just keep moving: lessons learned completing my first City2Surf

Completing the City2Surf has been on my ‘Sydney bucket list’ since moving here six years ago. For those who are unfamiliar, the City2Surf is an annual 14 kilometer run/walk starting in the city center at Hyde Park and finishing on Bondi Beach. It seems like everyone in the Sydney area has participated in this event at least once. The 80,000-some participants at each year’s event certainly attest to its popularity and status as a Sydneysider right of passage.

Late last year I decided that 2016 would be my City2Surf year. But I wasn’t just going to walk to course. I was going to actually train, build myself up to the 14km distance, and get a personal time I could be proud of.

This year’s race has come and gone, with my run time recorded for posterity. Here are some observations and lessons learned from my training and race day experience:


Training is important.
My original plan was to slowly build up my distance over time, registering for runs of increasing length up until August. In November I completed my first run, a 5km, followed by another 5km in February and an 8km in May.

After that I skipped registration for my planned 10km in early July due to a friend visiting from the U.S. This was for the best, as in June my asthma decided to reappear in full force for the first time in close to two decades. I could barely climb stairs without gasping for breath, let alone run. By the time my lungs were feeling good I’d lost most of my momentum. With the race less than two weeks away I decided to just wing it. I could always walk, right?

In hindsight, I should have pushed myself to start running again in the weeks prior to the race. My lungs felt fine, but my legs were killing me by the 11km mark. Regular runs, even short ones, just prior would have rebuilt those muscles and made run/walking the distance easier. I also regret not doing that 10km. Knowing what that distance felt like before City2Surf would have been useful.

I’m more fit than I give myself credit for.
A job change in June meant I had to say goodbye to my former employer’s on-site gym, and a gym membership elsewhere wasn’t in my budget. My workout routine went from two gym sessions per week plus a barre class Saturday mornings, to just the barre class. Clearly my fitness level now is not where it was three months ago.

Despite this I set a high goal for myself- completing the 14km course in under 2 hours 30 minutes. This sounded crazy, but I reminded myself of all the “stealthy” exercise I regularly get. My new commute includes about 3km of walking to and from bus stops, a big jump from my pre-June steps count. Also, me and Ben’s Pokemon Go obsession means a lot of weekend walking (one day we did over 12km around the city). Still, I fully expected to finish closer to the 3 hour mark (possibly even over that). So it was a pleasant surprise every time Strava updated me and I was on target. As I neared the finish line I knew it would be close, and I was thrilled with my official time: 2 hours 27 minutes 42 seconds.

Heartbreak Hill – Not as bad as I expected.
The name of this two-kilometer climb is a misnomer.  Yes, it’s the biggest incline of the course, but it’s hardly the daunting monster I’d imagined.

I opted to walk Heartbreak Hill, thinking it would be tougher than it turned out to be. I’m glad I slowed down here, because there are some gorgeous views that I would have otherwise missed. It took me 0:18:05 to complete this section. I was still feeling good at the top, and my pace for the second half of the race was one and a half minutes more than for the first half. My strategy for conserving my energy worked well.

McDonald’s never tasted so good.
A turn through the drive-thru afterwards was my idea, though I’m pretty sure Ben was already thinking the same. I have never had a better tasting McSpicy Sandwich and French fries.

Don’t judge– there’s a McDonald’s in every Olympic village.

I would totally do this again.
I went into this year’s City2Surf thinking that this would probably be my one and only go. I just wanted to be able to say that I’d done it once and get a time I was proud of. However, I didn’t count on having so much fun. Running still isn’t my fitness passion, and I doubt it ever will be. But I did enjoy the runs I participated in over the past nine months, especially City2Surf. It was challenging to push myself in a way I’ve never done before, but satisfying to know what my body is capable of.

Will I try to beat my time next year? Probably not. Pushing myself for that long of a distance doesn’t appeal to me, but I will definitely participate in this event again. Next time I’ll probably stop to take pictures along the way, and leave the intensity to those more athletically inclined.

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