Friday 11 July 2014

Two Down, Four to Go

From a six-mile race to running all over the world, Alison O'Riordan meets a man who has been bitten by the marathon bug

Marathon athlete Shane O'Sullivan

A Cork fitness fanatic has been bitten badly by the running bug and hopes to complete all six of the world's top marathons in the next two years. Intrepid runner Shane O'Sullivan, from Carrigadrohid, near Macroom, developed a love for athletics by accident when he signed up to do a six-mile run with the local gym running club and has been hooked ever since.

"I always played football and wanted to play professionally – that was the dream anyway. I remember it was a cold Monday night in January and I haven't looked back since."

Despite having the recommended build for sprinting, it was something that never appealed to him. Instead, he opted for middle-to-long-distance running.

"I like pushing my body to the physical limit and I think a marathon will do that to you. There's always a personal best to be achieved in distance running and that's what I'm hungry for. Besides, a sprint is over within 12-15 seconds; I'd only be getting warmed up after 10 miles," says the 29-year-old.

Running for Leevale AC in Cork city, he trains six to seven days a week, sometimes twice a day, dipping in and out of track, hill and interval sessions as well as weights.

"Four of those days will be sessions with Leevale, usually broken up into hill, interval, speed and tempo sessions and always a long run on a Sunday morning."

Coached by running legend Donie Walsh, who represented Ireland in the 1972 Munich Olympic marathon and won World Cross-Country silver with Ireland in 1979, Shane is very thankful to the distance-running coach.

"Donie is a well-known figure in Cork and has a celebrity status in the athletics world. His expertise and guidance has helped me develop and improve both physically and mentally in so many areas as an athlete over a relatively short period of time."

With many areas to work on – both on the track and in the gym – if one is to continuously improve, Shane also trains with former Irish international footballer Joe Gamble. As his strength and conditioning coach, working on the weights side of things, Joe helps him to keep strong and muscular.

Having taken part in three marathons to date, where did this love for the gruelling long-distance running event come from?

"After I realised it was something I could continuously improve on with work, constantly bettering my times and performance, that's where the love and satisfaction stemmed from. It's funny, because the initial feeling after crossing the finish line is 'never again', but give it a few weeks into your recovery and you're thinking about the next one. It becomes an obsession.

"I started in Cork in 2011, a little naïve with regard to my training if I'm honest. Then, this year I competed in the Virgin London Marathon and, more recently in September, the BMW Berlin Marathon."

Running behind Olympic gold medal winner Mo Farah in the London Marathon in April was a career highlight.

"The best feeling I've experienced. If you can picture standing behind Mo Farah being introduced on BBC, ready to race in front of 800,000 people, with Fatboy Slim's 'Right Here Right Now' being played at the starting line. I was so pumped; I felt like I was in the Olympics."

Shane also ran the Berlin Marathon, which is a major event in September, to raise funding for a charity close to his heart, the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

"Berlin is one of the biggest marathons in the world, and the fastest, so it attracts the world's elite athletes. I had the added pressure of knowing I dedicated five solid months of training to do a big personal best there. I did a 27-minute personal best on the day, again testament to Donie Walsh, who invested a lot of time in me achieving that.

"Coming through the Brandenburg Gate to the finish, I remember it being so loud, and it's amazing how months of hard work can be emotionally focused into one point. Naturally I was teary as I was so overcome with emotion."

With so much time invested into preparing for a marathon, the Bank of Ireland employee finds it tough at times training like a professional as well as holding down a full-time job.

"People don't see the 22-mile runs at 8am on a cold, wet Sunday morning in February. There are so many aspects of training for the marathon. It's not as easy as just going out and running: you've your speed work, the high-intensity intervals, your tempo runs and, of course, your long runs. But, like anything, you have to put the hard hours in on the track if you want to achieve your goals."

Planning his sessions in advance, Shane starts training at 7am each morning or else at 6pm in the evening, if not both, depending on his periods of rest and recovery.

With a desire to compete all six of the world's top marathons, each presents itself as a new challenge for the athlete.

"So London and Berlin I've ticked off. New York, Boston, Chicago and Tokyo make up the six. I plan to race all of them. With a newer goal comes harder training. I'm always looking to improve on the last."

Training alongside Limerick's Orla Drumm, who has represented Ireland many times over the past 10 years in the 1,500m, Shane has learnt a lot from her expertise.

"Orla's based between Cork and Dublin, so when she's in Cork, it's great to get sessions in with her. She's very experienced and she's also a brand ambassador for Kinetica, so we're always well fuelled up before our sessions."

Shane is conscious that attracting sponsors isn't easy for any athlete, so when sports nutrition company Kinetica approached him to be one of their ambassadors, he jumped at the chance.

"Their products are second to none and ensure I get the maximum benefit from every training session, and that I'm fully recovered for the next one. They're a Cork-based company, so we've got that in common, too."

Blessed with good athletic genes, Shane hasn't suffered any injuries of note to date.

"I do suffer from shin splints quite a bit but nothing to keep me off the roads for too long. A good recovery and rest is key for injury prevention, so I try to get as much rest between sessions as I can."

With the correct balance of hard training and a good diet, knocking out 60 to 70 miles a week means that the Cork native has to be constantly fuelling his body.

"As a distance athlete, getting carbohydrates in before a long session is essential. Rice, pasta, chicken and sweet potato make up a large portion of my daily dietary intake. I always take Kinetica whey and recovery shakes throughout the day also as they are very convenient with my days being so busy."

Shane's employer, Bank of Ireland, also sponsors his beloved charity Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, which has recently appointed him as an ambassador.

Getting €500 from the bank for every marathon he runs provides him with extra incentive to keep going.

"It gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing that while doing what I love, I'm raising much-needed funds for a great organisation. Between the London and Berlin marathons, more than €5,000 was raised – a tough task nowadays. As an ambassador, I'm always encouraging more people to get involved. To me, running a marathon seems effortless compared with the everyday challenges facing the blind and disabled."

With his eyes firmly on the track for 2014, Shane looks forward to competing on the international marathon stage.

"Hopefully, next year's London and New York marathons will hold some new personal bests for me. I'll keep training hard and follow the dream. Who knows, maybe even Rio 2016."

Shane O'Sullivan is a brand ambassador for Irish Sports nutritional suppliers Kinetica Sports. For more, log on to

Irish Independent

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