Marathon runner Alex O’Shea, who resides in Ballineen, achieved his lifelong dream when he represented Ireland at the 100km World Championships, which were held in Los Alcazares, Spain recently. John Bohane caught up with the Cork athlete who spoke of his pride at representing Ireland in international athletics action.
“Representing Ireland has definitely been the highlight of my running career to-date. It was both a proud and amazing moment. The Irish singlet I wore on the day of the race was washed straight away ready to be framed when I get around to it. It is a very special and super memory, which I will treasure and remember forever. It was a very proud moment for both my family and I.”
Alex’s recent appearance on the Ireland athletics team at the World Championships was the first time he ever wore the green singlet, which added to the allure of the occasion for the Carrigaline native. “It meant a lot to me. It was a really special and historic occasion and, at 42, I guess I was running out of time to make it happen.”
Alex is indebted to his wife Audrey and his kids whose constant support, encouragement and help has propelled him to international recognition. “My family has been so supportive. They have been a great help every step of my sporting journey. They have been a great support for me, to the extent that my kids could hold an adult conversation with me about nutrition, running marathons and ultras. My wife Audrey has even started studying a Masters in Sports Psychology. I treasure their support greatly.”
Alex’s journey to international recognition is incredible. He only participated in his first marathon in 2014, when he completed the Cork Marathon in his fire brigade uniform to raise funds for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and a playground development fund in Ballineen. Alex completed the marathon in a time of 3.41.10, which shaved 58 minutes off the previous world record. It was an incredible record for the modest marathon hero who always maintained an interest in athletics growing up, but never pursued it with much intent until recently. “I was chasing a Guinness World Record with my first marathon and had nothing to lose. I trained hard for a year and the whole experience was surreal. It was a great experience. The response from the general public to my run was great. I met sporting legends like Roy Keane, Sonia O’Sullivan and Rob Heffernan, while my charities benefited greatly from the occasion also. I was a bit sporty growing up, but my sister was the runner in the family. I really only applied myself as an adult to running, I trained for the Dublin Marathon when I was 15, but wasn’t allowed run it, as I was too young, so that put an end to my running. I returned to complete the Dublin Marathon this year where I finished third in the over 40 category in the National Championships.”
Alex has thrived since pursuing his long-term interest in marathon running. He is delighted he took up running in 2013 as he recalled. “I was never fast so I felt longer races would suit my style, but like most people the thought of completing a marathon was a scary prospect. But once I conquered it the first time, I quickly started to look at competing in more events. I think marathons are brilliant, whether you’re goal is to try to win or try to finish the event. Marathon medals are never given out, they are earned. I know people that can run Olympic qualifying marathon times and I know people that have walked marathons. I have so much respect for both as people that take part at whatever level deserve great praise. Speed doesn’t equal effort as so many people put in so much effort and have amazing stories to tell after completing marathons. If I wasn’t running I’d love to be involved in some way possible, perhaps in a photography capacity and trying to capture some of these amazing stories.”
Alex has lived in West Cork for over 12 years. “I love living in Ballineen. It is a great place to bring up the kids. Clonakilty is only over the road for the beach and of course there are plenty of great restaurants near by.”
Alex recorded an impressive personal best at the recent World Championships. Following initial disappointment with his performance, the Cork athlete was happy with his performance following a period of reflection. “When I finished the race, I rang home straight away, as I am used to having my family by my side and I wanted to share the news with them first. I told Audrey that ‘It was a day for celebrating my Irish vest, and tomorrow I would dissect my performance’. I wasn’t happy with my performance initially, as I clearly made a few mistakes and over the course of the last 15km or so, I was suffering as a result and lost a lot of time. When the dust settled however, I was thrilled with my performance and I am confident I can do better. That is a good feeling to have at the end of a race, recording a PB and possessing a feeling I can run better. I also learned a lot from the event.”
Alex works his gruelling training regime around his full-time job as a fireman based in Cork. He looks after his diet meticulously, while he plans to add more gym time to his training programme in the coming months.
“When I work days, I start shifts at 9am but I run 13 miles before work. When I am on night shift duty, I train coming off shift. I need to start adding some gym work, but it’s difficult to find the time. Running is easier to fit in, as I put on the runners and go for a run after work or before work in the early morning. I always fit in long runs at the weekends. I try to eat very healthy, but it is hard to refuse a slice of cake.”
Alex took a break from training to enjoy the Christmas season with his family but has returned to his intense training sessions with renewed vigour. An immediate short-term target for the ambitious athlete is the 24-hour World Championships, which are due to be held in Belfast in July 2017. “ My short term aim is to represent Ireland at the 24hr World Championships in Belfast next year, while from a long-term perspective, I have set a target of wearing more Irish vests at ultra running, as it is such an honour to represent Ireland.”