Meet the athlete - Sorcha Loughnane
Sorcha Loughnane is an Irish marathon and ultra-runner who runs for Donore Harriers in Dublin. This year Sorcha ran a stellar 50km to win the Irish 50km championships and was less than a minute away from breaking the Irish 50km record (held by Olympian Catriona Jennings). Sorcha went through the marathon distance in a PB of 2.46 on her way, breaking her previously held 2.52 marathon best.
I met the lovely Sorcha who was running for Ireland at the Anglo Celtic Plate at Donadea in 2021. We had a nice chat on the way round although my memories of that day are somewhat blurry now given how sick I felt (I’ve detailed the experience in an earlier blog post if you’re interested). Recently Sorcha wrote a hilarious piece about her own ACP experience which you can read here at FastRunning - https://www.fastrunning.com/running-athletics-news/echos-of-the-acp/34163
Sorcha with her coach, Gary O'Hanlon
I’m married with two kids and a cat and work as a civil servant in Dublin. I’m trying to get my kids into running but they are fiercely resistant for some reason!!
I’ve been coached by Irish marathoner Gary O’Hanlon for about 4 years now - I started going to his running group with a view to getting a little bit more structured with my running (and getting a little faster!). My marathon PB was 3.28 when I started with Gary’s group - my ambition was to run sub-3.20 and in the first year of working with him I ran 3.08, followed by 2.55, and then 2.52. There’s nothing fancy or technical about how he works - he’s just extremely knowledgeable and intuitive and really big on consistency and putting in the work. I had never been with a club, but as I saw an improvement with Gary, I figured that it might be good to put myself in the mix for some club and championship races. I joined Donore Harriers in 2020 - they do a lot of training in Phoenix Park, where I do pretty much all my training, and they are a fantastic club - it has helped bring my running to another level (and brought A LOT of cross country running into my life…I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing!).
I juggle my work and life around running very, very badly! I’m dropping balls constantly. I have read interviews with elite athletes who are parents who talk about how training and competing at a high level makes them a better parent - if that’s true, I desperately need to know what their secret is! My job is really busy, and with two kids (9 and 11) every day is a challenge. Does running make me a better parent? Absolutely not. I have to make so many bad, selfish choices, like whether I have time to cook a wholesome meal for the kids or give them something quick and easy so I can fit a run in. Or let them watch TV for that bit longer on a Saturday morning while I do my long run. I try to do a lot of running very early in the morning, but when you are at the height of training, and running doubles, there just isn’t enough time in the day. My husband finds it hilarious that people talk about how I “balance” kids, a job, and running - there is very little balance in my life, and I feel constantly guilty. I’ve pretty much cut most other things out of my life to try and cope and I do occasionally miss some semblance of a social life. But the reality is that my husband and kids probably sacrifice way more than I do…
Sorcha winning the 50km Irish Championships
I did a bit of running in school from about 12 to 14, and won some regional races, but I only really competed for a couple of years. Gaelic football was the big sport down in Kerry, but in our girl’s school we mostly played basketball. I did briefly get back into basketball a few years back when my friend convinced me to join a club, but after a season getting blisters in my arse as a benchwarmer, I figured my time would be better spent focusing on running!
I used to think the marathon was the perfect distance, but I’ve done two 50k races now, and I’m starting to think that might be my sweet spot! I think it must be that I like to run a bit fast, but not too fast! 800m to 5k - those distances are basically my worst nightmare, hence the cross-country love/hate. If only XC races were about 10 miles longer, they would be my perfect race…(am I describing fell/trail running? Maybe I should give that a go!)
When I’m not in race-specific training mode, I tend to run between 50 and 60 miles per week, 6-7 days a week, and probably 2 sessions (1 tempo, 1 intervals/hills). Mostly easy running.
If I’m in race training mode I will hit between 80 and 100 miles per week, usually 7 days a week (maybe one day off every 3-4 weeks). With race training I’ll do 2 or 3 sessions a week, and probably a couple of double days per week. My long runs tend to be easy when I’m not in race training mode, but when I’m in a race training block, the long runs are usually some kind of tempo session (e.g. this week it was 4 x 4 mile tempo with one mile recoveries and a warm up mile - so 21 miles in total). Gary will usually schedule in a week of backing off a bit, maybe with lower mileage, a rest day, or fewer sessions. That’s when he’ll work some easy runs with strides in - strides are magic!
