Donadea 50K Irish Championships Race Report – Geoff Hamilton

Donadea 50K Irish Championships Race Report – Geoff Hamilton

(Warning: it might take you as long to read this report as it took me to run this race).

It was way back while I was training for DCM 2017 that I first considered the possibility of running in the Donadea 50K Irish Championships. Sure its only 5 miles further than the marathon – how hard could it be? (spoiler: very hard). I would be up to a good level of fitness from DCM already, so I could just build on that. I discussed the idea with Mick Foy, who has run it twice in the past, and he encouraged me to go for it and was planning to do it himself. Unfortunately later on, Mick had to pull out, so I was on my own. So, after DCM I just kept up the long runs. This was very hard over the cold winter months – a solo marathon training run in Donadea in sub-zero temperatures was particularly challenging. The long miles took their toll and I had a few niggling injuries, but with the help of some gaffer tape and double-sided sticky-back plastic, I was good to go.

On arriving in Donadea on the day, the heavy overnight rain had continued into the morning, and had turned it into a mud bath – even getting into the registration tent was a challenge! Sam set up her ‘feeding station’ with a small table, water, lucozade, oranges, water melon, flapjacks – enough to feed a small army essentially – which she eventually did. The t-shirts for the race are a different colour every year, and (like DCM) they are kept a secret before the event. On registering, we discovered the colour this year was purple. This was to commemorate Michael ‘Curley’ Cunningham who raced in the purple colours of Mooreabbey Milers AC and sadly passed away last year.

As this is the national 50K championships, there is a time limit of 5 hours. Finish outside this limit and you will be classified as DNF! As some of my running friends have said, this is ‘not very generous’! The race was going to be 10 5K laps through very muddy terrain. The laps are good in that you get a wall of support at the end of each lap, but they are also bad in that they give you an easy bale-out point and it is hard to motivate yourself to keep going. My plan was to run around 27 mins per lap. This would bring me in at around 4:30, but I know this is optimistic and that the pace will drop off towards the end, and my only realistic goal is to make the 5-hour cutoff. I even bought my sub 5-hour buff in advance, which I could come to regret. Gary O’Hanlon was there too, looking to break his national record of 2:56. There is no sub 3-hour buff though – I don’t know why he bothers.

A DJ has set up at the finish line banging out a few rousing tunes. The race organiser is a real character called Anthony Lee (aka Anto). His race briefing is ‘Do 10 laps and f*** off!’ Inspirational. ‘Skinny people to the front and fat people to the back’ said Anto. I went to the middle. ‘Anybody with compression socks can f*** off’ he said. I was alright on that score. So at a time when most people have finished their parkruns, I set off to do 10 parkruns back to back. I put on my iPod with my usual mix of 70s/80s hard rock (I know, I’m old!). I will try to describe the race itself using the tracks from my playlist.


From the start, everyone is flying, jostling for position on the narrow path. Calm down – there’s a long way to go!

“I can see myself tearing up the road
Faster than any other boy has ever gone.
And my skin is raw but my soul is ripe.
No one’s gonna stop me now.
Like a bat out of hell,
I’ll be gone when the morning comes.”

There are a few small hills part way through the lap, but I’m feeling good. My Garmin is struggling to get a good signal amongst the trees, and I have no idea what pace I’m doing, but I am right on track at the end of the lap.


The mud and puddles are making life difficult – I nearly lose my shoes a couple of times. They are completely full of mud.

“Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here every day
You learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play”.

Gary passes me towards the end of the lap and shouts some encouragement, which is more than he has done in training to be honest. Still right on target at the end of the lap. Ana has joined Sam at the finishing line handing out orange segments and providing some extra much needed support. Mick Foy is also there with gels for Gary, and plenty of encouragement for me.


Another fairly comfortable lap, but the hills are starting to seem bigger. I am bang on my target time at the end of the lap, but I know there’s a long way to go and things are going to get a lot tougher.

“No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me around
Hey Satan, paid my dues
Playing in a rocking band
Hey mama, look at me
I’m on my way to the promised land, whoo!
I’m on the highway to hell”


Really getting into a rhythm now and settling into a steady pace.

“Here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known”.

Smooth effortless running style, economy of stride, feet barely touching the ground. Yes – you guessed it – Gary has just gone past again. He’s not saying anything this time so I am guessing he is starting to feel it. As for me, I am plodding along with my ungainly style – still banging out those 27 minute laps.


Starting to feel it a bit more on the hills now, but still keeping a steady pace. Another 27 minute lap goes by as I reach the halfway point.

“Woah oh, we’re half way there.
Woah oh, livin’ on a prayer”.


Starting to struggle a bit now. I drop off from the 4:30 pacer. At the end of the lap I am struggling for breath and starting to tire mentally. Rob Webb has turned up to support, which is very welcome. I have to stop to recover at the end of the lap. Gary flies past again. I have hit the ‘wall’. This never happened to me during a marathon – why is it happening to me now? I guess the mud is sucking the life out of my legs. Lots of people are giving up now – many are obviously much better runners than me. Anto teases them mercilessly, taking their photo and making the ‘loser’ symbol.

