Running Writing ©
No. 26    September 1999
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The 1999 Sydney City to Surf

  the gang of five
8:40am. The Gang of Five in the Domain

kings cross tunnel
10:05am. Approaching the Kings Cross Tunnel and 1km

edgcliffe hill
10:12am. Runners on the first hill of the City to Surf at Edgecliffe

rose bay
10:29am. The beginning of 'Heartbreak Hill' after Rose Bay and 6 kilometres

harbour bridge
10:32am. Runners on 'Heartbreak' with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background

view of bondi
10:54am. Ocean View - the last long downhill begins

on the beach
11:05am. 'Finish' at Bondi Beach

One run in Fifty Thousand

The image that springs to mind when someone mentions the Sydney City to Surf is the overhead shot of William Street just after the start. Wall to wall runners with not one square centimetre of pavement to be seen. When you’re down there amongst it all the traffic jam is not quiet so bad -- that’s if you’ve managed to place yourself towards the front (or back) of the field prior to the gun.

In 1999 I joined a record 50,715 starters to experience my 17th incarnation of Australia’s greatest ‘fun run’. The team from Canberra included my mate Gordon and a couple of novices, Rachel and Andrew. These three where members of the corporate AGL team and Gordon was keen to put in a good showing around the 54 to 55 minute mark. We arrived at the Tasdevil’s in Artarmon on Saturday afternoon. ‘Goodnight’ was keen for a shakedown so we embarked on a long walk through the local bush with the devil showing us some ancient aboriginal rock carvings and convict ruins.

The traditional carbo loading was held at the North Ryde RSL club and washed down with a couple of quiet ales. When we emerged from the club, rain had set in which continued most of the night. Would tomorrow see the first ever wet City to Surf? We needn’t have worried as Sunday dawned fine if a little cool. Last minute adjustments were made to running kit prior to our drive over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the start area in Hyde Park.

Warming up in the Domain we bumped into one of the Tasdevil’s training partners Anne. Being one of those fleet-footed naturals, Anne was conferred ‘seeded runner’ status. A personalised ‘number plate’ meant she could line up in front of the masses 10 minutes or so prior to the start. The Sun-Herald City to Surf uses 5 start groupings. The ‘red’ start is for those entrants who have finished a recent City to Surf in under 100 minutes. The ‘blue’ start is for novice runners or over 100-minute finishers. The ‘yellow’ start is the ‘NSW Health’ Back-of-the-Pack club -- for walkers, fancy dress and late entrants. Then there’s the ‘preferred runner’ group and ‘seeded runner’ group. Preferred runners are those speed demons who run the 14km City to Surf in under 52:59 for males and 56:59 for females.

Just after 9am we wandered over to Park Street. Andrew, being a first-timer was a ‘blue’ group starter and Rachel was happy to line up at the back of the ‘red’ group. Gordon, as an AGL star, was keen to be near the front and we managed to squeeze into a spot which we thought was close enough -- about 50m back from the ‘elites’. Now we knew how canned sardines feel although at least they’re horizontal. Kneeling down to check shoelaces was a tricky procedure with the danger of hoisting a neighbouring ‘sardine’ onto your shoulders when you stood up.

Friendly chit-chat passed the time before Australia’s sprint queen Melinda Gainsford-Taylor fired the gun which signalled the start of our Sunday morning sojourn. “Hey Wombat, we’re not moving” was the call from ‘goodnight’. After 10 seconds or so it was a slow shuffle then a staccato trot with arms at the ready to fend off impatient zig-zaggers. Approaching the tunnel running space became available and I bid ‘goodnight’ farewell on his chase back up the field. The tunnel marks 1km which we reached in about 5 minutes -- perhaps 1:15 down on what we may have expected.

The rest of my City to Surf was most enjoyable. No self-imposed pressure this year to ‘go for a time’ as my fitness was a little below par. Previous runs often had goals in place... In the early years, the ‘magical’ one-hour barrier. Later, to place in the top 1,000 finishers, then sub 4-minute k’s, sub-55 or sub-54 minutes. Running through Double Bay (about 3k in) I spotted SCT club-mate Brian McGlynn: “About sixty one or two this year. I haven’t been doing much the last 2 months”, were Brian’s words. Then, Dave Cundy: “G’day Wombat”, who, like me is now enjoying the spiritual ‘experience’ that the Sydney City to Surf can be.

‘Heartbreak Hill’ between six and seven kilometres provided the expected test and coincidentally quietened the talk from my running colleagues. Turning onto Old South Head Road we were met with the southerly breeze winner Laban Chege from Kenya talked about post-race, “I thought I may break the record (Steve Moneghetti’s 40.03) but the wind was too tough”. Laban ran an excellent 40:27 and was sitting down to a well-deserved lunch by the time I arrived in Bondi. Canberra athletes Darren Wilson and Dean Cavuoto filled the minor places. The women’s race went to Tasmania’s Kylie Risk in 46:25 -- the second fastest time on record. Former winner Liz Miller placed second, just ahead of ex-Canberran Susan Hobson. ‘Goodnight’ in a sprint finish was the first AGL runner across the line in 57:17. Andrew, Rachel and myself finished and had a fantastic time!

In the Olympic year, 2000, the 30th Sun-Herald Sydney City to Surf will be held in July. Winter can be beautiful in Sydney -- I’ll see you (and who knows how many others) in town for Australia’s greatest fun run   


( from Tuggie Athlete Number 51 )


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