|* MANLY BEACH: a great place to train barefoot, but beware the rugby mobs|
STRANGE things can happen on training runs. Exactly ten years ago today I remember setting out for a steady six-miler, only to have it brought to a juddering halt by the triumphant World Cup-winning England rugby squad!
Yes, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Dawson, Ben Cohen, Clive Woodward and all the rest of them. In the flesh. They were all there, all to blame.
The entire track-suited squad, complete with trophy, big smiles and huge hangovers, emerged from their seafront hotel a couple of miles north of Sydney at exactly the moment I was passing. There was mayhem as they staggered onto their team bus, which was quickly surrounded by swarms of English fans who appeared from nowhere.
Most of the fans had spent the last few beer-sodden hours getting wet in the rain and slowly making their way from the Telstra Stadium a few miles away to this hotel on Manly Beach, intent on prolonging the celebrations and serenading their heroes. But I was a mere passer-by, only out for a training run, now well and truly enmeshed in the middle of the mob.
I’d not come to Australia specifically to see the World Cup – its timing was just a happy accident - but now that I found myself just inches from the England heroes behind the tinted glass windows of their bus, I had little alternative but to join in raucous choruses of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' and ‘Jerusalem'. I normally have little interest in the oval ball game, but sticking it up the Aussies in their own backyard doesn’t happen often so I'd been as pleased as anyone when Jason Robinson went over for that try and Jonny Wilko drop-kicked the winning points the previous day.
It quickly became clear my training run would have to be abandoned, right outside the foyer of the Manly Beach Pacific Hotel – so suddenly in fact I barely had time to even press the pause button on my Garmin.
Mrs C-O-R and I were in this neck of the woods to do a few months of house-sitting and dog-sitting for our good friends, the surfer dudes Bev and John, who were off on a lengthy charity trek around the edge of NSW, pedalling and kayaking all the way. My plan was to spend this time writing my book on old-time running champion Alf Shrubb, and getting in some good quality training in the fabulous surroundings of Sydney’s Northern beaches.
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to find that injury, as well as rugby celebrations, curtailed my training a little, but overall the sun, sea and ambience were good for healing purposes and I returned to the UK in better shape than when I left it! The book also went well and, being in Australia, I was able to get introduced to the great runner Ron Clarke who kindly agreed to write its Foreword.
Sydney and its hinterland is of course a great place to be if you like the outdoor life, but despite its sporting bent I was surprised at how few races I was able to find during our five-month stay. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but all I could find in the December was a 10k and 5k being staged in the city as part of the Sydney Marathon Clinic programme, and then the following month Australia Day was marked by an 8k contest in Centennial Park.
Races may have been scarce, but great training routes were plentiful - and the superb Manly Beach option proved much easier to negotiate once Jonny and the boys had gone home with the cup!