We recently interviewed Irish Mountain Running Champion Moire O’Sullivan. She loves running up and down mountains and writing about it all once she gets home. She started out mountain running in Ireland, where she became Ireland’s 2007 and 2008 Mountain Running Champion. She also won the Irish 24 hour Rogaine Championships twice with Andrew McCarthy as well as the Mourne Mountain Marathon mixed elite class. In 2009, Moire became the first person ever to complete the Wicklow Round, a hundred kilometre circuit of the Wicklow Mountains to be completed within twenty four hours. She was so moved by the experience that she wrote a book called “Mud, Sweat and Tears” detailing the personal journey she went through to complete the Wicklow Round. When not running, Moire works for international charities. As part of her work, she has travelled to some of the world’s poorest areas and worst conflict zones. She currently lives in Nepal.
How long have you been mountain running?
I started mountain running four years ago when a friend invited me along to a race. My maiden attempt at uphill running was pathetic to say the least. Within seconds, my lungs caught fire. My heart hit record speeds. After less than a minute, my thighs were ticking time bombs, ready to explode. When I eventually got to the summit, I found all mountain hell breaking loose. The wind was screeching. The rain was swirling. And whilst I was being subsumed by this Irish Hades, all the other mountain runners I was with disappeared further and further into the mist. I hated it the first time. But now that I don’t mind the pain or bad weather, I truly love the sport.
What distance race do you prefer to run?
I like any race that involves running around mountains for hours upon end. It could be a mountain marathon where you cover less than 30 kilometres but it can take anything up to eight hours because you’re carrying a tent, sleeping bag and enough food for 48 hours. Or Nepal’s 71km Annapurna trail race where the 2050 metres of climb up 3080 steps to Ulleri meant to take me over 12 hours to get to the finish. Or it could be a 24 hour Rogaine where the distance you cover is up to you, the only prerequisite is that you visit as many check-points in the mountains and get back home before the 24 hours pass.
Moire comments on the 24 hour 100km Wicklow Round and much more after the jump.
Can you describe mountain running in Ireland?
It is impossible to describe mountain running in Ireland without talking about Irish mountain runners. Every Wednesday during the summer, we meet, whatever the weather, to run up and around Dublin’s hills. It’s a space where the young and old, fast and slow battle it out as we struggle up the hills and fling ourselves back down again. Less than an hour later, we’re in the pub together, avid adversaries on the mountain discovering the wonderful healing powers of a proper pint. The Irish Mountain Runners Association (IMRA) is a group of people united in our love of running of races, of mountains, and of drinking. This unity we achieve regardless of our speeds, gender, ages, or abilities. And that’s what mountain running in Ireland is all about.
Have you done mountain running outside of Ireland?
Thanks to my job working for international charities, I’ve come across some spectacular mountains across the world in my time. I’ve run up some nice mountains in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Spain, Kenya, East Timor, and Nepal. I’ve looked for mountains whilst I was in Bangladesh and Cambodia but soon discovered the countries were too flat. And in Rwanda and Congo, the mountains were too remote or too full of warlords to safely venture into them. I’m looking forward though to discovering the mountains in New Zealand when I go there for the 9th World Rogaine Championships in November .
What prompted you to get Vibram Five Fingers?
I was told they were comfortable. I was told they were good for you. But I had absolutely no intention of buying a pair whatsoever as they were far too freakish to ever be seen dead wearing them. And then I was in Singapore one day and found a shop that sold them. So I tried them on, kinda liked the colour, thought they were pretty snug, so I took a pair home and never looked back.
Do you use Vibram Five Fingers in your running?
I’d like to. Thing is I’m one of those people who tried to break them in too fast. After running 10k in them after only 2 weeks of having them, I screwed up my Achilles tendon. That pain lasted for over two months. It then transpired whilst having a spot of Sotai Japanese physiotherapy in Kathmandu that my hips are slightly twisted, hence the Achilles problem as well as a host of other niggles that tend to bother me when I run. So the Vibrams have actually forced me to sort my wonky hips out first. Once I’m straightened out, I hope to get back to wearing the Five Fingers on my daily runs.
Would you consider wearing Vibram Five Fingers in a run like the Wicklow Round?
It would be cool to have a try. And I’m sure someone will do the Wicklow Round in the Five Fingers one day. But I think the Wicklow Round terrain would challenge the current five finger range. There’s a lot of wet, cold, steep, slippery bog on the Round, and 100k of that in Five Fingers might prove too much. Having said that, any footwear would be challenged by the round by the look of how my legs and feet were after my attempt.
How have they been received by your fellow runners and friends?
I thought I’d get a lot of slagging for running around in Five Fingers. But the reaction has been quite the opposite – most people want to find out where they can buy a pair. The only problem is that in Ireland you have to mail order them in, and what with the sizing issue, some are unwilling to go through the hassle. So if some willing stockists from Ireland is reading this, please please bring Vibrams Five Fingers to a store near me. Those fellow runners and friends who have gone through the rigmarole of mail order have said they like them. Most enjoy running on grass with them in the summer as opposed to bog slogging up some desolate Irish mountain in the mid-winter. But some just like wandering around the house in them and feeling super cozy in them.
What type and color Five Fingers do you have and how long have you had them?
I have the Sprint Five Fingers in a dashing slate/palm colour. I bought them three months ago during my Singapore shopping spree. The irony is, the same day I bought some super comfy, well padded, designed for marathon running Asics. Needless to say, the Asics gave me blisters the first day out so I’ve not worn them since. Whilst the Five Fingers get an outing every other day.
Any unusual experiences while wearing them?
I brought them recently on a one week field trip to the Mid-West Region in Nepal. They were perfect for stashing into my rucksack and pulling out after a long day’s hike.
I was sitting around wearing them one night when my Nepali work colleagues started starring at them and tutting,
“Dangerous”, I heard Sonu muttering to me.
I was just about to pipe up and say they were very safe indeed, that I could grip with my toes so I’d not be falling off any precipitous narrow paths.
“Dangerous?” I said.
“Very”, Sonu replied. “Where do you get a pair?”
“But I thought you said they were dangerous?”
“They are”, Sonu said.
Neither of us was making much sense. Fortunately Sonu had been around foreigners long enough to know an explanation was required.
“Dangerous in Nepali means that people will want them so badly that they’ll try and steal them from you”.
From then on in, I made sure my Vibram Five Fingers were hidden away safely at the bottom of my rucksack. And I kept a very close eye on the porters just in case Sonu paid them off and stole away my Fingers.
Anything else you'd like to share about your running, travels or Five Fingers?
There’s a big world out there. And running has been my way of seeing more of it up close. Whether it was jogging past Lao’s ornate Buddhist temples from which orange shrouded monks emerge at sunrise, through the Congolese jungle with flip-flop clad boys on their way to school, or into Nepali jungles where leeches ate through my socks and implanted themselves between my toes. And if the Five Fingers allow me to run faster for longer and injury-free, then that’s another reason to put them on every morning and see the world on a running pace.
By the way, is it harder going up or down a mountain?
Far easier going down - All you have to do is say your prayers and let gravity do the rest.
Moire O’Sullivan blogs at http://moireosullivan.wordpress.com/
Thank you very much, Moire, for giving us a glimpse into your incredible life as a mountain runner and international charity worker.