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Sinead Diver on Dreaming Big, Working Hard, and Never Counting Yourself Out

Austrailian-based elite distance runner Sinead Diver, 42, has a knack for challenging–and shattering–perceptions.

Photo: Kevin Morris Photographer

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Sinead Diver was an extremely active child growing up. But the conservative Catholic school she attended in the small Irish town of Belmullet didn’t encourage girls to participate in athletics, aside from playing a little basketball at lunch.

Because of her love of sports, she went on to study physical education at the University of Limerick. But it wasn’t until after the birth of her first son, Eddie, in 2010, that she gave running a shot at age 33. And we’ll just say this right now: Her results were anything but common.

After only two years, Diver had secured numerous state titles and won the Australian Half Marathon Championship. Initially her focus was on shorter distances—track races, 10Ks, half marathons. But knowing that she got better when the races got longer, she was intrigued by the marathon. After the birth of her second son, Dara, in 2013, Diver decided to try.

Her talent for the 26.2-mile distance was immediately apparent. In her debut, the 2014 Melbourne Marathon, she ran a 2:34:15 and placed second. At the 2018 Melbourne Marathon, she finished in 2:25:17. And she hit a new personal best, a 2:24:11, at the 2019 London Marathon. “After my first one, I knew that was the distance for me,” Diver says.

Working full-time as an IT consultant, Diver credits running with helping her gain more self-confidence. But it hasn’t been without a few challenges, too.

“People have a perception that if you didn’t come through the normal pathway, that you don’t have a place here,” Diver, now 42,  says. “We need to be more open to the different pathways to the sport. It’s not like other sports where you have to learn and master skills for years. If you put in the training and are self-motivated, you can do well. It’s great that it’s so accessible.”

And while she’s happy to serve as inspiration that it’s never too late, she would prefer that her age not be the only thing people acknowledge. Yes, she’s 42, but she’s a lot more than a number and she doesn’t see her age as a handicap.

“In some ways it’s a compliment, but they don’t say to other people, ‘You’re the best person from New York, who lives on 54th Street, who has dark hair.’ I just want to be in the open-age category, because that’s where I’m competing,” Diver says.

Her plea became even more relevant after her recent fifth place female finish in the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon. Instead of her finish time (2:26:23) being reported with the other top female runners, she was listed in a separate category—as a top 40+ athlete.

“People are trying to put a limit on what I can do. It has taken a while for other athletes to come around and see that I have talent and belong,” Diver says.

Turning her attention to Tokyo, she hopes to keep showing people. “For me, it’s been nine years of training every day with gradual improvement,” she says. “To make it to the Olympics would be a dream come true. I’m in a position where I could potentially make it, which I never thought possible.”

Diver credits her coach, Nic Bideau of the Melbourne Track Club, and the supportive training environment that he creates as key in achieving her breakthrough performances and consistent improvements. Another factor to her success: staying injury-free. While she’s had her fair share of knee and tendons injuries, she hasn’t had any major setbacks in the last two years.

To prepare for Tokyo, her training will look a lot like her previous marathon cycles. She’ll average 100-125 miles every week, typically two runs each day; she’ll likely incorporate heat training, a training camp, and workouts with long, high-intensity repetitions. In addition, Diver’s company will allow her several months off work, so that she can train and prepare like an elite.

With her eye on the Australian marathon record of 2:22, Diver plans to keep dreaming big and working relentlessly. She will line up against five sub-2:19:00 women at the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, including defending champion Brigid Kosegei of Kenya. “I’m not sure how long this will continue,” she said, “but I will give it everything that I have now while I have the opportunity.”

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