Lizzie Lee fully focused on the road to Rio

“Don’t let me get any notions,” said Lizzie Lee to her husband Paul on the drive back to Cork the day after the European Cross Country Championships.

Thirty-five year old Lee was 13th in Hyeres, her finishing position vital in helping the Irish women secure third place on the rostrum in the team event.

For Lee, it was the perfect end to a pretty perfect year.

Lifetime bests over five miles and 10km were recorded in the first half of 2015 and then, on September 27, she clocked 2.32.51 at the Berlin marathon to knock over five minutes off her previous best, and, in the process, move to fifth on the Irish all-time list.

And while she’s not yet certain of selection for next summer’s Olympic Games, she is first in line to nab one of the three marathon spots up for grabs.

Of almost greater satisfaction is such progress has been achieved off the back of the no-frills regime set out by renowned Leevale coach Donie Walsh.

Heading into Olympic year, she will be tempted by training camps and stints at altitude in destinations far removed from a wet Blackrock where she knocks out 22 miles each Sunday morning.

Lee, though, knows the importance of staying true to what has delivered her this far.

“I said to my husband on that drive back to not let me start talking about going to altitude,” Lee admits.

“What has worked for me is my job in Apple, my baby (17-month old Lucy), my husband and my supportive parents and in-laws in terms of babysitting.

"I said to him I need to be down in Blackrock on a Sunday. We have banter, we have craic. I go down on a Thursday night and there are eight lads for tempo. I don’t even think about it.

“I just do it.

“Could I go over to Spain or Font Romeu for months and months? Yes I could.

"But it wouldn’t be as much fun. I have got this far doing it this way, doing it Donie’s way and enjoying it. Why would I go changing it now?”

Six days on from the European Cross Country Championships and Lee is a passenger in her father’s car en-route to Dublin.

The Olympic Council of Ireland have invited all prospective 2016 Olympians to the Institute of Sport for an information afternoon on what to expect on the lead in to Rio.

The last four years have been geared towards Rio, but there was always that small seed of doubt given her short history with long-distance running – it wasn’t until 2009 Lee packed in the triathlon to concentrate solely on athletics.

Did we mention Lucy too, the small bundle of joy who entered her world in June of 2014.

“I ran 2.38 at the Berlin marathon in 2013 and was hoping to get selected for the European marathon championships the following summer.

"I got married a couple of weeks later and had the baby nine months after that. I parked running quite deliberately. I was 33 at the time and I wanted a baby. The attitude was we would see what happens after that.

"I love running and running is important to me, but running is not the be all and end all. My baby is the most important thing in the whole world. That is all there is to it.”

She returned to the roads six-weeks after giving birth to Lucy and the pregnancy, or “the nine months spent at altitude” as she describes it, certainly agreed with her.

At the Raheny 5 in January, the Cork native clocked 26.34, eclipsing her previous five mile best by 59 seconds. And there followed “the dream year”.

“The pregnancy and motherhood has been a big factor in my form. You have dealt with more pain than anyone could ever imagine.

"And you are also a bit more chilled out and have more perspective on everything. I could have come last at European Cross, but I was still coming home to my little baby girl and everything would have been fine.”

She continues: “On the way home from Raheny back in January, former long-distance runner Dick Hooper texted me with the times previous winners had run. He basically said there are great things ahead for the year.

"Linda Byrne had run a time pretty similar to what I had run and she had been to the Olympics. So I was saying to myself ‘this is serious going’. I never ever would have expected the personal bests that have come.

"And to not get injured and to be healthy all year, it has been so enjoyable. I have had this smile on my face all year. It is easy to train in Leevale because we have so many good men. Donie makes it so much fun.

"You wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun. I am pinching myself - I can’t believe what is after happening. I am not underselling myself or anything here, like.

"I am 35 and there weren’t many 35-year olds on the start line at the European Cross Country Championships. Dick Hooper said to my Dad that I was on the crest of a wave. I know that I am.

"If I could just hold on until next August and hopefully become an Olympian and run for Ireland, wouldn’t that just be lovely.”


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