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Donald does the double

A late decision to run the iconic Rotorua Marathon paid off for Wairarapa’s Debbie Donald, who strolled to a comfortable victory and also won her second consecutive National Marathon Championship.

The 37-year-old had no intention to run in the famous marathon after setting a personal best [PB] of two hours 40 minutes 39 seconds in the Nagoya Marathon in Japan in early March until she had returned to New Zealand and learnt that Rotorua was doubling as the national championship, an event she won in Christchurch last year.

“My aim was Nagoya. I PB’d over there. I got a 2:40, so I was really happy with that, and we came back to New Zealand not long after that and had some downtime, a week off, and then a week back jogging,” Donald said.

“Then the body was feeling really good, so I thought I’d go for the half [marathon] national championships down in Christchurch, which was two weeks before Rotorua, but I didn’t go really good, and I placed fourth.

“After that, I thought, I’m fit, I’m healthy, I may as well go for the marathon, so it was like two weeks out before I decided I would actually do it.”

Donald expected her strongest competition to come from Lydia O’Donnell, a former 5000m and 10000m national champion, who boasted a PB of 2:38 for the ultimate distance, although she hadn’t run a marathon in two years.

Donald’s tactics were to stick with O’Donnell for as long as possible and not make it easy for her on the tough course around Lake Rotorua, featuring several gruelling hill climbs.

“From the gun, I set the pace, and it was pretty slow, around 3.50 to 4 minute pace, and we were chatting. I knew that if we were running together right up to 37km, I needed to go then because she’s got really fast legs and can kick down very quickly, so if it came to a 1km kick, she would’ve owned me,” Donald explained.

“It got to around 8km to go, and then she just fell behind, and I didn’t look back, and I stuck with two guys who were sticking at that pace, and I heard no footsteps behind me, and I didn’t know how far back she was, but I knew she wasn’t there.

“I just held on to that pace, and it was more like a Sunday long run, to be honest, and it was pretty effortless, and I won pretty convincingly in the end.”

In the end, Donald’s time of 2:46:30 was more than 10 minutes quicker than O’Donnell’s, and she admits to being surprised at the result.

“I hadn’t really trained for it, and I had to bank on that training from Nagoya, but I just managed to have a good day, and she didn’t, and I managed to take out the title.

“I was just so stoked, like I was pinching myself and in the marathon too, it’s such a beast of a distance.”

Donald has been based in Western Australia for the last couple of years but is spending time in Masterton, while her and husband Hayden’s new home is being built.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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