Distance running legend looks back on her world 10,000m triumph in Tokyo on August 30, 1991
The year before, I didn’t know I was pregnant for about four months so I was training normally until then. Once I knew I was pregnant, I just stopped all my hard training and switched to steady running but I did a lot of prep work on my back, my hips and legs – a lot of strength work.
As soon as I had Eilish, I just got back into my running right away. Even during the pregnancy, I was very determined to get back because a lot of people just wrote me off. I got dropped from Nike. People said: “When you have a baby, you’re never the same athlete. The motivation goes.” All those sort of things, so I was quite determined.
Going to Tokyo, I knew I was in 30-minute shape. It was going to take somebody really special to beat me. The only little drawback came when we went to Tokyo about three weeks out. It was a little bit earlier than we would normally go because I wanted to do one last really long 10km session in the heat and then ease down for the final two weeks, but I couldn’t complete it.
That put me a little bit on the back foot because, after three-quarters of the session, I was dead. I couldn’t handle the heat or the humidity. I was really pleased when, ten days later, I did another session and there was a big swing and I knew it was okay. I had adjusted.
When it came to my race plan, for me to win I thought that I would need to surge so I was going to put a really hard kilometre between the four and five kilometre mark and then I was going to put in another hard kilometre from seven to eight. After that I was going to do a long run for home.
That was what I thought I’d have to do to win the race but I had set a pace that I was going to go out with and everybody else struggled with it right from the start. I didn’t need to do the thing that I had prepared to do.
Derartu Tulu went into the lead with eight laps to go to try and slow it. I was able to surge past her because I’d done it in training umpteen times. There was just no way I was going to let that pace stay.
Because I was just so fed up of people sitting on my shoulder and getting outsprinted, I was prepared for a really long run for home but I was still keeping a little bit in case a sprint was needed.
I think it’s probably one of the only races where I had every base covered. No matter what somebody was going to fling at me I was able just to keep that pace going and, one by one, people were dropping off. I was feeling good. It ended up being the biggest winning margin in a world final and it was a good old run for me.
But it was tough. From around the three kilometre mark, I could hear people huffing and puffing around me. I knew that some were in trouble so I kind of knew that I was in control of it. But when you’re in that situation, your focus is just on running as hard as you can and there’s no easy option.
Even though I knew I was going to win with four laps to go – I could see on the screen I had a big gap – I still was pushing it. I wasn’t taking my foot off the pedal at all, because I just wasn’t going to take any risks. I was running to the line and it’s 25 laps and that’s what you do. I didn’t take anything for granted at all in the race.
It was a really, really good feeling running the last few laps, knowing that I’d got that win. It’s quite hard to actually keep your emotions together more than anything when you know that you’re winning. When you realise nobody else is there, it’s quite hard just to keep the focus and I had a little stumble as well because I was getting really tired. I lost a bit of concentration but then I was okay again.
There’s a plaque of all the world championship winners in Tokyo at the stadium. Eilish went there a few years ago and got a picture and sent it to me. Tokyo’s always been a special place for me. I won the Tokyo Marathon. I set my world half-marathon record there. I always had a big connection to the city so I hope Eilish goes there now and has a great experience, too.