The 14-minute personal best Aoife Cooke ran on the afternoon of the Dublin marathon a fortnight ago - she was the first Irish woman home in 2.32.34 - would have been enough to get her onto the start line at any previous Olympic Games.
Securing a ticket to Tokyo, though, is anything but straightforward, even if you do boast an impressive 2.32 time.
Cooke’s run a fortnight ago has certainly put her in the picture for Olympic qualification, but there’s a bit of road to be travelled yet before anyone is handing her a green vest or she’s being waved off from Dublin Airport next summer along with the rest of the Irish team.
In order to realise her Olympic dream, Cooke will need to lower her Dublin marathon time next spring. But far from being fazed by this challenge, the Cork native is relishing the task in front of her.
“Bring it on,” she says.
Each track and field event at the Games has a designated quota - 80, in the case of the women’s marathon. The qualifying time has been set at a swift 2.29.30, compared with the 2.45.00 which would have earned you consideration among team selectors four years ago.
Around half the places will be filled by those who achieve the qualifying standard. World rankings will determine who takes up the remaining spots.
For the marathon, rankings are calculated from a runner’s two best results; one must be in a marathon, but the other can come from a half marathon, 25K, 30K, or marathon.
A further point to note is that rankings are not solely based on an athlete’s best time during the designated qualification window.
National championships have taken on a whole new role in providing vital points for making the plane to Japan and so, in that context, Cooke doesn’t need to be told how important it was that she edged out Ann Marie McGlynn to be the first Irish woman across the line on Merrion Square North two weeks ago.
The plan is to run another marathon next March or April, during which she reckons she’ll need to clock 2.31 to make sure of selection.
“I would love to be able to go out and run the qualifying time outright, but that would be another huge leap,” says Cooke, chatting from Florence where she is enjoying a well-earned break after her exploits around the capital on the October Bank Holiday weekend.
“We’ll see how the training goes over the next six or seven months. It is not going to be an easy road but I suppose that is part of it, as well. You rise to the challenge.
“If the qualifying time was soft and I qualified automatically from Dublin, then I could rest on my laurels and say, this is great. The qualifying process is going to push me on to do even better. In a way, it is a good thing.
“I will do some altitude training over January and December and, hopefully, that might help to push things forward a little bit.”
Having come into the Dublin marathon as a 2.46 runner over the distance, Cooke is somewhat pinching herself at the reality of now being in the frame for Olympic involvement.
“I grew up watching the Olympics, grew up watching Sonia O’Sullivan. It is the pinnacle for every athlete to get to the Olympics. For it to be within grasping distance is huge. I think I am probably still coming to terms with it a little bit.
“I know the work needs to be done and I am at a point now where I am willing to do the work. Bring it on. If I don’t try, I’ll never know. I’ll give it my all over the next six months to a year and, hopefully, things will work out for me.”
Her attitude wasn’t always such. Having clocked 3.15 for her debut marathon in Cork in 2015, she lowered her lifetime best to 2.46.37 when tackling the 26.2 mile distance for a second time two years later.
A fine improvement, yes, but a difficult 2018 season led to a new coach (John Starrett) and a rethink as to how she was approaching running.
I did train properly for the second marathon, but it was another level up again in terms of preparation for Dublin this year. I was running 70 miles a week in preparation for Amsterdam in 2017. For Dublin, I was running over 100 miles a week, with really tough sessions on top of that. That made a difference, for sure.
“Having had a tough year last year, my mind was in a better place this year. I really made running a priority for this year. I was more focused on it. I put all my eggs into this basket. This was it for me.
“I raced in March of this year and it was the first time I had run competitively since July of 2018. I ran 55.17 at the Mallow 10 mile road race, which was a huge breakthrough. After that, I was like, wow, this training is working for me. That was vindication that what I am doing now is working for me. After that race, it hit home that there is something here and there is a lot I can do.
“I would have been delighted with 2.35 at the Dublin marathon, which was my initial goal. To win it in 2.32 was unbelievable. I’m just behind Sonia on the all-time Irish marathon list. That’s not a bad place to be.”