A brief intro for those unfamiliar with this event (stats thanks to Wikipedia)
City2Surf is a 14km road race/fun run held each year in Sydney. It is the biggest fun run in the world with around 80 000 entrants.
Legendary Australian distance runner Steve Moneghetti holds the course record with 40:03. The women’s record is 45:08 minutes, held by Susie Power. (I wasn’t intending to give either of those records a shake!)
It is a staggered start, essential given the huge field! Firstly come the elite and preferred runners, then the red bibs (sub-70 minutes), then the green bibs (sub-90) followed by charity fundraisers, the open entry group, and finally back-of-the-pack joggers, walkers and pram pushers.
The race starts in Sydney CBD and passes through the eastern suburbs of East Sydney, Kings Cross, Rushcutters Bay, Double Bay, Rose Bay, Vaucluse and Dover Heights before finishing at the iconic Bondi Beach. The most difficult part of the course is the notorious “Heartbreak Hill” at around the 6km mark, a 2 km long hill from Rose Bay to Vaucluse.
I’m not sure when running City2Surf first entered my mind, but it just seemed like the thing to do! My previous ‘biggest’ event had been Adelaide’s City-Bay, with around half the overall number of participants, but in City-Bay they are split between 3km, 6km and 12km (the majority of people do the 12), whereas in City2Surf all 80 000-odd are running the 14km.
I’ve done City-Bay twice. The first one I kind of enjoyed but the crowd made it hard to get into a good rhythm, especially early on. Then I’d get into a zone and suddenly the person in front of me would stop or slow to a walk, forcing me to alter my pace. I wanted to run sub-60 minutes – I was lucky enough to get into the sub-60 starting group which gave me a huge advantage in this regard. I managed sub-60 (without a watch, so I was really only running by feel). The following year I had a watch and managed to take a minute and a half off the previous year’s time, but I really didn’t enjoy it. That MAY have had something to do with the fact that I had to dash off straight away and play a full game of soccer! Also because I don’t enjoy running in a big crowd and having to do a lot of dodging and weaving.
I’ve done 3 marathons – 2 with several thousand participants and 1 with a few hundred. The few hundred was at Barossa and that was by far my favourite marathon experience. Not only because it seemed like I knew half the field and many of the spectators, but because of the smaller numbers.
So why on earth would I enter an event with 80 000 participants?
I spoke to a number of people in the weeks leading up to the event and they all said I would LOVE it. Just the whole party atmosphere, with live bands and DJs throughout the course. Lots of people dressed up in wacky costumes (note to self: don’t get beaten by someone in a gorilla suit!). It’s just an iconic event. Something I had to do at least once on my life!
Initially when I entered I was going by myself. It was sort of a spur of the moment decision, made in late December. I firstly confirmed that I would be able to get a red bib (sub-70) and then entered and booked my flights. However over the few months leading up to the event I discovered that a number of running friends had also entered! Most of these friends were making the trip over from Adelaide but one, Rob, was a Sydney local and a veteran of several C2S events. I hadn’t actually met him in person but we had connected via Facebook – we had a number of mutual friends, who had assured me he was not an axe murderer or a stalker before I accepted his friend request. He was also coming to Adelaide later in the year to run Yurrebilla 56km Ultra, and we would be in the same start group there, so it would be nice to meet before then! Another regular running buddy, Maree, was also running her first C2S and the three of us arranged to meet up early Sunday morning outside the hostel where Maree and I were staying, which was conveniently located within walking distance of the start line.
Having recently travelled for the Gold Coast Marathon, my race gear packing game was strong. I packed ALL my race gear into my carry-on bag, which caused minor issues at Adelaide Airport when it was slightly overweight and I ended up having to transfer my handbag into my checked baggage… no way was I letting any of my race gear out of my sight! I also cut it a bit fine getting to the airport in time – I made it to the bag drop with about 2 minutes to spare before they closed the flight! (Possibly because I had a slightly TOO relaxed coffee catch-up after my morning run… I was so excited by the prospect of not having to dash off to work that I underestimated the amount of time it would take to do my last minute packing and drive to the airport!)
