Rio Olympian Lizzie Lee insists age is no impediment to running fast marathons and says becoming a mother has actually helped her, physically and mentally, to get even quicker this year.

Sonia O’Sullivan recently questioned why the Irish women’s marathon team for the European Championships in Berlin in August “has an average age of 38” querying why younger contenders are not emerging on the Irish distance running scene.

But Lee (37) said the team — which includes herself, fellow Cork star Claire McCarthy, national champion Laura Graham, and Gladys Ganiel — reflects international trends.

“Look at the average age of top 10 women in ‘majors’ (marathons) for the last year, it’s going to be 33 or 34,” the Leevale star said, pointing out that the top Americans like Desiree Linden (who won Boston last month and was seventh in Rio) and Shalane Flanagan (sixth in Rio) are 34 and 36 respectively.

“Marathon is not a young women’s game,” Lee said. “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,” she stressed.

“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.”

Lee has two children under four and returned to running last winter six weeks after the birth of her second child.

Yet she has since clocked her two fastest half-marathons; 73 minutes and 24 seconds in Barcelona in February and 73:19 in Valencia six weeks later.

Speaking at the launch of the 2018 SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon, Lee said having her two daughters improved her physically and mentally.

“Training through your 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,” she explained.

“On top of that 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.”

She has also noted a two-fold mental benefit.

“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."

“And there’s the improved time efficiency,” added Lee, who works full-time for Apple in Cork.

“When you’re a parent you have to be so efficient with your time. When myself and Claire (McCarthy) meet for training, neither of us is even a minute late. We have six children between us who have been dropped off somewhere and we appreciate each other’s time, and know just how little time we have to get the work done.”

Ireland’s women’s marathon team for the 2018 European Championships are all mothers and have 11 children between them.

“Laura Graham is 32 with four children and getting faster all the time. What’s wrong with that?” Lee said.

Fellow Olympian Caitriona Jennings (37), runner up to Graham in the Irish Marathon Championships in 2017, stressed that she would love to see younger women emerging on the Irish marathon scene, saying: “It would be great for the sport here and great for us also to be challenged more, but I don’t think there’s anything stopping you getting faster as you get older.”

The 39th SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon next October aims to have 40% female participation. The medals will feature Constance Markievicz to mark Irish women getting the vote 100 years ago. See www.sseairtricity for details of full race series, starting with Frank Duffy 10 Mile on September 2.


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