Australia’s Sinead Diver finished just 32 seconds shy of a podium place at last weekend’s New York City Marathon.
Racing against some of the world’s best road runners, it will have been a huge confidence booster for the 42-year-old ahead of next year’s Olympic Games. But had it not been for a team fun-running event that her sister had organised at her work, Diver may never have got into running in the first place.
“My sister needed somebody to fill in on her team as they were missing someone, so she asked me would I run,” explains Diver (pronounced ‘Divver’). “One of the guys there thought I was pretty quick and said I should join a running club.”
Aged 33 at the time and with no real running background, Diver started to train more seriously, partly as a way to get fit after giving birth to Eddie, the first of her two children, and partly to see if she did have some latent talent, as people had suggested.
She joined the ‘Crosbie Crew’, coached by Tim Crosbie, soon after and progressed rapidly. She initially competed at national level in Australia and flirted with different distances on the track and roads before making her big breakthrough in 2014 in her debut marathon in Melbourne.
Running 2:34:15, Diver easily achieved the qualification standard for the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 and faced a difficult decision on which country to represent: Ireland or Australia. Having lived in Ireland until the age of 25, she moved to Melbourne in 2002 with her now husband Colin and has lived there ever since.
“I thought I would run for Ireland,” she says. “I’m Irish after all. But then Athletics Ireland changed their qualifying time for Beijing to 45 seconds faster than my time from Melbourne. It was upsetting and I took it a bit personally.
“Thankfully Athletics Australia offered me a spot on the team and by then I had lived in Australia for 12 years and I was set up there, so I was delighted to represent them and have done so ever since.”
Diver finished 21st in the marathon in Beijing and followed it up with 20th at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. Since making her breakthrough into world-class territory with a clocking of 2:25:19 at last year’s Melbourne Marathon, she has joined the Melbourne Track Club coached by Nic Bideau.
“Moving to Nic has helped me take the next step in my running career," she says. "I’ve moved to the next level and my training has changed quite a bit. I’m now training in a group of elite athletes and being around them has made a massive difference to my running. I’m really glad I made the move.”
The switch has paid dividends and Diver finished an impressive seventh at this year’s London Marathon in 2:24:11, securing qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. It also put her third on the Oceanian all-time list, just 95 seconds shy of the continental record held by Benita Willis-Johnson.
“The London Marathon was brilliant,” says Diver. “I went there aiming for 2:23 but unfortunately it was a bit windy. I led the race for half of it which was unexpected and was a bit of fun. I really loved the experience.”
Diver followed it up with a 14th-place finish in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 with 31:25.49, just half a second outside the automatic Olympic qualification standard. Her 2:26:23 clocking in New York was Diver’s first race since returning from the Qatari capital, but she is already fully focused on next year’s Olympic Games.
Having missed out on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games due to a knee injury caused by the cuboid bone in her foot, competing in Tokyo will be extra special for Diver.
“Missing out on Rio was really hard to stomach, so to compete in Tokyo would be a dream come true,” she says. "The Olympics is the pinnacle of sport. It would be amazing to be part of it.”
Now aged 42 and showing no signs of slowing down, Diver believes it’s never too late to take up a sport for the first time and that people should ignore those who say it’s not possible to excel at a mature age.
“If you feel good enough to do it, then give it a go,” she says. “Nobody else can tell you what your body is capable of. There is nothing to suggest that when you turn 40 you need to fall apart. It hasn’t happened for me and I feel fitter than I was 10 years ago.
“If I can do it then I can’t see why other people can’t do it too.”
James Sullivan for the IAAF