If you rummage through the section on this blog called “What Did I Miss?”, you will find a post entitled A Life Lesson Learned In London. If you imagine for one moment that this was a singular pedagogical event in my travels, you couldn’t be more misguided. Give the globe a little 180 degree spin and you will find that Sydney, Australia can be every bit as instructive in dispensing life lessons as London ever was. What I am about to describe falls into the category of “I wouldn’t take a million bucks for the experience and wouldn’t repeat it for twice that!”
To think it all started innocently enough over a hearty breakfast on the executive floor of the Sheraton On The Park in Sydney, Australia. For a period of about fifteen years I escorted groups to Australia at least once a year. On this occasion, I had brought along one my employees, Carey Rector, to assist. We had just pushed aside the Vegemite in favor of the strawberry jam (I never did acquire a taste for that particular Aussie delicacy although I am pretty sure it would make a great axle grease.) Carey and I were chatting amicably and gazing out the window at the park some thirty floors below.
“Why are all those people starting to gather and mill about in the park?” I asked the waiter. “Oh, they are getting ready for the annual City2Surf race,” he replied. “Can anyone participate?” I asked. “Anyone with $10.00 Australian,” he said. “What time does it start?” “10:00 am, I believe.”
At that moment we were only halfway through breakfast and it was just shy of 9 o’clock in the morning. I looked across the table at Carey and asked (only an omniscient God knows why), “Would you like to run in it?” To which Carey responded, “Sure, we aren’t doing anything else today.” After reading this post, you can be the judge as to whether this impetuous decision should fairly be labeled inspiring spontaneity or temporary insanity.
If you are not familiar, as I was not, the Sun-Herald City2Surf presented by Westpac has grown to be the world’s largest run with over 80,000 registered participants each year. It is actually larger than the London and New York Marathons combined!
It began way back in 1971 with a mere 2,000 entrants. It draws a combination of locals, affectionately known as Sydneysiders, and participants from all over the world. Some are elite and others are dweebs like me who obviously could use a full-scale psychiatric analysis for taking such a rash and impetuous action.
I recall showing up in shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes (not the least designed for running), paying my $10 Australian, pinning a number to my chest and finding a place toward the back of this mass of humanity. It was only at this point that a rather important question occurred to me, heretofore overlooked. Before I could even express the question to Carey, it was answered by an announcer on a loud speaker who welcomed us all to the annual City2Surf race where we would be running from Hyde Park in the central business district to Bondi Beach, a distance of 14 kilometers. My mental acuity must have been heightened by the sudden rush of adrenalin because I was able to instantly calculate that 14 kilometers was 8.3 bleeping miles!
Another feature of the race which would become painfully apparent in just a few moments is that the entire first half of the race is pretty much uphill to the “Heads”, the towering cliffs that bookend the two-kilometer-wide entrance to the harbor. The route then mercifully starts the descent to Bondi Beach, which not too surprisingly I suppose, is at sea level.
I am going to spare you an agonizing play by play description of the race partly because it still stirs painful memories long since relegated to the recesses of my mind (and, trust me, my mind has lots of recesses). When I finally staggered across the finish line . . . I would tell you my elapsed time but I wasn’t carrying a sundial at the moment . . . I was only thinking about limping on to one the motorcoaches provided to carry us back to the city.
One of the most disconcerting moments of my life came when I asked where the coaches were parked and a race official pointed a long, bony index finger to a car park a half-mile away up a steep hill. We didn’t overuse the term “Really?” in a sardonic fashion back then as we do now but if we had, it would have been extremely appropriate. What I did say though, while it may have lacked gentility, that was more than made up for in clarity.