzie Lee

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Lizzie Lee at the launch of the 2020 KBC Virtual Dublin Marathon. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

Lizzie Lee at the launch of the 2020 KBC Virtual Dublin Marathon. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Lizzie Lee at the launch of the 2020 KBC Virtual Dublin Marathon. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

There was only one day during the lockdown that Lizzie Lee cried. "I had a good bawl," she says. "The day Dublin was cancelled."

For marathoners like her, a city itself constitutes a race. Valencia. London. Rotterdam. Berlin. To those whose life is measured out in miles per week, who funnel six months of work into one singular task, these cities aren't so much places, but races.

And to her, Dublin was - is -everything. It's where she finished third in 2018 on her last outing over 26.2 miles, taking the national title behind two Ethiopians.

It's her favourite race, one whose absence this year will be felt like a missing limb during the October bank holiday weekend.

"Dublin is so special, it's pure enjoyment," she says. "I think it was responsible calling it (off) early, everyone knew it was the right call, but that was devastating."

And yet, life moves on. When she has three kids turning her Cork home into a laughing, crying cacophony of chaos, there's not much time to dwell on what-might-have-beens.

Harder

Her third daughter, Jess, arrived last December. Lee had been through the whole return-to-running rigmarole twice before. For whatever reason, this one was a whole lot harder.

A bout of tendonitis kept her hobbling around at the start of the year and by the time Leo Varadkar announced the lockdown in March, she was back doing 30-minute runs. In April and May, she fell in love with the sport all over again.

"I don't know how I would have survived without the running," she says. "If I learned one thing in lockdown, it was that I truly just adore running. It was my blessing, my joy."

She'd have her baby fed by 7am every morning then hit the road for her first run of the day, returning to take over childcare duties by 9 when her husband, Paul, started work. Lee turned 40 in May but the body seems just as capable these days, her weekly mileage hovering between 80 and 90.

In the absence of any real races, she blasted a 5km time-trial six weeks ago in 17:29, then hacked a hefty chunk off that last week, clocking 17:05.

To qualify for the Rio Olympics she ran a 2:32:51 marathon in Berlin, but Lee believes much more will be needed for Tokyo to become a reality.

In truth, the Games were never on her radar until they got postponed to 2021. But with an extra year?

"Never say never," she says.

As an avid follower of the sport, she's seen all the hysteria around the Nike shoes in recent years and, yes, she'll be wearing them whenever she gets back on a marathon start line.

Lee was hoping to get the latest version, the Alphafly NEXT%, but despite World Athletics insisting they are made freely available, she can't for the life of her get a hold of a pair.

"If you can't beat them, join them," she says. "It's not doping and if everyone's doing it, I'm certainly not going to stand on the start line of a four-miler down the road and race somebody like Michelle Finn if she's wearing them and I'm not."

Failures

The usual flow of doping stories didn't abate in her time away, and Lee could only laugh at the excuses offered up by world-beaters like Wilson Kipsang and Christian Coleman for repeated failures to update their whereabouts.

"I had this discussion with Ciara Mageean and we (said), 'God, imagine if you got just one strike?' I'm not even a pro, I'm an amateur and if I was given an hour that I had to be home, it's black and white, I'd be home."

Lee was drug tested three times during her pregnancy last year and stands over the Irish system as one of the world's best.

In Rio she finished 56th, a race won by Kenya's Jemima Sumgong, ahead of Bahrain's Eunice Kirwa - both since banned for using EPO.

"By the time I retire I'll be top 50, whether that's official or not. "But if we can look to ourselves and know we're clean, that's all you can really do."

It's unlikely many marathons will come to fruition in 2020 - although it's understood plans are in place to stage London as an elite-only race - but one major event clinging to life is December's European Cross Country in Dublin.

"I love that course, it's a slog in the muck, and there's a fire in my belly for that," says Lee. "The thought of putting on an Irish vest in Dublin…"

For now, that's more than enough.

Irish Independent