Add Gladys Ganiel O’Neill to the short and starry list of Maine women who have qualified for the Olympic marathon trials in Houston in January 2012.

Ganiel O’Neill ran 2 hours, 41 minutes, 45 seconds in the London Marathon last Sunday, joining Yarmouth native Susannah Beck, Sheri Piers of Falmouth and Kristin Barry of Scarborough in the sub-2:46 club.

Ganiel O’Neill was already one of the best runners ever to come out of Maine. She won three Class C cross country state titles at Narraguagas High, finished sixth at the Footlocker nationals in 1994 and went on to a fine running career at Providence College, graduating in 1999.

These days, the 33-year-old Harrington native and her husband, Brian, live in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has an MA and a PhD from University College Dublin and has written a couple books, “Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland” (2008); and, co-authored with Claire Mitchell, “Meet the Evangelicals: Journeys in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture,” to be published this year.

Ganiel O’Neill is lecturer and coordinator of the reconciliation studies programme at the Belfast campus of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin, and I’m guessing that she’s one of the faculty’s quicker runners.

That Trials qualifying time in London was a personal best for her, and perhaps all the sweeter because she’d spent a bunch of years last decade with a chronic pain that kept her from training at a level to match her abilities. The lower-body ailment was never precisely diagnosed, but Ganiel O’Neill now figures it was stress-related. As can happen when you’re just out of college and you move to a different country, take first-class honors as an MA candidate, write a brace of dissertations, and in less than three years finish your PhD.

Speaking over the phone from Northern Ireland, Ganiel O’Neill said she was able to maintain basic fitness during that period, cycling to school and work and running maybe 30 miles a week. Three years ago life began to settle down and the pain abated, and she was able to resume something like competitive training. Which led her to run two marathons in 2009, a 2:46:46 for 10th place in Amsterdam, and a 2:47 on a hot day in London.

In March, Ganiel ran a 1:17:14 half marathon in Bath, England, a result that encouraged her to try for a faster marathon in London.

Besides, she says, “I always knew the marathon would be my best event … I never broke 5 minutes for the mile, which every Division I runner does except me!”

So, on to London. The weather was “cloudy, fine,” and Ganiel O’Neill planned to go out at 6:10 pace — which she’d done in last year’s marathons, “and then died at the end, I think is the technical term.” But this time she was race-fitter despite averaging 70 miles a week, which is low for her marathoning goal.

Overall, London went splendidly. She ticked off 6:10s but then missed the 3-mile marker, and when she saw the 5K mark “got confused,” thinking it was her 3-mile time, and speeded up to 6s or 6:05s for a while. She hit the half in just under 1:20, “a minute and a half faster than before,” but then at Mile 16 “it started to get much more difficult, as in painful.”

Ganiel O’Neill decided to concentrate by segmenting the race mile by mile, and, here’s a great tip, to smile, which relaxes the neck and shoulders and so on downward.

It worked fine; her second half was only 2 minutes slower. She’s looking forward to racing Dublin in the fall: “I think I can still get faster; I’m not even running loads of miles, and I’m having fun with it. There are so many good runners in Belfast to train with.”

With her Abbey Athletics Club teammate, Gavin McBride, Ganiel O’Neill also ran London as a fundraiser for Zimbabwe Orphan Care (she was a visiting scholar in Zimbabwe in 2007). See www.justgiving.com/ GladysandGavin for more.

In late July/early August, Ganiel O’Neill will be back in Maine, where she hopes to run Beach to Beacon. Sounds as if Aug. 7 could be a great Maine running group-photo op, featuring an Olympic gold medalist with a number of worthy descendants.

 

REGISTRATIONS FOR the Portland Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5K have gone bananas, exceeding 2,200, as the 10-year-old race just keeps shooting up every year. The pace is now 550 people ahead of last year at this time, said race director Howard Spear, so it’s entirely possible that the cap of 3,000 could be reached. Last year, there were 2,207 finishers and 2,542 signed up.

If the cap is reached, please note: There will be no race-day registration. Online registration closes Thursday.

And, volunteers are greatly needed for traffic control and other jobs (“Flower Distributor” sounds especially fun). Go to www.mainetrackclub.com to enlist.

 

John Rolfe of Portland is a staff writer and a road runner. He can be reached at 791-6429 or at:

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