Carroll and O’Sullivan, both natives of County Cork, were among the favored international competitors in a field of more than 32,000 runners who descended on New York City from all corners of the globe. But while Carroll raced to a superb sixth place finish in a time of 2:10:54, O’Sullivan was bitterly disappointed with her 12th place finish and time of 2:32:06.
For Carroll, there were portents, long before the starting gun was fired, of how the race would conclude.
“I had a dream on Wednesday,” explained Carroll’s coach, Jim Harvey, a native of the English Midlands who now lives in Providence, R.I. “I never dream about running, but I had this dream about Mark racing toward the finish line. Then I could see the clock, and the time said 2:10:47. The instant I saw those figures, I woke up. Next time, I’m going to try to dream about horse racing.”
Carroll’s time, though 7 seconds shy of Harvey’s prognostication, is the second fastest in history by an Irishman, beaten only by John Treacy’s 2:09:56, set in taking the silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984.
O’Sullivan, in contrast, experienced a day of frustration that left her in tears after the race. Unsettled by the early pace, which she deemed too slow, the 32-year-old Olympic 5,000-meter silver medallist, who holds every Irish record from 800 to 10,000 meters, faded from contention on the Queensborough Bridge with just over 15 of the race’s 26.2 miles completed.
Mindful that she should not expend too much energy in the early part of the race, O’Sullivan reigned in the competitive instincts that have served her so well on the track, a tactic that proved to be her undoing.
“My legs were getting stiff,” she said. “I’m not used to going that slow, even in training. Now I’m thinking I should have gone off and run my own race.”
O’Sullivan had been among the favorites to take the winner’s prize of $80,000 plus a Pontiac Vibe. In the end, those awards were claimed by Kenya’s Joyce Chepchumba, who raced across the finish line in time of 2:25:56. O’Sullivan, meanwhile, was left to contemplate her competitive future.
“I’m going to take a break, then start over again,” she stated. “I’m going to find a few more things I can look forward to.”
From a different perspective, that is exactly what the 30-year-old Carroll is doing. While Kenya’s Rodgers Rop took the New York victor’s laurels in a time of 2:08:07, the Irishman’s exceptional performance opens a new world of opportunity after a summer season that was colored by disappointment. Knee surgery last January curtailed his preparation for the summer track season, meaning that he could place no higher than sixth in the European Championships 5,000. A corresponding place in New York, though, represented a breakthrough into the world of elite marathoning and the beginning of a new chapter in an already successful distance running career.
“The last few miles were tough,” said Carroll, a graduate of Providence College who holds Irish records at 3,000 (7:30.36), 5,000 (13:03.93) and 10,000m (27:46.82). He also boasts a mile best of 3:50.62.
“I trained very hard for this and I was strong enough to be able to hold it together,” he said. “I saw the marathon as the ultimate challenge to my versatility as an athlete. I felt great most of the way. 2:10 is a good start to my marathon career.”
In contrast to O’Sullivan, who will reevaluate her move away from the track, Carroll is already looking forward to more outings over the marathon distance. Most likely will be an outing in one of the major events of next spring — Boston or London. That is not to say that Carroll will be abandoning his ambitions on the track. In fact, the contrary is true.
“I want to take a shot at the 10,000 as a championship distance,” he said. Carroll has run only one 10,000 race in his career, at Stanford University in May 2000. The outcome was the Irish record. “I think that the Irish records need to be in line with international standards,” he said. “I see it as my job to make that happen.”
To that end, Carroll points to objectives of sub-13 minutes for 5000, sub-27 minutes for 10,000 and a 2:07 marathon.
“This has opened up new dreams for me,” he said. “Maybe I can have a very good future.”
Irish track and field legend Eamonn Coghlan also contested this year’s New York City Marathon. The man who won seven Wanamaker Miles in Madison Square Garden, and who turns 50 on Nov. 21 toured the undulating course in 3:00:55.