James Sullivan has been chatting to Melbourne based distance runner, Sinead Diver, a latecomer to the sport of athletics.

Sinead Diver is a distance runner from County Mayo, Ireland, based in Melbourne, Australia for the past 12 years. Having only taken up the sport four years ago, the 37 year old is now one of the leading distance runners in Victoria and Australia, recently placing second in the Melbourne Marathon, with a clocking of 2:34:15 in her debut over the 26.2 mile distance. She was Australian Half-Marathon Champion in 2012, and was the Athletics Victoria XCR Champion in 2014.

Sinead Diver

James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. To begin, where in Ireland did you grow up, and what sort of sporting background did you have from your time in your home country?

Sinead: I grew up in Belmullet, Co. Mayo. I was pretty sporty as a child and played lots of different sports but I focused mainly on basketball once I started secondary school.

James: When did you make the decision to emigrate to Australia, and for what reasons? What sort of challenges did such a big move entail?

Sinead: I came to Australia in 2002. I wasn’t planning on staying permanently so it wasn’t really a big deal at the time. I was keen to travel after I left college, so after working for a few years in Dublin, I saved some money and decided to move to Australia for a year. Each year my partner and I found a different reason to stay and hence 12 years on we’re still here!

James: How would you compare life in Australia with life back in Ireland? What are the pros and cons? Do you get a chance to visit Ireland much these days?

Sinead: Life in Australia is pretty similar to Ireland in lots of ways but of course there are pros and cons to both. The weather and beaches in Australia are really beautiful and make day to day life very enjoyable. However, it is very difficult being so far away from family and friends. I’d love to be able to pop on a flight to Ireland for a weekend but obviously that isn’t possible. Having some family here in Melbourne makes things a lot easier. I’m very lucky to have one of my sisters and my brother live close by, and of course I have my husband and two wonderful boys.

We try to fly back every two years but it’s a lot more difficult to make the trip with young kids so I’m not sure when we’ll get the chance to visit next.

James: You are a late comer to athletics. When did you make the decision to get involved in the sport, and how did it all come about? At what point did you start to realise that you had a talent for running?

Sinead: I ran a bit to keep fit when I moved to Melbourne. This consisted mostly of running on the treadmill a few times a week. While I was on maternity leave from work my sister Gráinne asked me to join her team for the Corporate Cup. This is a fortnightly, team-based running event held at the Tan Track. One of the guys on the team was pretty impressed with my times and he suggested I join a running group. That’s where I met my coach. He encouraged me to take part in some fun-runs and I did pretty well in those. A year or so later I joined South Melbourne Athletic Club and a couple of weeks after signing up I raced the Victorian 5000m Championships and came second which was a huge surprise for me. I think it was at that point that I started to realise I had a talent for running.

James: What do you believe to be your strongest attribute with regards athletics, and what area do you feel you could improve on the most?

Sinead: I’m a very determined person and I think this is massively important in distance running. I’m also very good at running by feel and am confident that when I race I will find the right balance of pushing myself whilst remaining in control.

I would like to improve my strength and also I’ve a lot to learn with regards to nutrition. These are areas I will be focusing on in the coming months.

James: How do you juggle the demands of being an elite athlete, working a job, and being a full time mother?

Sinead: Ultimately I think it comes down to prioritising what’s important and sidelining everything else. Colin (husband) and I plan our days around work and the boys’ activities and everything else fits in around that. Often I find that I’m more productive in other aspects of my life when training demands are high. I guess I’m more vigilant about following a structured routine and this has a positive knock-on effect for everything else. I also believe it’s important for everyone to have something that helps them de-stress and unwind – for me this is running.

James: You performed consistently throughout the 2014 Athletics Victoria Cross-Country and Road (XCR) season, taking the overall title. How would you assess your winter season? Did you expect to perform so well across a wide range of distances over both disciplines?

Sinead: 2014 was just my second ever XCR season and I was also returning from pregnancy so I really had no great expectations for it. In some ways I guess this was very beneficial as I didn’t feel any pressure to perform and every victory was an unexpected surprise. I was very patient and conservative with my return to running post baby so it’s great to see the rewards of that paying off. It’s also reassured me that in no way have I peaked or given my best. I have a lot more to give in training and am excited at what is yet to come.

Representing her club, South Melbourne AC (second from right)

James: There is a great inter-club culture in Victoria, with the AV Shield (Summer) and the XCR (Winter) competitions, which caters for every athlete regardless of age or standard. How important have these competitions been with regards broadening the appeal of athletics and getting more of the average Joe’s involved in the sport? Going forward, how can this appeal be increased? 

Sinead: I’m fortunate to run for a supportive club (South Melbourne) that only 5 years ago had a total of 15 members and an average age of 55. Now it has close to 100 members with plenty of juniors and 20-40 year olds competing.

In addition to AVs divisional structure, tapping into the recreational running scene has been critical to the club’s success.  A strong link to Melbourne’s largest recreational running group has seen a steady stream of converts to the athletic scene, like myself, who may previously not have considered themselves an ‘athlete’ or good enough to compete in the world of club athletics.

AV are definitely aware of reaching out to the running community, and through the appointment of a Recreational Running Coordinator for the state (the first in Australia) and the establishment of the Victorian Running Network, are certainly working hard to get the message out there.

