In fact the margin of victory, eight seconds, was considerable in the circumstances. Less than a mile from the finish of the BUPA Great North Run, McColgan had still been chasing a seemingly lost cause. Esther Kiplagat was 12 seconds clear and on course to win the women's section of the Tyneside half-marathon.
With 200 metres to go the flying Scotswoman caught the flagging Kenyan. As McColgan crossed the line, the banner above her head proclaimed: "You're amazing." Yesterday on the road from Newcastle to South Shields, she certainly was.
It was a race fit to grace an Olympic stage, which would have been a painfully ironic thought for McColgan. When she returned to form in last year's Great North Run she left Fatuma Roba, now the Olympic marathon champion, floundering in her slipstream.
McColgan's subsequent racing results, not least her London Marathon win in April, earmarked her as a potential Olympic medallist at least. But she was beaten in Atlanta not so much by the opposition as by the insect bite which left her so badly infected she finished 16th.
The poison stayed in her system almost as long as the disappointment. But snatching a last gasp victory from the gaping jaws of defeat, as she did yesterday, will have done much to purge the latter.
McColgan was spotted at 8am mass at Newcastle Cathedral and the manner in which she struggled to stay with the pace suggested she did not have a prayer of equalling Rosa Mota's record of three victories.
She was dropped twice by Kiplagat and Yvonne Murray before the Kenyan pulled clear approaching the nine-mile mark. Murray, making her half-marathon debut, suffered cramps in both legs while slowing down at a drinks station, which appeared to leave McColgan with the consolation of claiming the runner-up placing ahead of her Scottish rival.
McColgan, five years on from her finest half an hour (her 10,000 metres World Championship triumph in Tokyo), saw it differently. "I could see Esther had a big lead as we came to the last mile," she said, "but I decided to put my head down and go for it. I felt like a train when I went past her."
Waitz, on the line from Gainesville, Florida, was simply pleased to discover that the protege she took under her coaching wing two years ago had won - and quietly relieved, perhaps, that her own course record of 68 min 48 sec had survived for an eighth year.
McColgan, who clocked 70 min 28 sec, now tackles the World Half-Marathon Championship race in Mallorca on Sunday week before returning to the full marathon distance in Tokyo in November. "Nothing will make up for the disappointment of the Olympics," she said, "but hopefully I can salvage something from the hard work I put in."
Murray finished almost two minutes behind in fourth place, her first loss to the 32-year-old McColgan for nine years. For Paul Evans, the Belgrave Harrier, following home Benson Masya in the men's race was a more familiar experience. Evans, second in the New York Marathon last year, was the highest placed British runner for the fifth year in succession. But he again failed to stop Masya recording his fourth Great North victory since swapping his bantamweight boxing gloves for a pair of racing shoes.
Masya finished 12 seconds ahead of Evans in 61 min 43 sec, making it six wins in six years for Kenyans. Even the last British winner, back in 1985, was a Kenyon: Steven Kenyon, a ceramic tile salesman from Bolton.
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