Inspirational Runners 015 : Lydia O’Donnell

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For Lydia O’Donnell, “the world would be a nicer place, if everyone ran” and it’s easy to see why she holds such a positive attitude towards a sport that has given her so much. Having met Lydia a handful of times, the words talented, passionate, genuine, caring, focussed and inspiring come to mind. Running is truly her calling.

When one is immersed in running for 15+ years with several national titles and opportunities to compete overseas, you can really see how important running is to Lydia. Since being supported by Nike in 2011, Lydia has not looked back with sights set on the Japan Olympics. But before we get into that, let’s rewind to the day I met Lydia.

From a vague personal invite by email from Nike’s marketing team, I got offered an experience hard to refuse a few weeks ago. Come take part in a Nike running event at the Auckland City store for the new Lunarepic shoe launch in NZ. I actually had my eyes on the USA launch of this model last year, so was intrigued.

I headed along not to sure what was going to greet me to be honest. There was a large cube at the Britomart in Auckland City that simply stated “Lunar Epic – Run Forever” on the outside. Lydia introduced herself and confessed to be a GPR fan, then invited me into the changing area where I found laid out a runners dream. A pair of brand new Lunar Epics, a fitted Ltd Edition Nike top (perfect for my Dad bod!), shorts, swoosh bag and socks. All mine. *queue muh haha voice over*.

I absolutely believe that everybody can run. We have a saying at Nike ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete’ I like to think if you have a body, you are a runner.

All kitted out I made my way to the ‘running cube’ where a treadmill awaited with pumping tunes, multiple GoPro cameras and a sensory immersion of flashing / pulsing lights. My experience was going to be shared… where though? Who cares… I was ready to roll! About 40 mins later and so much sweat (sorry Lydia!) I was buzzed. The Lunarepics were really good- so much so I’ve clocked up more than 200Km since.

Afterwards we spent some time talking about running and straight away I could tell that Lydia was the real deal. A high performing athlete for sure- but genuine and down to earth. We got straight into chatting about the GPR project, as that was why I had been invited along in the first place. Then onto what Lydia does with Nike and where her path has and will take her through running. Like so many high achieving athletes in New Zealand, Lydia has somehow flown under the radar in the shadow of more popular sports such as Rugby. But hey, few do rise above and after hearing about the titles, goals and involvement with the sport it’s clear that Lydia is difficult to label; Lydia runs it all. A runner. From track to trails and short to long, running has and does fill Lydia’s cup of stoke. Through the sport in turn, a way to motivate, support and help others become more active through running. There is a lot of love.

It has been a pleasure Lydia, and thanks for the invite to connect with you and Nike. I’m excited to share your story, talent, passion and inspiration. All the best for your goals and journey to Japan.

Where do you call home and what is your current occupation?
I currently live in Auckland, where I have been based for about 8 years now. I am the Marketing Executive at Nike New Zealand.

You are a Nike sponsored runner and you are also an accomplished athlete in your own right. Can you share with us your athletic history?
I have been running since I was young, competing in athletics from the age of about 7. Throughout High School I ran competitively, but I was never all that competitive. My coach at High School was amazing; she really taught me how important it was to not over train as a young athlete and the dangers of burn out. She coached me to love running, but not necessary to be the best in the country. It wasn’t until I left school that I really took running seriously. I have been training as an elite athlete since about 2010. I became a Nike athlete in 2011, but recently have signed as the first New Zealand member of the Bowerman Track Club – a global running squad that is supported by Nike. It’s awesome to be part of BTC, as I feel connected to superstar runners all around the world – including the likes of Shalane Flanagan and Emily Infeld. It is truly an honor.

Lydia is New Zealand's first member of the Bowerman Track Club – a global running squad that is supported by Nike. Photo by Paul Petch.

Lydia is New Zealand’s first member of the Bowerman Track Club – a global running squad that is supported by Nike. Photo by Paul Petch.

