My Emotional Journey: One Man’s Effort To Run 14 Kilometres Sequentially

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…

1-4 KILOMETRES

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.

5-8 KILOMETRES

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.

8-10 KILOMETRES:

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!

10-12 KILOMETRES:

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.

12-14 KILOMETRES:

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

Australia Can’t Alpha Their Way Out of This One

Australian cricket is in crisis.

It’s taken us all by surprise, although in retrospect, it shouldn’t have. It’s simply mirroring our decline as a society.

When Darren Lehmann joined the Australian cricket team, he brought a sense of alphadom to the side. Lehmann was “taking back” Australia to the olden days. “Positive cricket” was the mantra. “Fast game’s a good game.”

We bought into it, because it sounded good. “See ball, hit ball.” In reality, it was a conscious decision to de-intellectualise cricket.

It was a refreshing change from the Mickey Arthur regime. I mean, he had the nerve to reprimand his players for failing to complete a task. And he was South African! Not one of us; an outsider. He had to go. Really, it was xenophobia at its finest.

But in this series, our un-nuanced, aggressive brand of cricket has been exposed as sheer insanity. Aside from Rogers – the final vestige of yesteryear – we are getting absolutely pantsed by a disciplined English bowling line up.

We just got rolled for 60, for fuck’s sakes. Stuart Broad is a good bowler, but is he ‘8 for 15’ good? I don’t think so.

Australia lacks nuance – and not just on the sporting field. Whether it’s our political discourse, discussions on race relations, or simply our conduct on the sporting field, we go hard and all-in, even when we’re completely at sea.

In fact, especially when we’re all at sea.

Do we have any strategy at all, other than to hit it hard, bowl it fast, and lip blokes relentlessly? Sadly, no.

When we’re under pressure, we’ll try and blindly fight our way out of it with a flurry of punches aimed at our opponent’s head. This is the Australian way. You will never make me feel weak. It’s the same strategy adopted by many major terrorist groups, funnily enough. Live by the sword. Die a martyr and be greeted by 72 virgins, or however many it is.

We should have someone more qualified in charge than Lehmann. I haven’t Googled his credentials, but I’d be surprised if he had a Level 2 coaching certificate, to be honest. He was picked on the basis he was “one of the boys,” and that the lads would “respond to him.”

Well, they’re not.

Why isn’t anyone calling for Lehmann’s head? We loved calling for the heads of previous coaches, but they weren’t the national treasure that Lehmann is. Is Lehmann free from scrutiny, simply because his personality resonates with BBQ-land Australia?

So one option is to get rid of Lehmann and put someone sensible in charge. Of course, this isn’t going to happen After all, this is who we are. Lehmann’s “see ball, hit ball” philosophy is all we have to work with.

The honest grafters – real ‘test match’ players like Ed Cowan – have been shoved aside for blokes who can smash the ball 150 metres and rocket a bounce throw from the deep midwicket fence. This is the Australian way.

It would take great courage for Cricket Australia to admit they’ve got this wrong. They’ll tell you that we just won a World Cup; that we very recently smashed England and India on home soil. That the investment in youth is paying dividends.

In reality, Australia has never been in such a dire situation.

*  *  *

It’s not so long ago that this writer described a recent quote by Glenn Maxwell as exemplifying “everything that is wrong with Australian cricket and society in general.”

But maybe Maxwell was ahead of the curve, with his reverse sweeps and general disdain for decorum. Maxwell might just be the future of test cricket. Maybe test cricket, as we know it, is dead? Perhaps the days of 300-ball centuries are over?  Maybe our fielders should be catching a ball one-handed with an ice cream in the other?

The joke is on us for expecting our batsmen to get through the swinging ball and show a bit of ticker under pressure. These players are paid millions of dollars, but what for? A team of professional cricketers getting all out for 60 before lunch in the deciding Ashes test is almost worthy of a Royal Commission.

Let’s just get silly. Let’s open the batting with Warner and Finch and chuck Maxwell in at 3. Anyone with a batting strike rate under 130% need not apply. Give Johnson the new rock and tell him to come exclusively around the wicket and lid the opposition into submission. Is Shaun Tait still around? Give him a game. Who cares if he leaks 8.6 runs an over. He’s fast, scary, and good for two consecutive overs.

Let’s just eschew all traditional test cricket values – patience, technique, application – and embrace what Australia has really become: an intellectual backwater, where alpha aggression and wilful ignorance are celebrated above all else.

Let’s win test matches in 1.5 days or be beaten in similar time.

By Dave Edwards

The Inherent Sadness of Watching Michael Clarke Age In Front Of Your Very Eyes

I’m approaching my 30th birthday, which means I’m old enough to have witnessed the complete careers of dozens of athletes.

Darren Lockyer, Braith Anasta, Andrew Johns. Jude Bolton and Chris Judd. I grew up watching these guys in their debut seasons, young, fresh-faced and full of hope. Now, I will watch their burgeoning media careers (albeit with far less interest). As always with sport, the joke is on me.

Over the years, these sporting legends waged constant battles with injury and, subsequently, their own mortality. In order to survive, each learned new skills that enabled them to keep the edge over the new wave of youngsters.

Soon, I will add Michael Clarke to the list of athletes whose professional body of work I have witnessed from start to finish*.

I remember when he exploded onto the scene, his shock of peroxided blonde hair the perfect fit in the post-Mark Taylor, post Sydney 2000-era. He became ‘best friends’ with Shane Warne, a risky venture for one who harboured dreams of captaining Australia one day, but a friendship that nonetheless was onbrand for a cheeky young kid with a Nike earring and the world at his feet.

