Welcome to HODCast’s first written blog post! I’d call it a HODCarticle but that’d be going too far, even for me 🙂
This week I had an exciting catch-up with Sinéad Kane, from Episode 23. In case you haven’t listened to that episode yet, you should know a bit about her before reading on. Sinéad is a thirty-something qualified solicitor from Youghal, Co. Cork, who is now a full time PhD researcher in DCU, in Dublin. With approximately 5% vision, she has been registered as legally blind since birth. In spite of this, Sinéad took up running a few years ago (with the help of a guide runner, she completed a charity 10k race), and quickly progressed through longer and longer distances, ultimately completing marathons and several ultra-running contests.
In our previous chat, Sinéad spoke about a huge challenge she wanted to undertake this month: The World Marathon Challenge. She required a large amount of funding to enter the race (€80k!), and when I heard recently that she was on the brink of reaching her goal and jetting off to the start line, I decided I had to catch up with her again.
This time, I also met John O’Regan, her guide runner for the race, who is a very accomplished ultra-running competitor himself, as well as working as a professional running coach.
So, here’s what we spoke about…
Derek: So, Sinéad, tell us some of the specifics of this amazing challenge.
Sinéad: Well, there’ll be 7 marathons, on 7 continents, run over 7 days. Our first marathon will be in Antarctica; we run our next one in Chile to cover the continent of South America. We fly to North America for the next marathon in Miami; then it’s over to Madrid for the European leg, followed by Marrakesh in Africa, Dubai for Asia, and ultimately we’ll finish in Sydney, Australia.
John: We’ll follow the prevailing winds, because it’s the most economical way to travel, in terms of time and fuel efficiency.
Sinéad: And it’s a chartered flight this year!
Derek: So, there’ll be no waiting around in airports for a particular airline.
Sinéad: Exactly: it’ll be a case of run, eat, sleep, repeat!
Derek: And John, you’ll have an important role along the way as Sinéad’s guide runner. What does that job involve?
John: Guide-running involves being the eyes of the visually impaired runner. I’m the one who’ll relay information back to Sinéad; ensuring safety while the run is in progress. I’ll describe the terrain, the environment, and give some sensory feedback. For someone who can’t see, they’re always stepping into the unknown, which involves a certain amount of fear. I’m trying to take away some of that to allow Sinéad to feel more relaxed and focus on the running.
Derek: I imagine it’s far from running around a smooth running track! This will be out there in the real world, in real cities.
John: Exactly. And I didn’t really know what I was getting into in the beginning, so when I started training with Sinéad, we were planning her first ultra-marathon. I went to the venue, had myself blindfolded, and I had someone guide me around part of the route. It was during that run that I realised it’s a totally different world when you’re sighted. Obstacles that I didn’t realise were there all of a sudden started appearing. I couldn’t work out my timing, my distance; even small bumps in the ground, where I would normally adjust my foot-plant without thinking about it. You don’t realise what you’re doing automatically until something is taken away from you.
Derek: Earlier, Sinéad described this very simply as 7 marathons, on 7 continents, in 7 days, but when I think about the reality of that, it really is a massive undertaking. Even if all I was doing was taking those flights, stepping off them and having a cocktail in each country, I’d STILL be wrecked after a week! Which will be the hardest to cope with do you think: the physical, or mental aspects of the race?
John: The easy part of it is the running. Running is what we do; it’s what we’re good at, and we can just “switch off” and do the run. It’s the logistics, and dealing with the different environments that will be challenging. We’ll be going from cold that could be as low as minus 25 or 40, to temperatures as high as plus 25 or 30. It’d be like getting out of the freezer and getting into a hot bath: it takes a while for your body to realise how hot the bath actually is, and then it’s too late. So we won’t have time to acclimatise and we’ll be suffering from sleep deprivation as well, so each day it’s going to be getting tougher and tougher.
Sinéad: If I was going with a guide runner that I wasn’t used to, then it would be the physical aspects. That would be harder on me, because the fear would be there, and that would translate into me going slower. The running will be difficult, but I’m more worried about my phobia of flying!! When we went to run the Volcano Marathon in Chile, they closed the door on the plane and I was stuck in the window seat, so I had a bit of a panic attack. I thought: “If this plane crashes, I’ll have to get out past two people!” There was no logic to it, and I suppose if the plane is going to crash, it doesn’t matter whether you’re beside the window or on the aisle! Anyway, John and the air hostess helped to calm me down that time, and in the last week I’ve probably told John about ten times that I’m not going! So, we’ve kind of already had a few fights and we haven’t even left yet! He’s worn out from telling me “You either want it, or you don’t want it?” I’m telling him that, yes, I do want it, but this is what happens: fear tries to stop you from achieving your goals. I’ll be making sure to see my GP about it before I go, and maybe look at getting some medication. But I definitely want to do it, and to create that Guinness World Record foe being the first visually impaired person to complete the challenge, as well as getting the fastest time for an Irish woman to complete the challenge (a woman did the 7 marathons previously, but over a much longer time-frame).
