Distance champ Lydia O'Donnell runs half marathon in managed isolation hotel carpark

Distance champ Lydia O'Donnell runs half marathon in managed isolation hotel carpark

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Top New Zealand distance runner Lydia O’Donnell was meant to be competing in the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Poland this weekend.

Instead, she ran 191 laps of the Sudima Auckland Airport hotel carpark, where she is currently in managed isolation after travelling over from Melbourne.

O’Donnell was one of six Kiwi athletes selected to compete in this year’s world champs, which were supposed to take place in March but had to be rescheduled to this month because of Covid-19.

Top distance runner Lydia O'Donnell ran a half marathon in the carpark of the Sudima Auckland Airport.

Michael Dawson/Supplied

Top distance runner Lydia O’Donnell ran a half marathon in the carpark of the Sudima Auckland Airport.

But in August, Athletics New Zealand announced the team would not be attending due to ongoing concerns around health and safety, and government advice recommending against international travel.

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O’Donnell, who is originally from Tauranga and has been living in Melbourne for the past year, instead made plans to travel back to New Zealand to attend her best friend’s wedding and see her family.

O’Donnell was meant to be running in the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Poland this weekend.

Michael Dawson/Supplied

O’Donnell was meant to be running in the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Poland this weekend.

Initially, the elite marathon runner – whose usual training ranges from one to two hours of running a day – wasn’t sure if she would be able to run at all during her two-week stay in mandatory isolation.

“I’d heard some horror stories of people not even being allowed outside.”

Fortunately, she and her partner were placed in the Sudima Auckland Airport, which has a large carpark that people can exercise in.

It was her boyfriend who came up with the idea of attempting to run a half marathon in the hotel carpark.

O’Donnell ran 191 laps around the Sudima Auckland Airport hotel carpark.

Michael Dawson/Supplied

O’Donnell ran 191 laps around the Sudima Auckland Airport hotel carpark.

O’Donnell, who is also a run coach for Nike, then put the idea to the global sportswear giant, suggesting they create a half marathon challenge.

“We decided if I could get 100 people on the challenge, I would do the half in the carpark. I think we got to 100 within 45 minutes of putting the challenge out there – then I realised I actually had to do it.”

On Saturday at 7am, O’Donnell and her boyfriend took to the 110-metre carpark loop, running 191 laps for a total of 21,100 metres.

They had to wear face masks while running – which was a totally new experience for O’Donnell.

O'Donnell said changing her face mask halfway was a “nice little treat”.

Michael Dawson/Supplied

O’Donnell said changing her face mask halfway was a “nice little treat”.

“In Melbourne, the one time you didn’t have to wear a mask was when you were doing vigorous exercise. So I’d never run in a mask properly before,” she said.

Despite getting “pretty sweaty”, she took it in her stride.

“It definitely makes breathing a little harder and you do heat up a lot more with your face being covered. But we changed the mask out at halfway, so that was a nice little treat.”

Running all those laps with at least 764 turns in total was another challenge.

“There were so many turns, which isn’t great on the body. We changed direction every 2km or so, because when you’re turning in one direction the whole time, it puts a lot of pressure on the inside hip.”

O’Donnell said while she wasn’t running for time, she managed to complete the unique half marathon in one hour and 40 minutes.

“I definitely wasn’t breaking any records yesterday – I was running to get through it.”

She and her boyfriend spent the rest of the day recovering by watching movies in their hotel room.

“There’s not much else to do when you’re in quarantine.”

O’Donnell said while there had been a huge response to her challenge on social media, she had also been inspired by other creative marathon attempts throughout the pandemic.

“Seeing people running marathons literally in their apartments or on their balconies is amazing.”

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