Athletics / London Marathon: A motivational mix for McColgan: Britain's front runner fixes on lessons from the past. Mike Rowbottom reports

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The Independent Online
LIZ McCOLGAN has only run two marathons in her career, and the second told her far more than the first. Having won the New York event of 1991 in 2hr 27min 31sec, the fastest time by a woman making her debut, she entered last year's Tokyo marathon confident of getting close to Ingrid Kristiansen's world best time of 2:21:06. She ended up with a time eight seconds slower than she had produced in New York.

'After 12 miles I had to veer suddenly round a manhole in the road and I hurt my hamstring,' she said. 'I ran with my head down, really concentrating, and I didn't see the roadworks. I ran the second half with an injured leg. I've never suffered as much in any race of my career. I just wanted to stop and walk off. I thought I was going to run at least 2:24 that day. It just goes to show that you never know what can happen in the event.'

She still finished two and a half minutes clear of a field which included the Olympic champion, Valentina Yegorova. That is a measure of the character of a runner who has been signed as a central feature of the London Marathon for the next three years, a commitment which could yield her almost pounds 500,000.

As the world 10,000 metres champion prepares to contribute her first instalment to the event this Sunday, the caution that Tokyo instilled in her is overlaid with a confidence that stems from her subsequent performances.

The anaemia which she discovered belatedly after her Olympic disappointment last summer has been corrected through careful dieting. Since then, apart from her victory in Tokyo, she has won the inaugural world half marathon championships on Tyneside and last month she finished strongly from far back to take fifth place in the world cross-country championships, passing her rival, Elana Meyer, on the line.

'That was probably the first time I've shown I have a kick from about 1,000 metres out,' she said, with a grin. McColgan, carefully made up and newly coiffured, was diligent, dutiful and as diplomatic as possible in the face of a welter of interview and photo requests at the London Marathon's hotel headquarters near Tower Bridge.

Hovering in the background were her husband and coach, Peter, her two-year-old daughter Eilish, her mother, Betty Lynch, and her agent, Kim McDonald - the other key members of Team McColgan, all contributing to the relaxation and well-being of the event's prize item.

If McColgan suffers on the London streets this Sunday, it is likely that her principal rivals - Australia's Lisa Ondieki, with whom she exchanged bitter words before and after the New York race of 1991, last year's winner, Katrin Dorre, and Lorraine Moller, New Zealand's Olympic bronze medallist - will suffer more.

A personal best last Sunday in the set training session she uses before major events has left McColgan in a state of keen anticipation. 'I am healthier at the moment than I have been in my whole running career,' she said.

She was, however, a little more guarded than she had been before the New York marathon about her prospects of beating 2hr 20min. 'It's very hard to say what will happen on Sunday, because you are going into the unknown,' she said. 'I know that I'm in really good shape, and I'm going to run fast. I prefer to get fast times rather than run tactical races and kick at the end.'

But would she, someone asked, be surprised if she ran 2.20 on Sunday. She could not bring herself to say she would. Realistically, however, she is likely to come closer to Kristiansen's record - set on the same course in near perfect conditions eight years ago - next time around, when it is possible that revised start times will enable her to run alongside men as well as women when the going gets tough.

(Photograph omitted)