This week’s Fitspo is champion Ultra runner Ruthann Sheahan. Her physical and mental strength are truly admirable. Ruthann takes on feats of endurance that are (to me anyway) mind boggling. She is an impressive athlete who only started her Ultra running journey in 2010. What she has achieved in the past 4-5 years is truly inspiring.

Ruthann was kind enough to answer some questions for us and tell us a bit about her training and her amazing fitness journey.  Ruthann’s positive attitude and approach to training and nutrition can be applied to all of our fitness journeys .

ruthann 1

What is your fitness background? 

After a 18yr hiatus I took up running again in late 2008/2009 along with some friends from work, our goal was to train and complete the Connemara ½ marathon in 2009. Before I started my training the furthest I had ever run was 2 miles in cross country as a teenager!

In 2010 I took up Ultra running since then I have complete 85 races of marathon distance or longer. Some of these events include:

  • Dingle and Connemara Ultra marathons
  • Marathon Des sables( 250KM Sahara desert)
  • Comrades Ultra marathon (South Africa)
  • 24HR World Championships( completed 229km)
  • 24HR Irish National Championships(completed 225km)
  • Atacama Desert crossing (Chile 250km)
  • Cambodia Ancient Khmer path(230km)

My training is a mix of Running, Crossfit, spinning, TRX and Yoga.

What attracted you most to long distance running?

Two reasons: The challenge and the Camaraderie…

After completing my first marathon in Connemara in 2010, I wondered if I could run further, the ideas of running another marathon simply to beat time was not as enticing as venturing into the unknown… any reservations I might have had at that time evaporated when I found myself in the company of some Ultra runners (Marathon Club Ireland), those I met at that time were so welcoming, chatty and extraordinary people, with stories of fantastic adventures…… life is so short and I wanted adventure….I knew then that Ultra running was for me

What keeps you going /focussed on the extreme distance runs?

Your main competition in an Ultra is often yourself, sounds like a cliché but with good reason. You can do all the miles in the world training but if you can’t keep your mind in check then you can really suffer. For me its quiet simple… its fear of regret, I can tolerate failure as long as I have made every effort to do my best. To look back on an event and realise I could have tried harder is a wasted opportunity, that to me is toxic. Better to try and fail then fail to try!

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
During multiday events and 24hr events my biggest challenge is often my stomach! I had problems recently during the Atacama Desert run in Chile and in Cambodia, my stomach stopped functioning due to heat exhaustion and I was pretty sick with it. It was frustrating as I really wanted to run but it was impossible. In situations like this you have a choice…. do what the Doctors tell you and slow down or push on an risk collapse. I decided to walk it off… it took 50k in Atacama and 32 in Cambodia but it worked.. I made it to the finish! .There are certain things you cannot control during events and the only thing left is to ‘suck it up’,’ dust yourself down’ and move to plan B –  race survival

ruthann 2
What is your fondest ‘fit’ memory?

Difficult question as each event brings a wealth of extraordinary experiences. I think though one memory I often recall with running friends is my second marathon, it was a low key event in Salthill Galway organised by a group of people on a quest to acquire the coveted 100 marathon status. Like in Connemara, the people I met there had a huge influence on me and inspired me to reach beyond what I believed possible, some of these people have since developed the fantastic Marathon Club Ireland.

My memory from Salthill was stopping for ice cream a few miles from the finish and chatting with these people who were complete strangers only a few hours ago and were now strangers no more…it was a very relaxing  and fun way to finish a marathon. I came away with a great sense of belonging to a community and I was not wrong. As a runner you can travel alone to any event in the world but you will never be lonely for long in the company of other runners.

Who inspires you?
Sonia O’Sullivan, Catherine McKiernan, the amazing ultra runner Mimi Anderson… too many to list!

What are your top 3 nutrition tips?

God I love my food, it’s a good thing I run as much as I do!  I don’t believe in any particular diet, if you want to lose weight than you need to work on changing your lifestyle if you want to see permanent change. My 3 tips are:

  1. Always eat a good breakfast, whether that’s cereal, eggs on toast whatever takes your fancy – don’t leave home without it. I train in the mornings on a full stomach it does not bother me at all. I could not train effectively in the morning without having some energy during morning runs or crossfit sessions.
  2. Avoid processed foods – keep it simple, good quality meat, fish veg.
  3. Have a treat if you really want it… but earn it. Abstinence makes to heart grow fonder and the mind weaker and this is why strict diets often fail in the long run. The answer is simple: balance calories in versus energy out – adjust your life style and the rest will fall into place more naturally –  you might have to work hard at the beginning but once you have formed a new habit the hard part is over.

What advice would you give ladies looking to start on a health & fitness journey?
Be the change you want to see…..You don’t necessarily need to join a gym….head out walking with a friend or join a ‘fit for life’ group at a local running club you will get fitter and have a great time doing it. Start with small changes and build it as part of you weekly routine. Life is too short don’t let months or years pass and regret not trying. Take your time and work on it and don’t pay any attention to what others are doing – set your own goals and go for it!

What is your ultimate goal?
It would be great to get personnel best at the upcoming 24hr world championships this year, I will do the best I can with my training and with a bit of luck on the day hopefully all will go well. There are also quite a few places I want to experience e.g. the Amazon jungle, Gobi Desert, Antarctica to name but a few…. I can’t wait for the next adventure!


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