43 years ago, the first City to Surf was run, on a 14km course from the heart of downtown Sydney, out to Bondi Beach. Since then, the event has rapidly grown to become the largest event of is kind in the world, attracting in excess of 85 000 entrants annually.
Last weekend, I took on the City to Surf for the second year in a row. At 14km long, it would not be my ideal distance… but I had so much fun at this event last year, I couldn’t wait to do it again. On Saturday afternoon, I packed my backpack and headed down to Sydney…
Kara had organised a delicious pre-race dinner at Baia the Italian, and invited me to tag along. We topped it off with a visit to the Lindt Chocolate cafe afterwards.
I stayed near Town Hall, only a couple of blocks from the start line. I didn’t leave until 20 minutes before the race started, choosing to stay in the warmth of my hostel, and use their bathrooms, right up until the last minute. This way, I didn’t have to compete with the other 84999 other runners also converging on Sydney’s Hyde Park for the start of the race. I arrived with about 15 minutes to spare, and found my place, at the back of the red corral, because most if the other runners in the red group had already arrived. Every runner’s bib was checked as they entered the start zone, so there was no way that you would have been able to sneak into a different colour group.
The City to Surf starts in several colour waves, to give preference to faster runners and those who enter early…
Red: Elite and preferred athletes, and those who qualify in under 70 minutes
Green: Runners who qualify in under 90 minutes
Blue: Open entry runners
Yellow: Open entry joggers
Orange: ‘Back of the pack’ walkers
There is also a Gold ‘charity entry’ group, which departs after the red group.
I smiled a little as they referred to our group as the elites. The view looking forwards from my position at the start line was amazing… And there were another 70 000 runners behind me!
At 7.55am, the starting gun sounded, and the elites (and me!) were off on the 14km journey to iconic Bondi Beach.
It was not hard to tell when we had made it to the 1km mark… GPS watches started beeping around me everywhere. 1km completed in 4:38… Not too bad considering the congested start line, but I was going to have to get faster than that if I wanted to beat last year’s time of 69:22.
The next few kilometres flew by pretty quickly, and before I knew it, I was at the hill. The famous heartbreak hill. I actually don’t find it too bad, but people around me everywhere began to stop and walk – if you need to walk up the hill. You probably shouldn’t be in the red group – just saying! It was really frustrating. I was feeling awesome and trying to accelerate (hills are opportunities to pass people, after all) but I was being stonewalled in every direction by slower runners. I wanted to scream, “get out of my way!!”.
A couple of times I elbowed my way through gaps, and my time dropped to 5:18 for kilometre 7. I had some work to do to make that time up.
What comes after heartbreak hill is the fun bits. Some undulating hills, and twists and turns. I found myself up on the footpath a couple of times in an attempt to get around other runners.
In the last few k’s there is a lot of downhill, but with so many people on the course in front of you, it is really hard to just let go and charge down the hill without running into the back of people in front of you. I did my best, and managed a 3:43 kilometre near the end. I felt great, and wanted to keep it going through until the finish. As I turned the last couple of corners, I had to slow to nearly a walk to avoid running into other competitors. Perhaps I would have been better off running the corners a little wider to try to avoid this. I looked up, and saw a giant Dora the Explorer in front of me – you don’t see many costumes in the red group. Damn… I was about to be beaten by a giant Dora the Explorer! I crossed the line in 63 minutes 13 seconds (average pace around 4:29), more than 6 minutes faster than last year! (And not far behind winners Craig Mottram – 41:56 and Casey Wood – 47:59)
With such a large crowd, I was surprised to run into Cheryl and Vlad at the finish line.
After the race, I chilled out in the Westpac zone, which was an exclusive area, only for Westpac customers. It had free entertainment, sandwiches, drinks, espresso coffee and a barbecue. There has never been a better day to be a Westpac customer!
All things considered, I think the City to Surf was a great event. It is well-organised and the atmosphere is fantastic. The course is challenging, and the event also welcomes walkers. I definetly plan on lining up for the city to surf again next year!