Donadea Irish 50km National Championships

I’m not the type of person who should run Ultra’s ……2 knee arthroscopies, more than 10 cortisone injections over the last 10 years and multiple PRP injections under both kneecaps, crappy biomechanics and flat feet. Yet I do…. Why? I just seem to really enjoy running for hours and seem to have a diesel engine, once I get the pace right 😊

My first race of 2019 was last Saturday 9th February; The Donadea 50km. The 9th edition of the event. Held in Donadea forest on a 5km loop, 10 laps in total. You have 5 hours to complete it, no exceptions. As the race director says ‘Do 10 laps then fook off’It is a relatively flat course with only minor drags within the first 2km of each lap though in the last few laps, especially lap 10, these drags feel like a hike up Everest!! Surface is primarily fire-road and easy to run on. Road runners are perfect. No specific trail runners required. The 10 laps are like marmite…. Some love em, some hate em. I happen to quite enjoy it. It’s an OCD thing. Count up to 6, count down for 4, and break each 5km into 1km portions. It’s my way of eating the elephant, one chunk at a time.

Training for this race was interrupted by a hernia operation in mid-November. I only took 2 weeks recovery post operation as it was keyhole surgery and then ran 200km in December and 300km in January. I had a good run volume in 2018 and had completed quite a few races and long distance runs so I knew I had a good base and the operation wouldn’t hamper me too much. The longest run pre-race was 30km, 2 weeks out from the race at my desired race pace.

5 of us headed down this year (my second year to do it). We arrived early at 8.45am for registration which took all of 2 minutes, all nice and relaxed. No one was particularly nervous, more excited and readier to start. I know the 50km is only 8km more than a marathon but mentally it does feel different. There is a little bit of fear within…. Will I bonk and make an arse of myself? Will I end up walking the last 10km? Will I hold pace, Will my nutrition strategy work? etc, etc.

Gear options for an ultra can be a minefield depending on conditions and if the weather is changeable. I opted for compression socks, (you get slagged by the organiser for wearing these, but all in good fun) compression shorts and a run singlet with gloves and arm warmers. Conditions were perfect for the race, minimal wind considering the previous few windy days. Temperature: nice and cool.

We had a plan to be very controlled and go out between 5 and 5.05min/km pace and not to get caught up with feeling fresh and elevating the pace. I was múinteoir for the day. I had my garmin set to buzz per km, so it was easy to control and adjust my pace.  Just before the start I had a gel just to top up the sugars in my system. Anto the race director gave a quick race briefing, which can be summarised to ‘No fookin littering, no fookin headphones, pass on the left and remember this is a race so get out of the way when faster runners are coming by, do your 10 laps then fook off’ Brilliant!

We positioned ourselves close to the front so when the race started we had minimal people to pass before we all settled into our own pace. After 10km we started fuelling and decided to stop for approx. 10-15secs at the end of each subsequent lap to take on our nutrition of choice. For me; Powerbar gels-tropical flavour, Clif Blocks-Marguretia flavour and Tailwind-Lemon. Everyone fell into their own natural rhythm. The race leader and eventual winner, with a new record 2.50:46, Gary O’Hanlon lapped us on our 3rd lap…. Yes, you read that right. The man is a machine and looked so effortless as he passed. He lapped us 3 times by the end😊.

The laps ticked by nicely and after about 5 laps we started to lap some runners. Loads of camaraderie out there as we pass and get passed, makes this a special race. Every runner wants every other runner to succeed. I really enjoyed the boost from the crowd at the finishing line area as we passed by and out onto another lap. Just before 25km one of our group, Mark went ahead. We let him off. We had our pace and I was sticking to it. The rest of us ran together until 30-35km. At this point one of our group had a calf niggle which was getting worse every lap and he eventually had to call it a day. Another from our group dropped a little off the pace but was still moving well and he kept us in his sights. Lucy and I maintained our effort and kept our pace as per the plan. At 37km we caught up with Mark and we worked together until 40km. His back was quite sore by then, so he opted to slow it down a bit. Now it was just Lucy and I for the last 10km. We train a lot together so feel very comfortable with each other’s pace. At this stage our joints and muscles were complaining a little. My right hip flexor was very sore, close to the hernia point. I expected that as it had been like that on all runs over 25km. It was a case of just suck it up and keep running. Neither of us wanted anymore gels/cliff blocks and stuck to our carbohydrate drink fuel for the rest of the run. Lap 9 was uneventful, it was very much a case of focus, hold pace, keep an eye on our run form and stay relaxed.

Lap 10 finally came around. We were thrilled. Although tired and sore, you know there is not long to go, and the excitement builds. With a km to go we could hear the finish, adrenaline runs through you and you can’t help but pick up the pace (who am I kidding). The last 100m is always special in an ultra, the relief and excitement of completion, the cheers, the pain, I love it all.  Lucy and I crossed the line arms aloft with huge smiles on our faces to a great cheer from the super crowd. 4hr 11mins was our time. 5.06min/km average, happy with that. Lucy was third female overall, a super result for her. We managed to hold the 10 laps to within 2 mins of each other from lap 1 to 10, so were thrilled with our consistency.

Many thanks to Anthony Lee, Popup races and all the volunteers for an excellent and well-run race. I’ll be there again next year, a superb race to start the season off with.