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Donald scores massive win in Christchurch

Former Featherston woman Debbie Donald made a flying trip home from Western Australia to win the national women’s marathon title in only her third attempt at the distance.

Sunday’s victory on a new course based around Christchurch’s Hagley Park wasn’t all plain sailing for Donald, who was running under the Athletics and Cycling Masterton banner.

The 36-year-old entered the race confident of claiming the national title despite her only previous experiences over the demanding 42km distance being two events in Western Australia three weeks apart last year.

She recovered from calf cramps midway through the race to pull away over the final stages to win in a personal best time of two hours, 44 minutes, and 21 seconds, beating race favourite Kelly Parlane by 91 seconds.

Donald said her race plan was to stick with Parlane, and despite her cramping issues, it worked a treat.

“I knew if I could nip in behind her and if I could ride her the majority of the way, I would be okay.

“But it ended up being that she led for 6kms, then I led until 27kms, and then I got this cramp starting to come on, so I pulled back in behind her and told myself just relax and focus on my form, and hopefully I could run it out,” Donald said

“For the 10km when I had this cramp, I was thinking I might have to pull off the course, but it slowly dissipated about 38km, and then I just went for it. I knew I had her beat because I could see she was perspiring quite badly, and I didn’t have a drop of sweat, and I put that down to my training in Australia.

“It was something really special coming down that finishing chute and just the crowd and drawing the energy from them was next level, and they were all screaming and yelling – it was really special,” she said.

Winning gruelling and mentally draining events is nothing new for the mother of three, who only took up running after the birth of her third son Benjamin “to get back in shape and just for a bit of fun”, and then she realised she had a bit of potential and started to take on demanding challenges.

That led to her first national title – the open women’s class at the 2019 New Zealand Tough Guy and Gal Challenge in Rotorua, completing the 12km course, which featured mud trenches, numerous hills, high walls, and barbed wire obstacles, 10 minutes clear of the runner-up.

Since then, though, Donald has concentrated on running, which she believes has improved significantly since moving to Western Australia two years ago and training in good weather all year. She has also come under the guidance of coach Lisa Wakeman, a former Olympian and a Commonwealth Games medallist, who has transformed her running and kept her motivated.

Donald said Wakeman’s influence was evident with her physical and mental preparation spot on heading to Christchurch.

“I was gunning for the title coming into this marathon, and my training just went really well. I did roll my ankle about five weeks out, but we managed to navigate that, and it wasn’t too bad.

“It’s the fittest I’ve ever been, the training was going well, and I kind of knew going into it on Sunday morning that I was ready to take on Kelly Parlane, who was the second placegetter last year.”

Donald’s time bettered her previous best by eight minutes, although she said the time was secondary to winning the national title.

“I didn’t push myself at Christchurch, and I’m definitely capable of something different, but I came for the title, so it wasn’t really about the time.”

Now spending time with her parents in Featherston, Donald went for a shakedown run yesterday on a gravel road in the pouring rain, which she said was pretty humbling and far removed from the warm, dry conditions of Western Australia. Donald intends to return to New Zealand next year to defend her marathon title.

In the meantime, the Oceania marathon championship remains a distinct target. She is also focused on reducing her times further and pushing for the Commonwealth Games qualifying time of 2hr 35min 30sec,

“That would be a big dream, and I would have to see if my body is capable of it, but if you had told me only a few years ago that I would be running those times, I wouldn’t have believed you, and I think anything is possible now and I’m not going to rule that out,” she said.

“I’m not close enough to the Olympic standard just yet, but definitely knocking on that Commonwealth Games time.”

Donald believes that having not taken up running until a later age will have its benefits, with her body having suffered the rigours of years of running. She is also drawing inspiration from other older runners.

“There are so many older runners these days such as Sinead Diver; she’s 45 and just broke the Australian marathon record in December last year, so she’s someone I really look up to, and she only started running in her late 30s, so it just shows you can be competitive right into your 40s now.”

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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