Last Sunday, The Public Apology’s Alasdair McClintock partook in the annual City2Surf in Sydney with roughly 80,000 other humans. It was his third year competing in the famous race – and possibly his last. Like many civilians, he struggled massively – both physically and mentally. Here, he describes what was going through his head during the painful journey, warts and all…
I leave with the Red Group, a privilege allowed to me due to my sub-70 minute time last year. It means I don’t have to dodge prams and people in costume at the beginning of the race, but also makes me acutely aware that I have undertrained for this event. One 8km run just isn’t going to cut it. I am out of my depth. But I can’t turn back now. I just hope I don’t suffer the embarrassment of being overtaken by anyone in the Green Group. I was in their equivalent last year, yet I already look down on them.
It is noticeably quieter with the elite. These people are serious. The on-course entertainment (and I use the term loosely) has yet to really warm to their task, which only contributes to the eerie stillness of a few thousand people quietly panting in unison. I pass one man in a superhero costume not even looking at the race. He’s is checking his phone, which gives his huge padded shoulders a hunched over and sad look. It makes me feel sad.
I start to question the sense of being here. I am not raising any money for charity and given the lack of fanfare I don’t really feel like I’m competing in a fun run either. Ostensibly I’ve just paid 80 bucks to catch a bus into the city and then run to my mate’s place to get drunk. I could have saved myself not only the cash, but around 10 kilometres of pain, if I’d just run straight to my mate’s place.
Next year, I think I’ll just get drunk.
Speaking of which, there’s a severe lack of intoxicated people cheering from the sidelines this year. I don’t know whether they are still in bed or fewer people are having all nighters in Sydney these days, but the crew of blue men, who usually have beers in hand and are a fucking menace to avoid if you don’t want to get covered in blue paint, are severely lacking in numbers this year. I escape them with ease.
I am starting to get really tired. This is already on the brink of the longest I’ve run since last year’s City2Surf, so it stands to reason my body feels like it’s winding down.
My base instincts start kicking in. I suddenly start feeling very male. An attractive woman overtakes me and her derriere makes me think something incredibly unsavoury. I am disgusted by myself, but I am also glad that equality is taking hold because there is no longer any shame in being beaten by a woman. Once again, I feel slightly ashamed for even thinking there ever was.
Six years in an all-boys high school has obviously left some ingrained chauvinism, but I guess it’s good that I’m aware of it and usually able to overcome it. In this case, however, I let it win. Using her backside as motivation, I determinedly wrestle my position back.
Heartbreak Hill looms like a cruel motherfucker, but in truth I am heartbroken before I even reach it. When I pass the 6km mark I almost weep. Perhaps I would, if I wasn’t already so dehydrated. Am I really this unfit?
The hill itself is surprisingly not too bad. I have run it before and I know how long it is. In some ways I find it the easiest part of the race. It is a short challenge that I can overcome. The race in its entirety is what overwhelms me. It is tedious and boring. I become acutely aware of the mental challenges long distance runners must face.
Why the fuck do people run marathons?
The ubiquitous sponsorship begins to intrigue me. Are people actually going to remember anything they see while physically exhausted? On a subliminal level, I guess they might. I pass a few blokes with Beyond Blue shirts on and it strikes a chord, if only because my fitness level is making me fucking depressed.
At the top of the hill there is woman with a Nike shirt proclaiming ‘There is no finish line!’ I assume this is meant to somehow be encouraging, but it almost breaks me.
They say that the difference between civilisation and anarchy is three square meals. Evidently, for me, the difference between being a good person and completely indecent is 8 kilometres. I am ashamed to admit that I am objectifying women now and using them as motivation to help me finish this race.
On some primal, incredibly base level, the sight of an attractive female is willing me on and I am embracing it. I will do whatever it takes to get me to the ocean at this point. I pass some Sydney Kings cheerleaders and make a mental note to go to an NBL game this year.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
At the start, the shit pop and techno that blares out of speakers at random intervals annoyed me, but as I get more and more exhausted it really begins to help. The mind-numbing 4/4 bass that appears compulsory for a Top 50 hit these days is exactly what I need right now.
I’m getting dumber with every step and as my body begins to plead for more oxygen, I wonder if this is what auto-erotic asphyxiation feels like. I stop short of masturbating, but I do smile when I see a guy fist pump to as he passes a speaker; a sight that had supremely annoyed me only a few kilometres before, but I now take happily in stride. Fuck yeah! Music!
Weirdly I am starting to feel better. My body has either gone into a state of shock or I am fitter than I thought. Other people are starting to waver and I am actually making my way through the pack.
Out of nowhere the same woman from before overtakes me again. Where the fuck did she come from? I thought I had shaken her off, Tay-Tay style. I wonder if she is using me as some sort of primal motivation to keep going as well. It seems unlikely, but I’m not willing to rule it out.
I approach a father and his son dressed as Batman and Robin. It would be a touching sight, but the kid is clearly exhausted and in no state to go on. His father keeps beckoning him to keep going, but there is a fine line between encouragement and irresponsible parenting. Eventually he gives in and lets the boy rest. He is clearly torn between being pissed off at his child’s weakness and genuine parental concern. As I pass, I think he is more pissed off.
Not too much further along an old man is lying by the road being attended to with an oxygen mask. It starts to register that people have actually died doing this race. I hope the old man doesn’t die. I don’t need that to haunt me for the rest of the week. I feel a pang of guilt for making the potential death of an elderly man all about me, but then I remember I’m fucking buggered and get over it.
The stretch home!
I am bounding down the hill into Bondi now! I take vindictive enjoyment out of overtaking a guy wearing Skins and all the latest running gear. I feel like heckling him. “Your fancy clothes won’t help you now, fuckhead!” But I abstain.
I pass my mate’s place where I am to return for a BBQ after the race. He is sitting out the front, already with a beer. The realisation that I still have to run another kilometre or so and then walk back there with sore legs, further highlights the futility of it all. Should I just stop now and grab a beer? What’s to stop me? I’ve pretty much run the race.
But my sudden desire to beat last year’s time drives me on. At the start I didn’t think it was a possibility, but now I reckon I’m a good chance. Especially as I didn’t have to dodge any fatties to begin with. I realise it is an extremely effective strategy to compete against oneself. After all, there is no one I hate more.
I round the bend into Campbell Parade and start arguably the hardest part of the race. The final kilometre where you actually run past the finish line, but have to loop around and run for another few hundred metres before finishing. It all seems so cruel.
I spot my attractive nemesis from earlier and set my sights on beating her. I am tired of looking at her fantastic derriere. It is time she copped a good look at the saggy flesh lumps that constitute my arse.
It is only coming around the final bend that I manage to get in front of her. My internal monologue becomes quite self-abusive.
DON’T LET HER BEAT YOU, YOU FUCKING PUSSY!
I think I beat her, but I honestly can’t be sure.
THE WASH UP:
Three days later, I am still sore and wondering why I did that to myself. Was it worth it? I don’t know. I did manage to beat last year’s time, by 40 seconds, but that seems of little importance now.
At least the old man didn’t die. I would have heard about it on the news.
By Alasdair McClintock