“Once I got to 16 miles, it just became a battle,” said Hallissey, who was born, raised and educated in England. “I turned a corner with like 200 meters to go, and I heard the announcer say, ‘You can see the pain on her face!’ At that point, it forced me to relax a little bit and enjoy the moment . . . I was just so conscious that it wasn’t over until it was over.”
When Hallissey, 29, finally crossed the finish line in 11th place overall and first among her countrywomen, she wore a huge, incredulous smile. Her finish in 2 hours 27 minutes 44 seconds earned her the opportunity to join Paula Radcliffe, the world-record holder, and Mara Yamauchi on Britain’s Olympic women’s marathon team, which will compete at the Summer Games in London.
From their home in Arlington, her husband Matt Hallissey, also British, followed his wife’s results in the wee hours of the morning on the Internet.
“She had been making steady progress for the last six or seven years . . . [but] this was really a distant dream,” said Hallissey, a project manager for the international company AECOM. “She had put the work it, but it was one race, all or nothing.”
It was also only the third marathon Hallissey had ever run, leading to depictions of her in the British media as an out-of-nowhere star. To clinch the spot, she not only had to top the British field, but also surpass the time of 2:28:24 that Jo Pavey ran at the same race last year. Pavey decided to sit out the event, banking on the hope that the time would hold up and secure her the third Olympic berth. Hallissey, however, foiled that plan.
“I knew we were on [pace] for the time,” Hallissey said. “I was pushing as hard as I thought was safe to push it to make sure I had enough to get to the finish.”
Hallissey, whose husband accepted his Virginia-based position in 2009, joined him in 2010 after finishing her doctorate in mucosal immunology at the University of Bristol. She had run mostly middle distances as a school girl in Watford, England. A strong athlete, and very fit, Hallissey excelled but fell short of stardom. It did not cross her mind that she would someday compete at the Olympic Games.
“As a club-level runner, I would occasionally compete” at city competitions, she said. “I was never remotely near getting an international appearance in the junior ranks.”