JUST how does ultra-marathon runner Ruthann Sheahan keep going, sometimes for days at a stretch, over punishing 250km distances in hostile terrain?
The secret, says the Irish 24-hour running champion, is the right shoes — and we’re not talking runners here but designer shoes.
The thought of adding to her impressive designer shoe collection (120 pairs and counting) is one of the things that helps keep the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon ambassador pounding the pavement for hours on end.
“The longer the race, the higher the heel,” she laughs, explaining that as she clocks up the miles she adds inches to the heels of the Louboutins she’ll buy as a reward on eBay.
That thought kept her going during the 251km Marathon des Sables — aka the “toughest race on earth” — which she completed over six days in the Sahara desert in 2012.
DISCOVER MORE CONTENT LIKE THIS
Maybe that explains why you’ll find a five-shelf unit under the stairs of her Galway home stacked four rows deep with designers such as Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Charlotte Olympia, Jimmy Choo and Giuseppe Zanotti.
But Sheahan’s love of running goes far deeper than her passion for shoes. She was inspired to try running again after watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
As a teenager in Leap, Co Cork, she had competed in track and cross-country events for Glandore and Skibbereen Athletics Club.
However, 18 years would elapse before she and a gang of friends had a lunchtime conversation at Boston Scientific — where she works as a quality engineer — and decided to enrol in the Connemara half marathon in 2009.
She’ll never forget the first run. She recalls standing on jelly legs on the Tuam road, thinking that she was really alive.
“That night we ran three miles, but I might as well have run a marathon. It took me a few days to recover, but I knew this was for me. It was so social and it was great to get out into the fresh air,” she says.
The friends downloaded an 18-week running plan from the internet, trained together and completed the marathon.
“After the half marathon, I felt such a sense of achievement. I fell in love with it. I said to myself if I can run a half marathon, I can run a marathon. I wondered how far I might go, what kind of character I really was and if I could venture into the unknown.”
That journey into the unknown has taken her to unimagined places — Morocco, Cambodia and the Atacama desert in South America where she came third in a 136-mile race across an inhospitable landscape.
She has two Irish records for 24-hour running (track and field) and last week she finished 11th in the world (7th in Europe) in the 24-hour World and European Championships in Turin.
She’ll tell you blithely that she passed out 45 minutes from the end of the race but that it was nothing serious. She was just a little dehydrated and found it difficult to adapt to the 22-degree heat.
Before that, her crew (including husband George Livanos) kept her going handing her snacks every 20 minutes or so — a bit of banana, an Actimel drink, some grapes or, her new favourite, the non-alcoholic beer Erdinger, which she says is full of vitamin D.
“It’s very challenging but it’s all part of the great adventure,” she says. She’s just about to turn 40 but that is relatively young in the world of ultra-marathon running.
Sheahan says there are lots of women in their 40s and 50s who are competing at a high level and she knows of others in their 60s and 70s who are taking up marathon running for the first time.
“It’s never too late,” she says.
And she says everyone should give it a go. If you are even half-thinking of taking part in the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon, just sign up, Sheahan advises.
“Don’t be frightened by it and don’t worry about your capability,” she says, adding that the relay is a great place to start. “Get together with a few friends. Do your research. Make a plan and find out what you should be eating and drinking and go for it.”
DISCOVER MORE CONTENT LIKE THIS
Ask her about the upsides of running and the advantages trip off her tongue. “It brings out the best in people. It’s very sociable — I’ve made great friends. Work can be very insular but running gives you a chance to take your head out of the clouds and focus on other people, on your health and on positivity. You are spending a few hours being extremely happy.”
It’s also really important for mental health. “When I run, everything is better: health, work, life in general. You start to see a whole new world of adventure.”
That adventure continues; next month, she’ll run in the Cork City Marathon. In July, she’ll be competing in the 24-hour national championships in Belfast and in September, she’ll be running from Athens to Sparta (250km in less than 36 hours) in the Spartathlon.
In the meantime, though, you might just spot Ruthann doing a few laps of Galway in her 6in Louboutins.
The closing date for entry to the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon is just under three weeks away.
The marathon isn’t just for seasoned runners as you can sign up for the relay or for a half marathon.
With up to five people in each team, the most anyone has to walk or run is 5.8 miles.
To sign up, visit IrishExaminerCorkCityMarathon.com today. Entry fees start at just €27.50 for concessions.
Concession fees apply to students, persons on disability pension and dependent spouses, carers, pensioners, the unemployed, persons on disability benefit and dependent spouses, lone parents and asylum seekers.
Rob’s Cork City Marathon Blog: Week 1 – Training plans and footwear
Rob’s Cork City Marathon Blog: Week 2 – Varying your training and setting time goals
Rob’s Cork City Marathon Blog: Week 3 – Dealing with injuries and motivating yourself
Rob’s Cork City Marathon Blog: Week 4 – Choosing the right food