In July 2016, Don Hannon (45) from Sandyford donated half of his liver to his sister, Therese. Less than two years after that operation, on 31 March he set off to run the Ireland Way from Cork to the Causeway Coast. That’s 1000 km+ in 15 days over 14 mountain ranges. His aim? To encourage people to become organ donors. 

Don Hannon
Don wants to encourage others to become organ donors. Image: John Allen

His target was 1,000 Donor Card registrations. More than 2,000 people signed up to the registrar. He dubbed himself the Running Donor. What ensued was a tale of muck, sweat, tears and stubborn determination to finish despite the odds being stacked against him.

“All was going well for the first four or five days and then my legs started to swell. You think you’re superman and it turns out you are not. Basically, your lymphatic system pumps fluid all around your body. And because I was spending 10 to 11 hours a day running in an upright position, the fluid couldn’t get back up to the nodes in the back of my knees to recirculate. All the fluid ended up pooling in the bottom of my legs and it turned into a thick gel, like toothpaste. My feet and ankles had swollen. I had to take a day off on day six because the pain was so bad.

“He told me to get the crew to put hot towels around the bottom portions of my legs and basically squeeze them like you would a tube of toothpaste to get the fluid back in around the knees.”

“Then my support vehicle went into a massive pothole down a country lane and damaged the steering rack. We had to send it back to Dublin to be fixed. All of this happened midway through and I thought, ‘Can I go on with this? Is it all over?’ You’re trying your hardest to be positive and you’ve done so much mileage in such a short space of time but there’s still so far to go.

Don Hannon, Irish ultra runner
Don Hannon, Irish ultra runner. Image: ActonPhotography

A couple of people said I should just go off and get better. But as a runner, I just never, ever wanted to do that. My sister would ring me every morning without fail and say, ‘You know it’s okay to stop. We’re all proud of you. You don’t need to do anymore.’ But I know what I’m like and if I didn’t finish it I would of have had to go back and do it again.

How Adventure Racing Changed My Life

“Life is funny sometimes how things work out. I was coming through Roscommon and there was a woman on the side of the road. It turned out she had donated her kidney to her daughter 14 years ago. She rang me that night and told me she knows a physio. He came and opened up his clinic at 9.30 pm just for me. He said that I was going to have to go through a lot of pain but that I’d be good to go if I follow his instructions.

“The second last day I ran 114km. That was 17 hours on my feet non-stop through pure muck, rivers and briars. One of the people I was with turned back it was so bad.”

He told me to get the crew to put hot towels around the bottom portions of my legs and basically squeeze them like you would a tube of toothpaste to get the fluid back in around the knees. It took six hours and it was torture but I got back up the next day and ran 70 km. From there I went on and did 70 km+, 90 km+, 110 km+, etc.

“There were some very dark moments and bad days. The second last day I ran 114km. That was 17 hours on my feet non-stop through pure muck, rivers and briars. One of the people I was with turned back because it was so bad. People see the mileage at the end of the day but they don’t see how hard some of those miles are.

Don Hannon
Don Hannon enjoying a post-run Guinness. Image: John Allen

Some days you just feel like crap and you want the world to swallow you up. And you can’t actually speak to anyone. And other days it’s an absolute gift when someone joins you on the run.” The support he received along the route was incredible. A lot of his fellow runners were donors or had received organs themselves.

Running With Knee Problems – a Good or a Bad Idea?

Over the course of Don’s run, more than 2,000 people signed up to the organ donation list. “The Director of the Irish Kidney Association, Colm White, sent me a message at one stage saying there were so many registrations coming in, they ran out of cards!” As the days passed, Don’s strength started to come back in spades.

“On day 13, I was coming into the last 10 km of a 92 km day and I was running absolutely superbly. The way I used to run! For your body to respond like that after covering that much ground, that fast and fluidly, where you feel that strong, was incredible. I hadn’t had that feeling since before the surgery so to get that back was just amazing!”

Register for a donor card here.

By Orla Ó Muirí

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