February 12, 2023 11.00 am This story is over 15 months old

Abbie Donnelly: Lincolnshire’s queen of athletics

From racing her sister to the sweet shop, to running at world championships

By Local Democracy Reporter

Lincoln runner Abbie Donnelly is now on the cusp of global glory after her call-up to Great Britain’s World Cross Country Championships squad.

The 26-year-old has been making waves in Lincolnshire’s athletics field for a number of years now, breaking records at will and continuing to rise through the ranks.

She now has the opportunity to brush shoulders with the planet’s best runners, after being called up to the GB squad for this year’s Cross Country World Championships in Australia.

Abbie is reserved and understated. She has devoted her life to running in a way which is admirable to us all – training three times a day and clocking in over 60 miles a week in preparation for the big events she competes in.

She is a four-time winner of the City of Lincoln 10K, and last year she broke her own course record when she completed the event in 32 minutes and 52 seconds, which also happened to be a national record in the Run For All charity events.

Abbie Donnelly was again the first female across the line at the 2022 City of Lincoln 10K. | Photo: John Aron for The Lincolnite

But it hasn’t always been that way. Abbie remembers her humble beginnings in sport, with her dad taking her and sister Laura to the running club he was a part of, Lincoln Wellington, when Abbie was around 10 or 11.

“My dad was an 800m runner”, Abbie recalls fondly. “He used to get me and my sister to run to the newsagents at Newport to get some sweets, and he told us that if we ran all the way back we could have them, so long as we didn’t eat them on the way.

“I was always trying to sneak a few on my run back, which is funny looking back because I could barely breathe as I was trying to force these sweets in my mouth while running as fast as I can!”

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

It didn’t take Abbie or her family long to realise that she was gifted at running. She would be consistently winning races, whether it be cross country events at school or local track meets.

It was in her early teens when Donnelly made the call to dedicate herself to running, which raised a few eyebrows amongst her peers, who were entering the adolescent years of going out and enjoying their youth.

Abbie said of this time: “A lot of people my age wanted to go out a lot at that time, but it was always in the back of my mind that running was what I wanted to do, it was my end goal.

“My parents have helped massively with that, they would take me to all the races and got me through the hard years. There were times where you’d want to go out with your friends but they were always quick to remind me if I had a big training session planned for the next day.”

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

This level of discipline is a huge factor in Abbie’s success. Anyone who wants to make it to an elite level needs that mindset, and she has it in abundance, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy to her.

“I find the hardest part of every session is just getting out there to do it in the first place,” she said. “Training wasn’t in the typical university lifestyle, but when I went to uni I based everything on running.

“The hardest part was understanding that I will be missing out on a lot of fun, but the knowledge that it would all work out for the better eventually kept me going.”

From humble beginnings, Abbie now has big dreams of an Olympics call-up. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

She is now reaping the rewards of that focus and attitude, with records, trophies and honours to her name that anyone in our county would be enviable of.

In 2015 she was a part of the female under-20s GB squad for the World Cross Country Championships in China, and eight years later she is now in the senior squad for the event in Australia.

Abbie acknowledged the huge leap in standard from national to world competition, and hopes to finish amongst the top 25 at the World Championships this year, ahead of preparing for Olympic qualification in the 10,000m.

It would be a remarkable achievement for Abbie, given her 79th place ranking in the women’s Cross Country event, but a 9th placed-finish at the Europeans in Italy back in December 2022 gives her confidence to kick on again.

Innes Fitzgerald putting climate over competition

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Abbie’s inclusion to the Great Britain side for this year’s World Cross Country Championships has been somewhat clouded on a national scale by a major announcement from 16-year-old runner Innes Fitzgerald.

The teenager was called up to the side, but refused to take part in a conscious effort to keep down her carbon footprint, saying she could not justify travelling to Australia in the current climate.

Abbie said that it was good of Innes to “stick to her principles”, and states that the decision could result in wider conversations as to how globally competing sports can cut emissions and get athletes together in a more environmentally-friendly way.

“It’s really tough competing on the world stage because you have to travel. Australia is an extreme case and it isn’t usually that far away, but it means the Australian runners don’t have to travel.

“I think it’s one of those things that needs a bit to give and take, it will be a difficult one to navigate because performance is so fragile, but it’s great that the conversation has been started.

“She’s such a good runner and I’m certain she will be picked again by the team, maybe for events that are a bit closer to home where she feels more comfortable with the travel.”

The need for sponsorship to stay competitive

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Despite what you may think, running to a competitive level is not cheap. Abbie needs to regularly buy new training and race shoes at hundreds of pounds a go, as well as her kit and travel/accommodation costs for the multiple events she attends each year.

If these events are not attended, Abbie doesn’t get the chance to clock in Olympic qualifying-level times, which is her ultimate goal.

Training shoes tend to have standard mileage of around 300 miles before you need to replace them, which at Abbie’s pace works out at approximately a new pair every five weeks – these can be £130 per pair.

Race shoes are even more expensive at around £240 for a top brand, and they only last 200 or so miles. It all adds up and Abbie needs financial support to maximise the possibility of her achieving her dreams and competing with the top runners in the world.

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Abbie explained: “I know a lot of people who couldn’t compete in a race because they couldn’t afford to get there, or new shoes are too expensive.

“I’m quite lucky in that I have some support for my shoes and gym membership, and my parents also help a lot as well, but it’s a bit rubbish having to rely on friends and family all the time.”

If you or your business would like to sponsor Abbie on her running journey, contact her at [email protected].

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