Fionnuala Britton in the 2014 European Championships marathon
Ireland’s leading distance runner Fionnuala Britton will be looking to make it third-time lucky at the SPAR Great Ireland Run 10km, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on Saturday (11).
This will be Britton’s third appearance in the race having finished seventh in 2011 in 34:10 and fourth last year in 33:54, the latter outing her personal best for 10km on the road.
Britton will need to improve on that if she is to have any hope of becoming the third home runner to win the elite women’s race after Sonia O’Sullivan, who took the honours in the inaugural SPAR Great Ireland Run in 2003, and then Catherina McKiernan, who triumphed in 2004.
The 2011 and 2012 European cross country champion has recently linked up with McKiernan’s old coach, Joe Doonan, as she looks to master the marathon distance and sees Italy’s world and European marathon silver medallist Valeria Straneo as one of her main challengers on Saturday.
“I suppose Straneo will be the favourite, with her championship marathon form,” said Britton who finished eight places behind the 38-year-old mother-of-two on her marathon debut at the European Championships seven months ago.
“It’ll be interesting, because it’s a tough race. I know it’s on the road in the Phoenix Park but it’s a bit like cross country and it can be windy.
“It can be a difficult race to predict, it’s at a time of year where no-one really knows where they’re at in terms of how fit they are. Some runners are getting ready for spring marathons and others are looking to the summer and the track.
“For me, it’s really just the start. I want to try to qualify this year for Rio but not in the spring. I’m going to wait until an autumn marathon.
“It would be a brilliant race to win but a lot depends on where the other girls are at. It’s our national championship 10km road race and, with it being a mass participation race, the two linked in together makes it an even bigger race.”
Interestingly, the four-time world cross country silver medallist and former London marathon winner Catherina McKiernan will be competing, and the 45-year-old finished third in the national championship last year.
Great Britain’s Gemma Steel was a late addition to the start list and the reigning European cross country champion, who won in 2012, will surely be to the fore.
Korir v Komon in the men's race
In the men’s race it looks set to be a straight head-to-head between Kenyans Japhet Korir and Leonard Komon in the battle for supremacy.
Korir, the 2013 world cross country champion, will be bidding to retain the title he won last year in 29:12 but will have to overcome his compatriot Leonard Komon to do so.
Komon is a multiple world record holder on the roads over 10km, 15km and 10 miles: his 10km mark of 26:44 was set in Utrecht in 2010.
Korir, who has a best on the road of 27:52, was a comfortable winner last year but it looks unlikely that he will have it all his own way this time around.
Fellow Kenyan James Rungaru, who was an impressive winner of the Great South Run in 2014, should challenge along with Morocco’s Othmane El Goumri and Ethiopia’s Birhan Nebebew.
The domestic challenge will be set by Sergiu Ciobanu, originally from Moldova but who recently acquired his Irish passport, and Mark Hanrahan who finished sixth last year and won the Irish national title.
Before the main races get underway, there will be the elite men’s road mile, now in its third year on the programme. European Indoor 800m silver medallist Mark English will be the marquee name but he sees himself as more a of a 400m runner than a miler.
“I’ve never actually run in an individual mile race before,” said English.
“I did race over 1500m when I was about 15 or so and I ran in a mile road relay championship at university a couple of years ago, but this will be my first individual mile race.
“It’ll be a new venture for me, but it’ll be nice to see where I’m at over the distance. It’ll be good in one way, because there’ll be no pressure on me to beat these guys who know the distance really well.”
“There are some other 800m athletes in there who will be very competitive over the mile, but it’s not my distance. I’m more of a 400m runner than a miler."
English will face the likes of Italian indoor 1500m champion Joao Bussotti, Great Britain’s Jonny Hay and Spain’s Marc Alcala, who are all seasoned internationals.
Other domestic competition could come from Danny Mooney and talented youngsters Andrew Coscoran and Shane Fitzsimons.
Feidhlim Kelly for the IAAF