Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mountain runner Moire O Sullivan on the luxury of running around the world

Moire O Sullivan
Moire O’Sullivan runs all over the world… quite literally. Her job with international aid agencies brings her to some of the globe’s poorest countries. And when she’s not working, she dons her shorts and shoes and runs around these places, wherever she can find a path or trail. And then she writes all about it in her blog Running over mountains and around the world

You're living in Cambodia, from Ireland and have lived in a number of other countries. Where is your favourite mountain run?

I’ll tell you instead about my most memorable run. In 2008, I tried to run the Wicklow Round, trying to top the summits of 26 mountains in the Wicklow Mountains in less than 24 hours. It’s a challenge that covers over 100 kilometres, with over 10,000 metres climb (equivalent of sea level to over the top of Mount Everest). In 2008, I ran 24 mountains in 22 hours.

And then I collapsed at midnight, just before the finish, and really couldn’t go on. It took me another year of preparation before I managed to get around them all, this time coming home in just under 23 hours. Though the actual day I did the Wicklow Round was grand, training was the best bit. You can’t beat the long broad run up Luganacoille from the north, catching glimpses of mountain goats in Glendalough as you come off Camaderry, getting stuck in the bog on Silsean, or marveling at the heart shaped lake at the foot of Lugalla.

And in your spare time (!), you do some adventure racing?

Before I really got into mountain running, I had a fair go at adventure racing. Adventure racing is like a mountain triathlon, only that you mountain run, mountain bike and kayak instead of road run, road bike, and swim. And that’s as far as the comparisons go. Adventure racing can really involve any sport, including navigation, rope climbing and abseiling, lake swimming, horse riding, clay pidgin shooting, and even mathematical puzzles. A sprint race is 4-6 hours. The most extreme can last up to 8 days. The mountain runners often switch to adventure racing sports during the winter season, so I was dragged into the sport by them.

However my memories of adventure racing in Ireland are mainly of being cold, wet, tired, miserable, and lost in the dark and mud. 
Now I adventure race in Thailand and Vietnam when I get a chance, due to the lack of mountain running terrain. The adventure races are warm and sunny, with my main woes being heat stroke, dehydration, insect bites, and farmer’s tan. It’s an incredibly fast growing sport here, and great to see so many Asian teams battling it out.

Moire O Sullivan Cambodia
Having raced in so many different countries, what are the strangest things you've seen?

Kathmandu marathon was definitely one of the strangest races. Despite the city’s crazy traffic and large race numbers, the organizers do not close the roads. This meant I ran into one of Kathmandu’s infamous stand-still traffic jams. I was slaloming around cars, motorbikes, and tractors, eventually ending up on the uneven pavement on the side. Even the pavement wasn’t easy running with pedestrians walking between shops, cyclists parking their bikes there, and cows and dogs lying sprawled across my path.

And once I had passed the grid-lock traffic, I ran straight into a protest march of over a thousand people. Eventually I managed to pass them, but only to find that, in my efforts to circumnavigate the crowd, I was over a kilometre off the course and running in totally the wrong direction.

What Kathmandu lacked in organization, Hanoi made up for hundred fold. There I entered the 1 mile Hanoi Peace Run around the city’s Hoan Kiem lake. All the roads were blocked off in preparation for the race. There were boxy police cars from the days of Starsky and Hutch with flashing red lights and wailing sirens patrolling the block. The local ambassadors had turned up en masse, even the one from Ireland.

They were all kitted out in sporting uniform that they had all been given to wear on the day: baseball caps, 1970s polyester Adidas tracksuits and white gym plimsols. There were speeches, Olympic style marches, and children dancing salsa.

We wanted to race with the Vietnamese, but we weren’t allowed. Instead we had to race in the ‘Alien’ category with all the other foreigners. I managed to cross the line first and got interviewed for Vietnamese TV. I even got 22 US dollars for the win 

Running in developing countries is a different experience then, how does that fit with your career as a charity worker? 

I think the most profound thing I’ve learnt from running in developing countries is how fortunate I am to be able to run. Most don’t have the strength because they don’t have enough food to eat. Most don’t have enough time or energy as they have to work all day in the fields, fetch water, look after numerous kids.

Running is a luxury that so few of us can do. So when you’re complaining about going for your next run, remember those who don’t even have the choice. 

Part One of this interview is here.
Moire took the time to talk about all this while working in Afghanistan, much appreciated.

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