“Another one bites the dust.
And another one gone, and another one gone.
Another one bites the dust”.

I really feel like giving up too – I have nearly a half marathon to go and in my head there is no way I am going to make it. I decide to do at least one more lap – it is too embarrassing to drop out so early – I have seen how Donal Cashin got slated for dropping out of the Cork marathon and I want to avoid the Anto treatment. Apparently Mick Foy offers to run with me and I decline, but I have no memory of it – my head is gone. I guess Mick is feeling guilty for getting me into this!


Really struggling now. I am sagging in the middle and not breathing properly. Really regretting not going to DA camp to strengthen my core now. Strange thoughts are going through my head now. Is my knee going to fall off? Can I get a refund on my sub 5-hour buff? Is that yogurt in the fridge out of date? I am like the Titanic – leaning badly to one side, taking on water and going down fast. Somehow I make it round to the end of the lap and pause for a breather. I really feel like giving up now.

“Is he alive or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?
We’ll just pass him there
Why should we even care?
Heavy boots of lead
Fill his victims full of dread
Running as fast as they can
Iron Man lives again!”


Mick Foy thankfully joins me and gets me going again. He’s wearing white socks – rookie error! He gets me to straighten up and breathe deeply, and really helps me to control my breathing and get moving again. Mick is doing a great job of chatting and keeping my spirits up, but I can only give monosyllabic responses. My mind has completely gone.

“Hello? Hello? Hello?
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?
Come on now
I hear you’re feeling down
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again
I’ll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?
There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb”

This is no longer a physical challenge – it is purely a mental one – but as everyone keeps telling me, I am completely mental. Somehow I make it to the end of the lap and pause for another breather. ‘Just one more lap to go and then you are on the home straight’ says Mick. I don’t see it that way – in my mind there is still no way I am ever going to finish this.


Mick gets me going again. I have to walk up the hills which are like Alps now. I tell Mick I am in a lot of pain. He offers to give me a rub-down and asks where it hurts. I tell him mostly the groin. It goes quiet for the first time since he joined me. The matter is not discussed again. Mick must be struggling to make conversation now because it is totally one-sided, but he is making more difference than he realises. I guess Alan McKernan would have no problem talking non-stop for 15K without taking a breath or even realising the other person is not responding, but I would probably have lost the will to live before the end (only joking Alan – you know we love you really). Every step is a struggle now.

“Make his fight on the hill in the early day
Constant chill deep inside
Shouting gun, on they run through the endless grey
On the fight, for they are right, yes, by who’s to say?
For a hill men would kill, why? They do not know
Stiffened wounds test there their pride
Men of five, still alive through the raging glow
Gone insane from the pain that they surely know
For whom the bell tolls
Time marches on
For whom the bell tolls”

I make it to the end of the lap, but there is no time for a rest. Mick gets me a drink refill as I try to keep going. I have got 35 minutes to do the last 5K before the cutoff, but in my head there is no way I can do it and I really want to give up.


We can afford to do 11 minute miles all the way home and still make the cutoff. Every step is an enormous effort. I have to walk up the hills. It is only with one mile to go that I believe I can make it. I actually start to speed up towards the finish – showing that a lot of my problem was in my head. I make it to the finishing straight with a few minutes to spare. There is an enormous wall of sound which is quite overwhelming. Gary is there to give me a high-five (he finished 2 hours ago in an amazing new national record of 2:54, so fair play to him for hanging around). The DJ on the finish line has put on ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead – it was meant to be!

“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools
But that’s the way I like it baby
I don’t wanna live for ever
The Ace of Spades.”

The clock ticks to exactly 4:57 as I cross the line. I collapse into the loving arms of Anto, who bundles me onto a chair and puts a medal around my neck (just in case you feel that is out of character for him – one minute later he caught his next victim and told me to f*** off out of the chair). I am a physical and emotional wreck, but absolutely delighted to finish inside the cutoff.

This was a fantastic event. I would recommend it to anyone. As I have said, the challenge is more mental than physical. So, if you want to ask questions of yourself, then go on Mastermind or something – don’t do this! Seriously though, even if you don’t want to run it, I would recommend going along to support – the atmosphere is fantastic.

I couldn’t have done this without the support of Mick Foy. There are so many people in the club he has helped. He often selflessly paces runs for other club members, running their race rather than his own. He is also one half (let’s face it – the more beautiful half – sorry Alan – I’m sure you haven’t read this far anyway) of the “Daddy & Daddy” team that has done so much to help Fit4Lifers run their first marathon or half marathon. My nomination for club runner of the year – thanks Mick.

I also couldn’t have done this without the support of my muse Sam. From coming out with me on training runs, putting up with my long absences, to providing my nutrition and supporting me the whole way through this race. This one is dedicated to her.

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