Greg O'Shea and Donna Fraser talk Olympic mindsets ahead of the TCS London Marathon
The TCS London Marathon takes place on Sunday; it will be the third and final time the event is held in the autumn, having been moved from the traditional April slot due to the Covid-19 pandemic; Greg O'Shea and Donna Fraser are two of a number of Olympians taking to the course this year
Last Updated: 30/09/22 5:52pm
Greg O'Shea and Donna Fraser OBE are two Olympians preparing to take on the 26.2 miles of the TCS London Marathon this weekend and we talk to them about their mindsets, how it's helped them in their lives and the challenge it poses.
The duo will be part of the 40,000-strong group taking to London's streets on Sunday to walk, run or jog the world-famous course that starts in Greenwich and ends on The Mall.
Three Lionesses from England's all conquering Euro 2022 Championship-winning squad - Leah Williamson, Ellen White and Jill Scott - will be the official race starters. Scott knows the event well, having won the U15 girls race in 2001 Mini London Marathon.
For O'Shea and Fraser, an opportunity awaits them and despite both having reached the pinnacle of sport at the Olympic Games, they're stepping firmly into the unknown on Sunday morning.
Pushing limits and processing retirement
Olympian O'Shea spent over 10 years training and working at the highest-level for an explosive, dynamic and intense sport, rugby.
He worked hard to become a key part of Ireland's Sevens team and instead of opting for the glitz and glamour of celebrity life after winning Love Island, returned to the pitch to make history for his country.
The Irish Sevens team started in the bottom tier of European Sevens Rugby and finished an incredible journey by winning the last Olympic Games qualifying tournament in Monaco. They had one opportunity to secure their place and they did just that by taking the title and beating France 28-19 in the final.
On the field, O'Shea took his opportunity when it was given to him and he went on to experience an Olympic Games like no other due to the pandemic rules in place at the time.
In September last year, O'Shea announced his retirement from rugby and he told 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 did retire was because we were on less than minimum wage and I couldn't live off that, but I didn't want to retire.
"After I had, I went to London and met those big agencies and they said, 'You're an Olympian that's pretty cool, you went on Love Island and you won it, that's pretty cool but who are you now? What are you doing?' I couldn't answer the questions and it was such a slap in the face."
O'Shea then went through the most challenging time of his life, keeping his personal torment hidden from everyone but his mother and admitting that it got so bad, he nearly made a life-altering choice before thankfully seeking assistance instead.
"I needed a lot of help to pull me out of that space I was in and it took a few months," he said openly.
The challenge of a marathon, being run for his late grandmother, is one area he's leant on for motivation.
For a retired professional athlete, the familiarity of a physical event is a tried and trusted path, as Kevin Sinfield noted recently after announcing his latest ultra marathons challenge in aid of MND.
"I think when you finish your playing career, you're still looking for fulfilment," Sinfield said. "These challenges have certainly helped me along with that."
Sinfield is much further along his marathon journey than his fellow athlete O'Shea, but both started from the same point having spent years crafting a fitness of a different kind and preparing for a different type of challenge.
"In rugby sevens, you're going onto the pitch, laser-focused and on the border line of angry but it's controlled aggression because you have to go in and tackle fellow athletes full on. It's very explosive," O'Shea said.
"With marathon training, you have to chill out, get mellow and let your body go for hours… if you're angry then you're just going to burn yourself out in the first couple of minutes.
"It's a completely different mindset and that's what I love. It's challenging me and pushing my limits further than I thought I could go."
O'Shea gained his place in the TCS London Marathon with Alzheimer's Research, running in honour of his late grandmother and wanting to raise vital funds in the hope that "other families don't have to struggle like mine did". Once he gained his place, a rather large realisation then hit home.
"I knew I wanted to do a marathon, signed up, got my place and then I thought, 'Hold on, how do you even train for it?'.
"I mean, I've been a professional athlete, I went to the Olympics which is the pinnacle of sport, but I have absolutely no idea how to train for this!"
O'Shea turned to an app called Runna to guide him through and then applied his own personal standards to proceedings and has put in the work.
"The buck stops with you at the end of the day, you have to get yourself up, put on those trainers and get out of the door. I've so much respect for anyone that's even tried to attempt a marathon because it's a different kind of discipline.
"I'm going from being a sprinter and a sevens rugby player to being a marathon runner, which is just totally opposite ends of the scale.
"The motivation is there because of my grandmother but also, I'm loving the challenge. It's completely different - the physical challenge and the mental challenge."
Fraser: It's not about competition
Four-time Olympian Donna Fraser has swapped one event that's famous for its gruelling training regime for another.
Fraser built her successful athletics career on executing her race strategy from gun to tape around a single lap of the track. She had 'the race of her life' at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games but on Sunday, Fraser will be running 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 with it being for Breast Cancer Now, I really wanted to do it, having had breast cancer myself and survived.
"When you look at what I had gone through and where I am today, I'm grateful I'm still here," she continued. "I'm in my 50th year and I'm trying to do things differently, so it's on my list to do something that's quite out there."
The mark of the difference between Fraser's former discipline her new one is illustrated by the fact that, despite being an Olympian, she sought out a beginner's marathon training programme and went from there.
"At the start, I thought I could do it and I was really going for it. Then, as the mileage started to pile on, I had to rethink my mindset and think that this is not a competition," Fraser said.
"Initially, I was going off such a pace that I thought there's no way I can maintain this 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 lengthening.
"It's not about lactic acid this time," she continued. "Instead, it's about your breathing and getting the mileage in as opposed to beasting your body. There are a lot of mental adjustments."
After an tough training run, Fraser sought advice from the very 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 best.
Radcliffe and Farah have spent their athletic careers training to compete over a marathon distance and use their natural competitive instinct while they're at it. On Sunday, Fraser will be looking to quieten down her own instinct, as she explained.
"I've certainly got a different mindset, it's not about competition, instead, it's why I'm doing it," Fraser said.
"With a competition day, putting on my kit used to get me fired up, but I'll have a different thought process when I'm getting ready this time. It will be a completely different routine... if it was very similar, I'd struggle to control that edge.
"On the day, there will be so many people that I think they will also help keep my competitive edge at a lower rate."
Fraser won World, European and Commonwealth medals but she did so all alone on a track. On Sunday, she'll have team-mates for company as the Her Spirit co-founders Holly Woodford and Mel Berry are going to add the marathon onto the end of a 5km swim across Lake Windermere and a 453km cycle to London.
"It's about working together as a team and helping them through because they're going to be absolutely shattered," Fraser said.
"It's very much a collaborative support network and enjoying the moment. The Her Spirit motto is 'Together we've got this' so we're going to be in it together."