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Flying high Down Under

Sinead Diver produced the performance of her life at the Melbourne Marathon in October, smashing the course record to win in 2:25.19, but as the Belmullet native tells Cathal Dennehy, this is only the beginning

As years go, this will be hard to top. For Sinead Diver, 2018 will be remembered as the year when the 41-year-old ascended from international class to world class, from fast to very fast, from good to great.
The Belmullet native smashed her personal bests at 5K, 10K, half marathon and the marathon – the 2:25:19 she ran to win the Melbourne Marathon in October a six-minute personal best and the second fastest ever by an Irishwoman.
Only one woman in the world has ever run quicker at the age of 41 or older and, in the past decade, no Irishwoman has come within six minutes of Diver’s time.
In short, it was an outlandish performance from an athlete with down-to-earth modesty, a woman who didn’t call herself a runner until the age of 33 – a software developer with two children to juggle alongside the 100-plus miles she logs each week.
Since 2015, Diver has represented Australia, having moved there with her husband Colin in 2002; though it doesn’t make her feel any less Irish. In international competitions she runs with the Irish tricolour or a shamrock painted on her fingernails but, ultimately, her decision to run for her adopted nation came down to seizing a rare chance to compete at the World Championships in 2015, with Athletics Australia’s qualifying standard more lenient than Athletics Ireland’s.
Over the past three years, Diver has carved a name for herself on the biggest stages, finishing 21st in the 2015 World Championships marathon in Beijing and 20th in the 2017 World Championships in London. But it was in Melbourne in mid-October where her star truly went supernova.

Four keys to Diver’s breakthrough


On the build-up to the Melbourne Marathon, Diver put together her longest period of uninterrupted training, logging 100-115 miles a week. “It wasn’t so hard to hit it this time because I started doing double runs, which I hadn’t done before,” she says. “When you’re able to string a lot of training together, it’s simple: you just get better.”

Hill work

After struggling with a knee injury in 2016, which ultimately cost her a place at the Rio Olympics, Diver avoided hill training for a long time, believing it to be a major factor. But, earlier this year, when she joined a new training group, she re-introduced a weekly hill session and the effect has been clear. “It’s made me a lot stronger,” she says.

Family support

With two young children and a job as a software developer, Diver’s performances wouldn’t be possible without a whole lot of planning and support from her significant other. Her husband Colin sits down with her at the start of each week and they plot a schedule that ensures they can fulfil all their family demands while also allowing her to log the necessary mileage. “He’s brilliant and very supportive,” says Diver. “There’s a lot of give and take and you have to compromise, but we’ve worked out a routine that works for us.”

Team work

At the start of 2018, Diver joined the Melbourne Track Club, a group of Australia’s best distance runners which is overseen by Nic Bideau, the Australian husband of Irish running legend Sonia O’Sullivan. While Diver slots in easy runs around her working life – rising at 5:30am to log her mileage – her three hard sessions of the week are done with an elite group where no shortcuts are taken and the mentality is to be competitive on the global stage. “They’re the best athletes in Australia and to be training with them is great,” she says. “I changed things up this year and it’s made a massive difference.”

The perfect race?
“Oh God no!” she says with a laugh. “It was a good lead-up and training and racing had been going well, but the second half got really windy and hot. It was just so hard but I managed to keep pace and get the time I was aiming for.”
Her two sons, Eddie and Dara, were there to cheer her on alongside husband Colin – the family celebrating a magical occasion together at the finish. Thankfully Diver’s employers allowed her to work from home in the days after. “I could barely walk on Monday and Tuesday,” she says. “It would have taken me a couple of hours to get in.”
After rising at 5:30am for several months to squeeze in her training, it proved just reward for Diver’s dedication, though this lifestyle is one she never could have imagined in her youth.
Growing up in Belmullet, Diver’s ultra-conservative, hyper-religious primary school didn’t allow girls to participate in sport, so back then she would play soccer with the boys after school. In secondary school, she took up basketball, which she continued in her college years at the University of Limerick.
It was there she got her first taste of running, a lecturer forcing the whole PE class to run laps of a nearby field to experience cross-country, Diver doing so while badly sleep-deprived after a night out.
“I was like, ‘this is awful, I never want to do this again,’” she recalls.
Her true start in running only happened in 2010. After the birth of her first son, Diver joined her sister to run the 3.8K loop in Melbourne known as The Tan, for which she clocked a surprisingly fast time. She was then encouraged to join a local running group where she came under the guidance of Tim Crosbie, who has coached her ever since.
Her training routine is simple, if arduous: on Mondays and Wednesdays she does two runs each day, Tuesdays will be a speed session, Thursdays a tempo run, Friday an easy run, Saturday a hill session and Sundays are reserved for the long run.
In recent months she has received guidance from Nic Bideau – the head of the Melbourne Track Club – and his wife Sonia O’Sullivan, whose achievements Diver grew up admiring, if not fully appreciating until recently.
But she has now run faster than O’Sullivan at the marathon – her 2:25.19 behind only Catherina McKiernan’s national record of 2:22.23 – and O’Sullivan was one of the first to congratulate Diver when she crossed the line that morning in Melbourne.

Future focus
As the New Year dawns, Diver knows her personal best would be enough to net her a top-10 finish at major championship marathons, so the 2019 World Championships in October are looming on the horizon, although the venue in Doha, Qatar, is giving Diver pause for thought.
“It’s going to be stinking hot for the marathon, even though it’s taking place at midnight,” she says. “It’s still 34 to 38 degrees then so I don’t know about that, but with the new ranking points system it might be good to go.”
To qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, Diver will have to earn points at major events in 2019, which will be her key emphasis given she missed out on the 2016 Games due to injury. She will be 43 at the time of the next Olympics, though given her late entry to the sport that will mean little as her performance curve continues a steep ascent.
“It benefits me that I don’t have 20 years of running in my legs so I’m young in running terms,” she says. “In a way, it’s a pity I got into it so late but I’m doing well now so I’m happy. I’ll hopefully have lots of years left.”

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