After the initial flurry of runs, Clarke suffered a run of low scores and was dropped from the test side. His first taste of adversity. He had to fight his way back, like a gutsy politician desperately seeking pre-selection after an unlikely electoral loss. It was the recession he had to have. Cricket’s a bit like that.

One must swiftly move to secure pre-selection after an electoral defeat
One must swiftly move to secure pre-selection after an electoral defeat

There were scandals, too, including a famous choking incident with TPA favourite Simon Katich. We watched as he went through a public breakup with Lara Bingle, at one point abandoning a tour of New Zealand to literally go and break up with her. This was Clarke at his lowest, most tabloid point. Here, ‘Celebrity Clarke’ had transcended ‘Cricket Clarke’. The conservative cricket base was appalled – and rightly so.

We will never forget peak Clarke. Just as Ricky Ponting’s career wound down, Clarke’s was hotting up. This was the Michael Clarke era (2011-2012). For about a two-year period, he seemed invincible. Having taken over the captaincy from Ponting, Clarke immediately showed himself to be an innovator. His positive tactics were applauded. Most importantly, the captaincy did not affect his ability to hit runs: the ultimate test of cricketing manhood.

But the honeymoon would not last. After a spate of injuries, Clarke had a significant fall out with the Australian selectors, who were pushing him to overcome his fitness issues; setting aggressive KPIs for him to meet in order to make the World Cup. Here, we saw Clarke the outspoken, anti-establishment man. Clarke, the individual.

Around this same time, we saw a more human side of Clarke, in the aftermath of the Phillip Hughes tragedy. Beleaguered Clarke. A Clarke who realised, perhaps for the first time in his life, that cricket isn’t everything. A statesman in a time of crisis. Like Keating’s Redfern speech in 1992, Clarke rolled up his sleeves and spoke from the heart. Unfiltered Clarke. We liked this Clarke.

A landmark moment
A landmark moment

*  *  *

Today, we are firmly in the ‘information age’. We have access to past interviews and YouTube clips from years ago, so we can directly compare and contrast these athletes with their former selves.

In the old days, someone like Allan Border was able to captain Australia into his late 30s. There was less media scrutiny back then and the international calendar wasn’t so jam-packed. Border was able to insulate himself from the scrutiny.

No such luck for Clarke. Like a good corporate leader, he must face the media constantly. He would have dozens of contractual agreements in place, where he must show up and perform leadership duties. Everyday, despite his own physical and form-related decline, he must front the media and act as the face of Australian cricket.

Being the Australian captain is essentially the same as being CEO of a listed company, except you’re holding a ‘shareholder meeting’ at least once a week – and during every single day of a test match. The Australian public are extremely vocal shareholders. They go to every meeting and they’ll be asking questions at the end, don’t you worry. Mum and Dad investors don’t like being taken for a ride.

Mum and Dad investors
Mum and Dad investors

CEOs are at their peak in their mid-40s and early 50s. In 2011, Clarke was in his late 20s – the cricket equivalent of being middle-aged in the corporate world – but in a few short years, he’s suddenly overstayed his welcome. There’s a reason why CEOs get paid the big bucks – they burn out quick.

And Clarke looks old and weary, all of a sudden. He’s not the fresh-faced youngster of 2004. Sure, he still looks good in magazines with the benefit of Photoshop to iron out his creases, but look at his face closely and you’ll see a grizzled man. Look at his tired eyes. He’s now approaching his mid 30s, which in cricket terms, is like working past the pension age of 65.

It’s sad to acknowledge athlete mortality. They seem so virile, so full of boundless youthful energy when they break onto the scene. When they depart, they generally do so having been on borrowed time for a year or two.

Mentally speaking, cricket is the most challenging of all sports. Anyone – with the exception of Shane Warne, a true outlier in every sense of the world – would feel the mental and physical strain of the international cricket schedule. Clarke has seen more highs and lows than most. He lacks Warne’s enviable ability to shake off all controversy and just play cricket. The many battles – both on- and off-field – have taken their toll.

 

Enjoying the spoils of victory in his own inimitable style
Enjoying the spoils of victory in his own inimitable style

Clarke is not like Roger Federer, who is thriving in his drawn out ‘late years’. Since 2011, many have written Federer off, but he’s proved everyone wrong – he’s still a genuine championship threat. In fact, watching Federer during this phrase of his career is perhaps more enjoyable than witnessing peak Federer. His mastery of craft shines through now, more than ever before.

Clarke does not give the impression he will thrive in his ‘late years’, as Federer has done. Because Clarke is the true embodiment of Generation Y; no gradual decline, all immediacy, as my TPA colleague Sam Perry describes it. He has rapidly joined the pantheon of Australian captains who look really old, but still play. It has been a truly jolting decline.

Like when little Johnny finds out he’s been accepted to college 5,000 miles away, we – as proud parents – cannot help but feel sad to see him go. We’ve seen him grow up; we’ve raised him to be the man he is today. But Clarke must commence the next chapter of his life, whatever that means. And we’ll be waving goodbye from the porch, toasting to many happy memories, perhaps even shedding a tear.

Thanks for the memories, Michael**.

By Dave Edwards

* I write this article despite hoping that he hits a double ton in the fourth test and wins the Ashes for Australia

** You’re not ‘Pup’ any more – you’re a man in your mid-30s and, quite frankly, you should have transitioned away from this infantile nickname years ago when you had the chance.