After the end of the last post, Lizzie had a mixed year in 2011. She won a lot of races in the beginning of the year, including the Ballycotton Ten, THE big road race in Munster. In the middle of the year her mileage was increased and she had a dip in form, but this seemed to recover towards the end of the year and when it came to the National Cross Country she was the pre-race favourite. This was held in a muddy race-ground in Sligo. She ran badly and came fifth and did not qualify for the European Cross Country team. She was totally disappointed and could not explain her loss of form. The following morning provided the explanation as she had a high fever and was quite unwell for two weeks. She’d been incubating a virus and these knock your form for about 24 hours or more, before the illness manifests itself. This was held in December.
After Christmas she won a big 10K in Athenry Co.Galway.
2012 began fairly well and she ran second to experienced international Maria McCambridge in the Dungarvan 10 miler. Again she was second to her in Ballycotton where she did a really good PB of 57.17 while Maria smashed the course record doing a little over 55 mins.
She now had set her mind on trying to qualify for the Olympic Marathon and had done well in the 70,000 runner Gothenburg Half Marathon the previous year, being 12th woman and second European lady. However later on the year she did the Rotterdam Marathon, which was to be her one marathon effort and she began to limp at 15 miles and almost quit, but was cajoled into finishing by a Marathon man from Belfast and did 2.46. 9 mins outside her target but still a fine time. Her last 10 miles was run with a limping gait. This injury recovered in a few days, but she was again very disappointed. Her training after this was very onerous doing up to 80 miles a week and 6 km swimming which she likes to combine with running.
She had never won a national title in Triathlon so she entered the inaugural National Aquathon Championship in Galway. (Swimming about a mile and running 10k). She hadn’t done a triathlon for a year or so and has quit cycle-training. She won this in storming fashion, being out of the water 30 seconds after the three best swimmers and beating the second girl by about two minutes after the run. I heard the other girls call her “the Gazelle” and she does have a long graceful stride. Huge joy.
Then it came to the Jerry Farnan cross country in the Phoenix Park. This is held about 5 weeks before the National Championship. She ran badly and had nothing in her legs. Serious thinking. I and her coach concluded that she was flogged from training. Her mileage was reduced to 55 a week and one of her three swimming days abandoned. Two weeks later she won the Cork County Cross Country in emphatic style and for the fourth consecutive year.
Then came the National Cross Country in November in Co.Meath. Very boggy difficult terrain. This is what makes Irish and British cross country runners good. Several very good girls in it. Best was Ava Hutchinson, who had made the Olympic Marathon team and was normally too good for Lizzie. After one of four laps they were both away and at the very end Ava out-sprinted Lizzie and beat her by four seconds but the others were well beaten.
Lizzie was overjoyed because her form was better than ever and the first two were guaranteed places in the National Team at the European Cross Country Championship, which was held two weeks later, and last Sunday as it happens. I and my wife were to go but our flight was cancelled due to a fire in Budapest Airport so we had to watch it at home. Lizzie had said to me about three months ago that she knew she would never be good enough to win a European individual medal or have any chance of it, but that she felt she could score on a team which would have a chance of some medal.
The way cross country works is that you can enter 6 runners. The first four score and their places are added. The team with the lowest total wins. If there is a tie, the team whose fourth runner is the faster wins. This is called countback.
On the team was Fionnuala Britton, the individual favourite who won it last year in Slovenia. Then Ava Hutchinson, Linda Byrne a great runner who had also run in the Olympic Marathon, about 26, Lizzie who is 32, Sarah McCormack 23 and a terrific track runner and Sara Louise Treacy, a young and great track runner.
It was minus 6C on a sunny snow-covered course in an open museum park. Gorgeous course with them going through a barn at one stage.
Panel discussion on TV beforehand. Fionnuala will win, probably. No chance of team medal.
They’re off. Lizzie is holding on very well, running with Ava. They’d decided beforehand that they were not going to race one another but help one another.
Four short laps first. Both in main pack. Linda more to the front, Fionnuala and a few other favourites at the front.
Then four long laps. Anytime we can see Lizzie she is running with Ava. She told me afterward that she had a very bad patch in lap three but the Ava got her over it and she felt fine again. Commentator says Ireland are third at this stage.
At the front of the affair Fionnuala is putting the pressure on an Ethiopian who has declared for Belgium and is glued to her heels. Then Dulce-Felix from Portugal who won silver last year, recovers and pursues Fionnuala. She has serious speed. The Ethiopian gets shelled out. There is an unbelievable finish with Fionnuala holding off Felix and the Dutch girl. Huge jubilation. Then the commentator says that Linda Byrne is finished in eighth position. She had gradually worked her way up through the field. Then Ava and Lizzie are seen entering the final straight. Ava, who has more speed than Lizzie, a small bit ahead with two opponents slightly behind her and Lizzie after them. Ava finishes, then four seconds later, Lizzie. Ava 20th, Lizzie 23rd. The lady TV commentator continues to talk about Fionnuala’s win when suddenly with a crack in his voice, the male commentator, George Hamilton screams, “The Irish team has won gold, they’ve won gold. This is a day and a half for Irish athletics” In the background you hear screaming (later revealed to be Lizzie and Ava) and the TV cameras continue to show runners finishing and the two remaining Irish runners coming in in 36th and 42nd place. Suddenly the cameras switch to the bedlam as the Irish team are seeing hugging one another and shrieking and all that. Then follows the presentations to the individuals, Ireland, Portugal and Netherlands and then the teams, Ireland, France and Britain. Ireland won on the countback rule, having the same points as France by virtue of Lizzie being four places ahead of the no.4 French girl. She had 7 seconds to spare over the girl who was behind her. Had she finished 24th it would’ve been silver. Had she fallen, either of the two remaining runners would’ve made it a bronze. So these two young girls didn’t score but acted as a very meritorious insurance policy.
She told me when she came home that their high performance director had yelled at her and Ava at 600m to go, “you’re in the medals. Give it everything.”
When at the finish Ava took off she was on her own and knew that the two behind were a good bit back and it was huge pressure, but she buried herself. Ava’s taking two out was a huge boost. She had passed three and Lizzie saw the third girl, who was Belgian look back and knew she could take her. She put in a supreme effort and did. Ava’s effort left her lying on the ground vomiting after finishing. Everyone did what they could and I think that the secret ingredient may have been Lizzie. Lizzie is very extrovert and extrememly sociable and kept everyone laughing for the weekend. I was told this by several people when we collected her at Dublin airport. There was great team morale and that is very important in sport. They’ll be friends for life.
We were all thrilled beyond belief.
From the Irish Independent, yesterday….