Thursday, August 25, 2011

City to Surf - the ultimate "fun" run

People - well, non-runners - often ask why they call these events a "fun run." After all, as they see it, running just ain't fun! Those people should come to Sydney on the second Sunday in August and check out the City to Surf. This is 14km of pure, unadulterated fun! (Apparently there's a serious race on as well, but I don't really see much of that!)

In this, my twenty-fourth straight participation, we had rain for only the second time I can remember. By race start it had dissipated, but in the hour before the gun it came down fairly hard. Enough to ensure we were all drenched and the roads stayed wet (and slippery). But hard to complain about that and it didn't really affect proceedings at all. Once the starter says "go" it is business (and fun) as usual.

This year the race attracted (another) record field of around 85,000 who now begin in several waves over a period of an hour or more. The first group began at 8am - the earliest ever and a far cry from the leisurely starts at 10am we enjoyed for so many years. To get in this group you need to run under 75 minutes for the course and this was my only time goal.

My training this year had been interrupted by over three months of sickness which meant I went in with little in the way of distance in my legs. This course is notoriously difficult, especially in the 'back end,' so I planned to go easy until Heartbreak Hill, steady up the hill and give it whatever I had on the downhill and run into the finish. This strategy has served me well many times.

The course begins with a run downhill to the Kings Cross tunnel (1.2k) then a solid climb up to the Edgecliff Centre (2.4k), a descent to Double Bay (3k) and a short rise and fall into Rose Bay (4.5k). You want to get here in good shape, despite there having been a few "lumpy" bits already. Along Rose Bay is the only true flat section on the course, about 1.5k long, and it is here you get to enjoy a couple of aid stations, some beautiful views across the harbour and the smurfs (see above). [The Smurfs have a lot of fun ... they have a boom box and make lots of noise ... they wear lots of blue body paint ... they have been drinking since very early in the day! And I have no idea what was on that smurf's head.]

My hydration policy paid a little too much in the way of dividend and I had to stop at a portaloo along here; but better to be "feeling free" as I began the climb up the aptly named Heartbreak Hill.

Aside: It seems to be mandatory for any run worth its salt to have a "heartbreak hill." This race has one. The Boston Marathon has one (but it's a pussy compared to this). And the Bay to Breakers in San Francisco - after which this race is modelled - has one (though they call it the Hayes St Hill). Some races get even more poetic with the names for their hills - like the Peachtree road race in the US which has a hospital at the top of their 'heartbreak' so they call it 'Cardiac Hill' instead!

This year I slowed to a walk a couple of times on heartbreak to, ahem, take photos. At 2km in length with the first km really steep I had lots of company (though none of them had cameras). No shame here. Lots of good runners starting to look a bit ragged. And with stunning views back to the city at least there is something to look at!

Cresting the top and there is some respite before 2.5k of "undulations." This is the part of the race where those who have gone out too hard start to pay the price. Along here, at about 10k, I passed Batman and a Roman Centurion who both challenged the old adage about "if you dress up like a cartoon character you'd better make sure you have the running capability to back it up."

From 10.5k to about 13k is the easiest part of the course - if you like quad-pounding downhills. This is the chance for kilogram-heavy runners with long legs like me to make up some ground on the diminutive skinny dudes (often women & kids) who have smashed you up the hills. And it is close enough to the finish not to be worried about having to save anything for later.

Rounding the bend at the bottom of the hill, going past the North Bondi SLSC, there is one of the great views in running. Bondi Beach and the finish line loom large and it feels like you'll be there in just a few seconds!

Unfortunately there is still a km to go. You need to run past the finish before doubling back to it - a cruel course twist that catches many folks unaware as they launch a finish sprint 500m too early and run out of puff. Even when you make the final u-turn onto the finish straight it is still 400m to go. In my case, enough time to pull out the camera for some final snaps before crossing the line in 68 minutes and change. (Goal accomplished!)

Next year the silver anniversary - number 25!


  1. It sounds great fun! I watched the tv special, but I didn't see you :(

  2. Nice report Paul. I missed it (for the first time in ages) this year, so that's why it rained ;) Pretty handy time considering all the photo stops - I like that shot of the beach - tend to miss that view as my tongue is hanging out at that stage.


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