Friday 15 December 2017

'I hope people feel inspired by it' - Visually impaired runner on finishing seven marathons in seven days across seven continents

Sinead Kane and running partner John O'Regan at Sandymount Strand in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Sinead Kane and running partner John O'Regan at Sandymount Strand in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Eamon Carr

The greatest revenge in life can sometimes be success. Sinéad Kane, who became the first visually impaired person to successfully run seven marathons in seven days across seven continents, is now having to explain her motives and what the achievement means.

For sure, the 34-year old from Youghal isn’t seeking celebrity like some dizzy reality TV show wannabe.

Kane took on the task to challenge “the status quo about disability and encourage people to think differently about their own abilities.”

“Hopefully when you show courage, it has a ripple effect,” she says. “I hope people can look at the challenge that I’ve done and feel inspired by it, whether they have a disability or not. Don’t think you have to do 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days to be successful. All you have to do is set your own personal goals.”

Distance running can test your resolve. But Kane hadn’t expected to hit trouble so early in her week-long odyssey of endurance.

For the first race in Antarctica, where the temperature was expected to be -20, she wore wool socks and a different brand of running shoes than she was used to.

Just six miles into her World Marathon Challenge, Kane had developed blisters on her feet. The prospect of finishing seven marathons looked shaky.

“That had never happened me before,” she says. “Waiting for the doctor to bandage my feet felt so long. I was like, “C’mon, c’mon, you’re wasting time. I’m losing position out there.” That was difficult.”

There were other surprises in store for the solicitor, who’s also a PhD student.

“I wasn’t expecting my feet to swell up on the plane,” she says. “There were particular days before the marathons when I said to John (O’Regan, her guide runner), “My feet won’t fit into my runners. What am I going to do?” He said, “Just keep on your sandals and when you’re at the start line, we’ll just have to squash your feet into your runners.”

The itinerary demanded that the runners fly from one continent to another to complete the challenge in seven days. That meant the athletes had to try to sleep on the flight.

“I imagined this lovely flight where I could recline the seat and just fall off to sleep,” says Sinéad. “In total, I got about three or four hours sleep, throughout all the time.”

There was also the problem of jet lag to contend with.

“I didn’t tell her that she was going to get jet lag,” reveals guide runner John O’Regan. “All Sinead knew was, “I have to do another race.” We all visualise what’s ahead of us which means you ration your physical and mental energy. When you reach the finish line, that’s when you allow your body to shut down. We finished in Sydney but if there’d been another race the next day, we would have done it.”

O’Regan is an extreme athlete and ultra runner who has firsts from the Yukon Arctic Ultra 100 Mile and the Inca Trail Marathon. He’s run the Everest Marathon. His specialist discipline is 24-hour racing.

When he met Sinéad after her Dublin marathon debut, she was disappointed that she hadn’t achieve her goal of under four hours.

“She seemed OK,” he recalls. “So I suggested that maybe there’s a limit to how fast you can go but there might not be a limit to how far you can go. I suggested trying a 50K race. I tested her. I picked out a 50K race and went there and blindfolded myself and got a guide to run with me so that I could become aware of the course.”

O’Regan had been guide runner for Mark Pollock so had lots of experience before offering his services to Kane, who successfully completed the 50K race.

“She wasn’t feeling the pain in the areas a runner should feel pain,” says John. “Her legs weren’t fatigued. So I said, “Maybe your strength lies even beyond this. Would you try a twelve hour race?”

“She was thinking, “How could I train for a twelve hour race?” recalls John. “I helped with her training and I was her guide runner. At her first attempt, she broke the track record and finished second. She did the same race the following year over a more difficult course and again beat the distance she’d covered. I knew there was something different here.”

In Marrakech, on the fifth marathon, a foot injury added to Sinéad’s extreme pain and pushed her close to the edge. “I took off my race number,” she reveals. “I said, “That’s it. I’m not meant to be a runner. My disability is holding me back. I was in a very negative state of mind.”

It was a dangerously low moment but Kane was persuaded to carry on.

Her preparation for the seven-day event had also come with setbacks.

“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to achieve this goal,” she says. “I’ve encountered a lot of rejection. Even though there’s overwhelming support now, on rainy, cold days when I had to go out running, people weren’t there and they didn’t feel the loneliness that I felt. Or the rejection that I felt when sponsors let me down.”

Allianz came to the rescue but how had Kane coped with the setbacks?

“To make the dream work, you have to have teamwork,” she says.

“That’s why it’s been very important for me to have had John (O’Regan) in my life over the last year. I’m not just dealing with it by myself. He believes in my ability.”

Sinéad didn’t consult sports psychologists ahead of her record-breaking challenge.

“My preparation has been my life experience,” she states. “All the setbacks I’ve gone through. The bullying I’ve gone through in my younger years. My disability. All those helped me to become a stronger person.

You have to know why you want to do it. If you don’t know the reason why when you’re positive, you definitely won’t know the reason why when you’re negative.”

She also stresses the importance of having the right people in her life. “There are energy vampires out there and they’ll try to suck your energy,” she insists. “There are people who want me to fail. People who want to say, “Oh, sure, I knew she wouldn’t do it.” Knowing that people want you to fail can sometimes drive you on.”

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