John Byrne ..the Ultra Man..runs for Ireland

John Byrne competing for Ireland in World Championships 100k, Gibraltar 2010

People often shake their heads when they hear you are about to run a marathon. They will then probably ask you how long the race is. It is well known that the human body has the ability to get to 16 or 17 miles before it searches for reserves of energy. After this point many runners experience ‘the wall’  a painful point beyond which they struggle, unless they have prepared well.

Mayo AC’s John Byrne is well used to dedicated preparation. He has been their most successful athlete over many years now at a range of distances from 5k upwards. He has completed 24 marathons and a 50k. His numerous race victories and achievements over the years have been an inspiration to many in the county and beyond to get out and run. Testament to this is the massive increase in club memberships in recent years. However, competing in the senior arena is a tough assignment and national success in championship races is the criteria published in the record books.

Over the past year John has moved on to new goals. Given the number of training miles he runs it seemed a natural step-up that he would progress ‘beyond the marathon’, or that zone defined as ultra distance running. John has always been interested in going beyond the edge and likes reading/watching documentaries about extreme adventure, the psychological effects, and survival techniques.The 100k is the equivalent of running two marathons plus 10 miles – 62.5 miles in total. Start out in Ballaghadereen, run along the N5 to Bohola, take a diversion down to John’s homeplace in Straide, then back onto N5 at Ballyvary, through Castlebar and Westport, then on to the R335 until you hit Louisburgh – you will still have 3k to run to complete 100k!

Having competed in a 50k race in Galway last summer, John was selected on the Irish team for the IAU 100k World Championships in Gibraltar last November. John says the motivation to run ultra is “simply to wear an Irish vest at senior level, not something I’d have the talent to achieve at shorter distances”. So John was rightly proud to wear that vest in Gibraltar and complete his first 100k – 60th place of 92 finishers in 8hr 03,01 And this just two weeks after the Dublin marathon.

Next week-end he is in the Irish team for the Anglo Celtic Plate Home Nations 100k race which take place in Perth in Scotland on Sunday 27 March. It has an early 7 a.m start. Ironically, the 2.4k circuit is at a place called North Inch. In preparation,John has averaged 80 miles a week in training since Christmas, with a peak of 113 miles in one week.

The Irish team organiser is Galwayman Richard Donovan, an internationally known adventure runner and race organiser. He was the first marathoner at both the North and South Poles and currently holds the record for running marathons on all seven continents (5 days 10 hours 8 minutes). He has won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race, Everest Challenge Marathon, South Pole Marathon, Inca Trail Marathon and Antarctic 100k three times, among other overseas events.Possibly over qualified!

The Irish men’s team includes Keith Whyte and Daniel Doherty who will make their debut for Ireland in the competition. Doherty took up running only two years ago and runs with Basingstoke and Mid Hants AC in the UK. His progress has been remarkable, most recently finishing second in the Gloucester 50km in 3:09:05 despite suffering a chest infection. Whyte, who hails from Ennis, has been equally impressive. He took up running three years ago and set a marathon PB of 2:38 in October’s Dublin City Marathon. However, his true talent may lie beyond the marathon distance where his 180km – 200km training weeks should also stand him in good stead. The team will be captained by Irish record holder Thomas Maguire whose PB of 7:05:06 earned him 12th place in the 2006 World 100km
Championships. Maguire also holds the 24 Hour Irish Record, covering a distance of 248.392km to be ranked in the top six in the world in 2009. John O’Regan, primarily a 24-hour+ runner, is anticipated to put in a very strong performance over the shorter distance of 100km in Scotland. Completing the team is our very own John Byrne, According to Donovan, “a 2:32 marathoner, made his debut at the 100km distance in 2010 and there are high expectations of the Mayo AC athlete’s 100km ultramarathon potential. John has the mentality and physical ability to run 100k in 7 hours” Reports on the current tragic events in Japan have placed a lot of emphasis on the Japanese character, their stoicism, resilience in the face of adversity and attitude to life. It is no co-incidence that the current world record holders for the 100k are both Japanese – Takahiro Suneda (men) 6hr 13.33 and Tomoe Abe (women) 6hr 33.11 As John tapers down for the trip to Perth he will be mentally calling on all these attributes. All his many athletic friends and supporters wish him and the Irish team the very best of luck.

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