2021 ACP in Donadea
No supplements or vitamins, nothing! I’m really crap when it comes to nutrition - not that I don’t eat well, because I do, and not that I don’t eat much, because I love food almost as much as I love running - but I just don’t pay too much attention to it. I really love fruit and veg - but I also really love pizza and burritos and cake, and I’m probably not going to sweat the marginal gains that being completely religious about my nutrition would bring.
I’m not too fussy about what I eat before a race - being a big carb fan in life generally helps a lot with the pre-race diet. Pizza, burritos, fried rice, pasta - I’ve done it all. I do think that it helps hugely to be running a race you can travel to on the day and being at home the night before - being able to eat exactly what you want, at the time you want, makes a big difference.
As you may know from my Fast Running account of the ACP 2021, I really haven’t got the race nutrition thing licked AT ALL. I learned a few lessons from that - just about being a bit more organised about fuelling and sticking to a schedule. For the Irish national 50k Championships in February, I had the Maurten 320 drink mix - 500ml spread across 4 bottles, and I decided that I would run 10k with no fuel and then sip 125ml slowly on every second 5k lap thereafter. That’s probably way too little fuel for a 50k, but I just can’t get the balance between sufficient fuelling and avoiding stomach issues right! It probably doesn’t help that I don’t practice fuelling on my long runs - I just prefer not to fuel for training runs! It’s probably something I need to start working on…
I usually eat something light after the race depending on the distance. After the ACP 100k, the only thing I could stomach was scrambled eggs and toast - although they were accompanied by two cans of Guinness, which was amazing!
Intercounty Cross-Country in Ireland
I spend an inordinate amount of time in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. I cannot imagine a better location for marathon training. It is just wonderful - glorious trails that it is impossible to believe are in the middle of a city, decent flat circuits for intervals and tempos, a great variety of hills, brilliant XC training routes, and you’ll always bump into a running buddy! But I also love going home to Kerry and having the mountains and the sea as my running playground - particularly getting offroad and pretending I’m a hill runner.
While it’s not now my marathon PB, running a 2.55 in the 2019 Dublin Marathon was such a turning point for me. I loved every minute of that race and soaked up every good vibe (which definitely made me run faster!)
I haven’t really run any international races - I’ve deferred my Berlin place for 2 years now (and I love that city so I imagine it would be awesome). Although I’ll definitely do Berlin at some stage soon, I’m really not keen on the idea of flying somewhere 3 or 4 times a year chasing PBs on flat courses - both for environmental reasons, and because my family lets me away with enough as it is! Locally, I loved the Connemarathon and I would really love to start doing some trail/mountain ultras - the Kerry Way Ultralite is a future goal, but I keep getting distracted with road races!
My best performance was at The Irish National 50k Championship in Donadea in February - even months later, I am convinced someone is going to tell me I didn’t run that time, I skipped a loop, or something went wrong with my timing chip! I’ve never experienced anything like it - I just got in this zone, and I can’t actually really remember the race at all - my mind wasn’t wandering, I didn’t really have highs or lows, I was just completely focused on what my body was doing - I have no idea how I did it, and I really hope I can lock into that mindset again for future races!!
My worst performance was at the ACP 100k in 2021 - it was the exact opposite of my mindset in Donadea! My head was all over the place - I think running such a long distance (for me) was such a novelty that I kind of deprioritised the running part of it somehow, and just got completely fixated on getting through it as an experience! I completely lost concentration - that was a great lesson on what not to do for Donadea. I do think that our bodies can do the things we have trained for - but if you can’t retain focus and concentration for 42, or 50, or 100k, then it can all start to get out of reach very fast without you realising.
We’re really lucky as runners that we get to enjoy the outdoors in a way that is so immersive and magical, and that it brings us far further into nature than we could access in other ways. I think how I feel about running is pretty closely related to how much I love nature and the outdoors. I think running and being in nature are so good for our wellbeing and we need to value and appreciate that as much as possible.
