Running on Sydney Harbour Bridge.
At the start with Mrs Caroline Voon Wong from Kinabalu Running Club, who joined the Sydney Marathon in memory of her son who died in the city.

THE Sydney Marathon, held last month, was my third marathon in Australia. Seven years ago, I clocked my personal best marathon timing, which stands till day, in Melbourne. Then in 2012, I competed in a run at Gold Coast.

But the Sydney Marathon was a bit different. One, it gave me a reason to visit my friend Tammy Lim who moved to the city last May and now stays in Campbelltown, a suburb southern of Sydney which is also the terminus of the Airport Loop train line.

Two, I arrived at the host city on Tuesday, much earlier compared to my other marathon trips as I wanted to spend more time with Tammy and see her life there.


LIFE DOWN UNDER

The first night, I followed Tammy to her Toastmasters meeting at the Campbelltown Returned and Services League. Originally a club for soldiers who served in the war, it is now a local club for activities, meals, drinks and lots of slot machines. The drinks are really cheap there. You can get a schooner (425ml glass) of beer for A$3.40 (RM11.20).

That night, Tammy won first prize for the Campbelltown Toasters Humorous Speech and went to win the third prize in the regional contest on Sept 24. Well done to a Malaysian who arrived in Australia less than four months ago.

The next day, we took the train to town and met fellow Malaysian, long-time Australia resident Ray who took us on the Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach hike. This 6km hike is truly spectacular and very easy too. All walks are done in paths andwell-maintained boardwalks.

I was introduced to a bath on an Australian beach. Expecting a Roman bath, it turned out to be a protective enclosure to swim in the sea. Coogee beach is lesser known than the famous Bondi beach. But it just as spectacular and less crowded.

First, we passed Cliffbrook, a small rocky beach, that’s more for launching of boats. But that didn’t stop the Aussies from sunbathing in the nooks and crannies of the rock formation. The next beach is Gordon Baywhichfeatures one of Australia’s earliest life saving clubs and a nice seaside rectangular bath.

We then arrived at Waverly Cemetery, one of the country’s oldest cemeteries. The graves are lined with Victorian and Edwardian ornaments. With the sea views, it’s also one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. So many famous Australians are buried here that guided tours are conducted.

Western graves are generally very peaceful with fresh flowers, therefore people picnic here. We sat at the edge ofacrypt away from the sun and had our hot coffee from a flask and biscuits. It was a wonderful experience. We had covered 3km by then.

The last beach before we arrived at Bondi was Bronte Beach. Many mistakenly think that this beach is named after the Bronte sisters. In fact, it is named after the military figure Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson,Duke of Bronte.

Finally, we arrive at Bondi Beach. This beach is so famous that even some episodes of Baywatch were filmed here. It is also one of the most visited tourist spots in Australia. We had fish and chips for a late lunch before heading back to the city to collect our running bibs from the Sydney Town Hall.

We waited in town because we wanted to go to a salsa club named The Argyle at the Rocks which opens at 9pm. It also holds introductory bachata and salsa classes at 7pm and 8pm for a fee. Even if you are a seasoned dancer, it’s good to attend these classes, especially when you are alone, since you will be introduced to potential dance partners.

Tammy finally had her first salsa night out since she arrived in Sydney. Later on, we ran to Circular Quay to catch the last train at 11pm to MacArthur where we stayed the night.


THREE DAYS TO RACE DAY

It’s a small world. I had also made plans to meet Marie whom I saw in Bali in 2009. She hailed from Perth but is now a Bali resident. She was in Sydney to visit her family. So on Thursday, we met at Cabramatta, a Vietnamese town in Sydney said to be the largest non Anglo-Celtic precinct in Australia.

We had delicious Vietnamese Pho noodles and because of the quality of the meat, it’s even more delicious than those that I have tasted in Vietnam. We walked around and Cabramatta reminded me of KL in the 1970s and ’80s. Wehad refreshments at a cafe named What The Fudge.

