NEW BALANCE IS HELPING FOUR AMATEUR RUNNERS REALISE THEIR NYC MARATHON DREAMS — RUN YOUR WAY
Editor’s note: Sophie Hlipala is one of four amateur runners who New Balance is supporting to run the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon. Tempo is partnering with New Balance as we follow these four aspiring runners to the finish line and beyond. Along the way, we’ll also shine a light on some of the inclusive run crews and communities helping them reach their highest goals.
We're celebrating the message that each person has their own story and their own way of running. Because the only right way to run is your way.
Living in Adelaide, 29-year-old Sophie Hlipala had played a lot of soccer but had never run at all before the pandemic forced her gym to close in 2020. Three short years later and she’s just notched a blistering 1:16:02 to place 15th in the Gold Coast Half Marathon.
And she hasn’t even tried a full marathon yet. Thanks to New Balance, her first will be one of the world’s six majors when she takes on New York City. In a stroke of good timing, the Sunday 5 November race date falls exactly a week before Sophie’s 30th birthday.
So, what explains Sophie’s meteoric rise to sub-elite levels in such a short time? Is she just naturally gifted? Or is this all the result of hard work and consistent effort? What role does her run crew play in her success?
“I never thought I would race, never thought I’d be seen on the start line of anything. I can’t believe running has taken me as far as it has – it’s certainly made me a better person.”
To answer these questions, let’s rewind to 2020.
Before then, Sophie had been hitting the gym and doing Pilates to rehabilitate a quad tear sustained playing soccer. Come the pandemic, she needed to find some exercise she could do within a two-kilometre lockdown radius.
Modest run-walking sessions led to, in her words, a “social, community run club, nothing serious” two to three times a week, and on to longer Sunday runs. On one of these long runs, Sophie met someone connected to RunAsOne.
Founded by professional athletes Izzi Batt-Doyle and Riley Cocks, RunAsOne is a run crew, a coaching business and – through its own cafe, RUNHÔUSE – a community hub. Their group runs attract literally hundreds of runners each week.
“At that point, in May 2021, RunAsOne was still quite a small club. I put my expression of interest in because I wanted a little more structure with my running. I was starting to take it seriously. But I never thought of racing – that was out of the picture at that point,” Sophie says.
“Riley said, ‘Oh, I see potential. You should join one of the local clubs we’re affiliated with.’ I joined Flinders Athletics Club, then he put me in a couple of state-level races, and I was just hooked. I don’t think I’ve missed a session since, to be honest.
“It’s been a really natural progression, very organic. There are no secrets behind what I do. I’m just really committed. I’ve fallen in love with the sport and it’s definitely filled the gap from when I used to play soccer and when I used to go to the gym.”
Inclusive and supportive are the words Sophie reaches for to describe the RunAsOne community.
“Honestly, when I encourage people to join who have never run before, they get a little bit nervous, but it truly is for everyone. We have elite athletes all the way through to older runners who are still getting out there and giving it their best – and we have everyone in between.
“It’s so supportive. Everyone is just cheering each other on. Of course, if you’re a runner, when it comes to the big races, you’re a bit competitive. But we’re all backing one another and we all have each other's best interests at heart. Plus, it helps you get out there on those cold mornings when it’s raining and miserable. Even then, we still get 100, 150 people every single week.”
In fact, they get so many people that they had trouble fitting into any of the cafes in the area for their collective post-run caffeine hit. So Riley and Izzi opened RUNHÔUSE.
“Coffee’s always been a big part of running,” Sophie says. “It’s before a run and it’s after. After a long run you have something to look forward to, to come together. RUNHÔUSE is a great meeting spot. They serve food and drink and have every single gel under the sun, so it’s a one-stop shop.”
“RunAsOne has changed my life, and that’s Riley, Izzi and everyone. I never thought this would be possible. I never thought I would race, never thought I’d be seen on the start line of anything. I can’t believe running has taken me as far as it has – it’s certainly made me a better person.”
Sophie manages to balance her training with a busy, stressful job in board and government relations, where she liaises between South Australia’s largest health network and the minister for health.
“It does get tricky. I run six days a week and I work 40–45 hours a week. I have to get the balance right. Seven days is too much – I’ve made that mistake before and it ruins my session days because it’s too much. So yeah, I run six days a week, with Thursdays off. I probably average about 95km a week at the moment and I’m pretty happy there.
“When Riley first told me about this opportunity to run New York, the first thing I said was, ‘Oh my god, we’re 11 weeks out. How much more running am I going to have to do?’ But I don’t think a lot changes right now. I’m pretty fit and I’ve been very consistent this year.”
Speaking of New York, Sophie is beyond excited about her chance to run its marathon.
“New York is my favourite city. I’ve visited a few times and it has always been a dream to run this particular marathon, ever since I started running.
“I think everyone, when they start running, it’s on their bucket list to run a marathon. The better I got and the more into it, I pushed it away because I was sort of focusing on the shorter distance, but it still has always been a bucket list item for me.
“I actually wrote New York down as a goal at the start of this year. I’ve loved the half marathon and I’ve done five or six this year, so it’s something I feel like I’ve nailed to a certain point. I knew New York landed around my birthday, and so in my head I was like, ‘Maybe I can target New York.’”
“I didn’t know I’d get my chance as soon as this; it was always going to be in the near future that I would tackle one. Because who gets to debut in New York? It’s so unbelievable and I still can’t believe it’s happening. So yeah, it means the absolute world and I’m so grateful for this opportunity from New Balance. It was always in the pipeline. It’s happened sooner than I anticipated, but I feel like I’m ready for it – I’m ready to give it my all.”
Which, in Sophie’s case, could lead to a spectacular result.
“So, my race predictor, my VDOT, is pretty accurate across all my other distances. I do want to be a little bit conservative with New York because I want to finish it, and I want to finish it well. I want it to be successful, so I don’t want to set the bar too high. But I’m thinking 2:45 will be a very good goal for me.
“Riley thinks, and he knows me well, that I can run low 2:40s, if not break 2:40. But New York is a little bit of a harder course; it’s not a very fast marathon. So who knows? Look, I’ve still got a whole block of training, and the goalpost might move, but that’s the initial target.”