Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Festivities of fitness

Rachel Grunwell takes to Sydney's streets to complete a half-marathon

Rachel Grunwell taking part in the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival.
Rachel Grunwell taking part in the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival.

Blackmores Sydney Running Festival

What is it? A Sydney running event held every September which includes a 42km marathon, 21km half-marathon, 9km bridge run and 3.5km family fun run. Millions of dollars are raised for charities.

What's needed: Run gear, registration, flights, accommodation.

The Experience: I arrive in Sydney before the festival and head to Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant for carb and protein loading. That's my excuse anyway.

Anyhow, his restaurant is darn pucker mate. It's everything he raves about: fresh, quality food, bangin' flavours. The mains are under A$30 too. Just make sure you book, to avoid queues.

On festival day, I rise early, scoff breakfast and catch a free train into Milsons Point, the start of the run. I drop my bag off (another free service for festival goers), queue for a toilet and then I'm just in time for the 6.15am half-marathon start.

Turns out thousands of other lycra-clad lunatics had the same idea. There are 34,000 entrants at the festival including 1500 international entrants from 57 countries.

I joke with a runner that I'll "let" the Kenyans pass me today; I'm such a nice girl.

At the half-marathon start, we get a spur on from Blackmores' ambassador Pat Farmer .

He is an ultra marathon legend who has run from the North Pole to the South Pole. Top bloke too. I chatted to him the day before when he graciously gave this rookie runner some training tips.

When the race starts. I move with the masses including two blokes dressed as Smurfs. I worry they'll get hot. But then I soon have no sympathy for them because they're faster than me. Darn Smurfs.

There's another bloke in a Superman suit and we take turns overtaking each other. The guy's red cape is like a waving flag to this red-faced bull. I want kryptonite. I'm not a competitive person, really - I just hate being beaten by comic-book creatures.

The 21km course winds over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is closed to traffic for the runners, and my feet dance right down the middle. Just because I can. It's a memorable moment: below is the sparkling harbour, before me, is the sun-lit, high-rise city-scape.

Above me, the clouds seem close. I feel close to heaven right now (it's those endorphins too).

The course covers the Royal Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbour and ends at the iconic Sydney Opera House where a huge crowd cheers us on.

As I stride through the finish arch, I buzz. I've clocked a personal best (1:55:07). I wonder if that Italian "fuel" helped? That, and my training (thanks Gaz Brown).

And because I've just run this race, I can really appreciate the half marathon winners' times: Japan's Yoshihiro Nishizawa clocked (1:07.02), while, the first woman is Australian Laura James (1:18.36). Impressively, the marathon winner is Kenyan Willy Koitile (2:13:48), and the first women marathoner is Ethiopian Biruktait Degefa (2:32.46). Their times seem super human. But that's okay by me - they don't wear capes or blue paint.

How much? Prices vary ie $50 for the bridge run, $105 for the half-marathon and between $135-$180 for the marathon for international runners. Plus airfares and accomodation.

Worth it? This event shows off stunning Sydney. It's slickly run event too - and it's just over the ditch.

Try it: Next year's festival is on September 21, sydneyrunningfestival.com.au

Rating: 10/10

Rachel wears: Lululemon Run Mod Moves Singlet $79; and Flow Y Bra IV $69. Skins A400 Womens long tights, $199.


Taking to Australia

Pentath Run Southern Queensland Country (May 25-26)

There are actually five races in this event, staged at Warwick about two hours south-west of Brisbane. Choose from the 21.1km half marathon, 4.6km cross country, 5km road race; 10km accent, or 5km criterium. Wheelchair competitors are also encouraged to join.

Cairns Airport Adventure Festival Tropical North Queensland (June 2-9)

As if Cairns needed any more adrenalin. This tropical destination is just about perfect, particularly if you love adventure. You swim, run and cycle in a number of different events over the seven days in what we reckon is paradise. Go on, run to paradise.

Porcupine Gorge National Park Challenge Outback (June 15)

Make no mistake, this race is not for the faint of heart. Set in the rugged Outback, near Hughenden in Queensland's north-west , this gorge run is as challenging as it is gorgeous. You'll have plenty of time to appreciate this fact during the 8km open men and women's event.

Gold Coast Airport Marathon Gold Coast (July 6-7)

If you've heard the Gold Coast is pretty good place to get fit, you're right. How could anyone resist running alongside some of the best beaches in the world, in perfect temperatures with a bunch of like-minded people on this 42.2km course?

Fly there with Air New Zealand. Explore more at myaustraliapassion.co.nz.

Rachel travelled to the festival courtesy of Destination NSW, sydney.com

- Herald on Sunday

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