Interview with Moire O’ Sullivan, author of ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’

Before Christmas, we ran a review of the excellent book ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears by Moire O’ Sullivan. The book traces the author’s amazing journey from novice to seasoned mountain runner and outlines her attempt of the infamous Wicklow Round.

The book is a highly inspirational read and is recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in mountain running.

With the IMRA season about to kick off, we caught up with Morie and she kindly answered a few questions:

What was your first experience of Mountain running?
The mountain running habit all began in Dublin. My first ever mountain race was up Corrig Mountain, near Dublin with the Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA). All I remember was trying to run uphill and nearly dying. And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, we tried to run up to the summit in the worst of Irish weather. The wind blew me off my feet. The mist nearly made me get lost on top. The bog and heather tripped me up again and again. I hated it and vowed never to return. Less than 24 hours later, I thought it was best thing I’d ever done, so went back the next week for more.

What advice would you give to anyone starting into Mountain Running?
To get into mountain running, it’s best to just turn up to one of the IMRA races. There is nothing like getting thrown into the deep end. Yes, you’ll hate it and probably won’t understand why anyone would do such a horrible sport. But once you do your 2nd or 3rd race, believe me, you’ll get addicted. Make sure you head to the pub after the race as there is nothing like talking to a few mountain runners to get properly inspired. For more details, visit: http://www.imra.ie/events/

What races would you recommend to someone looking to get a feel for the sport?
The Leinster League summer races are what most people start off with (http://www.imra.ie/leagues/view/id/10/year/2011). The League starts in April with races of around 6 kilometres. Races are held every Wednesday until July, with distances peaking at around 12 kilometres. If you can’t wait until the summer, rock up to the Winter League that starts in January… just be prepared for a bit of mountain running in the sleet and snow. All of the Leinster League and Winter League races are marked trails. Where it’s really at is when the races are across open mountain and require navigation, and that’s something I’d really recommend people to eventually get into.

Having done the Wicklow Round, is it something you would every consider doing again, perhaps as part of a team?
I loved doing the Wicklow Round. The reason I actually wrote the book was because I wanted other people to realise what an incredible challenge it is, and to inspire others to give it a crack. So I think it’s now the turn of other people to go out and do it, rather than me try to go round all over again.

We recently ran a Poll to find our reader’s favourite Irish Mountain. Which was your favourite Irish mountain to run?
Favourite Irish mountain to run – that’s a difficult one. I think I’d have to say Djouce. I have great memories of a great route up, starting at Djouce carpark 2, through the forest and heading up the Wicklow Way until the boardwalk, and then to the top of Djouce. There is a great steep rocky descent off followed by the grassy return to the forest. I’ve also got some good memories of skirting around Djouce on the Wicklow Ultra race.

I understand that your work is taking you to many countries. Are you managing to keep up the running and have you any running challenges in mind for the future?

I always pack my running shoes when I go travelling. I was in New York at the end of September and had some great runs in Central Park. Recently I was in Seoul, South Korea and I got a quick river run in. In Cambodia, I still manage to run… though only if I manage to get up at 5.30am. After that, I find it far too hot to even jog. The only place I’ve not managed to run was Afghanistan back in March, and that’s because it would be practically impossible to run in a burkha. Such a shame, as its definitely got the best mountains in the world.

New York: http://moireosullivan.com/2011/10/03/cruising-around-central-park-new-york/
Seoul: http://moireosullivan.com/2011/10/18/successfully-finding-somewhere-to-run-in-urban-sprawl-seoul/
Kabul: http://moireosullivan.com/2011/04/04/no-mountain-running-in-afghanistan/

I have no running challenges at the moment but I am hoping to travel around the Rocky Mountains the next time I’m free.

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.

Lastly, where can people get hold of the excellent ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’
Paperbacks can be bought from Basecamp, Great Outdoors, Amazon.co.uk, and from my blog directly. The book can also be bought for Kindles from Amazon.com and for other e-readers from Smashwords. All details can be found here: http://moireosullivan.com/buy-the-book-mud-sweat-and-tears/

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