Ben Banaghan - The Challenges of Ultra Running

September 30, 2023

In 2021, Ben Banaghan ran from Mizen Head to Malin Head raising vital funds for Alannah Sheehan, who is currently battling cancer, and Mental Health Ireland. The run raised €55,000 for these two incredible causes, and was the catalyst for what has turned into an incredible running journey for the Nenagh man, which has seen him go on to run the length of Britain in 19 days, raising more money for other great causes. Run Republic had a quick chat with Ben about some of the challenges he faced when completing the 550km Irish run and the lessons he learned from the experience.

‘I'd never done anything even like a marathon before I did Mizen to Malin!’ Ben tells Run Republic, and as a result of the inexperience, the structure of the run wasn’t optimal for his goals. ‘I was setting off each morning like “right 100 kilometres or 90 kilometres. I'm not stopping until I have it done”, so I ended up running into the middle of the night in a few instances, and then that would have an impact on my sleep and my recovery.’ Ben took these lessons on board and applied them to his run in Britain, detailing that he would set a target each day, but if he didn’t reach that target, he had set a time that he would go to bed at regardless. This prioritised rest and recovery and created a routine for each day.

Ben had aimed to complete 100 kilometres per day when he started his run of Ireland and despite hitting this target on day one, the realities of Ultra running hit home at the end of day one as his feet ‘started to rip apart because I wasn’t protecting them properly’. This once again acted as a learning experience for the Tipperary man, and he took better care of his body for the run of Britain. ‘I had no extra protection on my feet, compared to when I learned my lessons for the UK, I was protecting my feet from the get-go and they were actually better kept together for the 19 days in the UK than they were after two days of running Ireland.’

Ben added that the weather was something he had to negotiate when he was doing the Mizen to Malin run, saying ‘The week I did it was actually one of the hottest weeks of the year, it was so sunny!’ The weather was so hot that Ben decided to start running at night-time, as the temperature would drop significantly making it a more comfortable run than earlier in the day when the sun was at its highest.

‘Another advantage to doing it at night was there was less traffic on the roads.’ Ben outlined some of the dangers of running on the roads, before telling us about an injury he picked up on his recent run of Britain which was caused by getting out of the way of traffic. ‘I'd be jumping onto a curb and therefore the kind of transition from running to stepping onto an elevated platform was something that I hadn't trained for.’ Ben says that having knowledge of the terrain is vitally important when taking on runs and challenges like these, ‘Cork and Donegal are extremely hilly, almost mountainy, so if you have an aim of maybe 90-100k per day, you might have to drop the mileage to suit the terrain you are running.’

Finally, Ben mentioned the importance of nutrition when running these huge distances, explaining ‘When I did Ireland, I was eating a lot of sugary foods like jellies and Lucozade Sports and all this stuff, which is high in calories which is good, but towards the end I started getting blisters on my tongue because of all the sugary food I was eating.’ Ben once again learned from this and split his diet into sweet and savoury foods when running the UK. ‘You have to be aware that when you are running, your digestive system breaks down food horizontally, and when you run, you're obviously jumping up and down vertically, it's shaking your stomach. Also, when you are running all your blood leaves your digestive system and it goes to the muscles and legs, so it can be very difficult to digest the food and hold it down.’

Next week, Run Republic are supporting Peter Ryan who is embarking on his own run from Malin Head to Mizen Head for the NCBI’s first Vision Van. Peter begins his journey on October 8th, and is aiming to complete the run in five days, which will be World Sight Day (October 12th). Peter has already raised over €24,000, and you can donate via the link below!

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