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it’s all about the hills


yesterday i took part in my first ever “city to surf”. i had a “10km race” lined up on the training schedule, so i figured that a 12km event would be close enough.

it was, by far, the largest event i have taken part in to date. about 30,000 12km runners, compared to the 1000ish I’ve experience before.

i was excited. very much looking forward to it.


i needed to work out how to run this thing

as soon as i had signed up, i was worrying about how to approach this event. maybe tackle it as a 10km race and then do a 2km light jog?

or perhaps just approach it as a 12km long, slow run?

plus there were other factors – would the number of people limit my ability to set my own pace anyway? it’s a very hilly course, so how would i go with that? most of my experience to date has been on flat courses.

if you mention “hill” to me, i immediately think of the one that killed my legs in the perth marathon.

as always, the runners on facebook were full of great ideas, strategies, tactics and tips.

i let those ideas mull around in my head – leaving the final decision to race day…

race day is a feeling

there’s no doubt about it, when race day approaches i now get as excited as i used to do with “match day”, going to watch manchester united, or perth glory.

despite the fact that my race didn’t start until 9:15am (in theory, more on that later!) i woke early on sunday morning, and watched out for updates and messages from over east. a few friends were running in the sunshine coast marathon festival, and nicole (aka running girl) was looking to secure a boston marathon qualifying time.

it was all very exciting stuff, the halfway split was good. photos posted on the RG page showed she was looking strong. then the result came in. it was superb.

further good news came in later as lynn (weight & run) finished her second marathon, just a couple of months after her first!

that set me up for the day – i was buzzing as steve and i headed into perth, ready to put in a decent performance of my own.

hanging around perth, then hanging around in a hangar

we got into perth fairly early and sat at a cafe for a while, watching other runners making their way down the street, on their way to the assembly point. once we were within about 10 minutes of our own assembly time (8:45am) we headed over to the convention centre.


the queues for the portaloos were immense. we skipped past those, headed into the convention centre and were amazed to discover loos inside without any queues whatsoever.

as i said at the time, it meant missing out on part of the race day experience, but it really was a no-brainer lol.


i bumped into a few people i knew, shook hands, exchanged best wishes for a good run etc. then headed into the hangar area (well it looked like a hangar) where our wave were to assemble.

our official start time was 9:15am, so at 9am I consumed one of the two gels I had.

9:15 arrived, and went by.

as did 9:30


at some point the wave next to use moved forward and everyone got excited. then they stopped again.

the pre-run information video was shown, including a warm-up routine for people to follow. i suddenly found myself in the middle of a crazy impromptu aerobics class!

but we were still waiting, 20 minutes after the warm-up video…


it was about 10am by the time we started walking out of that hangar.

my hydration and fuel strategies had been shot to pieces – i was hanging out for the first water station!

the run started with a 1.5km walk

we walked out that hangar, then all the way along the length of the exhibition centre, up barrack street, onto st george’s terrace and then towards the start line. approximately 1.5km, walking as part of a large crowd, atmosphere building, frustrations dissipating.


this was it, we were heading to the start line. my first 12km city to surf was about to begin.

the strategy had been decided – first 10 minutes treat it as a warm-up run. don’t worry about passing people, or getting bogged down. just take it easy.


then take it easy going up to king’s park, the first big hill. right at the very start of the run!

thereafter the plan was to take it easy going up hills, use the peak and start of the downhill part as a recovery phase. then aim for a little faster than the half marathon pace (7 minutes per km) in between.

overall the aim was to achieve 12km in 85 minutes.

would it work? we were about to see!

over the start line

i broke into a gentle run, padding along the streets of perth’s cbd, this was pretty good! part of a big event, a great atmosphere. people on the streets watching…

the course started heading upwards almost straight away. i just took it easy, followed the plan. people started walking, i managed to run around them without any issue.

in fact i really didn’t suffer any “crowd” issues at all in those early stages. it was all relatively incident-free!

as we headed up the hill, we were treated to a spot of entertainment from the wa police pipe band. and the blessed first water station!

the hill was dealt with. first one out of the way. i slowly recovered and then picked up the pace. this was a very doable strategy…

i can’t remember where i read it now, but as we headed downhill, i remembered a link that had been shared on facebook, about how to run downhill. taking shorter strides and landing on the balls of your feet, to put it simply. i concentrated on how i ran downhill and was very pleasantly surprised at how well i was able to control things.

