Alyson Dixon smiled through every mile as she led the best in the world for nearly two hours at the World Championships, in London.
Dixon was upbeat about her form going into the women’s marathon but admitted she was shocked at how long she held off a top-quality field around a course that took in the capital’s postcard landmarks.
Eventually Kenyan runner Rose Chelimo, running for Bahrain, took control of the race to take gold, ahead of two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat and American bronze medallist Amy Cragg.
But 38-year old Dixon won the prize for the most combative performance, with members of her family and the Sunderland Strollers lining the route to add their vocal support.
“I’m lost for words, it was totally amazing,” she said. “I knew I was in fantastic shape even though it was a very quick turnaround after the London Marathon,” she said, after clocking two hours 31.36 minutes to finish 18th.
“I’ve done mileage like never before, 140 miles a week, and all that hard work has paid off. I never in my wildest dreams expected to be leading for that long.
“I just wanted to be competitive. I was running a personal best pace, so it was nothing crazy.
“I looked around, because I didn’t realise I had such a lead, and just thought ‘go for it’. I tried to hold on as long as possible but the last two or three miles were really tough because my legs had totally gone and I just got over the line.
“If you can’t enjoy leading a World Championship marathon in your home country, why bother doing the sport?"