Saturday 18 November 2017

Fionnuala should be very happy with her marathon - and she can go even faster

But ‘unbelievable’ 10,000m race left me feeling sick to my stomach

Lizzie Lee with the tricolour after finishing 57th in the women's marathon yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Lizzie Lee with the tricolour after finishing 57th in the women's marathon yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Catherina McKiernan

Fionnuala McCormack can be very happy with her performance in the Olympic marathon yesterday and it indicated to me that she can go five minutes faster at least.

Finishing 20th, in a personal best time of 2:31.22 in that those temperatures, was a very positive result.

You can see from the winner's time of 2:24 that even the elite Africans were a lot slower in those conditions.

So, if she was running in cooler weather, she'd have knocked a lot more off her PB than 24 seconds.

So much can go wrong in the marathon. It was only her third time to run the distance but she seems to naturally handle it well physically. The drinks and the hydration seem to work well for her, which is a critical part of it at the top level.

She was a little bit conservative at the start, but said afterwards that she thought there might be a bit of carnage mid-way, and, in that heat, that was a sensible approach.

She came through the field gradually, picking off 10 people every five kilometres or so, and her splits were 75:25 and 75:59, which were very even and consistent.

You have to be cautious in marathons, no matter who you are. If you go off too fast, you're going to pay the price in the last five or six miles.

It's better to go off conservatively and pick people off, especially because you get such a psychological benefit from that.

Lizzie Lee and Breege Connolly did the same thing, finishing in 2:39 and 2:44 and, in those conditions, they can be happy too.

I noticed all three of the American women finished in the top 10, which shows again that white athletes can compete with the Africans, despite what some people say.

People might wonder how America got three to finish so high. They're obviously doing something right in terms of preparation and coaching but I really think it's a numbers games.

They have such a big population that they've the numbers to be able to mix it at this level with the Africans. If our population was three times what it is we'd probably have many more good athletes.

I feel, and I think John Treacy agrees, that's there's only a handful of really good marathons in most runners.

This was only Fionnuala's third, and two of those have been championship marathons, which are very different to big-city marathons.

Yet she was one of only a few to run a personal best time yesterday which will give her much more confidence in her next marathon.

I know she said the heat didn't really affect her, but it does at this distance, so we can, theoretically, take some time off that if it was run in better weather.

The experience and confidence she gained yesterday also means you could probably take a couple of more minutes off as well, so I feel she should be well capable of running 2:26 or 2:25 in better conditions.

She was the sixth European home - ahead of all the British runners, I noticed - and, when the next European Championships come around in 2018, she should really be confident of doing well in that.


She was 10th at the last Europeans and that was her first marathon and on a hilly course in Zurich. She'd also run the 10,000m beforehand so she didn't do herself justice then.

I don't know what her plans are now. The Olympics involves a lot of physical and psychological commitment and dedication, but I would expect her to go for the European cross-country again this winter and she'll have great strength for that now from marathon training. All those miles make you very strong.

Unfortunately, she is facing Africans now in European Championships. The girl who was second yesterday was running for Bahrain but is from Kenya.

I think this transfer situation is as big a problem in athletics as the doping.

Some of these transferring athletes don't even live in the country they're representing, they've no real allegiance and shouldn't be allowed to do that.

Where our athletes can shine best is at European Championships, but now we've got Africans running in them, even in European cross-country.

Fionnuala would have got a medal in the European (track) Championships this summer if she wasn't beaten by an African running for Turkey.

That is soul-destroying and the IAAF simply shouldn't allow that. She said yesterday that she was glad she didn't run in the 10,000m in Rio. She said what happened there was "unbelievable" and I agree, it really was unbelievable!

It left me with a horrible feeling in my stomach for the rest of the evening, it really brought me down.

I brought the children up to their training afterwards, and all of us adults were there with white faces on us. One of the coaches, an older man who just loves his athletics, said: "I don't know what or who to believe anymore?"

I just had a sick feeling watching it. The ease with which the winner appeared to do it - that was the worrying thing!

There seemed to be no strain whatsoever. She broke the world record by 14 seconds but was running so easy, it just didn't look right.

She should have been flaked out on the track after running that time but it looked like there wasn't a bother on her.

That tells you something and it is sickening. It makes you wonder where it's going to end.

Irish Independent

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