Meet the woman with 5% vision, who has set a world record running on a treadmill

Sinead Kane set a world record running on the treadmill

What’s the furthest you’ve run on a treadmill? Five miles? 10 miles? 15 miles? Sinead Kane has run further. A lot further. The Irishwoman wrote herself into the record books earlier this year by clocking up 130.5km (81.1 miles) – the greatest distance run on a treadmill in 12 hours by a female. She beat the previous record by 1.88km.

The most incredible part? Sinead is legally blind. The 36-year-old has a visual impairment called snow blindness – she was born without irises so her eyes let in too much light. With five per cent vision, she can see shapes and colours but no detail. ‘I wanted to show that people with disabilities can achieve great things,’ she says. ‘When I was at school, I was never included in sport. I was picked last for any game. My PE teacher would often say, “It’s better off for you to sit on the side rather than be involved because you can’t see what you’re doing.”’

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Discouraged by such attitudes, Sinead didn’t start running until she was 30, when she took part in a 10K to raise money for ChildVision, Ireland’s national education centre for blind and visually impaired children. ‘I didn’t actually know how far 10K was at the time,’ says Sinead. ‘When you’re blind, it can be difficult to get a sense of distance, but I wanted to do it for ChildVision because I know what it’s like to grow up blind.’

Sinead Jane set a world record for running on a treadmill

Once she teamed up with coach and guide runner John O’Regan (an experienced ultrarunner), Sinead’s running improved quickly. Marathons and 12-hour track runs followed, but the treadmill challenge was the toughest of the lot – both physically and mentally. If you think treadmill running is dull, imagine what it’s like for someone with five per cent vision. ‘There was a small TV on the treadmill and a view out the window of the Wicklow mountains, but I couldn’t see any of that,’ says Sinead. ‘That’s where a non-visually impaired person would have an advantage over me: they could use visual distractions to take their mind off how tired they’re feeling.’

Sinead, on the other hand, had to concentrate solely on why she wanted to do this. ‘I wanted to give myself a platform to have a voice in the future,’ she says. ‘Because, through running, you get confidence that transfers over to other areas of your life.’

Still, it was a daunting challenge – the previous record holder, Australian Bernadette Benson, was a celebrated ultrarunner. ‘It was intimidating,’ says Sinead. ‘But if you start focusing on other people rather than yourself, it makes you more afraid. My advice would be: focus on yourself, your own strengths and your own weaknesses.’

And focusing on herself was a wise move, for Sinead is no stranger to setting records and achieving firsts. Last year she became the first blind athlete to run seven marathons in seven continents in seven days. And in 2009 she qualified as Ireland’s first blind solicitor. With this latest treadmill record under her belt, Sinead continues to look for new ways to challenge herself and to change perceptions. ‘I am keen to communicate the benefits of fitness and staying active,’ she says. ‘It’s about getting people to think about running and health differently – whether they have a disability or not.’

And, naturally, she’s now thinking of her next challenge: the 24-hour treadmill world record, which stands at 247.2km and has done for 14 years. Only a fool would bet against her…