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Sonia O’Sullivan: Bringing a taste of the new normal home to Ireland

No matter how often you do it, the journey between Australia and Ireland gets no easier

Seeing Cork beat Waterford made home feel that bit closer. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

It happens every time, a sense that I am home, or nearly home, even before I actually am.

Even after all these years travelling between Ireland and Australia, the journey doesn’t get any shorter. But there has been added anticipation this week, reading about the heat wave and seeing the pictures of people enjoying the summer.

And reading about the Cork hurlers, beating Waterford and back in the Munster final, makes me feel like I’m home already.

Then I look at my suitcase, about half filled and waiting to be zipped up.

You’d have thought by now I might be an expert in packing. The reality is I think about it for a lot longer than I should, until there is no choice but to stop everything and narrow my focus.

Right. The planning, the sorting, the packing. In that order.

One of my favourite feelings is when you check your suitcase onto the plane, knowing there is no more you can do, only sit back, relax and enjoy a few movies along the way. Or better still get lost in a good book.

Before that, it feels like a bit of a Catch-22: to pack lightly, or to make sure not to forget something.

It goes back to my days of travelling to races around the world. It always took a few races before I had a system, and didn’t end up cold from the moment I first stepped off the plane. Even if I was going somewhere warm like Spain. Sure why would I need a jacket there?

I have become a bit more relaxed about it. At the same time, as the activities become more varied, there’s a longer checklist to get through. When I arrive it always seems like I’ve brought very little and yet the bag weighs in at 30kg. 

Training gear

Even after all these years, the training gear still takes up most of the space; running, cycling, and now swimming too. And will it be warm? The general rule here seems to be if I don’t bring it I’ll need it, and if I bring it, I won’t need it.

You just can’t win.

Then there’s the bag of wires and plugs to keep all the screens alive: the laptop, the iPad, the iPhone, the watch, the Fitbit. These days, it seems, if it’s not recorded on some little device somewhere, can we be sure we’ve actually done it?

At the same time I enjoy the company of some of those devices when out for a run or cycle. As much as I enjoy being out with other people, that’s not always possible, which is why if I am out on my own, or if there’s no one around to meet me, it’s nice to have a good podcast to listen to.

Not just the sporting ones, either. There are so many podcasts out there now, so a recommendation is a good start. It was while out last week with my swimming group – the cinema, actually – that I discovered one of the girls in the group, Claire Davis had, along with her husband Andrew, recently started a podcast sharing her family’s life changes in diet and healthy living.

You don’t get to talk much in group while in the water, obviously, so we often organise social gatherings to catch up on each other’s lives outside the swimming pool.

Her new podcast is called the New Normal Project, a conversation sharing thoughts on small daily changes to diet and lifestyle. Not to be different, but to create a new “normal”.

It is very easy to fall into routine feeding habits: the same food, the same drink, because it just keeps life simple, sticking to what you know.

This New Normal Project has a strong focus on plant-based eating, much of it on the completely opposite spectrum to the Real Meal Revolution that grabbed my attention last year.

One of the things that turned my head this time is the way it seeks a healthy mind and body through food, something I have always believed in. Moving away from supplements and medication, and instead healing through food. 

Part of the problem is that I sometimes think we have too much information, too much choice. So to narrow the choice, we narrow our focus.


Nutrition and diet is something I’ve always found interesting; why some people are so passionate about what works for them, what adds energy to their life and makes them feel better.

At the same time I don’t think I’m an extremist when it comes to food. I am always willing to listen, to open my mind to what others believe, take the bits that might work for me. Or maybe just a temporary change, to try something new and step away from the similar pattern.

And the New Normal Project does that, so it’s great to find a podcast to jazz up the daily listening while out and about, to hear about some real-life experiences, life-changing methods.

I had a cycle planned for the next morning, but to get out straight after the school drop off, I’d need to get up before the sun and take Snowy for his short walk; he’d have to wait for the longer walk.

Trying to change his “normal” is harder than any changes I might think about making myself. I had the headphones in as we walked in the dark, Snowy with his flashing light strapped around his back, so I could see he was never too far away. And that’s when I first tried the New Normal Project podcast.

It was the perfect taster, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the bike afterwards. It didn’t matter that the temperature was close to zero. It was like I’d just arranged to meet someone to cycle with. And it didn’t disappoint.

When you listen to podcasts, you can be taken away from the intensity and purpose of the activity. A bit like running along talking to a friend. Except you only have to do the listening part.

I can also still keep an eye on the pace and my heart rate, to make sure I’m getting the exercise benefit, not just idling along.

Although on easy days it’s just nice to relax and listen and get taken away from watching the miles go by.

And I’m also looking forward to bringing a taste of the new normal home with me this time.