Diver, Robinson, and Rayner have races to remember
Editor's Note: In the days leading up to the London Marathon, we published an in-depth feature on the training of Sinead Diver, Brett Robinson, and Jack Rayner. You can read that piece here.
This article serves as the conclusion to a huge day in London.
“I know it sounds silly, but is it possible that the lead pack don’t realise the Australian woman is up the road?”
An hour into the 2019 London Marathon, and the British commentators can’t quite believe what they’re seeing. Sinead Diver, owner of a 2:25:19 PR going into London and one of the lesser known athletes in the elite field, has a 30 second lead on the field after making an early move.
“Believe me, it’s not how I thought the race would go. I had zero intention of leading the London Marathon for 23km!”
“I know how the Africans like to run, it’s aways quite surgey. You’ll go from a 3:40 km down to a 3:10 and then back up. It’s not a good style of racing for me so I thought I would just go at my pace and the other girls would be around me soon.
And then it was 5km, and then 10km, and it just kept going.”
Ultimately Diver would be reeled in by a group of East Africans, but not before her courage made her a crowd favourite as she crossed the Tower Bridge all alone. Spectators along the route were 5 and sometimes 10 deep on both sides of the road, and Diver enjoyed more time alone at the front of the race than even the eventual winner, Brigid Kosgei.
“It was kinda fun, but I was a bit freaked out as well. I was thinking that it had to work out because if it didn’t I would look like a complete fool. I knew my times were what I was capable of, but it would look bad if I blew up!”
Diver went on to run 2:24:11, good enough for 7th place in the deepest London field in history, and a 68 second PR from her last marathon in October 2018. A convincing top ten in this field means Diver will never again go into a marathon as a relative unknown.
Perhaps most impressive is where Diver now ranks on the Australian all-time list, sitting 3rd behind Benita Willis (2:22:36) and Lisa Ondieki (2:23:51). She’s a lock for the Tokyo Olympics - that’s not to disrespect the current crop of marathoners (ping Ellie Pashley, Jess Trengove, and Lisa Weightman who are all class athletes), but based on the way the race unfolded, Diver has more to give.
“It got so tough toward the back, it was quite windy. I could have used a pack then to help. I would have liked to dip under 2:24, but in another race I can get into the 23’s.”
“I didn’t really think I would get top 10. Nic was very confident! But I think everyone has some self doubt. To do that well in that level of field is crazy.”
Diver walks away from London with an almost perfect outcome; she now has the freedom to pick her events for the next 12 months, safe in the knowledge that she has a place in the Olympic marathon. The to-do list now involves securing a 10,000m qualifier for the World Championships in Doha.
“I don’t know what’s next - we had planned up until this race. So it’s great that it went so well that I can now relax in terms of hitting the Olympic time. I would like to do another one, I’d like to do Berlin. But I’d also like to do the 10,000m at Doha.”
As I sit with Diver the day after the race, I’m just one of a long list of media obligations she has for the afternoon, the Irish press still fiercly proud of the Irish-born athlete despite her racing under the Australian flag. As I get up to leave, we’re interrupted by an older Irish woman who explains at length how proud everyone is of Diver’s race. She asks for a photo with Diver - not for Instagram, she promises - but to make her friends jealous when she sees them.
The story for Jack Rayner and Brett Robinson is almost as impressive as Diver’s. Jack in his first marathon at the age of 23, and Robinson racing for redemption after a DNF in his first attempt in Fukuoka in late 2018. Almost everything about London was a new experience for them.
“I’ve never known about a race I was doing for so long in advance. I knew about this back in November, so knowing for all that time that you have a marathon to train for is a big thing.” - Jack Rayner
The surprises weren’t limited to the workouts however. Race day delivered an eye opener even before the starter’s gun was drawn.
“We got to the athlete tent about two hours before the race, and half the tent just laid down and went to sleep straight away. Then Brett had a nap and I was thinking ‘are we actually about to go and run the elite race?’”.
If the pair felt like fish out of water before the race, by the time they reached the finish they had proved they belonged, and it was somewhat fitting that the close friends finished in succession, Robinson home 13th in 2:10:55, Rayner 14th in 2:11:06. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have some doubts along the way, as Robinson deviated from the script in the moments before the start.
“We had both said we were going to go with the third pace group (65:20 through halfway) and then on the bus Brett told me he was thinking of going in the second pace group. I was saying ‘mate are you sure, you've gotta finish this one!’”.
“I actually wanted to go through in about 64, and when I saw it was going to be 65:20 I thought it was a little slow. The 2nd pace group was supposed to be 63:40 pace and it went through in 63:25 which was a bit hot.
I knew we were quick, but I decided not to wear a watch so I wasn’t sure how fast. In Fukuoka I was too focused on my watch and I think sometimes it’s good to just go out and race.
As soon as I got to 20km I got a stitch. So for 15km I had to ease off, everytime I went to go harder the stitch would come back.” - Brett Robinson.
Robinson’s 5k split had him on 2:04 pace, and at 10k he had settled only slightly to be on 2:05 pace. He hit halfway on 2:06:50 pace, an unofficial half marathon PR (he has recorded a faster ½ on pacing duties).
While a stitch slowed him in the second half, his 2:10:55 puts him 11th on the Australian all time list.
“I defnitely think we both have more time in us. At 30km I felt like I was jogging, I wasn’t even trying that hard, I wanted to go harder but couldn’t because of my stitch.”
At one point late in the race, Rayner almost caught Robinson - getting as close as 2 metres behind as Robinson battled his stitch, before Rayner himself suffered cramp.
“I got up to Brett at about 37km. I could see him for ages and slowly made it up there, and that’s when I started cramping.”
Jack’s time was good enough for second fastest debut ever by an Australian male, and 13th fastest all time.
“I was a bit nervous on the bus and was getting caught up watching what everyone else was doing and then I realised that was stupid. Once the race started it felt easy, actually the first 20km flew by. My breathing was fine, everything was good except for a cramp.
I was chatting to the guy I was running with for about 15km near the end, the pace didn’t feel that hot. He had a sore foot so he wouldn’t lead.”
Both will now take a well earned holiday in Europe before getting back into some racing in June with the aim of getting a qualifer for Doha in the 5,000m or 10,000m. With Tokyo tickets in their grasp the pair can put marathons on the back burner for a while, but Robinson isn’t ruling out another tilt towards the end of 2019.
“I wouldn't mind doing another marathon this year maybe. I’m not scared of it anymore. After Fukuoka I was scared to start another one but not now.
We both said after the race that we can run a few minutes quicker. I think one of us will get the Australian record one day."
A tip of the hat must go to Nic Bideau as well - he put 4 athletes (including Brit Charlotte Purdue) together to train for this race on very similar programs, which could have been a colossal failure if they didn’t perform. However Diver and Purdue are now both #3 all time for their respective countries, and Rayner and Robinson have hit the Tokyo standard. Bideau of course has a long and distinguished history as a coach well before this race, but his other distance athletes must be buoyed after these performances.
I’ve no doubt there are a number of other Tokyo contenders who were sweating on these performances, and marathon fans are in for a treat over the next 12 months as we see Australia’s best fight for spots.