Apart from the obvious need to stay hydrated, one of the things that really gets drummed into you before a ‘fun run’ is not to start off too quickly. You have your own pace, your own comfort zone and your own technique, so don’t take off or you won’t make it.
It’s great advice however when you are part of a surging swarm of sweaty runners, buoyed by cheering fans and a flood of adrenalin coursing through your veins, it is almost impossible to follow.
My first foray into jogging for joy (sounds like a hippie commune sponsored by Gatorade) was the Blackmores Bridge Run. This was a simple 9km jaunt across the old coat hanger, around the Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair and finishing in Hyde Park. The gun went bang, my legs went boom and a little while later my lungs went pop. There’s probably a great photo of me somewhere, barfing up a kidney as I crossed the finish line. I hadn’t trained well enough and I paid the price. Lesson learned.
My next competitive outing was the Sydney Half Marathon. An apparently brutal race comprising over twenty one torturous kilometres through the streets of Sydney. I knew I could run this distance as I had done it many times before, so my confidence was high. As people all around me shot off like startled rabbits I remembered the rule and resisted the urge to emulate the Road Runner. Instead I held back, maintained a good pace with my running partner and as we turned the corner in the Domain, I had energy to spare. Unfortunately we had caught up to the group that started before us and had nowhere to go. I finished that race slightly faster that the Ugandan legend, Stephen Kiprotich. Of course he ran twice the distance, but why let facts get in the way of a good story 😉 My point is I had held back too much and failed to achieve my goal of breaking the two hour mark by one minute and one second. Lesson number two noted.
The City2Surf was my next opportunity to apply my recently acquired athletic education. Fourteen and a half kilometres from Hyde Park to Bondi Beach via the dreaded Heartbreak Hill. I had discovered how to dodge the slower runners and, thanks to my half marathon efforts, I had qualified for the faster group, so I decided to try a tactical approach this time instead of simply plodding one foot down in front of the other and hoping for the best.
Despite the weather the crowd was pumped. The threat of rain had not dampened the enthusiasm of sixty seven thousand runners, nor had it kept the fans away. Raincoats, umbrellas and blue painted ‘smurfs’ lined the footpaths ahead of us and when the starter pistol fired my partner and I exploded out of the blocks. We set a cracking pace, for us at least, achieving a personal best time for our fastest kilometre ever. As we approached Heatbreak Hill (a 2km vertical nightmare) I didn’t pull back. There is a drinks station near the bottom and I knew people would be slowing up for refreshment before tackling the looming tar leviathan, so I stayed my course down the middle of the road and left several hundred huffing, puffing hot shots in my wake.
Approximately a quarter of the way through the climb I eased down. There were still several thousand metres left to traverse and conserving energy was the key to finishing strongly. Besides, the apex of Heartbreak Hill is not the only lofty obstacle in our path. Just when you think the worst is over you find an equally monstrous mountain to ascend.
By the time we reached the run to the beach we had recuperated enough to give it a good shake. Unfortunately the crowds had begun to bunch up once more, as is the nature of a fun run, but we hit the home straight as hard as we could and finished the race with our fastest ever time over that particular distance.
So what knowledge have I gained that I can share with you? Here we have three races. One where I went hard and hurt myself. One where I took it easy and ended up disappointed. And one where I went hard again and everything fell into place. I guess the secret lies in three simple philosophies:
Train well, go hard and have fun.