by Deirdre McGing

So, what made me want to run in circles for 50km?

I’m not entirely sure what prompted the idea but I was familiar with the Donadea 50K through my local Parkrun where a number of runners I know take part every year and rave about it. I had seen some videos as well and thought the atmosphere looked great. Ultimately, I decided that if I was ever going to do it then I was going to do it following on from the Dublin Marathon as I would have a lot of training done already and would just need to keep ticking over for another few weeks rather than starting from scratch. 

I completed the Dublin Marathon in October in a time of 3:39:00 and then took a full month off training to recover. I started back with the long runs in December which was hard with Christmas and work/social activities taking over. If I’m honest, I found the increasing mileage a bit of a burden. It didn’t help that the weather wasn’t great in December – dark, cold, wet & windy! However, once I got past New Year’s and the weather improved, I really started to enjoy the process. Donadea 50K famously comes with a 5 hour cut-off and my main focus was on making it to the finish on time. They do allow you to finish beyond 5 hours but they say the results will be wiped afterwards. I didn’t focus on time or pace – the goal was to complete it. Because of this, I focused on only one hard session a week and the rest was just building mileage. While I wasn’t going to be setting the world alight with fast times, it did mean I wasn’t that fatigued during training and I hoped that my recovery post-race would be relatively swift. I never doubted that I would complete the distance or that I wouldn’t make the cut-off but I did worry about the mental side of things. It is a looped course where each lap is normally 5km. Round and round and round… I wasn’t sure how my head was going to cope. Then, while spectating at the Raheny 5 Mile, someone I know told me they heard the course was waterlogged in one section and that it might not be 10 laps, but rather 15 or 16! I didn’t know what to think of that.

Race day rolled around on Feb 10th. The weather Gods were good to us and it was a dry day in Kildare. I rocked up on my own just over an hour before the start time and met the great Irene O’Connor in the line for the numbers. Irene runs marathons the way I run Parkruns – nearly every week, so 50K wasn’t going to worry her.  

After leaving my drinks & gels at the feeding station, I walked/jogged the kilometre or so to the startline. Knowing I was going to do ten parkruns back-to-back, I didn’t feel there was a need to add extra mileage. I wasn’t going to be challenging the leading women so I could afford to warm up during the first lap or two. At 10am we were off! I fell in with the 4:45 pacing group. That was going to mean a 5:42km for 50km. For context, I was running 5:11 for the marathon so I felt that I should be comfortable with the pace for quite some distance. The race consisted of a 1.058 run up towards the finish line and then 13 laps of 3.77km or so. This meant going through the finish area 14 times and remembering this was one of the hardest parts of the day. A guy I know from Parkrun got confused and missed a lap – imagine thinking you had done 50K but really you had only done a measly 46km? The shame! 

I got into a rhythm and relaxed after about 5km and it was nice to be with a group. As always, the group started out quite big and whittled down after a few laps but we maintained a core group right to the end. People have asked me if I found it really boring but honestly, I was so focused that I didn’t mind. A bit of chat here and there with other runners helped as well. 

A number of running clubs set up their tents after the feed stations and so each lap when we’d approach the finish area, we would have a good stretch of clubmates & families cheering everyone on. I wondered if I made a mistake telling my own family not to bother arriving until at least 1pm but I knew a lot of the crew from Blackrock AC through the Parkrun and they cheered me on each lap from the beginning until the end which was really uplifting. Eventually, as I approached the finish area for the 11th time, my support squad arrived.  

The interesting thing about running laps was knowing that I would be lapped several times by leading runners. I think I was lapped three times by the winning male & female and it was honestly quite cool (and slightly annoying) to see them ease by. Special mention has to go to Sorcha Loughnane from Donore Harriers who smashed the Irish National record and also set a world age best with her finish time of 3:18:04. She is a super athlete and a highly impressive individual. I didn’t see her at the end, probably because she was already at home with her feet up before I crossed the line. 

I felt fresh until around 40km and then it doesn’t matter what pace you’re running, you start to feel sore and heavy. I passed the marathon distance and entered the unknown. In training, I went to 36km on my longest run and I’ve done 4 marathons to date so when I went over that distance, it became a mental game to get to the end. I fell slightly off the back of the 4:45 group and the second last lap was really tough. It’s amazing what can happen though when you know you only have one lap left. I went from feeling terrible to inspired. After taking on drinks as I passed the finish area, I focused on reeling back in the pacers. They weren’t far in front of me and it gave me a focus. I caught the group with around 2km to go and following some final words of encouragement from the pacers, our little group pushed on. I knew once the pacers remained behind me that we were on for a sub 4:45 time. As we approached the final bend, a couple of us exchanged well wishes and then we made a final run for home. Approaching the finish line was a great feeling and the buzz around the place was amazing. I had actually picked up the pace so much on the last lap that my own mother didn’t see me coming through as she was busy chatting. My official chip time was 4:43:06. 

I was dutifully given my medal and then the best prize of all – a cold can of Coke! 

After cheering on the final runners, we headed off for coffee nearby and a post-mortem of the event. 

Overall, this was a very well-organised event with a super atmosphere. It is getting bigger and bigger every year as the organisers try to grow the interest in ultra running. I would highly recommend it to anyone mad enough to consider going beyond the marathon distance.

Will I be back? Never say never but for now I’m going back to the 5K.