IN 2014, Cork firefighter Alex O’Shea garnered headlines for breaking the world record for running a marathon in full firefighting gear.
Having just turned 40, that was his first marathon but, as his time of 3:41.10 shattered the previous record of 58 minutes, he began to consider doing more. Now, after competing in 38 more races of marathon-distance or longer, he is targeting two bigger challenges in 2018.
On September 1st, Alex – who is based at Anglesea St Fire Station in Cork – will compete in the Dingle Marathon. Once that’s finished he will head for Limerick and complete a marathon there and that’s the pattern for the next 15 days, two marathons a day, one in each county, before finishing in Cork. All funds raised will go to the Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind.
Initially, the plan was to undertake this feat in May and finish with the Cork City Marathon on June 3rd, but the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) 24-Hour European Championships take place in Romania on May 12th, and there is a strong chance that Alex will represent Ireland there.
‘It has been a quick trajectory,’ Alex says.
‘The first marathon I ever did was the one in my gear for the Guinness Book of Records. When I did well in that, a lot of people said to me if I could do that, I’d be capable of even better without it. It was a year or so before I did my second marathon but the seed had been planted and I chased the Irish jersey then.
‘I represented Ireland in the 100km World Championships, but I felt that I could better at an even longer distance.’
That was proven when he finished second in the national 24-hour race in Belfast last year, covering 151.75km, and he hopes to improve on that in Romania. Then, it’s a case of recovering and building back up towards the 32 marathons in 16 days.
‘Back in 2010, Gerry Duffy did 32 marathons in 32 days,’ Alex says.
‘That was quite successful and as I got more into running and covering longer distances, I felt it was worth setting a challenge like this one.
I felt that if it could be combined with a big fundraiser, it was a great win-win situation.’
Details are still being ironed out, with the procurement of sponsorship a priority before the attempt starts. The physical stress of so much running is also something to be wary of.
‘It’s not that I’ve no fear of it,’ he says, ‘but I’m going in with my eyes wide open.
‘I’ve contacts in other countries that I’ve been talking to, and UCC have come on board to support me in terms of analysis and testing their high-performance lab, I’ve a very good relationship with Declan Kidney.
‘Its important to build a team of pros, such as nutritionists and physios, to provide support.’
Planning routes in each county is also something on the to-do list, with Alex hopeful of attracting co-participants.
‘I’ve had athletics clubs and fellow firefighters in touch, saying that they’ll do a part of it with me,’ he says.
‘Dingle will be easy as that’s someone else’s event and all we have to do it turn up. After that, ideally you’d be looking at park venues and getting permission from county councils to run loops.
‘If you have that, it’s easier logistics-wise and it’s a safe environment, people can join you for a mile for too.
‘It’s very hard to put a target figure on what we hope to raise, you can’t really put ambition on people’s charity. Everyone who takes part will receive a participant’s medal which we’ve designed but we’re hoping that they will be sponsored.
‘I’ve taken unpaid leave from work and am covering a lot of my expenses myself, but it’d be great for a hotel or a B&B to offer to put us up for a night and ensure that as much raise as possible goes to the guide dogs.
‘I know that there’ll be times during it when I’ll be sore, so it’s a big thing to have that final marathon in Cork to look forward to.’