You are clearly an event kind of girl! So what’s your favourite distance and are there events that stand out over the years?
My running career has taken me from being a track 1500m to now focused on the Marathon. I love Half and Full marathons. They are such a great challenge, not only race-wise but training-wise also. Training for a full is definitely testing but once you get across that finish line, you know the sweat and tears (literally) are all worth it. I ran the Melbourne Full Marathon last year which was an amazing event, and a great course to run a first marathon on. The guys I ran with were amazing, so supportive and helped me pull through to get 2nd place overall. I also ran in Japan earlier this year at the Nagoya Womens Marathon, which taught me a lot about travelling and competing at major marathons that I know will pay off in future events. No matter your placing in events, every race you do will teach you something. No racing experience is a bad experience, just a step in the right direction to progressing you forward as a runner.

Most people who know you outside of the competitive circuit, first met you at the weekly NIKE city runs. What are these runs all about?
Nike+ Run Club is a weekly run where we get a group of athletes, both beginner runners and experienced athletes, together to run a variety of distances. Nike+ Run Club has been going for about 5 years now and we have a huge community of runners that come together to tackle the streets each week. Not only do these athletes get to run with like-minded people, it is a social event where you are given the opportunity to make new friends and build you running circles up. We usually run 5km and 10km distances and the routes change monthly. We have a bunch of enthusiastic and passionate pacers who lead the runners around the city so never fear of getting left behind or lost, everybody is accounted for.

When we spoke you seemed passionate about running being for everyone, and how it can make the world a better place. Can you tell us more about your thoughts on this?
I absolutely believe that everybody can run. We have a saying at Nike ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete’ I like to think if you have a body, you are a runner. Running is a sport that you can pick up at any stage in life, whether you want to change your life by training towards an Ultra Marathon, or you just want to get out on the street once or twice a week, committing to being a runner will definitely give you a different perspective on life. Running is gift, it gives you self-respect, self-awareness, self-pride and a huge sense of accomplishment. If everybody grabbed this gift by both hands I have no doubt that everyone would feel much more satisfied with their day-to-day life.

Where are your favourite places to run and why?
Without a doubt the Waitakeres. I love the trails out there. Not sure if it is because I know them like the back of my hand, or if it’s just the change from running the streets, but I love being out of the city and amongst nature. I love being in the middle of nowhere, where you can completely lose your mind in the trails cruising along at any pace, and of course stop to take selfies.

How is running important to you, your life and it’s direction?
It seems ridiculous, but running to me is like brushing your teeth. It is so engrained in my life that I can’t imagine not doing it. Running gives me direction; it brings clarity and provides me time to myself to think alone and figure out what I want to achieve that day, that week, month or even year.

Be confident in yourself and your passion. If you truly believe in what you do, you dream of making your passion your career will become reality. Confidence is key.

What’s your main motivation for running? What are you seeking? Fitness, adrenaline, freedom, mindfulness?
I run for multiple reasons. I run because I love the sense of freedom, I run for the sense of accomplishment and I run for the nature of the competition. Not only competition against others, but also continually against myself. I am always wanting to better myself, whether that is pushing miles or breaking PBs, to set a goal that is going to test my limits and then achieve it, brings such self-pride and creates a sense of respect for your body which I believe everybody should have.

What facet of running do you enjoy most? Be that races of any distance, training, engagement with community, solo runs. What stands out as the best experiences for you and why?
This is hard. I love all running experiences! Depending on my mood and where I am at with my training, I love getting out of the city and running alone, but also enjoy grabbing a crew and running down the streets of Auckland. When it comes to racing, the challenge of a marathon is probably the most satisfying once across the line!

"No racing experience is a bad experience, just a step in the right direction to progressing you forward as a runner". Photo by Paul Petch.

“No racing experience is a bad experience, just a step in the right direction to progressing you forward as a runner”. Photo by Paul Petch.

Could you give us a small insight into your usual running or training routine? Are you a structured programme type of person, or do you run more by feel, as and when the desire takes you?
I have an amazing coach who puts together my programs depending on the races I have coming up. At the moment I am covering roughly 130-150km per week with a range of sessions throughout the week. These sessions include tempos, fartlek and interval sessions, and every week I have at least a 2-2.5hr long run in there. I find without a program I am lost. I need something in front of me to follow that I can tick off daily. This provides me direction but also gives me confidence when lining up on the start line. To know I have done the training I can feel a lot more assured I am going to run at my best.

