You know it is spring when early sunshine and chattering sparrows welcome a glorious day. The mornings have lost their bitter edge, enough for me to cast my chill-weather running tights into the washing basket and reach for my shorts.
Timed for spring’s first blue skies, the Spring into Shape event is a series of three races (one for each month of the season) designed to pull even the laziest runners out of winter. Staged on the leafy banks of Melbourne’s gentle Yarra River, the course takes in the city’s most famous icons.
Under the starting arch, the nervous buzz of first-timers ripples amongst the crowd. This is my first-ever race, plus, I have never run 4K in my life. As I jostle towards the back of the pack, I am surprised to find myself surrounded not only by lithe serious athletes, but regular people just like myself.
The horn blows, and we’re off. It’s a leftward sweep down to the riverbank, and everyone is finding their paces. As young children, elderly grandfathers and mums pushing prams easily pass me, I move to the path’s shoulder and admire the setting. To my left, rowers glide under the arches of the yellowing Swan Street Bridge, and to my right, above the rise, the Royal Botanic Gardens is lush and green. We pass a group enjoying a very early sausage sizzle (it is just past 8.30am), all of them wearing a facial expression that I’m sure I was once guilty of: “Crazy runners!”
The truth is, running is fun, as I discover stride by stride. As we veer away from Melbourne’s famous running track, the Tan, and onto the ornate, heritage-listed Morell Bridge, I am having such a ball that when I spy someone I know cheering participants on from the sidelines, I almost trip over waving. Clearly, it is a good time for my first walk break.
It is just in time for the first drink station across the bridge, which is about where the first 14.8K runners – whose course extends further upstream before crossing the river – begin passing me. Coasting past us, they are perfect examples of efficiency. Like African gazelles, they are fast, but relaxed. As I drop my water cup in the bin and kick off again, I try my best to emulate them (though I end up being more relaxed than fast.)
Despite my slow pace, along the next stretch – a path parallel to Batman Avenue that takes runners back downstream – to my surprise, I find myself passing others. With steadfast energy, I cruise through Birrarung Marr, admiring the urban park’s mixed contemporary and cultural structures – a design style typical of Melbourne. As we approach the angular grey buildings of the famous Fed Square, the city’s most iconic cultural precinct, I take my final walk break as 14.8K runners continue flying past in sweaty glory.
Flinders Street Railway Station’s impressive green dome looms closer, marking the near end of the course, so I pick up the pace for the final effort. Princes Bridge falls behind us, and a steep sealed path funnels us down into the event village, in the grassy Alexandra Gardens. Rounding the corner into the finishing chute, I pick up my knees for that fabled “strong finish” I have heard about so many times. It felt good.
RUN IT: starttofinish.com.au