Just found an interview I did last year for Friday Weekly, a Kathmandu based magazine, whilst I was based in Nepal. Thanks to Leah Olson for writing it.
“I’m spoiled here,” ultra-runner Moire O’Sullivan says. For O’Sullivan, mountain ranges are not simply panoramas to be admired from a distance. They are not just picturesque photography backdrops. Mountain ranges are her playground. O’Sullivan began running up and down mountains four years ago and has never looked back.
After six years of living in Nairobi, Kenya, for a job, O’Sullivan returned to her native Ireland. A friend introduced her to the Irish mountain running circuit and she discovered it was a great way to get to know like-minded, adventurous people. Those initial mountain excursions have turned into a full-fledged hobby that has taken O’Sullivan on mountain runs and races around the world.
She is currently training to compete in the 2010 World Rogaining Championships (long-distance, cross-country navigation) in Cheviot, New Zealand, which is a 24- hour race in which teams of two must cross as many checkpoints as possible.
Within a few days of her arrival in Kathmandu, O’Sullivan was already on the move. She rang in her first weekend in Nepal with a 40 kilometer run around the eastern part of the Kathmandu Valley. Then she heard about the 4th Annual Annapurna Ultra Trail Race, which was to be held the following weekend. One week later, O’Sullivan, one of the two females who competed, was running up the Annapurna trail. Race participants could choose either a 35-kilometer route, or a 71-kilometer route. “I initially was going for the 35 kilometer route,” O’Sullivan said with a grin. “But half way through the race, I wasn’t tired, so I figured why not go for the whole thing?”
The Annapurna Ultra Trail Race route wound from Pokhara to Poon Hill and according to O’Sullivan was a spectacular introduction to Nepal’s rugged terrain. Poon Hill was in fullbloom with vibrant rhododendrons and her fellow runners were in good spirits. Along with a handful of foreign athletes, O’Sullivan says between 50 and 60 Nepali men, training to become Gurkha soldiers, joined the competition. She says the mountain views, along with the athleticism and speed of the Gurkha trainees, were astounding. “I was blown away,” O’Sullivan said. “You just can’t describe mountains over 7,000 meters. They are picture perfect and the absolute best backdrop for running.” Twelve hours and fifteen minutes after her 6:30 a.m. start time, O’Sullivan crossed the finish line, just as the sun was setting.
Since she burst on to Nepal’s running scene, O’Sullivan regularly runs up and down mountains in the area, meeting locals and enjoying rice paddy views. Due to her Monday through Friday work schedule, her runs are mostly centered within the Kathmandu Valley. O’Sullivan’s training schedule is rigorous. She runs five days a week and rests for two. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays she runs 14 kilometers. Saturdays usually include a run with the Himalayan Hash House Harriers and Sunday means a 30 to 40 kilometer run up to places like Shivapuri and Pulchowki.
“In Ireland you have to drive to a mountain, but here it’s different,” O’Sullivan explained. “Here you can just go out your front door, go five or six kilometres and there they are. It’s a luxury.” Of course, there are inevitable challenges that come along with running through Nepal’s mountains, most notably for O’Sullivan: leeches. After a recent run, she discovered 23 leech bites on her ankles and legs.
“There was so much blood!” O’Sullivan said. “It felt like I was an extra in a horror movie.” O’Sullivan loves mountains, but doesn’t feel the same sense of endearment towards city running or large races. She’s finished some of the most extreme mountain races in the world, but has never competed in an organized marathon. “I like to be out there, exploring trails and looking at the views,” she says. “The experience while running on mountains — You just don’t get that in everyday life.”
Article and full magazine can be found here.