Do you experience the oft talked about Runner’s High? if so, can you describe it? What circumstances are you most likely to achieve this?
To be honest now, I am so conditioned to running and it is so much part of my life, that I either don’t experience the runners high, or I am continually on one! I think the latter… Runners high is an adrenaline rush that you experience once you get blood rushing around the body. I think that no matter how far or how fast you run, you will experience this sense of adrenaline. Just getting outside and breathing fresh air, and raising the heart rate will bring on a feeling of accomplishment which can make you mentally feel satisfied and on an endorphin rush!

Music or no music when running? If so what do you enjoy listening to?
I never used to listen to much music, but lately have been bringing music into my longer runs. I try to stare clear of having headphones in during sessions or tempos as it can disturb your pace, but on long runs I feel music can bring a whole other experience to your run. I am jamming Spotify Playlists by Heads Garage at the moment. It is a NZ based Music Hub which provides you with the newest beats and there is even a HG/Nike+ Run Club playlist design specifically for running.

If you can make yourself in to the best possible version of you, everyone around you will benefit from this.

Have been involved with any projects that give back to the community as a runner or individual? Can you share some of these projects/ associations?
I created an event this year called ‘RUN FOR HER’ which was formed around the unfortunate tragedy of a women runner, in NZ who lost her life running on the streets of Auckland. The event was targeted at women runners who felt afraid to get out and run, and bring confidence back to the runners of Auckland. We had 200+ women turn up to run a 5km route, regain the streets and pay respect to the female who lost her life.

(As a side note: Lydia is also helping sick kids by raising money as part of my participation in Fight Night for Cure Kids. You can donate over here.)

What advice can you give to people who want to follow their dreams and to do what they love?
Be confident in yourself and your passion. If you truly believe in what you do, you dream of making your passion your career will become reality. Confidence is key.

"Be confident in yourself and your passion." Lydia at the weekly Nike + Run Club Auckland. Photo by Paul Petch.

“Be confident in yourself and your passion.” Lydia at the weekly Nike + Run Club Auckland. Photo by Paul Petch.

Do you have a certain philosophy regarding running and the concept of community engagement and advocacy? Can running benefit the wider community in more ways than increased fitness? What if everyone ran?
I truly believe that everyone ran the world would be a better place. I am a firm believer the running can cure mental illness. The way you can change your thought patterns and how you feel about yourself, respect for yourself, and confidence in your own body can come from simply going for a run. Setting a goal and each day working towards that, achieving something small to eventually achieve something big, can bring the greatest sense of feat that your outlook on life will be swayed.

No racing experience is a bad experience, just a step in the right direction to progressing you forward as a runner.

Where to from here? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now ?
Running. Haha. I am always going to be a runner. Whether that is at the elite level or not, we’ll see. But at the moment my next four years will be based around making it to Tokyo in 2020 for the marathon, so perhaps the year after that I will be more of a social runner. But who knows…I love coaching and feel the same sense of accomplishment when I see the joy my athletes get out of running as just running or competing myself. I see myself coaching more athletes over the next 5 years too.

Your top three tips to achieving happiness or balance in life?
1. Be confident in everything you, because you do it for a reason so trust yourself enough that you’ll succeed no matter what.
2. Focus on self. Selfishness is not always a negative word. If you can make yourself in to the best possible version of you, everyone around you will benefit from this.
3. Take risks and ignore pessimists. Taking a risk to chase something you believe in will always pay off in the long run, as long as you are fully confident in what you do and can push aside thoughts of those who aren’t.

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Check out Lydia’s Instagram here and Nike+ run club here.

Support Lydia’s Fight Night for CureKids over here.

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Good People Run
We love running! With incredible articles, people, events, photography, creativity & running centric news at your fingertips, think of Good People Run™ as your personal & positive concierge for modern running life and culture. Founded by Paul Petch.
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About Good People Run

We love running! With incredible articles, people, events, photography, creativity & running centric news at your fingertips, think of Good People Run™ as your personal & positive concierge for modern running life and culture. Founded by Paul Petch.