WH: How did you first get into running and what made you love the 100m hurdles event?
Liz Clay: I first got into running because my younger brother was doing little athletics on Saturday mornings and I wanted to join in rather than just watch. I think I fell in love with hurdles because I had a knack for it and I found it more challenging than 100m or 200m. I had great rhythm and strength from my years of dancing which fit perfectly into this event.
Sally Pearson immediately comes to mind when thinking of Australian track stars. What is your relationship like with other athletes and what does it mean to you to have such strong female role models to look up to in the sport?
It’s awesome to have had an Australian female world champion and olympic champion in my event and gives me hope that it’s not out of reach for myself in the future. Some of best friends have competed at the highest level in track and field and I look up to them every day. Outside of athletics there are so many female athletes absolutely killing the game at the moment and I feel blessed to be coming into that territory also.
The pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone, but understandably athletes have had it particularly hard. When the initial announcement was made about the Olympics being postponed, what were your initial feelings? How did you overcome the challenges this presented mentally?
I was obviously devastated. I had just had a huge breakthrough of my own in February 2020 and was looking good to finally finish off a successful season and secure a spot on the team. I moved back to Sydney during the first few months of covid so it was nice to have a change in routine and location and be living in the same state as some of my close friends once again. I think all these elements actually distracted me from the reality that the games were postponed. Once I moved back to the gold coast in June I just picked up training where I left off and started to reap the rewards of having an extra year to prepare.
For the uninitiated, could you tell us a little bit about what kind of training goes into the 100m hurdle sprint. How important is it to incorporate strength work with speed training and is there an aspect of training you love the most?
I train 6 days per week: 4 track sessions, 2-3 gym sessions, 2 pool sessions and often some yoga as well. In the gym we lift heavy 2 times per week and I actually credit a lot of my breakthrough this year to an improvement in my strength. We do deadlifts and power-cleans weekly as our two main exercises as well as plenty of upper body and core work. Essentially the stronger you are, the faster you can run so these two components go hand in hand. My favourite session is Monday hurdles. We do some starts over the first hurdle out of blocks and then a handful of reps out to 10 hurdles and I just love the thrill of getting it right and going fast.
Food is particularly important when it comes to training and recovery. How are you fuelling your body in the lead up to Tokyo? Is there a pre- and post-race meal you particularly enjoy?
The lead up to Tokyo is much the same for me as it has been all year, however I've been substituting my snacks for healthier options like YoPRO's high-protein yoghurt to keep my diet a little cleaner.
I have also tried to start putting more focus into good hydration habits as Tokyo will be very hot and humid in July/August. Funnily enough before some of my best races ever I’ve had pizza the night before! However on the day of my races I like to keep my diet super simple and easy to digest. Again YoPRO yoghurt is great fuel for me and then I always have a protein shake waiting for me at the end. Diet will be a key element in Tokyo as there is the potential for 3 races on back-to-back days.
By its very nature, the Olympics are an event that people watch but rarely see all the grit and persistence that goes in to getting an athlete to that point. What do you think are some misconceptions people might have when it comes to your own story?
I think a lot of people know my story very well, however one misconception might be that when things started to turn around for me it was because I started training harder and put more emphasis on training. Although I did move track to be the top priority in my life, I started to have more of a balance and enjoy life outside of running. I stopped sweating the small stuff and just made sure I was getting through the weeks of solid training and working on weaknesses which were holding me back, rather than running myself into the ground every day. I think this balance really helped me to have fewer major injuries and put my career on a better trajectory.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome so far in your athletic career? How did you do so and were there any takeaways from that experience that you’ve since drawn on in recent times?
The biggest challenge for me has been injuries. I had 4-5 years where I had a major injury taking me off the track for over 6 weeks or longer, so I could never develop any consistency in training and therefore couldn’t improve. There were some really dark times where the only thing I could tell myself was “it will pass” even if the light at the end of the tunnel was so small. I definitely used this mentality during covid when it seemed like we were training for races that were never coming. Especially when I had just gone through 12-18+ months of training with not many races or travel.
All athletes have to deal with nerves on the day of the event. How do you get yourself into the racing mentality on the day of a big race; is there a mantra or something you do or say that gets you into the headspace?
Nerves are a part of the sport and i’ve learned that you have to just accept them, rather than try to get rid of them - it’s impossible. Again I keep my routine on race day really simple and similar to a training day. Breakfast and coffee first and then keep my mind active until its time to go.