There is this thing in Australia known as the City to Surf where people supposedly run from the middle of the Sydney CBD all the way to Bondi Beach (I’m in Sydney but for those Aussies reading from somewhere else just insert your city and beach destination). For those internationals of you who don’t know Sydney, this route is about 14km (check out the route map here: https://d22712ejjhq3e8.cloudfront.net/posts/images/184197/feed/City2Surf-Map-834da4b47244a236c341ff0618ca7056.jpg) and about halfway the elevation just shoots up where the road goes around the fancy ass Vaucluse headland, the steepest section, known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’, having a reputation of evilness for obvious reasons.
Now I’m no runner but I can give anyone willing a decent run for their money in endurance walking. Which is lucky because the plethora of Sydneysiders who come out for the City to Surf contentedly plod their way along the route; only the dedicated Ironmen/Ironwomen types sprint off like bats out of hell. Not to mention the route length is equivalent to someone walking from the University of Sydney down to the Rocks and back again, which is something I basically do every week at least once because I’m a cheapskate and refuse to pay for a bus ride when foot power is free.
Despite all of this, I have never entered the City to Surf and frankly have no interest in it. So how did I end up here this year I hear you ask?
Put simply, a few months ago the medical centre I work at rang on my day off, asked if I was interested in walking it with the staff, and noted that I needed to give an answer right then as they were organising entries. Flustered me responded with “Well, if we’re walking then sure” before hanging up the phone and wondering what the heck I’d just agreed to.
And so, I found myself awake at 6am on a Sunday. Highly peculiar. Unfortunately, it was way too early to think clearly. My brain was going “Need to get to bus stop by ten to the hour to get the bus to meet the team”. Body walked me straight out the front door and halfway down my street at quarter to seven before my brain thought “Is this the right hour?” It was not the right hour. Body turned around and walks back home for second breakfast before leaving again.
False start out of the way, I eventually find myself standing with my team in the city’s central park (Hyde Park for those in the know) pinning race numbers on each other’s shirts. Then off to the start line; essentially a main street converted into a giant pen using metal barriers into which half of Sydney was squashed inside. Half an hour being compressed by bodies before the start gun goes off followed by another 30 minutes of shuffling along with the herd over the start line, losing my entire team in the process, and I’m still wondering what I had agreed to.
Finally! With some space around me I fell into my comfortable walking pace…and practically crashed into my team mates. We ambled along with the throng and turned the corner. And I was astounded; all the way to Kings Cross was a sea of bobbing heads. By the time I’ve made it to the Coca Cola sign I’m outpacing the team. “Stuff it”, I think, “I’ll just go at the pace I’m most comfortable with”. So in go the earphones, on goes the country music, and off I stride, past the bananas, past the Coles group team, past the rampant Elvises, onwards towards the coast.
By the time I get to the bay area of the harbour system commonly known for housing politicians and upper class snobs, I’m wondering how long it will be before I hit Heartbreak Hill. On I walk, weaving through the sensibly dressed walkers and oddly costumed ones, passing the parents jogging along laboriously with their prammified children as the road gradually inclined. I swapped onto the footpaths partially to avoid the sheep clustering in the middle of the road but mostly to admire the view of the city as it spreads itself over the horizon.
As the route switchbacks upwards I blanket myself with the mentality of a Sherpa and plug on, passing sweaty, complaining walkers. It’s not until I’ve reached the lighthouse on the headland and the cliff roadway starts sloping downwards again that I realise I had traversed the hill of doom. … “Why,” I think to myself, “is it considered the plague of this race to runners and walkers alike? It really was barely noticeable”.
Now, what they don’t tell you is that going downhill is more torturous than travelling up. Gravity suddenly decides to become friends with you. Admittedly, I did look at the local kids weaving obnoxiously through the crowd on skateboards and scooters envyingly. But I only had another 5km to go, I’ve made it this far, who needs wheels!
Another thing that is becoming incredibly apparent is that suburbia is akin to a desert. Remember those childhood family holidays involving driving for 10 hours to some other place with only trees for scenery? Replace the trees with mini McMansions. Boredom ensues. I start conducting along with the music from my phone.
Luckily, the locals seem to have figured out this section of the route is a desert and I am treated to old men nestled in bus shelters spinning old skool jazz tunes, Mariachis sweltering under their black hats as they burn their fingers on guitar and fiddle strings, 90’s style garage bands rocking out under borrowed garden umbrellas. Kids were also cashing in on the flagging herd, offering up chips and lemonade for a few bucks.
Finally, approximately 3 hours later, I’ve made it to Bondi which is hopping with some kind of after party vibes. I briskly plod over the finish line. Time for a mandatory selfie and to locate a sandwich of achievement.