One thing that I think it’s important to keep perspective on is that idea of running your own race, or just more generally not comparing yourself to others, and being motivated to improve on your own past performances. I’m in that weird space in running at the moment where I have made big improvements, but I’m still pretty much grinding in the lower end of sub-elite level. It’s a tough place to be, because you take your running very seriously, you’re training really hard, but if you’re comparing yourself to the elite performances out there, it would get very demotivating! I’m just very motivated by improving on my own past performances - particularly as, at 45, I’m quite conscious of having a fairly limited window before the performances start going in the other direction!
I don’t have any particular mental tricks, but one way I like to prepare for a race in the days leading up to it is to look over my training for that block - maybe reminding myself of some of the really good sessions I did and comparing to similar sessions before a previous race. If you’ve put some good work in, it’s a pretty powerful, evidence-based “you’ve got this” tactic. I’m probably reading a running book or watching great races on YouTube a bit more frequently in the build-up as well!!
I do love my running cap (don’t worry, I have more than one..). It started off as a quite practical kit choice - it keeps your hair out of your face and the sun out of your eyes. But also, when I started running, like lots of women out there, I found I would get lots of heckling on the street, and the cap became a kind of armour - a way to keep the head down, avoid eye contact, and feel a bit more innocuous. I don’t get any heckling on the street now - depressingly enough I think the kind of gobshites who do that much prefer to target women they feel are less comfortable out running.
I love Hokas - I just wish they’d stop changing the models so frequently! I might have a rotation of about 3 shoes - everyday, sessions, and racing. Much as I love my Hokas, I have to admit to having succumbed to Those Shoes for racing - not just for the performance gains, but the recovery is scarily amazing. I’m trying to make my shoes last longer – it’s probably where I am most unsustainable in my running, and I really think this idea of running shoes having a 500 mile shelf life has to end!
This might seem foolhardy to say out loud, but I’ve never had a serious injury (*ducks*; *touches wood*). I broke my ankle a few years back but I’m afraid alcohol was the cause of that one, and I wasn’t really training to the level I am now. The only other injuries I’ve had in the last few years were a small IT band issue a couple of years ago (I think I pulled back in time for it not to develop into anything worse) and then another totally ridiculous, clumsy injury from slipping on the stairs - there was some bone bruising, but it didn’t get any worse thanks to my very brilliant physio Lee Van Haeften. I was only out for about 4-5 days with both of those. I’m aware I’m very lucky!!!
Irish Team at the ACP in 2021
Em, no strength work. I know I should - particularly at my age, but for some reason I would prefer to run 10 miles in rain and wind than spend 10 minutes in front of the TV doing some S&C. What is wrong with me. Lee my physio is really practical about this - he has given me a very basic hip and glute strength programme. But he would be of the view that if your body is tired and S&C becomes too much on top of high volume training, you have to make the choices that are right for you in terms of what to cut out, and I’d prefer not to cut out running! Just as well I have zero flexibility and mobility…
Like a lot of Irish people, I grew up admiring world class Irish runners like Sonia O’Sullivan and Eamonn Coughlan, but it’s probably coaches, clubmates and my training partners that I tend to be inspired by. Gary obviously is hugely inspiring and my number one influence, but people like Barbara Cleary in Donore Harriers who are just quietly brilliant, or the people who work tirelessly at club level to keep the sport going. Also, I’m particularly inspired by women who are competing after having children - whether they choose to take time off and come back to it or get straight back into it - both those choices are really brave and tough - I’m thinking of my own teammate Ide Nic Dhomhnaill or Ann Marie McGlynn or Fionnuala McCormack - or internationally Faith Kipyegon, Edna Kiplagat, Keira D’Amato… I also really respect the people who are writing or podcasting about running really well and making it interesting and accessible to others - I love Cathal Dennehy’s writing - and Alex Hutchinson and David Roche, or Adharanand Finn, or Rich Roll (based on this list we definitely need more female sportswriters and podcasters!!!)
I’m pretty marathon focused at the moment - all going well I’ll be running the Cork Marathon on 5 June. After that I am hoping for selection for the European 50k Championships in October - and depending on that, Dublin Marathon. But I would love to get my times down in the half marathon and 10 mile too - only to improve my running at longer distances!