EXACTLY a decade ago I visited Sydney, Australia for the first time and it was a magically fun experience.
I was a novice runner and did not expect to participate in an international event such as the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival.
At that time, I ran at parks near my home or for competitions that my school organised.
However, the opportunity was just too good to say “no” to.
I remember going to shop for a new pair of shoes just so I would fit in with the crowd in Sydney.
Since it was my first run abroad, I signed up for the 10km category also referred to as the Bridge Run.
This year, the same opportunity came to me and I bravely took it up again since I have become a more seasoned runner.
I registered for the middle distance, which was the Blackmores Half Marathon (21km).
Our group of nine arrived in Sydney, two days before the race giving us ample time to acclimatise to the weather and do some exercises before the event.
We also made a stop at the race expo at Sydney’s Town Hall centre which also allowed runners to check in their bags ahead of the race day so you would not have to panic looking for your bags in the morning.
The expo was relatively small with only a few booths selling running attire, recovery gels and accessories needed for the important day.
The starting line for all the categories (42km, 21km, 10km and 3km) was at Milson’s Point, the same spot I had visited during my first visit in 1997.
Normally, the furthest distance category would be the first to be flagged off but not for this event.
My category was the earliest at 6am, followed by the full marathon (42km) race more than an hour later.
So there I was, jumping around trying to keep myself warm, rubbing my hands together and simply trying to stick around larger groups of runners.
The atmosphere before the race was special and heart-warming.
Not having to wear a common event T-shirt made it all the more colourful.
Many participants were running for a gym, a particular cause close to their hearts and some just printed a T-shirt for their like-minded friends.
It was fun just reading what was written behind each T-shirt.
There were groups of runners motivating each other, some said a group prayer while others reminded each other why they had signed up for the race.
About 15 minutes before the start, we moved into the different pits to divide slow and fast runners.
I might not remember the route I ran the last time but I certainly know the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge was part of the picture.
This round the half marathon runners did just that, we ran passed the bridge before reaching the 5km marker.
The pack proved they had trained hard for the race and I did not spot anyone taking a break or snapping a selfie.
As we moved on, our bodies warmed up and many opted to leave their sweaters behind.
A few sweaters flew above me and into the scrubs along the highway. I wondered if they would be picking them up later.
The 21km route led us straight into the city centre passing the Royal Botanic Gardens, Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour as well as the newly opened Bangaroo Waterfront which boasts a strip of restaurants, bars and cafes.
The route was lined with supporters holding up placards with catchy messages of encouragement to cheer the runners on.
There were eight water stops with some serving electrolyte drinks and a particular favourite was at the 19km where three flavours of jelly beans were served.
On my way to the finishing line, I bumped into the leading pack from the full marathon complete with a television crew filming the race “live” for their local audience.
Two helicopters hovered above the harbour area following the runners.
That was when I decided to stop taking photographs and finish the race if I wanted to watch the winners crossing the line, something I had never had the chance to see before.
Upon completing, runners were ushered to a short refuelling queue of mineral water before collecting our medals.
From then on you can start looking for your friends in the almost party-like garden complete with food trucks serving anything from coffee to your usual big breakfast.
At the finishing line, there were singers entertaining participants, a yoga session and many pop-up games for children.
As Japan’s Shota Hattori approached the Sydney Opera House, we all stood up to cheer him on for completing the race in just two hours 15 minutes while Australia’s Makda Harun Haji took the women’s marathon title shortly after.
The morning continued with Blackmores celebrating its 85th birthday and we were treated to a big chunk of the cake. Perhaps in 10 years or sooner, I shall return again to run the full marathon, thus completing my medal collection for this beautiful race.