City 2 Surf: Week 178

Runners at the 2014 City 2 Surf in Sydney, Australia

I was jogging down the street when a woman reached her hand out towards me. “Coconut water,” she shouted as she quickly popped the tab.

“Wow,” I glanced over at Barret, “their giving us each a full can. This is too good to waste.”

The coconut water was a lot more appealing than the neon orange Gatorade being dispensed from a paper cup ziggurat. Barret agreed, so we ambled along the street with a can in hand. A smattering of families stood along the sidewalk while one couple enjoyed a champagne brunch on the median in the middle of the road. They looked like salmon trying to swim upstream.

I wasn’t intentionally ruining my run time for City 2 Surf, but I hadn’t counted on all the freebies. Even the runners themselves were a great source of distraction. Of the 81,000 people who signed up, about 67,500 people finished the race and a fair few of them were costumed. There was everything from Lego people to a six pack of beer running in tight formation.

I quickly realized though that the distractions were pretty much the only thing that made running appealing. Take away the confetti, music, and costumes and all you have left is a mass exodus of achy hips and ankles. Mine included.

City 2 Surf runners bib: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I were in the Blue Group. At 25,000 strong it was the largest running category of the day. I’d felt a little guilty when I signed up for that group because it was specifically for people who wanted to run the whole race. There was no chance of that happening, but my coworker convinced me it was best to start as early as possible. Plus, she warned, I didn’t want to be stuck with all the strollers in the Orange Group.

The crowd had thinned out by the halfway point, but it was still tricky to drift to the other side of the road without tripping too many ambitious people behind me. That didn’t stop me though from zigzagging around to hi-five kids, take photos of the view, and pick up all the freebies.

View from the top of Heartbreak Hill: Sydney, Australia

At the top of Heartbreak Hill, the steepest part of the run, there was a young boy holding a bowl of sliced oranges. I zipped across to pick up a slice as did an older man in running gear. He reached into the bowl after me and declared, “you’re a legend.”

The boy solemnly received his praise and continued to stare off into the distance. “Good luck,” he finally replied with the kind of serious expression that only a four year old could wear. He must have seen all the people running up behind us.

I appreciated the gesture but I didn’t need good luck to get me to the Bondi Beach finish line. All I needed was the possibility of more freebies and a chance to rest my aching body on the soft beach sand. What can I say, I jog for all the right reasons.

Medal given out at the 2014 City 2 Surf: Sydney, Australia

About: City 2 Surf

Runners in costume at the City 2 Surf: Sydney, Australia

Iron Cove: Week 172

Bridge over the Iron Cove walkway: Sydney, Australia

Iron Cove is home to one of the most wretched activities in the world: jogging.

When asked if I wanted to join a jog around Iron Cove one Saturday morning I replied, “only if I can ride my bike.” As soon as I saw the faces of the sweaty, miserable hordes of joggers I knew I had made the right decision.

Is it a coincidence then that right next to one of the most popular torture routes in Inner West Sydney is the site of a former insane asylum? I think not.

Completed in 1885, the Callan Park Mental Hospital sprawls over a massive 100 acre plot along the Parramatta River. It was built at a time when new ‘discoveries’ in treatment were being made in the United States. Just as Pennsylvania influenced the rehabilitation of convicts in the 19th century, a Quaker physician named Dr Kirkbride influenced mental health treatment around the world, Iron Cove included.

Old greenhouse at the Callan Park Mental Hospital: Sydney, Australia

Dr Kirkbride was one of the first advocates for humane treatment and reasoned that patients, “are not disabled from appreciating books…or enjoying many intellectual and physical comforts.” He also held the first gathering of professional psychiatrists, which became the forerunner to the American Psychiatric Association.

I even found a blog dedicated to documenting the remaining asylums built in the US during the Kirkbride era. As Ethan McElroy explains:

Once state-of-the-art mental healthcare facilities, Kirkbride buildings have long been relics of an obsolete therapeutic method known as Moral Treatment. In the latter half of the 19th century, these massive structures were conceived as ideal sanctuaries for the mentally ill and as an active participant in their recovery. Careful attention was given to every detail of their design to promote a healthy environment and convey a sense of respectable decorum. Placed in secluded areas within expansive grounds, many of these insane asylums seemed almost palace-like from the outside. But growing populations and insufficient funding led to unfortunate conditions, spoiling their idealistic promise.

