With little or no financial funding, marathon runner Linda Byrne speaks to Eleni Megoran about overcoming all obstacles on the road to realising her Olympic dream.

With little or no financial funding, marathon runner Linda Byrne speaks
to Eleni Megoran about overcoming all obstacles on the road to realising her Olympic dream.
On August 5th at 11am, Linda Byrne will be on the Olympic marathon starting line, ready to
begin the 26.2 mile race.

The DCU athlete is heading to the London 2012 Olympics after achieving the qualifying time
at the Dublin Marathon last October. She will be racing against some of the superstars of the
marathon world, athletes like Paula Radcliffe.

It has been a lifelong ambition of Byrne’s to make it to the Olympics. Battling illness and
without financial funding, she has overcome all obstacles to qualify in the Dublin Marathon
with a time of 2:36.21.

Her first thought stepping over the line, “Yes, I did it! I made it to the Olympics!”

The petite framed women relived the moment as she explained the last few moments of the
race: “I could see the line 100 meters away but I didn’t want to celebrate until I got over the
line, because you never know what could happen in a marathon. Your legs could go to jelly.
So when I got to the line, I knew I had it. It was a lot to take in, it was an amazing feeling.”

Byrne has been running internationally since she was 15 years old. At that age, she had
already represented Ireland, running in the World Cross Country Championships and she
continued to run in the European Cross Countries and on the track.

However, a lengthy illness, in which Byrne suffered stomach problems and low iron levels,
forced the athlete to prematurely hang up her spikes. She eventually found her way back to
the track and started building up her miles.

“I have always wanted to make the Olympics, it’s been my dream, my whole life,” she said.
After the Irish Sports Council pulled the plug on Byrne’s funding, she found it difficult to
support herself and run full time.

Byrne continued: “There is criteria that you have to meet to get funding, for cross-country
runners there isn’t much funding. So when I was a junior and under 23, I was meeting
the times they needed. But when I came out of under 23, I wasn’t making the time for the
seniors, there’s a large jump and it takes a while to get to those times.”

Her coach Enda Fitzpatrick suggested that she should try to compete in road races. Byrne
decided with the help of her coach that the best way to support herself financially and train
full time was to compete in road races.
“You can make money out of road races. I found out that I really enjoyed it and I was
actually pretty good at it.”

So she started running in road races with Byrne and her coach deciding that the Dublin
Marathon would be a realistic goal for her to qualify for the Olympics.

In preparation for the Dublin Marathon, she ran two, 24 mile runs and three half marathons
alongside her two sessions per week. At the start of October leading up to the marathon she
ran a 20 mile race. Byrne said, “I felt comfortable throughout the race and I felt my pace was
very good. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

For a runner and especially a marathon runner mental strength is key to success. “You have
to be mentally strong to be a marathon runner. I had a lot to focus, which kept me mentally

Her family supported her throughout the race. “I had to take jells through the race. At 10k I
had my boyfriend there to hand me my jells, at 20k my dad was there, at 30k my coach Enda
was there and my brother was at 35k. I had that focus throughout the race and I concentrated
on the times I needed.”

The Dublin Marathon was Byrne’s first ever marathon. Even more impressive, Byrne looks
like she has much more to give. “I don’t think I hit the dreaded wall that everybody talks
about. I felt good up to 22 miles and then the last few miles they were pretty tough, my calves
were getting tight but they didn’t completely cave in on me. That comes down to all the
preparation and training that I did coming into the race,” she explained.

For marathon running she does have a young profile, with most marathon runners starting in
their thirties. At just twenty five, Linda Byrne looks set to have a long career at the top end of
marathon running, admitting that her first Olympic marathon will be a massive experience.

For any marathon runner and for many athletes, the road to the finish line can be
difficult. “It’s all worth it, now that I have the qualifying time,” concluded Byrne.

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