lots of little hills

to say that this course is “hilly” would be an understatement. there are 3 main hills, but masses of little ones in between. they usually kick in just as you are getting comfortable.

often they are deceptive, and creep up on you. you feel them in your legs first, then you realise you’re on a slight incline.

the strategies were working though. i was checking the watch, and the half marathon pace was being stuck to pretty well.

i also felt that i was managing to “hold back” and avoid the usual error of going out too fast. something that i’ve been focusing on with training runs. it was clearly paying off, though i did have to reign back a few times!

the downhill sections made for great entertainment. i stuck to my short strides, but so many others around me were sprinting down them, striding out and running like lunatics.

i think i overtook them all at the next uphill section, while they walked. i enjoyed those moments of smug satisfaction, though i did worry they would injure themselves!

subiaco seemed different to usual

with the streets closed off, and us on foot rather than in a car or bus or something – subiaco seemed a totally different place. i recognised names of streets and venues, but it seemed strangely unfamiliar. in any case i had settled into a rhythm by that point, and was gliding along on semi-automatic pilot.

in the zone. a little.

it was great when we passed things like the nova fm guys – i was running without music yet again, but the little lifts from the crowd, music being played by nova, and the party atmosphere, was brilliant.

i can’t imagine how it must feel to run in front of a huge crowd – i definitely want to experience that now.

i sort of got lost after subi

in the sense that i didn’t really know where we were. i just followed the route.

it opened up to tree-lined green space though.

as the distance went over the 5km mark i started thinking to myself that i need to increase the pace a little after 6km – try and get a negative split and keep the time under 85 mins.

unfortunately the 6km point is marked by the second big climb of the run!

so i picked up the pace a little at 6.5km or so. after battling that hill.

not only the hill, but battling a completely dead feeling in my legs once i started the recovery phase.

the downhill section helped re-establish a decent pace and rhythm.

through a park and i thought that was it

the route went on, i followed it dutifully. keeping the pace up. usually hitting between 6:45 and 6:55 per kilometre. the ideal pace.

then suddenly we were running through a park. people were cheering. there was an area where a group of dancers were making some noise and jumping around.

it felt like we were close to the finish. the party atmosphere was brilliant. wow, that was it. two large hills and a bunch of smaller ones in between.

that wasn’t as bad as i had thought. we still had a bit of distance left to go, so presumably it was a lap around the park or something.

the route ran all the way back out of the park. back onto the road.

the route turned left.

that’s when i saw it.

a long, slow, grinding, leg-destroying bastard of a hill

it stretched out before me, as far as the eye could see.

soul destroying.

i dug in. slowed down. kept going.

i was NOT going to walk a single inch of this course. wasn’t an option.

it went on for ages. unrelenting. no quarter given.

it was not going to win.

i am glad to report that it didn’t.

and then we got the reward…

a long sweeping downhill section, all the way to the finish line

so i thought anyway.

it was certainly a long, sweeping downhill section. the pace on the watch started to look very healthy now.

i avoided striding out, but increased the turnover rate. using gravity to my advantage.

but at the bottom of the hill, we turned right. still a way to go…

and worse still, it was slightly uphill!

but the end was in sight now.

i pushed on.

the final few hundred metres was like an interval workout

my speedwork paid off at the end. my lungs were wheezing. i was gasping in air. running as fast as i possibly could.

just like when i do those 400m intervals!

and i wasn’t going to ease up short of the line either.

i needed a quick, strong finish, to make sure the time stayed within 85 minutes. and just because i wanted a quick, strong finish!

the finishing line got closer, closer, closer.

i pushed on, dug deeper, lungs screaming a little louder.

i went over the line. hit stop on the watch.

1 hour 23 minutes 50 seconds. just under 84 minutes.


I’d done it – completed a 12km hilly race, and hit the target i had set myself.

another small moment of smug satisfaction!


getting back to perth and beyond

having picked up the finisher’s medal and grabbed the free powerade on offer, it was time to return to perth, seek out some food and then head home.

i’m delighted to report that the free bus shuttle system laid on was flawless. it was very efficiently operated and we got back into perth very quickly.

a complete contrast to the delays to our start!

after that it was a case of eating (a nice plate of cooked brekkie), heading home, showering, uploading watch data to garmin and having a nap.

another event done. another milestone achieved in my running “career”. clear signs of progress in terms of my abilities.

and above all else, another fantastic race day. LOVE IT!

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