Sunday, August 9, 2015

City to Surf 28

For three-fifths of my life the second Sunday in August has been the annual pilgrimage to Sydney for the City to Surf fun run. Over the years I have travelled on overnight buses to get there (when I was a poor student) and now planes (luxury by comparison). I've stayed in good hotels with my family, dodgy pubs by myself, and at friends homes where we have had pre-race parties fuelled by beer and donuts whilst singing Midnight Oil songs.

The race itself has been a mixed bag too. Early days of learning the course followed by some fast times. Years of turning up undertrained and overzealous and flaming out long before the halfway point at Heartbreak Hill. Times the warm (coming from a Melbourne winter) weather has got to me and even rare cold and rainy days.

I've seen pretty much everything along this course too. Many, many bands – playing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ from the roof of the Golden Sheaf has always been a favourites. The Hari Krishna handing out oranges, kids giving away lollies, the Smurfs and their early morning spirit intoxicated cheering, (too many) people collapsed on the side of the road – some unfortunately never to recover, and more fancy dress costumes than I could imagine.

This race is part of Sydney culture, it is at the core of the Australian running fabric and is renowned internationally as one of the major road races on the world calendar. It has been won by the glitterati of Australian running history – Andy Lloyd, Rob De Castella and Steve Moneghetti leading the charge.

It has changed a lot over the years, mostly for the good, but not always; and in 45 years the race has grown to in excess of 80,000 participants. I have loved every one of my 27 previous participations and looked forward to this year and number 28 as much as ever.

Though I would only have a short stay in Sydney I was lucky enough to be hosted by two of my wonderful Nike Run Club friends, Dean and Shriya, who are both living in Sydney now. I was collected on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon in their ‘Go Get’ car which all the cool inner-city kids use and whisked away to lunch at The Grounds of Alexandria. This place, a former pie factory, was an array of cafes and carts selling all manner of food and drink. The place was humming and we enjoyed burgers before getting some donuts for a treat. My first Nutella donut and it was marvellous!!!!

I was made to feel very welcome in their city fringe apartment and we chilled out for a few hours before heading off to a little Italian restaurant called Pastabella for dinner. The food was nice but the crowning glory here was the Nutella pizza topped by strawberries and banana (Nutella is a thing these days!). This was simply sensational, no words can adequately describe this tasty goodness. I went to bed a slightly full but very satisfied man.

I slept beautifully and vaguely remember a dizzying array of dreams keeping my slumber entertaining. We woke just before 6 am and after some peanut-butter toast and a cup of tea we headed outside to catch our cab which had been booked the night before. Unfortunately we were a few, ok ten, minutes late and he had justifiably headed off to get another fare. Facing a long walk or an uncertain wait for a bus, my hosts unveiled another of their modern genius inspired ideas and hailed an Uber cab. The guy arrived in about two minutes and we were driven in pleasant comfort to the race start. It was magically easy!

Recent changes to the bag handling procedure meant we needed to drop our clothes off by 7 am and it was good to see that last years baggage debacle had been addressed and we moved swiftly through this procedure. A quick pit stop in the ‘Leaning Porta Loo of Hyde Park’ (I seriously though it would topple over and I'd be covered in … ). A chance meeting of another former Melbourne Run Leader Michelle, another photo opportunity, and we headed down to the start area.

There was little crowd to speak of and Dean and I shimmied our way down right near the front while Shriya hung over the fence for a chat before moving off to her start area. The last 45 minutes before the start passed quickly as the sun rose above the tree tops, defrosting our cold hands and legs, and entertainment played out on the big screens. When the preferred and later, seeded, runners move in at the front we get the opportunity to move forwards, seeking our way to the intersection and only ten rows back from the front. 80,s retro aerobics warm-up, the National Anthem, a countdown, helicopters overhead and the starters gun fires. We were off!

It is maybe 10 seconds before we cross the timing point for the official start of our proceedings and we run down Park Street towards the Kings Cross tunnel. This part of the course is a great downhill and many a fast time has been kiboshed by running like the clappers down here only to feel the burn a kilometre later. Today one guy felt the burn as he tripped whilst trying to run past people by skipping up on the kerb. Ouch!

Though Dean and I had started side by side, we were parted soon after in the melee. Heading up into the tunnel we were briefly reunited before Dean moved ahead. My plan was reasonably simple – run hard but conservatively and use my endurance to run strong in the back half of the race. I knew the uphills would not be my friend, but equally the downhills would offer me a chance to run more aggressively and pull back time.

Up and over the hill to Edgecliff and I was feeling good, except I had a big urge to make another stop for ‘number twos’ and this hindered my free running style somewhat. I made the decision to keep going and not stop at all costs, hoping there'd be a ‘De Castella Sponge’ on course if the need arose.

At three kilometres after another steep downhill we run past the Golden Sheaf Hotel which, on this day of go-to-whoa bands and entertainment was bereft of their band. Very sad, they were missed by many!

The next 1500m is a series of small rollers and I maintained a good rhythm here though noticed I was getting passed by smaller and lighter runners including one ten year old looking kid who I'd first seen not long after the start. I don't remember passing Dean but somewhere along here I did and headed into the only flat section of the course at Rose Bay in good shape. I was running all the tangents on the course in an effort to save seconds, even if this meant crossing from one side of the road to the other.

I'd also made the decision not to take any drinks as the weather was not too warm and I tried to draw some breath for Heartbreak Hill which begins right at the 6km mark. There is no avoiding the difficulty of this hill. It is steep for one kilometre and continues on for another kilometre before you get any respite. As the saying goes “it never gets easier, you just go faster” and so I consoled myself in the knowledge that even though it felt as hard as ever, chances were I was running ok! I felt like I crawled up the steep section, but in reality I zig-zagged my way up here at 5.22 m/k pace. About a third of the way up Dean roared past, tapping me on the back and offering encouragement. I fear I only grunted in acknowledgement.

Eventually I reached the top and enjoyed a small downhill as we approached 'cemetery corner,' a tight right hand turn on a steep 40m hill. I was surprised to catch back up to Dean at this point and offered a reciprocal tap as I went by. I didn't expect my stay at the front to last long!

This section of the course is quite varied. A series of left and right turns, some nice downhill with a few short and steep climbs punctuate the road up to the high point on the course at about 10.5km. I was still running strong and was looking forward to the big downhill into North Bondi. Soon enough it was upon us and I zoomed through this section, doing the fastest 2k’s on the course in 3.54 and 3.48.

Right at the bottom of the hill I saw a guy in the hands of medical staff as he lay prone on the ground. Over the years I think I have seen more people in trouble at this point than any other. Perhaps it is the sight of the finish which puts their psyche into overdrive and their bodies into reverse.

It is still 1000m to the finish from here and the road at Campbell Parade bends to the left as it rises imperceptibly to the eye, but agonisingly so for the weary body. I focussed on running strong all the way to the finish and took the sharp left hand u-turn onto the last straight before looking up to the clock and seeing that I would be good to finish under the hour.

A final burst of energy and I crossed the line in 59.35 which was only a handful of seconds slower than last years amazing time. I was very happy and only had to wait a few seconds before Dean crossed the line too. As we congratulated each other we saw more Sydney run leaders Tom and Ganesh finish too. Very cool. Another photo ensued!!

We moved around to the baggage area, collected our things and sat down to wait for Shriya to finish her race which she had started in a later wave. It was here that I got to meet former Melbourne run clubber Brendan and his sister; and Sydney head coach Rachel. Cool.

When the time came to get up my legs reminded me that they were very sore and tired, and they begrudgingly carried me along the shore so we could cross the road to a café and brunch. Mmmmm. It was then off to a local watering hole to meet the Sydney crew for some beers and stories. This was heaps of fun and we shared a good laugh or ten before Dean and I walked back to Bondi Junction.

A short train and bus ride later and we were back home for a shower and some chill-axing before I made my way back to the airport for the trip home. It was a super fun trip and a wonderful way to spend time with like-minded friends. For now it is time to get my legs back in order and continue the hard training ahead for Melbourne Marathon!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on #28 Paul. Great blow-by-blow description. Happy the Deek sponge wasn't needed! Yes, I missed the Golden Sheaf awning band too this year. Last year as I ran by they were playing Metallica's Enter Sandman, which really got the runners going. Hopefully they'll be back next year.


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