Some of world’s best marathoners are mothers including Australia’s fastest woman


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Sinead Diver took up running at the age of 33. She has two young kids, works full-time as a software engineer, and has just broken the Australian marathon record, running the Valencia marathon in 2 hours, 21 minutes and 34 seconds over the weekend.  

At the age of 45, and having recently competed at the Tokyo Olympics where she came tenth, Diver is yet another powerful example of women achieving exceptional feats in running in their thirties, forties and fifties – and often after having children. 

Indeed, six of the top ten finishers at the recent New York Marathon were also mothers, including Australia’s Jessica Senson, who placed ninth in that event back in November. 

Other mothers in the New York Marathon top ten included Salpeter (Kenya/Israel), who finished second. There was also Viola Cheptoo from Kenya (4th), Edna Kiplagat from Kenya (5th), Hellen Obiri from Kenya (6th) and Aliaphine Tuliamuk from Kenya/U.S.), finishing 7th. 

Diver’s run in Valencia saw her shaving three minutes from her previous best. She told journalists after the race that it was a record she’d wanted for a long time, but wasn’t sure if she was good enough to get it. “Things have to really fall into place, so I’m beyond delighted that it’s happened.” 

Her path to the top of the sport is truly unique, with Diver previously sharing how she was discouraged from sport while growing up in rural Ireland. She only took up running 12 years ago after the birth of her eldest child, initially just running a few times a week for fitness inbetween pregnancies. A running group she joined suggested she get involved in some higher-level races, which she did. She ran her first marathon in Melbourne, at the age of 38, where she also qualified for the 2015 World Championships. The race gave her confidence, and the put the thought of the Olympics in her head, “but I didn’t really believe that I could make it, I think,” she told the ABC.  

With a full-time work and family load, Diver trains in the spare time she has, with the International Track Club. At the Tokyo Olympics, she shared comments about her husband who she described as taking “on way more than his fair share of things” as well as to her father. Back in August, she said she has a little more flexibility now with her work (as a software engineer at NAB) and it up at 4:30am, trains twice a day and runs more than 180kms a week, with the goal of the Paris 2024 Olympics. 

In many sports, having a child has often signaled the end of a professional career. However, we’re seeing some high-profile athletes pushing back against the trend, including Serena Williams who continued to play many more tennis tournaments following the birth of her daughter. The Tokyo Olympics also celebrated numerous mothers at the top of their game – although as The Washington Post points out, mothers have been competing since the 1900 Paris games, the first to include women, with Mary Abbott taking seventh place in the golf, while her daughter Margaret Abbott won gold. Fanny Blankers-Koen won the title of female athlete of the century, for her 1948 performance in London, where the mother of two won four gold medals in track. 

But in long-distance running, motherhood is becoming an increasingly prominent feature of the sport, especially as more women compete while pregnant or while breastfeeding, or with young children on the sidelines, And particularly given it’s a sport where some of the best times and performances occur after the age of 35 for women. That’s why it was especially positive to see race organisers moving to significantly improve infrastructure for parents – as the New York Marathon organisers did this year, offering breastfeeding tents to support breastfeeding runners.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of older women are participating in high profile races — including the recent London marathon, which saw a massive 65 per cent increase in women over the age of 50 finishing the race. As Runners World noted on the weekend’s Valencia race, there was another woman who proves the value of life experience in marathon running: Catherine Bertone from Italy. She is a doctor specialising in infectious diseases – and has missed big events in the past due to doctor shortages in her country. She ran 2 hours and 35 minutes in Valencia and is 50 years old. 

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