Derek: Is it a very competitive kind of environment, or will there be a lot of camaraderie and support between the racers?
John: In the ultra-marathon world, people are generally quite friendly towards each other, because they are bound to meet each other at future events. This race will be particularly competitive, though.
Derek: And how does that sit with you Sinéad?
Sinéad: I like to be with people who are very competitive. If you’re running with people who are better than you, then they’re going to bring you on, and bring out the best in you. I might come last in all of these marathons, but even coming in last, I’ll be coming in first; as in I’ll still be creating a World Record, and there’s only one “first time” that that can happen.
John: But we will be competitive as well. Sinéad’s strength is in her strength: a lot of people won’t be able to pace themselves like her. Sinéad will run the last race at the same kind of pace that she’s done the second one. I say the second race, because the Antarctica is such an unknown, we don’t know how anyone will perform. In a funny kind of way, we’ll be using the Antarctica as a warm-up!
Derek: Give me 2 or 3 words that describe how you’re both feeling right now then?
Sinéad: Fear is a big one, excited, and hopeful!
John: “Tight on time!”
Derek: Well in that case, let’s get down to business before I ask you one last question. What do you need, and where can people go to help, and to stay in touch with your progress?
Sinéad: Well, on the GoFundMe page, I have a deficit of about €3,000, out of the €5,000 I need [EDIT FROM DEREK: as of the time of posting, an anonymous donor has pledged a thousand euro, so this is now a deficit of only €2,000!]. The race entrance fees are covered now, but we have to match some of the funding and fly ourselves to the start line. So, if people could help support me there, that’d be great.
John: And there are still opportunities for sponsorship, so get in touch if you’re interested in discussion options around that too. We’d be happy to update people on our progress along the way – if one of the mobile phone companies were to help us out with the phone and internet expenses, that’d be very helpful! The Great Outdoors are kindly loaning us a GoPro, which we’ll hopefully use to share a couple of videos, and we’ll post a couple of photos too. There’s also the official race Facebook page, and hopefully a bit of news coverage as we travel across the globe!
Derek: Well, hopefully it all comes together in time for you and you get everything you need for the adventure. Last question now! It’s January, and loads of people will be looking to take up something new – whether it’s running, or something else entirely. As a couple of highly disciplined people, what advice would you have to help people be successful and achieve their goals?
John: I would say try a few things to find something that you like. And yes, you need to get out of your comfort zone, but if you stick with it, eventually that becomes your new comfort zone. So, be prepared to constantly challenge yourself. You have to leave the “comfortable” behind you; become familiar with being uncomfortable. Outside of the comfort zone is where you grow.
Sinéad: For me, it would come down to passion and also being very specific. You could say “I want to get in shape”, but then what does that mean, specifically, for you? You also need to dig deep and ask yourself questions to find the why behind it. Is it because you want to avoid a heart attack and see your children grow up? You will have very negative moments, because that’s the human mind, so when you have those moments, you need to call on that big reason.
Then, I think, you also need patience. This project for me hasn’t just happened in the last month. This something that I’ve been putting hard work into since January 2016. So, unless you’re a millionaire or a billionaire and you can get things handed to you, then you just have to put in the hard work and have patience to realise that setbacks will happen along the way. When that happens, you need to maybe feel sorry for yourself for that day, and then the following day say “what happened yesterday, happened yesterday and now today is a new day and what am I going to do today to make this project work, if I still want it to work?”
Being around like-minded people really helps you to get over your negativity, or your pity, or your self-doubt. That’s what John has been doing with me over the last few weeks; helping me get over this fear.
Allow pain and adversity and setbacks to be the fuel for achieving your goals. For me, pain is what fuels my goals and that’s why I’m ahead of the rest.
John: One way to be surrounded by like-minded people is to join a club. So, if you feel that you’re starting to like something, get involved in a club and be with people who’ll encourage you, bring you along and answer your questions. You’ll be able to learn from someone else’s experiences and mistakes and it makes everything that bit more enjoyable.
Derek: I once heard what I’m led to believe is an African proverb; it says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I think that really applies to what you’re saying there, and to the race you’re entering. So, I hope that you manage to go both fast AND far together, and I can’t wait to follow your story in the coming weeks.
Sinéad and John wanted to express their sincere thanks to Richard Donovan, the race organiser, The Great Outdoors, and all the people who have sponsored and supported them so far in helping to bring this record home to Ireland… or more specifically, to Cork, but we’ll forgive Sinéad for that bit!
Here are some Twitter accounts, where you can follow their progress and watch out for photos: