The City To Surf – What you don’t see on the TV

16 Aug
Have you ever been beaten in a foot race by a shark? Well, I am quite happy to say that I have. OK, well, it wasn’t a real life man-eater, it was a bloke dressed (on his bottom half) in a shark costume made of wetsuit material. On the top half he was wearing a business shirt, tie, horn-rimmed glasses and bryl-creamed hair. The overall effect was of a shark eating a business-man. I had a good chance to study that costume because I followed him most of the way along the City to Surf run. He must have been cooking in that outfit. Still, he beat me to the finish line.

But let’s rewind about an hour and a half. It’s five minutes till the start of my first City to Surf fun-run. I’ve watched it on TV plenty of times but this year I’m shoulder to shoulder with about 80 thousand other fun-runners in the middle of Sydney’s CBD. It’s a soggy Sunday morning – the first ‘wet’ City to Surf in about, oh, 20 years. Just my luck. The crowd starts murmuring, and stripping off. It’s three minutes to start time. Jumpers and tracksuit pants are removed and flung to the pavement. The Girl Guides will be along later to collect them for charity. Someone has bad aim and their jumper ends up on another runner’s head. We giggle. Everyone’s in a good mood. It’s like Sydney during the 2000 Olympics. Strangers chat. Public transport has got us to the start line in plenty of time. We’re about to run to one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. Life is good.

The start-gun fires. Not that I can hear it. We’re too far back. The guy who wins the race is downing a celebratory drink in Bondi before we even cross the start line. However, soon enough we are bolting down William Street. There is a sea of heads bobbing in front of me. I think at some point the crowd will thin. I’m overtaking enough people – surely I’ll get some space at some point? It never happens. I start with 80 thousand people round me. And that’s exactly how I finish. It’s 14 kilometres of ducking and weaving, avoiding heels and elbows. A rear-view mirror would be handy. Strangely, it’s one of the quietest crowds I’ve ever been in. Tens of thousands of people – yet all you can hear is the thud-thud of feet on wet pavement. Running is a great silencer. It’s like that for most of the way, except for the occasional burst of music from the side of the road. There are three drag Queens in Rose Bay, dressed in hot pink mini-dresses and miming to the booming strains of ‘Nut Bush City Limits’, a happy (drunk) band of smurfs (20-something year olds covered in blue body paint) are having an impromptu dance party in Potts Point, there’s a Beatles tribute band in Double Bay, a young boy is playing the bagpipes in Vaucluse, and a mini brass band made up of older folk tootles away in North Bondi. The other sound that stays with me is the crunching of plastic cups on the road as we pass the official drinks breaks. My 2 year old later asks me why we threw the cups on the ground. I don’t have a good answer. Apart from the ‘official’ refreshments, there are also ‘unofficial’ refreshment breaks along the way – little kids mainly – offering a range of treats from sliced oranges, to home-baked cookies and lollies. I can honeslty say I’ve never felt less like eating a bickie – a near constant stomach stitch makes the though of food quite nauseating. A little more appealing are the locals standing armed with their hoses for runners in need of a cool down. That’s why I need.

While running, I also get a good chance to read – other runners backs mainly. Some t-shirts are emblazoned with funny slogans like ‘slap my bum if I’m running too slow’ and others sport the names of the charities for whom they are running. Nearly $4 million will be raised from this event. I also read the signs along the road. The most welcome ones are the progress signs, marking the 6, 7, 8 kilometre mark. Parts of the route are ‘sponsored’ eg the dating website RSVP is the official ‘sponsor’ of Heartbreak Hill which means that as we slog it out up the toughest one kilometre of the route, we are confronted with signs like ‘You’re SO HOT right now. Find a date on-line’, and ‘To avoid real hearbreak, go to’. If I had a single breath left in my body, I would laugh. As it is, I feel like I’m about to have my first asthma attack – even though I don’t suffer from asthma. I just can’t get enough breath into my lungs – I need an oxygen IV STAT! Just as I think I’m not going to make it up the hill, it starts to level out. My confidence inches upwards. I think I’m going to make it. Of course, I’m only half-way there, and in the remaining 7 kilometres I see enough people collapsed on the side of the road undergoing treatment from paramedics to realise that you haven’t really made it till you get that medal round your neck on the finish line.

Six kilometres out, I see the shark. I find it funny at first, until I realise that this guy is a serious runner. He may be dressed as a half-eaten business man, but the guy can run and I’m struggling to keep up. He’s now my competition. I figure that if I can stay in touch with the shark, I’ll be doing OK. So, I do. I follow his grey flapping wetsuit all the way through Dover Heights, North Bondi and onto the finish line. The shark and I finish the run in about 87 minutes. I’d been aiming to finish under 100, so I’m happy. The City To Surf has been on my bucket list for years. And it now has a big fat line through it. Done. Next year when I watch it on TV, I’ll think back to this day, and think fondly of all the weird and wonderful things I saw and heard – all the stuff you don’t see when you’re watching it from the comfort of your lounge room.



One Response to “The City To Surf – What you don’t see on the TV”

  1. Anonymous August 17, 2011 at 2:48 am #

    sounds more like the city to smurf.

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