Rio Olympian Lizzie Lee insists age is no impediment as she continues to post her fastest marathon times in her late thirties.
Lee, who turns 38 next week, returned to the marathon circuit in February following the birth of her second child and has since put up her two best-ever half-marathon times.
Speaking at the launch of the 39th SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon, she emphasised that the marathon – in contrast to many sports – is far from a young person’s sport.
Responding to an article written by Sonia O’Sullivan in which she questioned the lack of younger contenders for distance running’s biggest prizes, Lee extolled the virtues of experience.
“Look at the average age of top 10 women in majors for the last year, it’s going to be 33 or 34,” Lee said.
“Marathon is not a young women’s game. That’s because it is so mental as well as physical. You will never learn more about yourself than you will in the last three miles of a marathon.
“You go to places that your brain will otherwise never bring you and there’s no reason why you can’t get quicker with age.”
This year’s Dublin marathon vows to increase women’s participation to 40% from last year’s record high of 35%.
When the first Dublin marathon was run in 1980, just 3% of participants were women, and the increase is an indication of the growing equality in Irish sport.
The 2018 will specifically celebrate women’s participation with a theme of Votáil 100 – commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Ireland.
Finishers’ medals will be emblazoned with the image of Constance Markiewicz in honour of her role in bringing about equal rights.
Lee herself only took up running comparatively late, as a 26-year-old, which may go some way towards explaining her longevity.
She’s one of five women representing Ireland in the marathon in Berlin and three of them – Breege Connolly, Gladys Ganiel and Claire McCarthy – are all past 40.
Only Laura Graham is younger than Lee, at 32, and between the five women they have 11 children.
In Lee’s case, she feels training while pregnant has helped her develop both phsyically and, as is so important in long-distance running, mentally.
“Training through pregnancy means you have increased cardiac output.
“You have a lot of extra blood in your system so your heart is working harder.
“They say it is the equivalent of training at altitude.
“I’m normally eight stone and I was 10 stone when heavily pregnant so I was carrying an extra 25% which increased my training load and made my legs stronger.
“While it might be important to me on a particular day to win or beat someone. If my child is sick, that’s the only thing that matters now.
“Motherhood gives you a new perspective on life and it’s given me a calmness around my running.”
The Dublin Marathon’s focus on gender balance is timely given Lee’s own experience promoting sport to young girls around the country, and the difficulty keeping them interested.
“I visit schools a lot, and there is a problem keeping young girls involved in sport.
“Image is a part of it, and in some case they’re just not bothered, and don’t realise the benefits. So the more encouragement we can give them then the better.”