For most of the elite field competing at this weekend’s New York City Marathon, running has been a lifelong pursuit; years of extreme tunnel vision from an early age in search of physical excellence. Australia’s Sinead Diver, however, has taken a very different and much more unconventional route to the start line at Staten Island.
Born and raised in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, Diver flirted with a few sports at a recreational level in her early years, but never had any desire to participate in running.
“When I was a child I played soccer and basketball and I did a bit of swimming. However, when I was in secondary school I just played basketball. We didn’t have any physical education classes and girls weren’t really allowed to play sport at my school.”
Having lived in Ireland until the age of 25, she moved to Melbourne, Australia in 2002 with her now husband Colin and has lived there for the past 17 years.
Discovering athletics, at 33
“It was for a bit of adventure," she says. "I wanted to travel. There were loads of Irish people going to Australia and I always wanted to go. It just seemed like the place to be. We decided to go for a year and ended up staying long term.”
It wasn’t until eight years later, at the age of 33, that Diver finally got involved in athletics, accidentally discovering her talent when competing in a fun run while trying to get fit after giving birth to Eddie, the first of her two children.
“My sister was organising a team for a fun running event at her work. She needed somebody to fill in on her team as they were missing someone, so she asked me would I run. One of the guys there thought I was pretty quick and said I should join a running club.”
She joined the ‘Crosbie Crew’, coached by Tim Crosbie, soon after and progressed rapidly. She initially competed at national level in Australia and flirted with different distances on the track and roads before making her big breakthrough in 2014 in her debut marathon in Melbourne.
Running 2:34:15, Diver easily achieved the qualification standard for the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 and faced a difficult decision on which country to represent: Ireland or Australia.
“I thought I would run for Ireland. I’m Irish after all. But then Athletics Ireland changed their qualifying time for Beijing to 45 seconds faster than my time from Melbourne. It was upsetting and I took it a bit personally.
“Thankfully Athletics Australia offered me a spot on the team and by then I had lived in Australia for 12 years and I was set up there, so I was delighted to represent them and have done so ever since.”
Tokyo qualification locked in
Diver finished 21st in the marathon in Beijing and followed it up with 20th at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. Since making her breakthrough into world class territory with a clocking of 2:25:19 at last year’s Melbourne Marathon, she has joined the Melbourne Track Club coached by Nic Bideau, parting ways with her long-time coach Crosbie.
“I got a great base with Tim and the ‘Crosbie Crew’ but moving to Nic has helped me take the next step in my running career," she says. "I’ve moved to the next level and my training has changed quite a bit. I’m now training in a group of elite athletes and being around them has made a massive difference to my running. I’m really glad I made the move.”
The switch has paid dividends with Diver, finishing an impressive seventh at this year’s London Marathon in 2:24:11, securing qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. She followed it up with 14th in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 with 31:25.49, just half a second outside the automatic Olympic qualification standard.
“The London Marathon was brilliant. I went there aiming for 2:23 but unfortunately it was a bit windy. I led the race for half of it which was unexpected and was a bit of fun. I really loved the experience.”
In New York, running for place
With Olympic qualification secured, Diver will look to place highly in New York on Sunday, rather than focus on bettering her PB.
“New York will be hilly and I prefer flat courses, but the experience of just racing for placing will be great practice leading into Tokyo. To get the opportunity to run in that calibre of field in New York is really special.”
New York will likely be the 42-year-old’s last marathon before the Olympics. Having missed out on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games due to a knee injury caused by the cuboid bone in her foot, competing in Tokyo will be extra special for Diver.
“Missing out on Rio was really hard to stomach, so to compete in Tokyo would be a dream come true," she says. "The Olympics is the pinnacle of sport. It would be amazing to be part of it.”
Now aged 42 and showing no signs of slowing down, Diver believes it’s never too late to take up a sport for the first time and that people should ignore those who say it’s not possible to excel at a mature age.
“If you feel good enough to do it, then give it a go. Nobody else can tell you what your body is capable of. There is nothing to suggest that when you turn 40 you need to fall apart. It hasn’t happened for me and I feel fitter than I was 10 years ago.
“If I can do it then I can’t see why other people can’t do it too.”
James Sullivan for the IAAF