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Duncan taking road less travelled to top

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An injury meant she couldn't run a step for eight of the preceding 14 days, which made Nicola Duncan's big breakthrough at the London marathon last weekend all the more remarkable.

Two weeks earlier, when the Scottish-based 30-year-old Galway woman felt a niggle on her international debut at the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, she took swift and smart action.

"I was only a minute into the race but I knew straight away there was something wrong so I pulled out immediately," Duncan explained.

A week of intensive deep tissue treatment from Guy Van Herp, a Belgian physiotherapist based in Edinburgh, did the trick. After a week's lay-off she certainly didn't expect to run the fifth fastest time ever (2:33.28) by an Irish woman last Sunday, even if her body hasn't stopped reminding her.

"My legs are still sore, I couldn't walk another metre after the finish-line," she revealed. "I got a stitch between the 18th and 20th miles and the last six were really tough and it was a case of mind over matter."

A former tennis inter-pro, who only took up running in 2009 when her friend pulled out of a 10km and offered her race number, Duncan, who works full-time as an actuary for Mercers in Edinburgh, is a rookie with a disarmingly fresh approach.

A pelvic fracture early last year forced her to take up pilates and yoga and she also does spinning and tough boot-camp classes every week, all of which she feels keeps her balanced physically and mentally.

"On top of that, I just really enjoy the social side of running," she said.

She jumped from a 2:58 debut in 2009 to 2:36.44 in Amsterdam last year, which had already secured her a slot at this summer's European Championships in Zurich.

She ran 72:12 for a half marathon this year and now Catherina McKiernan (2:22), Carey May (2:28), Sonia O'Sullivan (2:29.01) and Regina Joyce (2:32.56) are the only Irish women to have run faster.

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She was the 13th woman home in London, with only four Europeans finishing ahead of her: Portuguese superstars Jessica Augusto (sixth) and Dulce Felix (ninth) and Ukraine's seventh and 10th placed Tetyana Hamera-Shmyrko (fifth in the London Olympics) and Lyudmyla Kovalenko (European silver medallist 2012).

Duncan may be a late developer but one man who helped keep Irish distance-running to the fore in his heyday was former Boston and Dublin marathon winner Neil Cusack.

To mark the 40th anniversary of his Boston win, 'Irish Runner' editor Frank Greally is hosting an event with Cusack in the Gibson Hotel tonight, which will include a Q&A and training tips. It starts at 8.0 and entry is free. Email editor@irishrunner.ie, with 'Neil Cusack' in the subject line, to ensure a seat.


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