Greg O’Shea and Donna Fraser OBE are two Olympians preparing to tackle the 26.2 mile TCS London Marathon this weekend and we talk to them about their mindset, how it has helped them in their lives and the challenge it poses.
The duo will be part of the group of 40,000 who will take to the streets of London on Sunday to walk, run or jog the world famous route which starts in Greenwich and ends at The Mall.
Three Lionesses from England’s Euro 2022 winning team – Leah Williamson, Ellen White and Jill Scott – will be the official starters for the race. Scott knows the event well, having won the U15 girls’ race at the London Mini Marathon in 2001.
For O’Shea and Fraser, an opportunity awaits and although they have both reached the pinnacle of the sport at the Olympics, they are stepping firmly into the unknown on Sunday morning.
Pushing the limits and preparing for retirement
Olympian O’Shea has spent over 10 years training and working at the highest level for the explosive, dynamic and intense sport of rugby.
He worked hard to become a key part of the Irish Sevens team and instead of opting for the glitz and glamor of celebrity life after winning Love Island, he returned to the pitch to make history from his country.
The Irish Rugby 7s team started in the top tier of European Rugby 7s and completed an incredible run by winning the final Olympics qualifying tournament in Monaco. They had a chance to secure their place and that’s exactly what they did by winning the title and beating France 28-19 in the final.
On the pitch, O’Shea seized the opportunity presented to him and he then experienced an Olympics like no other due to the pandemic rules in effect at the time.
In September last year O’Shea announced his retirement from rugby and he said sky sports it was actually something he wasn’t ready to do.
“I found retirement really, really difficult. I didn’t want to retire because I was only 26,” he said. “The only reason I retired was because we were on less than minimum wage and I couldn’t live off it, but I didn’t want to retire.
“After that, I went to London and met these big agencies and they were like, ‘You’re an Olympian, that’s pretty cool, you went to Love Island and you won it, that’s “is pretty cool, but who are you now? do?” I couldn’t answer the questions and it was such a slap in the face.”
O’Shea then went through the toughest time of his life, hiding his personal torment from everyone but his mother and admitting it was so bad he nearly made a life-changing choice before asking help instead.
“I needed a lot of help to get out of this space I was in and it took a few months,” he said openly.
The challenge of a marathon, run for his late grandmother, is one area he relied on for motivation.
For a retired professional athlete, familiarity with a physical event is a tried and trusted route, as Kevin Sinfield recently noted after announcing his latest ultra marathon challenge to benefit MND.
“I think when you end your playing career, you’re still looking for fulfillment,” Sinfield said. “These challenges definitely helped me with that.”
Sinfield is much further along in his marathon journey than fellow athlete O’Shea, but both started from the same point after spending years building up a different kind of fitness and preparing for a different kind of challenge. different.
“In rugby sevens you walk onto the pitch laser focused and borderline angry, but it’s a controlled aggression because you have to come in and attack other athletes hard. It’s very explosive,” O’Shea said.
“With marathon training, you have to kick back, relax and let your body go for hours…if you’re angry, you’re just going to burn out in the first few minutes.
“It’s a completely different mindset and that’s what I love. It challenges me and pushes my limits further than I thought I could go.”
O’Shea won her place in the TCS London Marathon with Alzheimer’s Research, running in honor of her late grandmother and wanting to raise vital funds in the hope that “other families won’t have to struggle like mine”. Once he earned his spot, a pretty big achievement then hit home.
“I knew I wanted to run a marathon, I signed up, got my spot and then I thought, ‘Wait, how do you even train for this?’
“I mean, I was a professional athlete, I went to the Olympics which is the pinnacle of sport, but I have absolutely no idea how to train for it!”
O’Shea turned to an app called Runna for guidance, then applied his own personal standards to the procedures and got to work.
“The responsibility is on you at the end of the day, you have to get up, put on those sneakers and walk out. I have so much respect for anyone who has even tried to attempt a marathon because that’s a different kind of discipline.
“I go from sprinter and rugby sevens player to marathon runner, which is quite the opposite of the scale.
“The motivation is there because of my grandmother but also, I like the challenge. It’s completely different – the physical challenge and the mental challenge.”
Fraser: Iit’s not about competition
Four-time Olympian Donna Fraser has traded one event famous for its grueling training regimen for another.
Fraser built his successful track and field career by executing his gun-to-tape running strategy around a single lap of the track. She had “the run of her life” at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but on Sunday Fraser will run the equivalent distance of 105.5 laps.
“I always said as a sprinter that I would never, ever do a marathon,” Fraser admitted. “But I got this call and as it was for Breast Cancer Now I really wanted to do it, having had breast cancer myself and survived.
“When you look at what I’ve been through and where I am today, I’m grateful to still be here,” she continued. “I’m in my 50th year and trying to do things differently, so it’s on my list to do something that’s totally out there.”
The mark of difference between Fraser’s old discipline and the new is illustrated by the fact that, although an Olympian, she sought out a marathon training program for beginners and went from there.
“At first I thought I could do it and I was really going for it. Then, as the mileage started to add up, I had to rethink my mindset and think it wasn’t a competition “Fraser said.
“At the start, I was going at such a pace that I thought there was no way to sustain it for 26.2 miles. I had to really think about my pace and readjust my stride length, which, as a sprinter, is something you’re used to stretching out.
“It’s not about lactic acid this time,” she continued. “Instead, it’s about breathing and getting the mileage rather than fooling your body. There are a lot of mental adjustments.”
After a tough workout, Fraser sought advice from the best in the form of Sir Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe. She asked if she could borrow their legs, to which Radcliffe humbly replied that she thought Farah’s would be the best.
Radcliffe and Farah have spent their athletic careers training to compete a marathon distance and using their natural competitive instincts while they’re at it. On Sunday, Fraser will seek to calm her own instincts, as she explained.
“I definitely have a different mindset, it’s not about the competition, it’s more about why I’m doing it,” Fraser said.
“With a competition day, putting on my gear made me excited, but I will have a different thought process when I prepare this time. It will be a completely different routine…if it was very similar, I should have hard to control this edge.
“There will be so many people on that day that I think they will also help me maintain my competitive edge at a lower pace.”
Fraser has won World, European and Commonwealth medals, but she has done it all alone on a track. She will have teammates for the company on Sunday as Her Spirit co-founders Holly Woodford and Mel Berry will add the marathon to the end of a 5km swim on Lake Windermere and a 453 cycle km to London.
“It’s about working together as a team and helping them out because they’re going to be completely wiped out,” Fraser said.
“It’s truly a collaborative support network and enjoying the moment. Her Spirit’s motto is ‘Together We Got That’, so we’re going to be there together.”