I first set foot in Sydney back in 1996, as an exchange student along with three university mates. On that trip, the flight from Singapore was delayed for five hours, we missed our connecting flights to Newcastle, and there were some dramatic moments that somehow thankfully ended with us being escorted to the courtesy hotel in a police patrol car. What followed was six months of adventure and a very good time in Australia.
Fast forward 21 years later - with countless trips in between - and it was indeed a deja vu. My flight was delayed and so I missed a planned tour. Immigration officers took a bit longer than usual to lead me through, and then I missed the arranged transportation too. With these setbacks at the start, I only had deep belief that this trip should turn out to be a blast.
The invitation to this Blackmores Running Festival came about two weeks prior to the event. A short notice indeed to run a full marathon, but I just could not let go the opportunity of running on Sydney Harbour Bridge, the city grounds and ending at the Sydney Opera House. This an IAAF Gold Label event, is the biggest running festival in Australia and is also a legacy of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Blackmores has been a strong partner for 13 years, and this festival aligns with Blackmores’ dedication to help Australians (and Singaporeans) keep healthy by supporting their overall wellbeing journey.
“We know that running can enhance your whole wellbeing; physical, emotional and social. That’s why we continue to support such a wonderful event,”
said Mr David Fenlon, Blackmores Marketing Director Australia & New Zealand.
The ASICS Event Expo & Race Bib Collection took place at the famous Town Hall, strategically located in the city centre over a four-day period. When I arrived late Friday afternoon, there was virtually no queue to pick up the necessary item; a feat considering it was a 33,000 capacity event.
What struck me immediately was the sight of two booths dedicated respectively to Japanese and Chinese international runners to render assistance in bib pick up collection. This would mean that their figures were substantial to warrant for such hospitality services. I later confirmed that 505 Japanese runners and 245 Chinese runners took part, making them the top two contingents among the international markets.
Unlike events in Singapore where we may be used to a full goodie bag comprising of event tee, gels, sponsors’ sample products and lots of brochures and information, the goodie bag for this event was not much of an affair: race bib, a fruit bar and race information.
Finisher tees would only be provided to runners completing the full marathon distance. There were also only a handful of booths available for event souvenirs and last minute shopping. So, it would be best to stock up on familiar gels and other nutrition and bring them over to Sydney.
Sydney in September is a city in transition from winter to spring. Temperatures vary wildly, air is dry but wind chills can be strong.
This was the case on race morning at Milsons Point. The thermometer hovered at just under 10 degree Celsius, but it definitely felt much colder than that. I put on my usual tee, bottom tights and arm sleeves, thinking I needed to just survive the one hour wait at the start point before I could get my body temperature to an optimal level when the temperature was forecasted to rise as the day began.
Sadly, that was not the case as I shivered badly in the cold. I saw local runners wrapping themselves up in old blankets and sweatsuits, and threw them away just before the start. I would definitely take the same approach for future races in cold climate.
Full Marathon Course
The race start was rather plain with just an emcee rousing the crowd from the back of a pickup truck. However, as soon as runners hit the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the sun shone brightly and with beautiful views of the Sydney Opera House, the mood was readily uplifted. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is iconic and holds dear in my heart - I’ve photographed it since the good old film day, have driven across the bridge, and even climbed it - but to actually run on it car-free is a sight to behold.
The full marathon distance course then took runners through Hyde Park, meandered quite a bit within Centennial Park grounds, and back through Hyde Park again, Darling Harbour and Pyrmont before finishing at the Sydney Opera House. There were some slopes and ramps on the course, but it was generally flat. Aid stations consisted mainly of water and electrolyte drinks, save for one station with energy gels.
As I ran towards Circular Quay area, the atmosphere was electrifying. Being a sporting nation, there was immense local support. And Circular Quay area is also a high traffic tourist destination, so there were lots of colour and excitement as I reached the finishing line at the iconic Sydney Opera House.
For the record, I completed the run at 4:57 hours, including some stops and walks for the mandatory shots. This result put me at the wrong end of the 20 percent of finishers, so you can be sure that this indeed a fast race although the cut-off time was 6 hours. Shota Hattori of Japan took the men’s honours at 02:15:16 hours, while Makda Harun Haji of Australia topped the women’s at 02:28:04 hours.
As part of an aggressive effort towards sports tourism, event owner Athletics Australia has got the formula right in partnering with Destination New South Wales to drive tourist arrivals. After Japan and China, Hong Kong runners numbered 199 while Singapore stood at 166. In total, 2,293 international runners took part in the largest running festival in Australia.
These are good numbers considering how far Sydney is as a tourist destination. These runners typically would be accompanied by family and friends, and stayed on longer for vacation. So, the economic benefits to Sydney as a city far outweighed the direct impact to the organisers only.
Next year’s 18th edition of the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival has already been set on 16 Sep 2018, and registration has duly begun. Do mark your calendar, register for this race, set ample time to train, and plan your vacation immediately after the run.
Stay tuned to the things to see and do in and around Sydney, coming up next.
- Blackmores is now in its 13th year of the partnership with this iconic running event, along with Athletics Australia
- The Blackmores Sydney Running Festival is the sole remaining participant legacy of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, with the original Olympic Marathon course substantially maintained
- 2,293 international runners, with Singapore in 4th position out of 66 nations
Tips to run the Blackmores Sydney Marathon
- Fly in latest by Friday to acclimatise to dry weather conditions
- Bring your race essentials – gels, tapes, nutrition. Products sold at Race Expo may not be what you’re accustomed to, and is risky to experiment on race day
- Australia Customs office is strict with food import, therefore ensure you only bring in items that have been commercially packed
- Stay near to any train station that is on the same line stopping at Milsons Point
- Groceries, drinks: buying at supermarket is fine, but convenience stores can be expensive
- Bring old blanket, sweat suits to keep yourself warm before the start and dispose afterwards
- Drink before you feel thirsty. The dry air may mislead your hydration needs