Sunday 13 August 2017. The Sydney City to Surf. It’s a 14km trot around the suburbs of Sydney and I am one of a crowd of 80,000 people waiting for the starting gun to fire. Once it’s fired I shall be carried along in the surging mass of humanity that is currently filling College Street and that, once it moves, will turn right into William Street and will continue to surge ahead of me, and I assume behind me; a sea of heads bobbing up and down for no good purpose other than that they can and, perhaps, because they paid the entry fee in a fit of misplaced enthusiasm. In front of me is a woman whose T-shirt back has three numbers listed on it. They are 3.8, 180 and 42.2 and I know these are the distances for the swim, the bike ride and the marathon that comprise an iron man event. There is a web address under the numbers but I can’t wear my glasses when I run so I cannot make it out. But it does mean that I am in some serious athletic company.
I have been running for forty years more or less regularly. It was difficult when I lived in London but on the whole I have tried get out for a run a few times a week in those forty years. If you ask anyone why they run and they will tell you, probably, that it makes them feel happy. There is a good reason for this; physical exercise releases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are a natural drug, a naturally occurring opiate that gives you a gentle high. The existence of endorphins was determined in the 1970s and to begin with it was thought that they had to do with pain relief. It was much later that some German scientists showed that they also elevate mood. Hence the high.
Of course none of this was top of mind as I waited in the crowd for the 0830 start. I had arrived in good time at 0820 and joined the waiting throng. Everywhere people were stretching and bending and doing all those things that runners do before they are about to race so that their muscles are reasonably prepared for the trials ahead. As 0830 approached I could feel the tension rise and from somewhere, over a sound system, I heard the countdown; five, four, three, two, one … we were off. Except that we weren’t. No one moved such was the press of humanity. On the ground underfoot were hundreds, literally, of discarded tops that a few minutes before were protecting their wearers from the early morning chill. I was wondering if someone collected them and recycled them when the crowd about me began to surge. We surged right into William Street and in a couple of hundred metres I was able to break into what passes for me as a trot.
There is no point charging off like Usain Bolt out of the blocks; a 14km run is not a sprint. Pace is important. Many of the people running around me were clearly novices. After about 400 meters William Street makes a slight rise up to the Kings Cross Tunnel. There is no excuse for walking this early in the race. But they were. I reckon that if you stop on a hill you are done for, you can never get started again. And when your knees get less trustworthy going downhill is harder than going uphill. I passed many people who were talking to each other. It seems to be that if you are there to run then you should use your energy to run and not to talk. But perhaps I am just a grumpy old man.
I had created a bit of a training regime for myself ahead of the event so I was pretty confident that I would not be too challenged. I discovered that from home to One Tree Point in Tuross and then back again is about 14km and so I had been doing that a couple of times a week in the lead up to The Big Day. I augmented this with a 10km round the woods around Old Mill Road and two 1,500 meter swims at the Narooma Pool. Running around Tuross is a good training run; the trot up Trafalgar Road is not a lot different to Heartbreak Hill out of Rose Bay though it is not quite as long. The biggest challenge with road running in Tuross is motorists. If you do not visibly manoeuvre and slow down then I do not know if you have seen me. Give a runner two meters.
526th out of 1,427 in my age group; not bad
There’s plenty to see as you run around the City2Surf course if you have either the inclination or energy. About a mile in I passed a pair of women and one was saying to the other “I could seriously go. I had a cup of coffee before the start.” That does not sound like sensible planning to me. Toward the end I passed another pair and one was saying to the other “so, coconut milk is not dairy then?” Er, no. There are bands playing, clowns clowning and all sorts of other entertainment for young and old alike. The finish at Bondi Beach is a swarm of satisfied runners who have been given a medal for their efforts and who are all already talking about how next year they will be even better. That’s the endorphins talking of course. There is some amazing organisation that goes into this event; after all getting 80,000 people from A to B is no mean feat. An hour or so after I had finished, as we drove back to Darlinghurst along the route we had just run, the roads were clear, the traffic was flowing and it was as if the event had never happened.
Bondi Beach decorated with some of the 80,000 competitors
I am now in training for the Moruya Town to Surf race on 10 September 2017, which is a brief 8km and reasonably flat. Both my knees are 66 years old but one has stood the test of time better than the other. My doctor, who is a marvellous fellow, has expressed surprise that I am still running but I shall keep doing it while I can. And if you see me trotting around the streets, I may greet you or I may ignore you. When I am in the zone I am probably unaware of you. And do not blow your horn because it will likely scare the s#%t out of me.
And I am not a jogger. I am a bad runner.