The following day, I met Putrajaya Marathon founder and former race director Anand. He introduced me to another fellow Victoria Institution guy who’s now living in Australia and we had great fun speaking Malaysian English and drinking beer near the Sydney Opera House.

On Saturday, Tammy and her boyfriend Steve took me for a day trip to the Royal National Park located less than an hour’s drive from the city. This is the second oldest national park in the world afterYosemite in the US. The weather was pleasant and we had coffee by a lake at Audley Dance Hall Cafe.

We took some photos of the Pacific Ocean and went on the beautiful Great Pacific Drive all the way to Wollongong. We also walked on the Sea Cliff Bridge with the waves of the Pacific beating on the rocks under us.

We arrived at Shell Harbour for a late lunch and had a typical Australian dish that’s found on almost every Australian menu. Chicken Parmigiana is chicken breast covered with melted cheese. We knew the portion would be huge. So, the three of us shared it.

We got home early for D-Day the next day.


MARATHON SUNDAY

Campbelltown is75 minutes from Sydney’s central business district. The marathon starts from North Sydney underHarbour Bridge .

We took the 4.12am train from Campbell and arrived at Central Station to change to the North Sydney line to Milsons Point near Harbour Bridge. The train actually crosses Harbour Bridge, so we caught the sunrise from the coach. The half marathon was flagged off at 6am, 15 minutes after sunrise.

Sydney is more hilly than Melbourne and the Gold Coast but the supports were just as great if not better. The run started by crossingHarbour Bridge, which is only closed once a year during the marathon.

We ran on a underpass that is carved out of the Rocks before getting on the Cahill Highway. From there, it headed into Hyde Park before going up Oxford Street, famous for the Sydney Mardi Gras. From Taylors Square, we ran into the vast Centennial Park built in 1888. By the time we exited the park, we had covered 22km.

I bumped into Tammy and Steve at the Rocks which is around the 25km mark. They just finished their half marathon and were going for beer at 9.30am! It’s a celebratory drink as Steve achieved his personal best in the half marathon that day.

From the Rocks, the run went around Darling Harbour and made a U-turn at km34. The last 8km was a run towards the Opera House and I ran passed diners along the harbour front and Pyrmont Footbridge twice.

I finished the Blackmores Sydney Marathon in 4 hours and 40 minutes. The spectators alongCircular Quay were fantastic and we finished in front of the Sydney Opera House. The recovery and support stations were all under the Opera House grand staircase. To my surprise , there were finisher T-shirts for the marathoners. There were also free massages available there.

I celebrated my third marathon in Australia and fifth marathon in the Southern Hemisphere (I also ran New Zealand and South Africa) by going to Manly Beach. All transportation in the city was free to anyone with a running bib. I finished the day eating hot Thai Boat Noodles in Chinatown. I noticed there were more Thais in Sydney now compared with my visit a decade ago. There’s even a Thai town along Campbell Street where the Capitol Theatre is located.


RECOVERY DAYS

My recovery Monday was spent at the Minnamura Rainforest Centre, about an hour from Campbelltown. Tammy’s friend, Chile-born long-time Australia resident Cecila, took us there. The walk is 3km on boardwalks, so no hiking shoes were required.

We finished the day with drinks at the Camden Valley Inn, a typical English pub featuring a fireplace. This is uncommon in Australia. My last dinner in Australia was juicy and succulent rib eye steak cooked by Steve.

I actually managed a recovery run by running to Campbelltown Square from Tammy’s house and did some last-minute souvenir shopping. Prices here were much cheaper than in the city. There are two big malls — Campbelltown Mall and the new MacArthur Square which is just next to Tammy’s home.

I left for Sydney Airport at 5.30pm and checked in for my 9pm flight home, bringing back my precious marathon medal, souvenirs and memories that will last a lifetime.

More importantly, I ran in Sydney in memory of Borneo International Marathon founder Andrew Voon. The Sydney Marathon was held on his birthday. He signed up to run the 2011 edition but never made it. He died while training for the marathon in June of the same year.

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