The Melbourne-based athlete, 42, ran a 2:26 and placed fifth in the Big Apple.
Editor’s note: Sinead Diver took fifth place at the 2019 New York City Marathon on November 3, in a time of 2:26:23. She won $15,000 for her overall finish in the women’s professional division and an extra $2,000 for taking second in the women’s masters division. The following is a look at Diver’s progression prior to the event.
Shortly after she walked off the track in Doha, Qatar, last month, having finished 14th in the 10,000-meter final at the IAAF World Championships, Sinead Diver was told that her time of 31:25.49 was an over-40s world record. Diver responded, “Who cares?”
It was an answer that summarises so much about the 42-year-old elite distance runner from Mayo, Ireland, who has lived in Melbourne, Australia, for the past 17 years. On Sunday, November 3, she is taking on the New York City Marathon, and she has one request for the commentators and journalists covering the race: Just call her Sinead Diver (pronounced shin-ade div-ver).
She doesn’t want to be called “42-year-old Sinead Diver” or described as an athlete who is running great times “for someone her age.” Time after time, Diver’s age is mentioned as if it’s a handicap, a reason the runner shouldn’t be as fast as she is.
“It really frustrates me,” she told Runner’s World. “My age isn’t impacting me at all and it just annoys me how people focus on that. I don’t want to be good for a 42-year-old. I want to be a good athlete.”
Earlier this year, Diver smashed her 42 km personal best to finish seventh in the London Marathon in 2:24:11, having led the race through halfway in 1:11:22. Two months prior to that, she clocked an over-40s world best for the half marathon—not that she dwells on such achievements—finishing 21 km in Marugame, Japan, in 1:08:55.
“I don’t care about the masters records,” she said. “If I wanted to run masters races, I’d enter as a master. I kind of wish people would get over the age thing.”
She gets why it’s always brought up: Not many elites run big personal bests in their 40s. But Diver’s story has always been different. Until the age of 33, she was never a runner. Growing up in a conservative Catholic school in the small Irish town of Belmullet, Diver never had much of a chance to participate in sports as a teenager.
“[The nuns] were very conservative,” she said. “They wouldn’t have liked girls playing sports. We were allowed play basketball at lunchtime, but there was no emphasis on [physical education] or sport, which is a pity.”
Diver recently opened up for the first time about what she experienced at school, saying she felt she was bullied by a teacher between the ages of 10 and 12.
“I was a very young kid when all of that happened,” she said. “It was three years of constant abuse and emotional bullying.”
She believes it contributed to the anxiety she experienced over the next two decades, and only in recent years has she come to terms with how deeply it affected her.
“As a young kid I was trying to block that out,” she said. “But I feel like I’m more determined as a result.”
While she knows the bullying had a massive negative impact on her, Diver believes learning to cope with what she went through has made her as mentally tough as she is. “Anything I do, I give it everything. I’m very determined and very driven.” It was many years before she channelled that drive into distance running.
While in college, Diver once joined a classmate on a training run around campus, but distance-running didn’t feel like her calling. “I nearly died,” she said. “I thought, ‘God, this is awful.’”
In 2002, Diver moved to Australia with her future husband, Colin. It wasn’t until 2010, when she was 33, that she took up running after the birth of her son.
After she began to log km’s, Diver’s running progress was rapid. In 2014, she ran 2:34:15 at the Melbourne Marathon, almost 10 minutes under the qualifying standard for the 2015 world championships. Diver planned to represent Ireland at worlds, but soon after her Melbourne run, her home country changed its qualifying standard to 2:33:30. That meant her only route to the world championships was to run for Australia. Ever since, Diver has represented her adopted nation.
Each year she has taken chunks off her best times, juggling 160 km weeks with full-time work as a software developer and mother to sons Eddie (9) and Dara (6).
On a typical day, Diver wakes up at 6 a.m. and is out the door for her first workout by 7 a.m. Afterward, she drops her kids off at school before arriving to work at 11 a.m. In the evenings, Diver does a second, shorter run, and then eats dinner with her family, helps the kids with homework, and catches up on chores. “Then collapse, and repeat,” she said.
While a knee injury ruined her shot at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Diver has all but earned her spot to the 2020 Games in Tokyo after her breakthrough performance in London this year. She said her massive PR came courtesy of the consistent high-level training she’s done under the guidance of Nic Bideau, who coaches several world-class distance runners at the Melbourne Track Club.
During her buildup to New York, Sinead’s employers gave her two months off work to prepare like a professional. With more time to recover, she said she has reached a new level in training. In a typical week, she logs between 160 and 200 km’s, with marathon-specific workouts like 2x10K repeats in 33 minutes with three minutes recovery, or a 40K run broken up into various paces, with the last 5K covered in 16 minutes.
“[Training] has gone really well,” she said. “Probably better than any other buildup.”
Diver’s husband and two sons will arrive in New York City on Thursday. After the race, the family will spend an extra week of vacation in the city.
But first, to the serious business: Diver has a time goal in mind for Sunday, but she prefers to keep it secret. “As long as I race well,” she said. “I’d love to place highly.” Over the past week she has studied old race videos, comparing the hills on the New York City course to those she trains on in Melbourne so she can gauge her efforts on the day.
Since she began running, Diver has watched this race from afar every year. Just last week she replayed her favourite edition: Shalane Flanagan’s victory in 2017. “It’s really emotional watching it,” she said. Now it’s her turn to get out there. Diver is heading into the race as the seventh fastest athlete in the women’s field, but if all goes according to plan, she could finish much higher than that.
With the success she’s had now, it’s inevitable that she sometimes wonders what could have been if she discovered this talent earlier. But Diver has few regrets.
“I’d love to have had a career in athletics for my whole life, whereas now I feel like I’m time-restricted,” she said. “But I’ve been lucky in that I have my career and my family—often, people in athletics postpone that. I’ve been there and had that other life, and now I can really focus on athletics.”
She got here later than others, but for Diver it’s all coming together at just the right time.
“I don’t feel any older than I did when I started,” she said. “I definitely feel fitter and stronger. I think I’m ready.”