are the runners on to something?

Watching the City 2 Surf today, it struck me, suddenly, how extremely bizarre the whole event is.

After all, it involves thousands upon thousands of people – most of whom are possessed of perfectly serviceable alternative modes of transport and are neither pursuing nor pursued by wild animals – dragging themselves with great effort over some of the most punishing terrain in Sydney… only to reach the end, down a few beers, and then wade through the hoards to get a bus back home.

Not really rational, seems to me.

But then, I’m not a runner.

More pertinently, though, it also reminded me of an article I’d recently read (via ‘Field Journal’) about the phenomenon of ‘walkabout’  – the way the act of moving through a landscape can work as a ritual act, attaching myths and meaning to the terrain.

“… the ‘architectural’ construction of space began with human beings wandering in the Palaeolithic landscape: following traces, leaving traces. The slow appropriation of the territory was the result of this incessant walking of the first humans.” (Doina Petrescu,The Indeterminate Mapping of the Common”)

There’s an interesting project that’s been running in New York for a few years that adopts this idea of Aboriginal ‘songlines’, defining the routes of various walks through the city through a geography of anecdotes and legends, rather than physical space.

A similar insight formed the basis, also, for a recent campaign for Tourism Victoria called ‘The Art of Walking’.

And similarly, seems like the City 2 Surf today was also a sort of ‘appropriation of the territory,’ a kind of making-of-stories-through-communal-running…

After all, it’s only for this one day a year that New South Head Road transforms into ‘Heartbreak Hill’.

Or that Hare Krishnas party in the middle of William Street.

Or that it’s acceptable to run through Rushcutters Bay wearing a Tinky Winky suit, or a unitard, or a giant rissole on your head.

And hey, maybe they’re all on to something.

Maybe, in order to really get Sydney, you need to understand it through the soles of your feet.

You need to run your own race.

Trace your own story.

In which case, I’m gonna have to enter next year.

6 thoughts on “are the runners on to something?

  1. This ties in with that Gruen link which says how important the floor of a shopping centre is, since it’s the only part with which you physically interact….

    In many respects, wandering around a shopping centre is also far more exhausting. Perhaps we should also run the citi(bank) to surf(dive n’ ski)?

  2. Ooh yes! I was gonna mention that link to Malcolm Gladwell’s article about shopping malls then forgot – but you’re right, it’s the same phenomenon. The quote is from mall designer Alfred Taubmann, and he’s talking about how floor materials can influence shopper behaviour:

    “…Women, especially, tend to have thin soles. We found that they are very sensitive to the surface, and when they get on one of those terrazzo floors it’s like a skating rink. They like to walk on the joints. The only direct contact you have with the building is through the floor. How you feel about it is very important.” (

    I reckon with recreational ‘mall walking’ already pretty mainstream (, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing fun runs in malls. Think of the sponsorship and promo possibiities!! Love it Sym 🙂

  3. I agree, it isn’t rational at all, but there is something about it that gives you a sense of achievement at the end. It is as much about proving to yourself that you can do it, as it is about where you finish.

    It also gives you a totally different perspective on Sydney, and especially the terrain, as you slowly traverse the streets and hills that usually you speed past in a car.

    Having done it this year I would highly recommend you do it next year, even if you aren’t running. Just walk it and enjoy the energy of the crowd.

  4. True, and I wonder if that changes your perception of the roads you’ve run afterwards, as you (once more) speed past in a car.

    Anyway, more to the point: well done Antin 🙂

    Side note: is it reading to much in to it to note the symbolism of running from the city to the beach? As in, from the world of 9-to-5 to the world of recreation, nature, waves, salt, sunlight? (Probably. Yup. But still kind of interesting.)

  5. I am nuts about the idea of a ‘walkabout’. There’s a woman here who is doing a similar blog project where she does ‘walkabouts’ of Pittsburgh.

    I walk everywhere (as you and Durand probably remember!) every day, so for me, the whole idea isn’t even a second thought. But you’re right that it is a bit peculiar that people who would otherwise be on the bus/in their cars do these random pre-marked, outlined “walks” where the traffic is stopped, they are able to be a group, where it’s “safe” for them to walk.

    As if it weren’t safe at anyother time …

  6. Yup, me too Robin – and I agree about the silliness of paranoia re walking. The difference is, I think, that in many places Sydney ISN’T a place where you can safely walk. Through parts of the city 2 surf route, like the Kings Cross Tunnel, for example, it’d be impossible because there’s no footpath at all. Definitely not a pedestrian city.

    (Strange, actually, the double meaning of ‘pedestrian’ – as in plain, prosaic, boring. Because I reckon walking is what shows you that nothing is boring. When you walk your brain sort of has time to catch up with your body… which is why, I think, it can be something that connects you with a place, rather than simply moving you through it…)

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