Why do we do the city2surf?
Updated: Jul 29, 2020
This post was originally written in 2013, before the course changed and the finish area at Bondi became slightly different. It has been updated in 2018.
I’m going to say it straight out. The city2surf is a tough run! Sometimes I even go as far as referring to it as torture. Out of the 14 times that I’ve done it (plus one broken bone incident), there are a few results I was really happy with. Most years, I’ve spent most of the run swearing to never do it again.
Sydney’s (and the world’s) biggest fun run is a logistical nightmare. With 85,000-ish entrants, navigating your way through the crowds is almost a bigger achievement than finishing the race.
The race has evolved significantly since the first time I did it when I was in high school. We used to fill out a paper entry form and mail it in, and collect our bib from something that felt like an underground bunker near Town Hall station on race morning. Before chip timing was introduced (and before Garmin), we would look up our time in the newspaper, then deduct the 10 or so minutes it took to cross the start line to get our “real time”.
The three start groups that formed the race back when I first participated have split into five groups that take over an hour and half to cross the start line. Thousands of runners will be over the finish line in Bondi while the ‘Back of the Pack’ group are huddled together in Hyde Park trying to stay warm.
For frequent runners, the City2Surf has its frustrations. The biggest one is cost. For the $67 it cost to enter during the early bird window this year, you could run in two or three smaller races. The second one is the number of entrants. No matter which group you start in, it’s almost impossible to avoid weaving around people for the first few kilometers as everyone sets into their rhythm. Lastly, it’s a tough course. I’m not just talking about Heartbreak Hill, although its name is more than justified. The section between 9km and 11km before the course dips down into Bondi contains a series of short, sharp rises that can be challenging when you are starting to tire. It’s about that point every time I run that I start to question why I decided to race again.
Yet despite all of these things, year after year, we sign up. We talk about how entering Fairfax events means taking out another mortgage on your house, how frustrating it is to have to arrive early for a good start, how you have to skip your warm up, how hard it is to get out of Bondi after the race and how hard the training is.
But we still enter.
So the question is why? There must be some positives for so many people to keep coming out year after year.
One friend says it’s the one event of the year that non-runners can relate to. Since it’s so big, it attracts people who might not usually be runners. They might not understand the work involved with training for a marathon, know how far a half marathon is or have ever heard of parkrun, but there is a chance they have done the city2surf. If the event comes up in conversation in the office kitchen, there will probably be someone who has done it, and will understand what it means that you got a red start, green start, or got to Bondi before they started running.
Another perspective I’ve heard is that it’s something you have to do at least once, because of the event’s notoriety.
I would also add that despite it being hard, expensive and crowded, it’s actually a great event.
The course covers some beautiful parts of the city, the stretch along Rose Bay is particularly nice. It’s hard to top a finish line that is set parallel to the most famous beach in the country. The atmosphere along the way is something that is unique to the city2surf.
People come out in numbers to support their family and friends, giving runners a cheer squad for the entire 14 kilometers. Bands set up on the rooves of shops, playing for an audience of 85,000 as they run past. It’s common to hear an “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” chant echoing through the Kings Cross Tunnel in the first stretches of the race.
The people who live along the course love to help runners out, with many of them turning on their hoses or sprinklers for people to run through as it gets hotter throughout the day. Others bring their speakers outside for musical entertainment as you run past their house. Extravagant costumes are a popular part of the event. The downside of this are the times when you have to accept that Superman carrying his briefcase is faster than you!
When you make it to the finish line, sitting on the beach or the park overlooking the ocean after completing your run is amazing feeling.
Bondi Beach can be chaos on city2surf day, though this has changed a bit since the finish changed. Marquees from sponsors and corporate entrants cover the beach for their runners to relax in after their run. Massage tents, drink tents, baggage claim and free newspaper collection are clustered around the finish area. Runners sharing stories with their friends and family fill the park next to the beach. Looking down on Campbell Parade gives you a full perspective of how many people enter, runners and walkers stream along the road until the early afternoon.
The post city2surf celebration might be the best part of the day. The crowd spreads out to the surrounding beaches with people keen to celebrate their achievement with breakfast, lunch or a few beers.
All in all, it is a great day out. The atmosphere is fantastic, the finishing point is one of Sydney’s best and the feeling of conquering Heartbreak Hill is always rewarding.
The city2surf holds a special place for me. I listened to my Dad talk about running it when he was at uni. He and friends from UNSW would run from the uni to Coogee and back to train, going up a few hills on the way back. It was probably the first race I did outside of cross country and athletics. My first one was in 1997, and I did it every year through high school.
I used to tell my dad that one day I would beat his best time from when he was at uni (56 minutes). At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was really possible or just banter, but I first managed it in 2014, then again the following year, and in 2016 when I set my current PB (52:36).
In the last few years, I’ve done training runs on the course with my club in the lead up to the event. I think I know it inside out, and still enjoy the challenge of getting up HBH, battling with my nemesis hills on Military Road, and picking up the pace down the hill to the beach.
I didn’t run last year, and have to miss it again this year. But it is one of those races that I know I will be on the start line of again in the not to distant future.
Here are my tips for the race. Two months to go!