Garden path at the Callan Park Mental Hospital: Sydney, Australia

While I don’t know if Kirkbride ever stepped foot in Sydney, the Callan Park Mental Hospital was designed according to his views and the first block of neo-classical sandstone buildings was named after him. When the last patients transferred out of the Kirkbride Complex in 1994 the facilities were renovated for the Sydney Collage of Arts. The numerous other buildings within the grounds are in various stages of development for use as cultural, historical, non-profit, and mental health facilities.

“So, if you hate running,” my friends asked when they finally caught up with me, “how are you going to do the City to Surf?”

The City to Surf is an annual race in Sydney that is the largest running event in the southern hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. At 14 km, it’s about 12.5km longer than I have ever run before.

“Don’t worry,” I replied, “I’m definitely not planning on running.”

About: Iron Cove

About: Callan Park

Golden Slipper: Week 160

Golden Slipper  horse race at Rose Hill: Sydney, Australia

This is what the Golden Slipper looks like if you are in the winner’s circle. Well, it’s what it would look like if you grabbed the banana-shaped trophy, held it too close to the camera, and lined it up between the enormous floral arch way. And then traced over it in Photoshop.

“That’s a shitty banana.”

Thanks Barret, it’s actually a low-brow slipper trophy collage.


Unlike the ecstatic jockey who won the coveted $3.5 million dollar prize and the right to hold the golden banana slipper, I was feeling a bit blasé.

During the buildup to the race, my friend told me the Golden Slipper was all about wearing your best clothes, best accessories, and biggest fascinator. In fact, I only knew which train to catch at Central Station because I followed a woman in a long floral dress with an orange feathery hairpiece.

After weeks of careful coordination and shoe shopping, there I was: dressed to the nines and reading the Sydney Morning Herald…. inside McDonalds. It wasn’t how the day was supposed to go, but I had woken up with a hangover and my friend was running late. Two hours later I tossed my Syrupy McSmoothie into the trash can and jumped into the passenger seat of my friend’s car. We were finally en route to the races.

Scratch that. We were finally heading north on the highway.

Half an hour later we were back at Rosehill Gardens and walking past the stables. Since the racebooks were all gone,  my friend bypassed the betting windows for a strawberry daiquiri while I bought hot chips. The food stall was greasy and looked as out of place as an liquid-cheese-in-a-can nacho stand at the Oscars.

The Australian anthem began to play so we wandered into the stadium and moved as close to the track as possible. It was crowded and when I turned around, a few thousand expectant faces were looking over me.

I turned back towards the field. “Is this the last race?”

“No,” my friend replied.

“But Earthquake’s name is on the board and isn’t he favored to win?” I didn’t spend two hours at McDs for nothing.

“I don’t think it’s the last race.”

The gates opened and a huge screen displayed the racing footage. I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell when the race was about to end because the ground shook right before the horses ran past me and past the finish line.

The favored horse came in second to Mossfun, whose jockey was standing up in the saddle and pumping his fist in the air. “I think he just won the big prize.”

“Nooooo,” my friend cautiously replied as she studied the scoreboard. “Oh wait. Yeah, he won.”

We looked over to where the winning jockey was grasping his trophy. Unlike the US, Australians never ‘thank God’ during their acceptance speeches. It’s something they actually like to poke fun at. “So, did you enjoy the races?”

It was a strange question since we had only witnessed the last 40 minutes of an all-day event. Horse races in general are a bit infamous for the crowds of elegantly dressed drunks that stumble out the gates at the end of the day. I was just glad I didn’t have to undergo such an induction into the world of posh sporting events. My hangover had also completely vanished so I was feeling particularly amenable.

“Yeah,” I replied, “oddly enough I did.”

