Even though injuries can be frustrating for a runner, it’s the vision of a goal that keeps the motivation high.
Gladys Ganiel O’Neill had been hampered by constant pain in her foot after moving to Northern Ireland to earn her Ph.D. and pursue a college teaching career, but after getting healthy and discovering success at the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, she set her sights on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
That goal has been officially checked off the list, as the 33-year-old Harrington native qualified for the 2012 trials in Houston by running a personal-best 2 hours, 41 minutes, 45 seconds at the London Marathon on Sunday.
That is the third-fastest marathon time run by a woman living in Northern Ireland, and since Ganiel is still an American citizen, she’ll join fellow Mainers Sheri Piers of Falmouth and Kristin Pierce-Barry of South Portland at the U.S. trials.
“It’s obviously something I’ve worked at for a long time since I’ve been running,” said Ganiel, who started running at age 13 and went on to have outstanding careers at Narraguagus High School and Providence College.
Like most folks across Europe, Ganiel was apprehensive about getting from her home in Belfast to London while thousands of flights across Europe were grounded by volcanic ash.
Ganiel said she considered taking a ferry from Belfast to Liverpool and then a train to London, but when flights resumed last Wednesday she and a group of runners from Belfast were able to book a flight with no issues.
“We thought about skipping London and trying to do [the] Belfast [Marathon], but then Wednesday they had started the flights again so we just decided to go for it,” Ganiel said.
Ganiel lost 2½ years of running due to injuries, which she said were attributed to becoming acclimated to being thousands of miles from home.
“I think it was stress-related into the way my body was responding with the pressure of moving to a foreign country, doing a Ph.D. and not having a family structure to support me, that kind of thing,” she said.
Having completed two marathons in 2:46 and 2:47 in 2009 and with the Olympic Trials standard being 2:46, Ganiel knew the goal of qualifying was in reach.
“I knew going into [London] I had run 2:46 and was in better shape this time, and could make the standard,” she said. “You’ve really just go to be prepared for the pain that’s going to come and accept it.”
Finding time to train with a schedule like Ganiel’s — she recently got married to Brian O’Neill and is a professor at the Belfast campus of Trinity College of Dublin — is not easy, but she manages to find time.
“I can run to work and run home a couple days a week, and get the miles in that way,” said Ganiel, who logged about 70 miles a week in preparation for London, which had 35,000 participants.
The London race is one of the “marathon majors.”
Ganiel also used the London Marathon as a fundraiser for Zimbabwe Orphan Care after she did some research in the African nation in 2007.
She and fellow Abbey Athletics Club member Gavin McBride are attempting to raise 1,500 pounds, and thus far have raised 1,055.
Ganiel is leaning toward doing a fall marathon in Dublin this year, and she still keeps in touch with Providence coach Ray Tracy and runs with the Abbey Athletics Club, based in Belfast.
At Trinity, Ganiel is a lecturer and coordinator of the Reconciliation Studies Programme, Irish School of Ecumenics.
She earned her Ph.D. and masters degrees at University College in Dublin and has written two books: “Meet the Evangelicals: Journeys in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture,” co-authored with Claire Mitchell, and “Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland.”
Lam to attend UMass
Mt. Blue High School senior Melody Lam, who has been one of the top cross country runners in the state over the last couple of years, will continue her running career at the University of Massachusetts in the fall.
Lam, who also runs indoor and outdoor track for Mt. Blue in Farmington, won Eastern Maine Class A individual cross country championships as a junior and a senior, leading the Cougars to team runner-up finishes on each occasion.
Lam was also ninth in Class A statewide this fall, as Mt. Blue finished third as a team and qualified for the New England Championships.