On Friday the 17th of July 2015 I will become the first visually impaired runner to take part in the Energia 24 Hour Race challenge guided by John ORegan, a former winner of the Irish Championship event and 3 time National Champion. I will tackle the 12-hour element of the Energia 24 Hour and compete alongside 142 other competitors running the 24 hour, 12 hour race and relay race – including two relay teams from Energia, I will be at the start line at the Mary Peters’ Track on Friday July 17, at 6.45pm.
Competing in this race shows that running is for everybody, there are no limits and with this race there’s no finish line. Every four hours there is a change of direction on the track to lessen the impact on the body from turning the same direction constantly . With the change of direction there will be a leader board update and if I get too tired from running then I will switch to a run/walk strategy. By walking I will still be still clocking up the kilometers and I have been told that one advantage with the Mary Peters Track location is that it is far enough away from housing that the track loudspeakers can be used throughout the night. Hence, music will be continually played over the loudspeakers along with race commentary which help with staying awake.
Running in this race is not going to be easy but if it was easy then everybody would be doing it. If you can outlast pain and discomfort on the other side of it is success. Pain creates the reward of success. It creates the prize of getting my finisher medal.
Everyone has had an obstacle to overcome – a barrier to success. Will this race be easy? No. Will it be challenging? Yes. But I have to go through it to become strong, to be stronger. It’s time to take my body and mind to the next level. I am not a quitter. I am a survivor. I will struggle through this race but I will make myself get through it. I am building a foundation of mental toughness that will continue to expand. Through difficult tasks you begin to learn a lot about yourself about discipline about resilience about how to be a better person. You don’t truly appreciate relaxation unless you have worked hard. I will go through a lot of mental gymnastics in the 12 hour race but I am willing to face this mental battle and fight back. This is what being an athlete is all about – challenging yourself – challenging yourself to another level. My haters want me to fail, they want me to give in but I am making the decision now, I won’t give up and I won’t give in. Day after day I will do better. I will grow. Doing this race isn’t about where I am starting from – whether I am at the bottom of the rank or at the top – greatness is not about talent – it is about effort and I am willing to put in the effort to get through the 12 hour race. This opportunity of doing the race can change my life, my mental strength. So I must not doubt myself. All I need is for me to believe in myself. Self-motivation can change the world.
A journalist recently asked me so when was your last 10 hour run? To which I replied – I haven’t done a 10 hour run. The journalist seemed surprised and further enquired so what runs have you been doing to prepare for the 12 hour race in Belfast? Have you run 8 hours or even 6 hours? I replied no. I told the jorunalsist all my runs over the past few months have been short runs 10 miles, 13 miles, 15 miles. My longest run has been 4 hours 52 minutes and that was done in February 2015 when I did the Donadea 50k. Since February I have done a marathon in 3 hours 55mins and another 4 hour run and so I am very UNDER prepared for this 12 hour race. In fact, the decision to do this race wasn’t made until only recently. In June a person joked with me that soon I would be doing 100 Km or 12 hour races as a step up to my 50k. I replied to the person saying: ‘Are you mad – running around a track for 12 hours would be mentally and physically exhausting.’ Little did I know a few weeks after making this comment that I would now less than a week to the start line date be writing this blog post. So am I prepared for the race – the answer is NO but I won’t let that stop me. I would prefer to fail trying then not try at all.
Some obstacles I will encounter during the race due to my sight are:
• The noise on the Track will be disorientating and may affect my concentration.
• Running within the confines of a lane will take a lot of effort as I find it hard to run in a straight line which will require lots of contact with my guide runner John. Normally when I am out running on the road I drift from left to right and the guide runner has to straighten me up a bit or if in a safe area allows me the freedom to drift from left to right. In this race I won’t be able to be drifting as I will have to stick to my lane.
• Stepping off the Track for personal needs breaks / toilet stops and eating & drinking on the move will be difficult due to my limited vision as it will take me more time than a person with full sight.
Some people in the last week have been asking me – so are you doing this race to try and win it? No. I think given my lack of preparation and such a late decision in deciding to do this race that the best I can hope for is to actually make it around for the full 12 hours without being physically and mentally exhausted and drained. This race will make or break me. It will either make me want to further challenge myself in future and set more extreme goals or it will break me and I will give up running if I don’t do well in the race.
Human beings have two powerful primal instincts. One is to avoid pain, the other is to move towards pleasure. I keep imaging how much pain and discomfort I am going to be 6 hours into the race and I will have another 6 hours to go. My heart will be pumping, my legs burning, I will be dripping enough of sweat to put out a small forest fire. I will try and take care of the elements that can contribute to pain – hydration, nutrition, etc but what’s left? My mindset on the day will play a huge part in my ability to handle pain.
I try not to think about being in pain for 12 hours running. I try and tell myself well some women go through labour pains for 24hours and so if they can do it then I can suffer a bit for 12hours. I try and tell myself suffering for 12hours is nothing compared to people who battle life threatening illnesses every day and have to receive gruelling treatment. I tell myself to think of people who don’t have the opportunity to get up and run. For all those people who suffer, for the people who don’t have the opportunity to run – I will be thinking about you all for the 12 hours and that is what will motivate me to run. Nothing is more motivating than reminding yourself the WHY of achieving a goal. It’s crucial to remain in touch with what inspires you. I hope I do the people of my home town Youghal proud. I hope I inspire young people to believe in themselves and to keep fighting through the gauntlet of life.
I never aspired to be a runner. I never had it on my bucket list of things to do – to do a 12 hour race on a track. I have just fell into running by chance. When I was in school I was always left on the PE bench. I was always choosen last to be part of the team. Did it affect me? Yes, I told myself back then that I was worthless and that I would never achieve. In April 2012 I turned 30 years of age. The same month I agreed to run a 10k race for a charity for blind children. Voluntary work has been a big part of my life since I have been about 8years of age helping various charities. Hence, saying yes to a 10k race was never in doubt for me. It was only after promising saying yes that I thought to myself – well what is a 10k? How can I run without a guide to guide me because I can’t run myself trying to use a white cane! I also then started questioning about how I have never been involved in any sport and so how would I have the fitness level. At the time I had a very basic fitness level of one or two times a week going to the gym. The more I asked questions the more self-doubt crept in. To get rid of the self-doubt I told myself there was only one question that I needed to ask myself – WHY was I doing the race? The simple answer was to help blind children and to inspire them to believe that they can contribute in life and have ability and not to let anyone in life make them feel put down. When you know the WHY you will make the HOW and the practicalities fall into place. Your WHY will drive you to find solutions to practical obstacles. I completed the 10k race and from there my running journey started. In the past three years there has been a gap of about 10months of no running due to not being able to find a guide. However, at present I now have two guides Denis Kelleher based in Cork and John O’Regan based in Dublin.
I never considered myself a runner. In a short space of time I have achieved a lot. I was the first female visually impaired athlete to compete in the Dublin marathon. I am also the first known visually impaired athlete to complete an ultra-marathon in Ireland – I completed a 50k in February 2015. Earlier this year I forced the mini marathon office to reverse a decision and change their policy to allow my male guide run with me.
In May I went to Brazil and completed the Wings for life World Run. There were 1413 females in the race and I was 23rd female home – running in 29 degrees heat. I pushed myself to the extreme and ended up in hospital after the race because I had travelled half way around the world to do this race and so I wanted to give it everything I had in me.
In June I did the women’s mini marathon in Dublin and I came home in 104th place out of 40,000 females. I won the visually impaired category.