Ask three top athletes – Charli Hoffmann, Sam Douglas and Tim Ford – to give you their advice for the City2Surf and there are critical tips they all agree on, even though the three come to the big race from different backgrounds.
Charli isn’t a professional runner, but rather a media agency executive who is very serious about her running and cycling. She knows what it’s like when you’re a weekend warrior attempting a big challenge. Sam is a professional athlete and triathlon coach whose guidance of para-athletes at the Paralympics gives him unique insights into helping people get around a course. and Tim only took up running nine years ago in a desperate bid to defeat his obesity. He went on to become one of Australia’s top triathletes and knows how tough it is to conquer your first City2Surf. All three are ambassadors for Mizuno, which has sponsored this article. Here are their secrets to conquering the big race.
1. Know the distance and the courseYou’d be surprised how many people lining up at the start of the City2Surf for the first time have never run a 14km course before. “It’s really important to train up for that distance,” says Tim. “It’s a 14km run, so make sure you can run 14km. And when you’re doing these 14km runs, don’t avoid hills – the City2Surf isn’t flat.” If it’s your first time, Charli suggests familiarising yourself with the route ahead of time. “If you’re super nervous, maybe consider driving or walking the course to get a feel for it,” she says.
2. Downhill running
There’s a huge downhill run all the way to Bondi. Running downhill is actually what hurts your legs more than running uphill,” explains Tim. “A good tip for people preparing for the City2Surf is to actually practise running downhill. It sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s a skill you have to practise.” But mastering downhill is not just about avoiding soreness – Sam says it’s about getting an advantage. “The City2Surf has some fast downhill sections and if you’ve trained to run downhill then you can gain some free speed on the downhill sections without physically working that hard,” he shares. “Don’t push too hard on the uphills, as this can cause you to ‘pop’ (where you elevate your heart rate too high) and usually results in walking or stopping altogether.”Sam’s additional tips for downhill running include;
- Don’t start on a hill that’s too steep.
- Don’t over-stride, but increase your cadence (leg turnover).
- Lean from your ankles, keeping your hips and core strong.
- Use your arms to help with balance as you gain speed.
- Use a shoe with a bit more underfoot cushioning.
3. Train smart, not hardIt’s impossible to get results if you’re constantly testing yourself, says Sam. “Every training run doesn’t have to be hard or a personal best run. If you try to complete every training run as hard as you can, you’ll finish feeling like you’ve completed a good session, but you really just destroyed your body so much that it needs more time to recover,” he adds. “Put some longer, slow runs in your program (45 minutes to 1.5 hours) – runs that don’t feel hard when you start, but become tougher as the clock ticks on. This helps build a nice base of endurance and will help you on race day once you’ve tackled Heartbreak Hill.” Charli recommends you start training now and slowly increase your training load; however, closer to the event, decrease your level of training so your legs are fresh for the morning of the run.
4. Plan for the crowdsPrepare for the discomfort of being surrounded by thousands of people! “It can be quite intimidating and overwhelming,” says Tim. “There’s going to be elbows around you, people in front of you, people walking, people who are dressed up.” If you’re an experienced runner, don’t let others dictate your pace, adds Sam. “Don’t get caught up with someone else’s race. This is the number one reason runners have a bad day or don’t achieve their goal,” he tells. “Put the blinkers on, so to speak, stay within your race plan and listen to your own body! Don’t worry if people take off around you at the start – you can only control you. If you chase or get caught up running with someone who’s quicker than you, it may cause you to push that little bit too hard.”
5. Don’t experiment on race day
Tim says you should never try something new on race day. “If you have a coffee and a croissant every day for breakfast, do that. Just keep your normal routine.” Some people think having a bigger meal the night before will give them extra energy, but Charli says you’ll probably be answering nature’s calls during the race instead. However, the main thing you should never do is buy new shoes
for race day, says Sam. “Ideally, you want to train in your shoes and wear them in before you run a 14km road race. As there are quite a few downhills in the City2Surf, your feet will slide around more than usual, resulting in blisters if you haven’t worn in your shoes. You also don’t want to run in a pair of old joggers either. I suggest buying shoes a few weeks out and training in them eight to 10 times,” he advises. Tim also recommends that beginners choose comfy, supportive footwear. “The main thing with running is always about comfort. If you’re a beginner, you want to have a shoe that has a lot of support – a shoe that’s going to have a softer feel so you’re not feeling that impact all the way through your joints.”
6. Most of all, have fun
This isn’t just a platitude from the experts! The key to enjoying your City2Surf is to not take yourself too seriously. “It’s not like you’re going for the Olympic gold medal or anything, so make the most of it,” says Tim, while Sam adds, “Running is about having fun and the enjoyment and freedom you get from your legs taking you on an adventure. Enjoy the race and take in the amazing views Sydney has to offer. Wear your medal around your neck with pride when you finish and tell your City2Surf stories to friends and family or anyone who will listen.” Charli suggests you also use the race to pick new routes to explore or just enjoy your favourite music.