Aid worker Moire O’Sullivan (36) on the joys of running in Wicklow, Afghanistan and Cambodia.
When did you start running and why? I used to do athletics as a teenager, but didn’t really start running until I was 27 when I joined the Hash House Harriers in Nairobi, Kenya. It professes to be a “drinking club with a running problem” that likes to sing silly juvenile songs. But it was also a perfect way to meet people and get to know a new city and its trails.
The biggest challenge you’ve taken on? Last year I agreed to work in Afghanistan for a couple of weeks. Before I went, I read the security reports and took in the security protocols.
There was to be no walking in Kabul, curfews, off-limit locations, and strictly no running allowed. It all made for grim reading.
Anyone with any sense would have not gone. But there’s a streak in me that wants to confront the things that are meant to be dangerous. Because when I do, the fear I often have turns out to be untrue.
My two weeks in Afghanistan reversed the years of negative press I had heard. I met incredible Afghan people: friendly, intelligent, committed, fun to be with.
I saw their incredible land, cherry-blossomed with fresh mountain air, clear rivers and inspiring hills.
Although the war still continues and intensifies, I found that many of my original fears were unfounded.
What keeps you going when things get tough? Chocolate, or a promise of a hug at the end.
Your favourite place to run? I was lucky enough to live and work in Nepal in 2010. It’s a mountain runner’s paradise with trails all over the place. I arrived in the country just in time to run the Annapurna 71km in March 2010, from Pokhara to Birethanti and back.
Most weekends were spent running around the Kathmandu Valley with other trail-running enthusiasts. And just before I left, I did an amazing seven-day mountain running trip up and down the Langtang Valley and then back to Kathmandu.
Your proudest achievement? In July 2008 I made a solo attempt on the Wicklow Round – a gruelling endurance run spanning 100km over 26 of the Wicklow Mountains’ remotest peaks. After 21 hours I collapsed, two summits from the end.
Battered and bruised yet undeterred, I returned a year later to become the first person to complete the round in less than 24 hours. I was so moved by the whole experience and my mountain-running journey that I wrote a book called Mud, Sweat and Tears.
What are you training for? I’m currently training for the Beast of Ballyhoura Adventure Race that takes place in August. It’s billed as a uniquely Irish 36-hour non-stop race across Cork, Limerick and Tipperary.
Mixed teams of four mountain-run, bike, kayak, abseil, orienteer and shoot, and have to navigate the best route to win. It’s designed to push each team to their limits (and probably even beyond them).
Are you a morning or evening runner? I’m currently a morning runner, only because it’s too hot in Cambodia to run later in the day. I’m usually up by 5.20am for a quick jog. It’s also a chance to watch the peaceful monks stream along the banks of the Mekong river as they collect their daily alms.
Good or bad diet? Normally good. But it all went to pieces back in May when I ran 900km across the north of Spain following the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The trip was fuelled on a daily diet of chips, white bread, coffee, red wine and custard-filled chocolate-encrusted croissants.
Surprisingly, I still managed to lose weight.
What do you wear on your feet? Inov-8 Roclite 315s. They are trail-running shoes, but I wear them even road running. I always pack them when I’m travelling, as they’re great on any surface, be it African dust road or straight through an Asian paddy field.
Ever been chased by a dog? Chasing runners is a national sport for dogs in Cambodia. The worst was when I was once chased by a rabid pack of them as I ran through their territory. Fortunately I’ve never been bitten, though I keep my rabies jabs up to date just in case.
Favourite running tip? I think the most profound thing I’ve learned from running in developing countries is how fortunate I am to have the time and energy to run. Most don’t have the strength because they don’t have enough food to eat. Some don’t have the chance as they have to work all day in the fields, fetch water and look after numerous kids. Running is a luxury that so few of us can do.