Sinead Kane aims to be first blind athlete to complete World Marathon Challenge
Seven marathons on seven continents in seven days begins in Antarctica
Sinead Kane with running partner John O’Regan as she prepares to become the first visually impaired athlete to complete the World Marathon Challenge, a race consisting of seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Sinead Kaneis aiming to become the first visually impaired athlete to complete the World Marathon Challenge, a race consisting of seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Everyone has a story, Sinead Kane says. Hers began on Tuesday with a flight to Chile. She will fly south to Antarctica and back to Chile, continue to Miami then go on to Madrid, Marrakech and Dubai, finally stopping in Sydney.
It is, she hopes, a seven day stroll of the globe, a journey of records and firsts and a place in running history. Seven marathons in seven continents over seven days, she will become, she hopes, the first visually impaired person to do it.
There is a touch of Around the World in 80 Days about it, a creation designed to test sinew and mind, Jules Verne, wonderfully tough and eccentric.
“The minute you cross the start line in Antarctica that’s when they clock you,” she says. “You do the marathon, get back on the plane and basically sleep there.”
Born visually impaired 34 years ago in Youghal, Sinead Kane took up running at 30. Didn’t know until then what a track felt like under her feet or how far 10k stretched.
“Growing up I was never encouraged to do sport,” she says. “I was asked to do a run for the National Education Centre for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I said yes and then said ‘my god I don’t know what 10k is.’ It could have been here to the front door. When you don’t drive it is difficult to measure distance.”
She is not alone. Her guide, decorated ultra-distance runner, John O’ Regan, is one of the best. No stranger to extremes, O’Regan has soldiered to nasty places with blind and paralysed adventurer, Mark Pollock, including Antarctica.
Despite that for the 23 competitors, who have paid €36,000 for the challenge, it’s a lonely pursuit. Sinead can do it because sponsor Allianz came in to help and race organiser Richard Donovan gave O’Regan a free pass and seat on the charter. But there are no aids along the way. She will run every inch.
“You have to have a level of fitness,” she says. “You don’t want 10 people finished in five hours and one slow coach finished in 10 hours because it’s like a military operation to get back on the plane and sleep.
“In Antarctica there is a cut off. The race director will say you have to finish, get back on the plane. The planes out there don’t turn off their engines. They land, everyone gets on and the plane takes off.”
It is not the distance, the time zones, temperature differentials and recovery that is foremost in her mind but the first leg in the snow. Born with a condition known as Aniridia, the combined reflected light from the snow and sky, more than the running, may be debilitating.
“I’m very fearful about Antarctica,” she says. “A lot of people think about blindness as darkness. I suffer from too much light and too much glare. Everything to me looks like white snow blindness.
“When I’m out there it will be white snow and a white sky and that will be really difficult. I have five per cent vision. I have too much light pigment in my eye and take in light through my whole eye. You only take in through the pupil. I get watering, I get itching and the whole thing turns into a headache and then a migraine.
“Even if I complete all six marathons after Antarctica but don’t complete Antarctica I won’t get my Guinness World Record. My plan of action is to have a blindfold or swimming goggles stuffed with cotton wool, or these little glasses you use on a sun bed. I might put them on under ski goggles or sun glasses. At the moment though it’s a blind fold.”
In Dubai this week it will hit 28 degrees, in Sydney 39 degrees. Antarctica could be minus 40. Specific thermal footwear and clothing are mandatory for the first leg. But that’s the whole scary wonder of it.
A solicitor and PhD student, Sinead is an elite ultra distance runner. She has already run in two 12-hour track races. In the first she ran 109.97km and in the second clocked up 112km. Depending on conditions the marathons will take four or five hours.
“This comes down to mental strength as much as physical strength because it is an endurance event,” she explains. “I have suffered a number of setbacks in my life due to my disability. That has beefed up my mental strength.
“That’s what a lot of this will come down to, mental strength and realising why you want to do it. You have to know that reason when you are out there cold and tired. You need to know why.
“I’m doing this because I want to change people’s perception of disability.”
Perceptions hurt. When she went to a company looking for some basic product, they replied that their charity budget was used up for the year.
“They saw me as a blind girl,” she says. “‘Sure god love her she’s running around.’ They didn’t use competitor, elite athlete or performance. I found that insulting. I am not a charity case.”
Antarctica, South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, all line up.
“I couldn’t control being born physically impaired,” she says. “But I can control how I chose to live my life.”
Union Glacier, Antarctica, awaits.