The Gold Coast Marathon that wasn't meant to be
Editor's Note: Lydia O'Donnell is a familiar name for TEMPO readers. Not only did Lydia captain our record breaking team at The Speed Project in 2019, she's an elite marathon runner from New Zealand who finished 20th at the New York Marathon in 2018.
On top of this, Lydia is a multiple national champion on the track, co-founder of mental health run club One Step, and a run coach.
Lydia is a columnist for TEMPO - you can read her first article, addressing body image, here.
You can connect with Lydia here.
It has been a ride.
One that has carried me across 3 countries, 6 cities, hundreds of friendly runners and thousands of miles. My journey to the Gold Coast Marathon was certainly something different. But I knew that if I really wanted to go after my end goal of qualifying for the 2019 World Championships in Doha, of course the journey wasn’t going to be ‘normal’. For me, this moment was to prove to myself that I do deserve to be on the world stage, that my hours of training do account for just as much as any other elite runner and that my body was capable of achieving the results my mind so badly wanted.
16 weeks of full focus on one goal. To run a sub 2:37 and make the New Zealand team heading to World Champs in September.
It all started after a brief discussion with Coach Blue (Blue Benadum) in Las Vegas of all places. It was post The Speed Project, where endorphins were high, drinks were flowing, and conversations were deep. I mentioned my goal of working toward the World Championships team. And after running near to 100k across the desert, my mindset was determined that I could do anything. I was after a new coach. Someone who not only believed in me, but would push me to the potential I knew I was capable of. Blue was the man for the job.
For years I have tried to do everything. I’ve trained to run, I’ve had a successful career, I have coached and built my own business, so I knew it was time to put all of my eggs in one basket and finally chase this dream.
In early May, I packed up home in New Zealand and headed out to LA. The land of modern running culture. I spent 4 weeks with the Run With The Lab crew in LA, including 1 week in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, building miles on miles and working on my speed. Training with the group of athletes in LA made a huge difference to my training, being pushed by other incredible runners and having people to pound the pavement with made getting out each day so much easier.
Within four weeks I was cracking times I had never run before, I was bouncing back from sessions like never before and I was by far the fittest I had ever been. I was ready to race.
I spent the remaining four weeks before the race in Australia, across Brisbane, Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Everything seemed to go to plan, other than a minor cold from the freezing Melbourne weather.
I was so excited to race.
The morning of the race I was strangely not nervous. Excited yes, but for some reason I had my nerves under control. I was so confident in my training, in my coach, and in myself that I was just really looking forward to all the hard work bearing fruit in the race. I had spent the prior days just wanting to get out there and do it. So finally, the morning was here and it was my time to shine.
After competing at the New York Marathon last year and warming up alongside the elite athletes – athletes I had spent years idolizing – I was prepared to be toeing the line with similar athletes this year. I headed into the elite athlete zone with confidence that I belonged there just as much as anyone, and that I had worked just as hard as the other athletes in there. I was ready to race but I also knew that my priority was to run the time I was after and to not get caught up in what other girls were doing.
We headed to the start line 20 minutes before go time. Heavy rain fell on us as we were waiting for the gun to go but I wasn’t worried about getting drenched as that is an uncontrollable for everyone.
The gun went. It was go time. My nerves were still under control and I knew that for at least half of the race, it was just about getting through it at a comfortable pace.
I sat in on my pace that I had targeted to go out at…3.40 per kilometre. For some reason my Garmin was jumping all over the place between 3.30-3.50 pace, but I took the average and was trying to hold it consistently. I had a few other athletes around me and all I was after was a good pack that I could hold onto and work with. I found that pack and at the time, the pace felt exactly right for what I was going after.
At the 10km mark, I was slightly ahead of goal pace – by 10-15 seconds...but I felt great.
Half way hit and again I was slightly ahead by around 15 seconds…again thinking that just gives me room for movement when I need it later in the race, especially with the windy conditions heading back to the finish line.
It was at 28-29km things began to go downhill. My body started falling apart. One thing at a time. I remember thinking to myself ‘I am conditioned for this. I have trained through these distances and worked at this pace…faster than this pace..it shouldn’t feel this hard and definitely not this sore on my body’. I knew I was in trouble.
At the 33km mark I saw my mum. Standing on the side of the road ready to cheer me through the last 9km. But instantly she could see I didn’t have it. I stopped. ‘I can’t do this’ I said to her, words I have never thought I would hear come out of my mouth. ‘I am not made for it’. As any mother would do she told me that I didn’t have to finish. That it was okay if I didn’t. Determined not to let her down I gritted my teeth and forced myself to get back into a run. I was hobbling at this stage; my calf had blown.
I carried on for another kilometre down the road. At the 34km mark I knew I was right. I couldn’t do it. I had hit the wall. My mind wanted to carry on so badly, but my body physically had had enough. It wasn’t just my calf, it was my entire body shutting down. I was cold. I was hot. I was dazed. I was angry, and sad. I sat down on the side of the road and immediately the tears began to flow. The two months of training flashed in front of me. The sweat and tears of thousands of miles going through my head. I had let my team down. I had let my country down. I had let my coach down. I had let myself down. I have never in my life felt so disheartened and disappointed in anything, let alone something in my control.
‘I can’t do this’, I said to her, words I have never thought I would hear come out of my mouth. ‘I am not made for it’.
LYDIA O'DONNELL ON SEEING HER MOTHER AT 33KM
The rest of the day felt like an absolute blur. Probably because it was. I couldn’t stop the emotion of the race taking control of me. I felt empty and confused by what had happened. The anger came from the fact I thought I didn’t deserve to fail. I deserved the race I was after. I deserved to be happy. And the sadness came from the thought of disappointing everyone around me.
As crazy as it may sound I was questioning my self-worth.
It is a common thing for us athletes. To think our worth is based on our results. That being ‘successful’ is based on how ‘good’ we are at our sport.
But only after this disappointing race have I really realized how wrong we are. Running is currently my life, but it doesn’t define who I am. Sport should complement the person you are, not determine the value of who you are as a person.
This result wasn’t what I was after. But it doesn’t mean that my importance as a runner, as an athlete, or as a person is any less. Even after pouring my time and energy into the training, the journey was a life-changing experience that I am sure will lead to other opportunities and further experiences in the future.
In time I will take a learning from the race but I now know that there are no guarantees in life. At no time should we expect a particular outcome because we believe we deserve it.
Every step in life is one that helps to tell your story. Every moment builds your character. The lows are designed to form resilience and the highs are times for celebration.
As much as this hurdle has hurt, I am not giving up on chasing those highs.
Running is currently my life, but it doesn’t define who I am. Sport should complement the person you are, not determine the value of who you are as a person.
The marathon is an unpredictable beast. One that has my heart. The amount of pain and suffering that comes from the training, and the challenge of making it through the entire 42.2km is unlike anything else.
Gold Coast Marathon didn’t go to plan at all but it has fuelled the fire for me to continue to strive for PBs. To continue to push my potential and see what I am capable of. To build my character and compliment who I am as a person. My next marathon is on the cards already.