I am feeling a little stiff today, I must admit… I stretched and stretched before the City to Surf (C2S) yesterday, but one thing I really didn’t do was stretch afterwards, and it seems I should have… I am walking around today like I don’t have knee joints, a sort of female Frankenstein or circus lady on stilts…
And now it’s over for another year. In fact, it was over for me yesterday faster than ever before; I went across the finish line at 71 minutes, 35 seconds, but my time will be adjusted to whatever time my chip first crossed the start line. According to Llew’s stopwatch (we started together, but I’m pleased to say he later ate my dust), it took us about two minutes to actually get going. If that’s correct, I may have just gone sub-70, which would be tremendously exciting, satisfying and surprising. The first time I ran was in 2002, and back then the C2S took me 120 minutes. Actually, I don’t think that’s right now I’m thinking back… maybe that was my unadjusted time. I was living on campus at UNSW… and I think it was about 96 minutes… I think I did a piece for the uni paper on the experience so I might have to see if I can pull it out to check. Whatever my time, though, I hadn’t been running for long, and I’d only given up smoking the year before. So to have improved significantly every year since gives me a quiet but sincere sense of accomplishment. I didn’t even attempt to do anything but walk up Heartbreak Hill for the first couple of years, and yet there I was yesterday, slow but steady, refusing to break my stride. I only qualified for the first group [sub-75 minutes, red] for the first time last year, and then by a whisker: 52 seconds, to be precise. And all I really wanted to do was beat that. If I’ve managed to go under 70 minutes, I’ll be completely chuffed.
The atmosphere was slightly peculiar this year, I must say. Very subdued. Usually it’s such a noisy sensory overload, but this year even the day was overcast, a first in my memory (and I mean even for the many years before I started participating). There was no soundtrack, not from the runners, nor, really, from the roadside. People watched us go by, but only very rarely did anyone say a word as we went. A band on Heartbreak Hill stood on top of a garage roof, silent, motionless, instruments slack in their hands. Some people mutely held posters aloft: GO MICHELLE! I wonder if they called out when Michelle actually went by? The runners themselves… well, we were admittedly pretty silent too – not even the tossing of the plastic cups at the drink stations seemed as frenzied or as loud. And coming into Bondi, I couldn’t hear a thing over the loudspeakers, not one word, not one time check, nothing at all until I rounded the final bend and could see the finish line gleaming up ahead. It was all very strange for that. Solemn crowds lined up like they were watching a funeral procession instead of a fun run, and all around me were faces set in grim determination rather than any sort of discernible glee.
Of course, I found out earlier today that a young man died just short of the finish line. I heard the ambulances yesterday, and I paused in my post-shower toilette at my sister-in-law’s Bondi flat. Ambulances, I thought. And boy, they really sound like they mean business. I hope no one’s hurt. Unfortunately this late-twenties Brit was dead of a heart attack, even as we were congratulating ourselves and each other and wondering how the rest of our friends fared. It’s a disconcerting thought now, because I can tell you it really doesn’t seem possible whilst you’re doing it that something like that could happen to you. There have been times when I’ve wondered if it was about to happen IN FRONT of me, but I’ve never imagined the C2S could be the death of me. I can say with absolute confidence that if I thought that was a possibility, I’d simply give the whole thing a miss. But of course you don’t think that, do you? No one does. Why would you? It does give me pause now, though, just in the sense of being glad the rest of us made it okay, because you realise with a jolt it’s not always the case, and boy, we haven’t always been the most sensible starters, we just assume we’ll somehow get away with it again.
So we were oblivious to the drama down near the finish line as we met up with friends, runners, walkers, and table minders, at the North Bondi RSL for the post-race debrief. It’s one of my favourite rituals, this annual pilgrimage to Bondi and the catch up that follows, in fact it’s one of the only ones I observe. I wouldn’t miss it, I love everything about it. Looking out at the incredible colour of the water, made intense by the grey cloud, and surrounded by happy and exhausted friends, I raised my icy shandy to my lips and was once again simply glad for it all.