If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Amy O’Donoghue of Emerald Athletics Club just recently secured her first national outdoor title, winning the 1500m at Irish Nationals in August this year.
“I’m still kind of in shock because I wanted it so bad. I have gone to sleep every night for the last month envisaging that outcome.”
Words from the beaming middle-distance runner Amy O’Donoghue, after finally claiming the gold medal at the Irish National Championships. In the past three years O’Donoghue had podium finishes, featuring two silver medals and a bronze in the 1500m event. While Covid-19 forced O’Donoghue off the track and caused her and countless other athletes to adjust her training regime, the hard work during lockdown paid off as she claimed the 1500m title and also picked up a silver in the 800m.
O’Donoghue is a big advocate for sports psychology and credits her win with the work on mentality that she has been putting in. “People can sometimes dismiss the mental side of sport. I think the mental part should be just as focused on as much as the physical, whereas it’s not at all, not anywhere near.”
Earlier in 2020 she experienced disappointment. “I got bronze at national indoors and was disappointed. I had won the year before. It was an aim; I knew I was in shape”. But it all came together for O’Donoghue at National Outdoors despite uncertainty over lockdown and being a self-proclaimed “slow starter” in the season.
“I’m the kind of racer who needs a few races, I can be a slow starter in the season, and it can take me a while to get into the rhythm. For the indoor season you are just getting going and the season is over. For Nationals, everything needs to click on the day and go right, if it does not you have to wait for the next one.
A major component in O’Donoghue’s change in fortunes comes from a focus on the power of positive thinking. O’Donoghue is a major advocate for sports psychology and credits her recent wins to the mental training she has been doing. “People can sometimes dismiss the mental side of sport. I think the mental part should be just as focused on as much as the physical, whereas it’s not at all, not anywhere near,” said O’Donoghue.
There is plenty of research to show that a positive mindset increases your chance of success and even recovery from injury. Yet so often athletes do their physical training, but the mental side of things are ignored and sometimes forgotten altogether.
“The easiest hard work is physical,” said the Limerick flyer. “We don’t think twice about doing the physical work, where when we are told to do something like work on our mental side, it’s a lot more effort and you also have to exercise your mind. You can’t just do it one day. It’s really hard and you have to do it every day. Especially after injury. That’s when a lot of the mental problems start to come. You’ve had that injury, that’s when the self doubt starts to creep in.”
“In Ireland we have this mentality ‘sure it’ll be grand’. A few years ago, I didn’t think I did need it, where now I think it’s exactly what I need and it’s every percent. Sometimes it’s a stubbornness in athletes ‘I don’t need that’ but people are starting to see and are more open to talking about it,” she said.
We had the fantastic Amy O’Donoghue on the Her Sport Instagram takeover a few weeks back.
— Her Sport (@HerSportDotIE) July 16, 2020
When Covid-19 started to grasp the globe, O’Donoghue had been at camp in Portugal “We were lucky to get home. Ireland had gone mad. People were starting to have problems with flights.”
Everything changed. “I was running outside and working with my coach. I had no access to gym equipment and had to adjust to the circumstances. It was hard to stay motivated because you don’t know what’s going to be on and everything was thrown up in the air. I think it was the right decision to postpone the Olympics. Give people an answer and let them know where they stand.”
During the lockdown period, countless athletes found it challenging to continue their routine and ultimately had to get creative and adjust. O’Donoghue, although frustrated and out of routine, seized the opportunity and continued to work hard for her long-term goals. She relished the period which she used to go back to basics and take care of her body. A rare opportunity to put a pause on the hectic athlete lifestyle and appreciate the smaller things in life. Meditation, recovery, going for walks and most importantly being mindful of your surroundings.
“It’s about hanging in there this year and seeing how this year goes.”
O’Donoghue’s athletics journey began somewhat by chance. During her earlier years, she competed in Irish dancing and even went so far as representing Ireland at worlds. It was in secondary school where she somewhat fell into what is now her biggest passion. With no training or experience, O’Donoghue won the mile in first year at Villiers School Limerick. From there she went on to join Emerald Athletics Club and never looked back.
It’s during those school years which O’Donoghue has one of her fondest memories. In 2010, O’Donoghue did a historic middle-distance double, winning the 800m and 1500m events at the All-Ireland Schools’ Track & Field Championships. In the process, she broke a twenty year-old 800m record of 2.11 when she ran 2.10.8.
“One of the best days of my life was the outdoor All-Ireland schools championships where I won both the 800 metres and 1500 metres,” she said. I broke an Irish record that was over 20 years old in the 800 metres. There is such prestige about winning a school championship and to this day, winning the two races in the same day and getting the record is surreal to me.”
“I had an ‘arch rival’, Emma Mitchell, who was going for the double too. I just ran the 800m and she ran the 3k so it was this big head to head in the 1500m. We ran stride for stride together for 1450m and I know looking back, it was such a good race.”
Over the past number of years and in particular the last twelve months, O’Donoghue has made great strides forward into senior competition. Often it can be difficult to make the jump from junior to senior level with plenty of factors playing a part. 2019 was somewhat of a breakthrough year for O’Donoghue as she won her first indoor National Senior title. This year, she backed up her progression to take her first ever gold at the outdoor National Championships.
“2019 was a good year for me. I felt I made the step up. The indoor senior title started the year on a high and it just rolled on from there,” she said.
“I competed at my first European Cross Country when I was 16 and hadn’t raced much outside of Ireland. The shock I got at the standard. Racing here (in Ireland) starts out fast, everyone’s trying to get a good pace but then it settles down. It does not settle down at Europeans.”
“Cross country really toughens you up as an athlete. Even at European level in senior races, a lot of people drop out in the race. It’s high level and a tough event”
“I got selected for the 2019 Irish Senior Mixed Relay Team at the European Cross Country Championships. It was a big surprise and when I was there I was thinking these are the best girls in Europe in my event. It made me realise that I belonged at that level.”
With one of her 2020 aims to make the team again, O’Donoghue will be disappointed at the cancellation of the 2020 European Cross Country Championships which were due to be held in Dublin in December.
The silver medal winning team which included Fionnuala McCormack, Ciara Mageean and Aoibhe Richardson will also be very disappointed with the cancellation of the event as they had been targeting gold in the 2020 edition of Euro Cross.
“A lot of the courses are different and Ireland would definitely give the excitement. Some courses can be very flat, where cross country in Dublin will test the athletes. It depends how well your training is going in the winter and how mentally strong you are. If someone is mentally able to hang on for longer, they could beat you in cross country.”
“Euro Cross (2019) was really, really good. It was the second time Ireland sent a mixed relay and there is great potential to build on the performances. We placed two places higher than the first team that was sent. We should be aiming much higher. All the Irish people out there are doing well, winning medals. We’re genuinely competitive at these events and all the Irish athletes should be aiming higher.”
“I definitely feel I haven’t reached my full potential and feel I have a long way to go.”