I had my usual throwaway jacket ($3 from Savers – winning!) and I’d also packed a long sleeved top and change of singlet to leave at the finish line. Rob, Maree and I planned to run back to the city (a MUCH more leisurely run mind you!) so I’d also packed my small hydration vest (to carry gear and my finisher medal) and handheld bottle. City2Surf has very strict regulations about what you can leave at the bag drop – everything has to fit into the provided clear plastic bag. I had Maree’s and my gear, with the plan to drop it off at the expo on Friday to save messing around on Sunday.
Here is just some of the advice I was given pre-race:
-There is a LONG way to go after Heartbreak Hill.
-FLY down the downhill.
-When you think you’re nearly at the top of Heartbreak Hill, think again!
-When you see the finish line, there’s still a fair way to go!
-Go to the Beach Road Hotel afterwards… it’s “like Christmas Day for runners” (rehydration is very important, after all!)
I wasn’t too phased by Heartbreak Hill as I had regular hills training in my programme. I had been assured that Heartbreak Hill was not anywhere near as bad as many of the hills we run on Fridays (including Heatherbank Tce which we ran the very day that I flew out!)
Friday night was an Adelaide reunion of sorts, catching up with fellow Adelaidians Mel and Steve, and former Adelaidian Sam (now a Sydney local) for dinner, cocktails and dancing! Saturday Sam and I hit the DFO for some retail therapy… I gave the credit card a good workout at lululemon in particular! Saturday afternoon I met up with Maree at the hostel, and we headed out for a pre-race pizza at the very popular Macchiato. We shared the pizza in the sense that I ate the WHOLE THING! We went for a quick reconnaissance mission to the start line (7 minute walk from the hostel) before heading back to the room to get all our gear ready for the morning.
The hostel was pretty good… relatively quiet despite its proximity to the notorious George St. Rob met us there at 6:30am on race day and we walked in the somewhat chilly conditions to the Red start line (all 3 of us had Red bibs). It took a while for Maree to be let into the Red start area as she had 3 layers on over her bib! We got close to the front of the Red area, so we were just behind the elites and preferred start group. A lot of Rob’s running mates joined us, and I was surprised to see fellow Torrens parkrunner Min-Qi waving to me from the side!
With about 15 minutes to go before the 7:55am start, the throwing of jumpers commenced! Most people had brought jumpers that they were happy to throw away (and/or had purchased specifically for the occasion) and by the time we started the ground was thick with them! They would later be collected and donated to charity. Maree and I were a little horrified that one of Rob’s friends was ditching a lululemon jacket… I guessed that this one might not make it to the charity store!
The national anthem was sung, and it was go time!
The start was a bit of a blur. And definitely the worst possible start for me, getting pushed to the ground (I assume accidentally although I don’t think he apologised) by a guy who was obviously feeling threatened by my blistering pace! (I had no idea what had happened, I went through the entire race convinced that I must have tripped over the timing mat at the start – it wasn’t until I met up with Maree at the finish that she set me straight!) Both knees and one hand bleeding, thankfully Maree was there to help me up and I was off! Take 2!
The first little bit was, as you would expect, quite congested, as we headed up towards the big Coke sign that marks the infamous Kings Cross, and into a short tunnel. (I had heard that a lot of the males used this tunnel as a urinal, and had been warned to hold my breath, however fortunately this was not an issue!)
I passed several aid stations which had first aid supplies on hand. I looked down at my bloody knees and hand and momentarily contemplated a brief pit stop but thought better of it. The bleeding had stopped and any dressings the first aiders might put on, would undoubtedly impede my movement. Every now and then I’d look down and see the blood but for the most part I put it out of my mind.
It’s hard to put into words how much I enjoyed the race! Every last minute of it! The atmosphere was electric, the cheering from the sidelines was constant and the weather was pretty damn perfect!