James: You recently finished second in the Melbourne Marathon, clocking 2:34:15 in your debut over the 26.2 mile distance. Can you put into words the whole experience?

Sinead: The marathon was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I was so excited to try the distance as every sign indicated that it would be an event that suited me. Naturally I had many apprehensions leading into it and I didn’t for one second underestimate it. I was very lucky to have lots of great advice from experienced marathoners that really stood to me. The marathon is a race like no other, on your first attempt you venture into the unknown and it’s a little scary so it’s best to treat it with caution and respect. I’m really happy with how my first attempt went but I’m more excited with everything that I’ve learned from it. There are so many tweaks that I can make to my race training and preparation for the next one and I’m looking forward to what the result of that may hold.

James: The route of the Melbourne Marathon does not go through the city centre, with many residents not even aware the event is even taking place, a contrast to marathons in Europe, where a city will shut down for the morning and afternoon, in support of the event. Do you feel more can be done to help the city really get behind its marathon, like what is done in London, Dublin, Rotterdam etc?

Sinead: Luckily my coach is the Competition Director for the Melbourne Marathon so I can answer this one with a lot of ‘inside knowledge’.  The Melbourne Marathon is privately owned and operated by IMG and receives no support, apart from permit approvals, from the City of Melbourne, the Victorian State Government or Victorian Major Events Corporation despite numerous attempts.  Melbourne has a massive year-round sporting landscape (e.g. Formula 1 GP, Tennis Grand Slam, Melbourne Cup Carnival, Boxing Day cricket test, AFL Grand Final, Australian Masters Golf, international rugby, soccer) so relatively minor events like the marathon, despite 31,500 entrants including 500+ International and 4,500+ Interstate visitors, struggle for both press and public response.

It would be fantastic for the Government authorities, press and general public to give the event more support, but until an AFL footballer lines up and wins the race, we are unlikely to see this happen!

James: Your debut clocking would rank you third in Ireland in 2014, and eight on the Irish all-time list. Have you thought about competing for Ireland in future major championships on the road and cross country? Do you have much contact with Athletics Ireland?

Sinead: This is the burning question at the moment as we have established contact with Athletics Ireland, but there are also possibilities of representing Australia in events like the World XC, World Championships, Commonwealth Games etc.  My Melbourne time also ranked me third in Australia for 2014, so it is obvious that I could go either way.  At this point in time it’s a wait and see and we won’t focus on this until 2015 after some time back on the track and a tilt at the Australian World XC trials in February.

James: What is your ultimate goal in the sport?

Sinead: I’ve got lots of goals and aspirations but I guess the ultimate would be to race the marathon at the Olympics in Rio.

James: Have you any particular goals for the upcoming Australian track season?

Sinead: My last track season was in 2012 and I’m a lot fitter now than I was then so I’m looking forward to improving my times for most distances from 1500m to 10000m

James: What other moments from your athletics career to date are you particularly proud of?

Sinead: My proudest moment would have to be winning the 2012 Australian half marathon championships in only my second ever half marathon. The decision to race it was a bit last minute as I had a busy race schedule leading in (XC Championships, VIC half marathon championships) so I’m really glad I decided to go for it.

James: How did your training change in the months leading up to the marathon, specifically in terms of key sessions and total mileage?

Sinead: I had a gradual increase in mileage but nothing too major. My coach and I wanted to err on the side of caution in this regard as my training was already going well without doing very high mileage and we didn’t want to risk injury. I started to do more regular tempo sessions and a lot of my speed sessions became more endurance focused.

Sinead Diver

James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?

Sinead: I like most of my speed sessions. I don’t really have a favourite. I did the yasso 800’s for the first time before the marathon this year and I really loved that session. My least favourite would have to be any session with reps shorter than 400m!

James: Do you do any cross training and if so what type, how often and why?

Sinead: I’ve found it difficult to find the time to include cross training in my program but this is something that I need to work on. Strength training is really going to become more of a focus for me in the next phase of training so I’m currently working on plans to work this into my program.

James: What are your views on Planned Marathon Pace runs for club and recreational runners? How long should these be and how many should be undertaken in a training program? Do you do any and how do they help?

Sinead: I think they’re a really good idea. For me they reaffirmed that my goal pace was achievable and I found that they really helped build my confidence. They can be quite tough so it’s important not to include too many in your training program and to keep the distances relatively short. For this marathon I started out training at race pace for 10k and then increased this every couple of weeks to a maximum of 18k.

James: Do you ever wonder how good you might have been had you been involved in athletics from an earlier age? Do you regret not taking up the sport sooner?

Sinead: I do think about it but I wouldn’t say that I regret not having been involved in athletics sooner. If I had started running earlier in life I might never have reached the levels of running I’ve achieved this year. I am more focused and determined now than ever and I’m confident that regardless of my age I am at the start of my running career and know that I have lots of great performances in the years ahead. I also count myself very lucky to be able to share this experience with two little people that I adore more than anything else in the world. They might not fully get it for now but I know they’ll be proud of their mum in years to come, and the thought that I might motivate them to pursue their own dreams is something that I will always cherish.

James: That’s great Sinead. Thank you for your time and the very best of luck over the coming year.

Sinead: My pleasure :-)

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