By Lachlan Moorhouse
(c) 2023 Athletics Australia; used with permission
(13-Sep) -- The marathon is a fragile affair. It's a discipline perched on the precipice of testing boundaries yet respecting limits, and seldom are those who strike a greater balance than Sinead Diver. Ahead of Sunday's Sydney Marathon, go stride-for-stride with the woman who runs 3:20/km for 42.195 km – she might be more relatable than you think.
PHOTO: Sinead Diver competing at the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon where she finished fifth in 2:26:23 (photo by Karen Mitchell; used with permission)
Too often in the world of sport are athletes dubbed freaks, blurring the distinction between generational talents and years of hard work. For Diver, 46, the difference is everything. The mother of two who works as a software engineer at NAB and started running at the age of 33 lives a more normal life than most elites, but it's a storyline rarely aired.
"The focus on my age drowns out every other narrative," she said. "For me, it's the least interesting part of my story. The fact that I carved my own path in athletics is a lot more significant.
"I didn't have the same opportunities as others growing up. I didn't fit the typical athlete mold and I faced a lot of challenges as a result. But despite all of this, I've become a successful runner whilst juggling motherhood and an IT career. I think a lot of people can relate to this, so it's frustrating and boring when all I hear is commentary on my age."
Earning her stripes with routine 4:00 a.m. alarms to squeeze in training before work and family commitments, Diver's remarkable journey to a top-10 finish at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 has been largely lost in translation.
"Ultimately, I think this is as a result of the broader issue in athletics - that there is a real disconnect between what's perceived as media-worthy and what's actually interesting and motivating for most runners," Diver said. "Personally, I have no interest in seeing influencers or motivational speakers promoting running events or sporting brands. I want to see the real athletes being featured. Those who are out there on the road and the track achieving the performances. I want to hear their stories, learn about their experiences."
She continued: "Imagine if, in the lead up to the Women's World Cup this year, influencers were being featured instead of the actual Matildas (the Australian national soccer team players). How ridiculous would that be! Unfortunately, that approach is very prevalent in promoting athletics."
Arriving at Melbourne's Albert Park to put the finishing touches on her short but strong preparation for the Sydney Marathon, Diver approached with a wry smile. The Australian record holder (2:21:34) refreshes the weather app religiously and knows exactly what she is in for, if the ominous skies and 80km/h gusts of wind had not already given it away.
The reward? A well-earned taper, which began with organizing her youngest son Dara's 10th birthday party after work.
"We went out to BOUNCE in Glen Iris (a massive indoor trampoline park)," Diver revealed. "Twelve kids came and they just had a play, but then we went into the party room with all the food and cake it was full on! His birthday is actually this Saturday but we had an early one [because of Sydney Marathon]."
For most marathoners, a reduced training load in the final week before a race ensues an anxious wait, but for Diver it means more family time with husband Colin and sons Eddie (13) and Dara (10). With a typical build involving clocking 180-200 kilometers (112-124 miles) per week for three months, the lull allows her to refresh both physically and mentally ahead of marathon number 15.
"I love taper week!" Diver exclaimed. "I have more time to relax, recover and bank up some energy for race day. I don't have any issues with the taper, I embrace it."
The reality is that for Diver, 2023 has been a year of learning. For the first time in her 13-year career, the Irish-born Australian experienced a bone stress injury. She refused to allow the setback to deter her hopes of a second Olympic campaign at Paris 2024 (she already has a qualifying mark from the 2022 Valencia Marathon last December where she set the Australian record).
"I got [Benita Willis's] Australian record last December and I was on a high in January thinking I was going to continue the momentum," she said. "But then I got my first stress fracture. Looking back on it, I just pushed too hard after coming back from a successful marathon. Seven weeks after coming back from that I got a hip injury which lasted two and a half months. Essentially, I have been injured for most of the year. I was really concerned given my age and everything, but I got a bone density scan recently and apparently it's fantastic."
Coached by Nic Bideau and Collis Birmingham at the Melbourne Track Club, Diver has become a model of consistency. Training alongside the Olympian reveals her ability to be outstandingly average, admittedly by her lofty standards, rarely jumping in sudden progress but never faltering below the benchmark.
"Consistency is the most important thing in marathon training," she explained. "You don't need to go out and have the best session ever; it doesn't count for that much. It's about rocking up every week and having solid and good sessions."
Australia's fastest female marathoner in history will lead thousands on the streets of Sydney this weekend as the event bids to become an Abbott World Marathon Major, where Diver hopes to be an inspiration rather than an anomaly.
"There's something really special about running the Major Marathons," she said. "I have run London three times but I think Sydney is going to be more iconic like New York. I remember it being all about the build up and seeing so many people out and about. I absolutely love that race and I believe Sydney will become similar."