How to get to Rosehill Gardens: Rosehill train station, Carlingford Line

About: Golden Slipper

The Red Bicycle: Week 148

Riding my bike into downtown Sydney

Anything that doesn’t fit in my backpack feels like a big commitment. This was the reason why I didn’t want a bicycle.

“But we can resell the bikes when we leave!”

Barret tried his best, but I still wasn’t convinced. I was also not keen on the idea of arriving at work covered in sweat and having to change clothes.

“What if I forget to pack pants?”

“You won’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Well then you’re just stuck wearing your shorts.”

“No,” I shook my head. “That’s not going to work for me.”

And so I remained at this impasse until I began a new job in downtown Sydney and finally admitted to myself that I was a settled-down government employee. My backpack rule might have made me feel much more nomadic and unencumbered, but it wasn’t getting me to work any faster.

Barret bought me a red bicycle for Christmas and over the holiday break I did a test run to my office. It started at the top of a steep hill, ran around a park, and then crossed Pyrmont Bridge. During peak pedestrian hours, park rangers along the bridge scowl and wave orange cones to remind the bicyclists to slow down.

Five minutes further is the parking entrance to my building and where the bike lockers are. The greatest thing I discovered was that the ride only took 15-20 minutes compared to the 35-40 minutes on the bus. Even in summer I barely broke a sweat.

Now that I get around so much faster I can’t imagine wanting to walk everywhere again. Barret quickly got himself a bicycle as well and now the both of us save money on bus fares. Best of all though, I can carry all the heavy groceries up the hill in my basket.

Yes, Barret does have some clever ideas sometimes.

About: Reid Cycles

Wentworth Greyhound Park: Week 112

Wentworth Greyhound Park: Sydney, Australia

It began with an electric twang, something like the buzzing and snapping wires which power San Francisco trams. Although instead of a large vehicle, the springs catapulted two florescent orange rabbits around a loam race track. When they hit the straightaway in front of the grand stand, eight metal gates cracked open releasing an equal number of muscly lightning bolts.

As the greyhounds arced around the track, the hastily assembled crowd of punters began yelling and cheering. It was easy to tell the locals from the visitors. The latter arrived in large groups and wore tucked dress shirts and tight dresses. The former wore sweat suits and passed their kids picnic platters.

Twenty seconds later the race was over as quickly as it had begun.  The crowd retreated back under the stadium to spend the next ten minutes buying beer and placing bets. The cold outdoor stand was now empty and only one elderly man remained at the end of my row.

“Who do you think is going to win?” I asked eying the stat booklet folded on his lap. “You look like you know what you’re doing.”

He flashed a generous smile. “No I don’t, but my friend brought down Saigon Su, number eight. She really likes racing from the eight box and did well on her last race.”

I liked the name so I thanked him for the advice and left to place my bet.

“Cross fingers!” He called as I walked away.

It’s not just the punters that arrive at the races with stars in their eyes. Out of the entire state of NSW, Wentworth Park offers the largest cash prize for winning dogs. Which means that as the greyhound owners are catching their dog’s bowel movements in silver soup ladles, they are dreaming big dreams.

Poor Saigon Su didn’t even come close to winning. However my next bet, Compass, did.

With a winning ticket in hand I strolled back under the stadium to a small betting window built into a staircase. “Big money!” I grinned at the elderly woman behind the window. She had permed white hair and wore a vest over a white short-sleeved shirt. On her right-hand side was a plastic tray filled with rows of coins.

“Not really,” she flatly replied. “For every dollar your place bet pays ten cents. So you won…” she paused to process my paper ticket, “twenty cents.”

Unimpressed with my earnings she advised me to stick around for the bracelet. It was some expensive promotional gift they were giving away for Mother’s Day. Remembering the prize to be won, her red lips drew into a frown. “We aren’t allowed to enter because we’re employees.” Unfortunately I hadn’t fared much better on that front either.

“They already called the winner and it wasn’t me,” I replied with a matching frown. She shrugged her shoulders in shared disappointment.

“Well at least you had fun and learned how to play.”

I appreciated her maternal gambling advice- moms are always right about that kind of stuff.

About: Wentworth Greyhound Park

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