I only managed to get to one drink station during the race but that turned out to be enough. I wasn’t prepared for the drink stations when they appeared and I was totally in the wrong spot to get to them without having to stop and walk – something I was not prepared to do! Maybe in future I will consider carrying a handheld bottle like I did in the Gold Coast Marathon.
Then it was onto Heartbreak Hill. I was totally prepared so when I passed the 6km mark I knew it was close.
I didn’t find it that hard… I put that down to my regular hill training! People had told me I’d probably pass people going up the hill and they were right – a LOT of people were walking by then. When I saw my official results it turned out that I averaged 5:04 minutes per km for the 1.6km climb which I thought was pretty good! The view from what I would have thought was the top if I didn’t know better, was simply magnificent and I was SO tempted to stop and take a photo. I guess that gives you a bit of an indication of my mindset – wouldn’t stop for a drink, wouldn’t stop for a Band-Aid, but seriously considered stopping for a photo!
I didn’t stop, though. I was on a roll and I didn’t want to lose momentum.
One thing that really annoyed me, and does in every race, is people with headphones. At one point I needed to pass between 2 people who were both wearing headphones! I was a bit cautious after my earlier fall, I NEEDED to get past them but given that they couldn’t hear me call out, I had to be very careful. Fortunately there were no further mishaps!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to road races, LEAVE THE HEADPHONES AT HOME, people! Enjoy the atmosphere… with headphones in you could be running anywhere! Be in the moment!
After Heartbreak Hill there were more undulations until the last few km which were all downhill. Some of those little uphills felt tougher than HBH!
Somewhere in the second half of the race I spotted Rob up ahead. In a race where I knew only a handful of people out of a huge field, it was exciting to see a familiar face (well, a familiar back at that point!). I gave him a cheer, intending to run with him for a bit but I was on a roll so I just kept going.
I had gone into the race with a niggle in my left patellar tendon, which had appeared on Tuesday. I had strapped it for my Friday run and it had felt OK other than on the steep descents. I had strapped it again on race day, this time a bit more firmly and with an extra strip of tape.
I’m happy to say I did not feel any discomfort in the tendon during the race or since! And I did fly down the downhills! Maybe the fall fixed it!
Kilometre 13 was an absolute blast… according to Strava I did it in 3:47. All downhill of course… I set a number of Strava PRs on the downhills that will be very tough to beat… I just love running fast and naturally downhills allow you to run a lot faster than normal!
The last kilometre felt LONG. I think that’s pretty normal… the closer you get to the end, the further it seems. I didn’t allow myself to look to my left where I would have seen the finish line… it was eyes straight ahead all the way.
I’m pretty sure I screamed with delight when I saw the finish line. As I like to do, I put on an extra burst of speed and flew past people as I approached the finish line at beautiful Bondi, and glory! I forget exactly what the clock said but my watch said 1:03:53 – a shade under 64 minutes – well beyond my goal of sub-70!
Rob wasn’t far behind me… less than a minute I think! Maree was also delighted to finish not far behind us in just under 70 minutes.
My first port of call was the medical tent to get patched up. Unfortunately my little spill had put paid to our plans to run back to the city from Bondi – once I had the dressings on, there was no way I was going to be able to run!
It took a while for us all to meet up afterwards… Rob and I were in communication via phone but Maree had left hers at the hostel so we couldn’t contact her. She did message a couple of times via other people’s Facebooks, and at one point messaged that she was at the ‘Lost Children’ area… ironically neither Rob nor I were able to find her there!
Note to self and potential future C2S-ers… the gear collection area is probably the best place to arrange to meet people! (Definitely NOT the ‘Lost Children’ area!)
Once we’d met up and collected our gear, we went to the Hotel Bondi, which was teeming with runners, for a celebratory drink before walking back to Bondi Junction to get the train back to town. Maree and I farewelled Rob and headed off for a shower followed by a well-earned recovery lunch (more pizza!)
If anyone is considering giving C2S a go, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough! C2S was initially a ‘bucket list’ item for me, but right now I am pretty sure I’ll be back to do it all again next year! Who’s with me?