If you are a keen runner and you live in Sydney, it is very likely that there is a recurring appointment on your calendar every August. Judging by the record 83,415 people who particpated last Sunday, the appointment appears be on the calendars of even those who don’t live in Sydney.
I am, of course, referring to City-to-Surf, an annual 14km fun run which starts from the middle of the Central Business District and ends at the world-famous Bondi Beach, with some breathtaking habour and ocean scenery along the way.
For me, however, “Fun run” is such a misnomer when it comes to describing this event.
Granted, it is “fun” training for it, adding another excuse to go for a run on weekends, while leaving my ever-understanding wife with our two perpetually-bored and mischievous boys.
It is also “fun” just before the race, lining up in front of porta-loos and playing bingo on who’s doing #1 and who’s doing #2. Or watching elite runners strutting around looking like peacocks at the starting line, only to accidentally trip over strewn water bottles and looking like silly cocks.
And the “fun” really begins at the end of the run, when most of the 83,415 participants join another 30,000-odd family and friends at Bondi for a day of drinking, eating and frolicking on the beach.
But during the run, fun there is not!
Despite the relatively short distance and the carnivale atmosphere of the event, City-to-Surf is one fun run that even serious competitors don’t take lightly.
The reason for this is because 14km is a real twilight zone of a distance to manage. It is short enough lull a runner into setting a cracking pace, but long enough to crack his spirit in the last few kilometres and force him to slow down to a crawl. What’s more, the course has a section right in the middle that winds steeply for almost 2km up a monstrous hill – one that is fittingly named the Heartbreak Hill.
It was on this hill during last Sunday’s City-to-Surf that I not only figuratively broke my heart, but also my mind, my legs and everything else in between.
Despite having pounded the pavement for a number of years now, I have never had such a hard time running up a slope as I did last Sunday. My breathing was short and laboured, while the pain in my calves and thighs were so excruciating that I thought of just walking many times. But each time, I gritted my teeth and kept going, telling myself that the hill-top is near, only to look up and realise that it is nowhere fucking near!
Usually, under these trying circumstances, I search for a good-looking female runner with beautiful legs to trail behind. Unfortunately, there was not one in sight last Sunday on that mother of a hill. Instead, I was stuck for some time next to another middle-aged guy who dealt with the adversity, not through gritted teeth, but by clearing his throat and spitting in my general direction every few steps. It got so annoying that I tried once to clear my throat and spit in his direction, only to land the freaking gob right on the tip of my left shoe! Still, at least the thought of giving the guy a bitch-slap for such a disgusting behaviour took my mind off the hill for a couple of minutes.
When I finally reached the top of the Hearbreak Hill, there was no feeling of elation or pride, just a terrible body-ache mixed with light-headedness which could have stemmed from dehydration or over-exertion. Either that or I was on the verge of hallucinating because, all of a sudden, all the white cups at the drink stations looked like those eggs in Sigourney Weaver’s Alien movie!
In the end, I finished the race in 61 minutes 47 seconds, over 1 minute more than my Personal Best set in 2011. As is customary for me at the end of these races, I started chatting with some other guys at the finish line, and we all rued another failed attempt to break the magical 60-minute barrier.
For me, it was the Heartbreak Hill that did the damage.
On further reflection, however, I wondered whether I am maybe just over the hill. Perhaps I’ve reached that point from which eveything starts going down hill.
But, NO, IT CAN’T BE! I’m still only 39 for fuck’s sake, even if only for another month!
No, it wasn’t the hill or my age that made me miss my Personal Best in last Sunday’s City-to-Surf. I have decided that it was because I couldn’t find good-looking female runners with beautiful legs to trail behind.
Yes, THAT’S what it was. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!
Keep on pounding.