A crisp winter's morning, and the city was beginning to stir. I, on the other hand, had been up for hours, the victim of jet lag. An early-morning running tour would have me back on form, I thought. I'd also see a different side of the city.
Kristy was to be my running partner and guide. We met opposite the naval ships moored outside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour. She was raring to go. "It's a nice easy run," she said, jogging on the spot. "Only seven kilometres. I've done it in half an hour and I wasn't even sprinting." I explained that it was highly unlikely she'd better her record with me panting behind her. "These tours are for everyone, not just marathon runners," she said, reassuringly.
Darling Harbour was largely silent as we set off, bar the odd commuter rushing for the ferries. Our route – one of five that Kristy leads across the city that range in distance and difficulty – took us past the bays that dot Sydney's rarely visited western suburbs.
Within minutes – and with me shamefully out of breath – we reached Pyrmont, a trendy neighbourhood, with bars lining the streets. One blurry-eyed reveller, who was starting to make his way home, shot us a curious glance as we panted passed.
Then we reached the Anzac Bridge, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world. It stretches across Johnstons Bay, and is named in honour of the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who served in the First World War.
We paused to admire the bronze statue of an Australian soldier, head bowed in silent reflection. Beneath it rests a handful of sand from the battlefield at Gallipoli in Turkey where so many young men lost their lives.
Crossing to the other side – only 345m away – took longer than expected, partly because of my low level of fitness, but mostly on account of the views. Over my shoulder the dramatic coathanger silhouette of the Harbour Bridge emerged from behind the skyscrapers; the cobalt waters below sparkled in the soft morning sun.
Our pace dropped further as we approached Beatrice Bush Walkway. It is named after an eccentric lady who sold five million newspapers from this spot over 25 years, and winds down towards Rozelle Bay. "Beatrice couldn't read the papers she sold, but she was here every day, whatever the weather," said Kristy as we circled the inlet, which is now a marina and junkyard for boat restoration. A sorry collection of dilapidated vessels sat side-by-side with gleaming super-yachts.
The road ahead was a blaze of blues, yellows and greens. The entire length of The Crescent is decorated in an extravagant mural depicting a peculiar scene: Aboriginal tribes fishing from bark canoes while kangaroos wearing sunhats flew kites. "It's been there for years, but nobody knows who painted it," said Kristy.
My thighs were burning, my calves aching as we jogged across the rolling lawns of Bicentennial and Jubilee Parks and paused under two fig trees.
Then we were on the cusp of Blackwattle Bay, fringed with palm trees and million-dollar apartments. The cityscape once again loomed large; the 305m Sydney Tower took pride of place against a deep blue sky.
Our finishing line was in sight. With a final surge of energy, my tired feet propelled me towards the sky-blue building of the Sydney Fish Market. We ventured inside to the sound of water spraying across the tiled floor and people haggling over the price of fresh barramundi.
"It's the best place for seafood in all the city, but it's near-impossible to get a table for lunch at the restaurants," Kristy said as we browsed stands stacked high with iridescent crabs, oysters and prawns. This is one of the busiest fish markets in the world, shifting 50 tons of seafood a day, and even has its own Light Rail station
The run was over. Kristy and I agreed that I wouldn't be running a marathon any time soon, but I felt energised and jet lag free. And the day had scarcely begun.
* The writer travelled with Qantas (0845 774 7767; qantas.com), which flies twice a day from Heathrow to Sydney with a stop in Singapore or Bangkok. BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com) also fly from Heathrow to Sydney.
* Scenic Fitness (00 61 4 0226 3941; scenicfitness.com.au) offers a range of guided small-group running tours across Sydney from AU$55 (£35) .
Running all over the world
A running holiday?
The sporting holiday is hardly a new concept – skiing has been a favourite since the late 1800s, after all. But a running holiday? "They're getting so popular," says Ruth Emmett at Runner's World magazine, "that we've introduced a page called RW On Tour, which has news on foreign races as far afield as Tokyo."
But just who is taking these holidays? "My impression is that men are more interested in destination events such as the Stockholm, Rio or San Francisco marathons because the travel element makes the whole package more compelling," says Joe Mackie, editor of the Adventure section of Men's Health magazine. "I ran the Rio event last year, and towards the end you're running alongside Copacabana beach. It definitely beats being in Birmingham."
You don't have to take an event-based holiday either. "Warm-weather training destinations are getting more popular too," says Mackie. "Regular runners see the facilities the pros are using and want to copy them, so the camps at elite training facilities like Lanzarote's La Santa are booming." Sports Tours International (0161 703 8161; sportstoursinternational.co.uk) runs regular training camps to the Lanzarote-based training facility where F1 driver Jenson Button trains.
Then there are tours such as Running The Highlands' regular treks across Scotland (08451 577422; runningthehighlands.com). "Trail running is to jogging what mountain bikes are to cycling," says Mackie. "The training camps have flourished because they show you techniques for handling different terrains, while touring beautiful places."
Why do it?
With adventurous, goal-based challenges, the key thing is to start small and work up. "If you've not done any running events before, you should aim for a local 5k or a 10k run first," says Joe Mackie. "Once you've hit one goal, they'll quickly escalate. That local run could turn into the New York Marathon before you know it."
Will everyone be fitter than me?
The key thing to remember is that the only person you're trying to beat is yourself. "A lot of people are concerned that they'll be too slow, but often our clients are fitter than they realise," says Sarah Ridgway at Run Snowdonia (01286 872641; runsnowdonia.co.uk), a company that offers guided runs and training weekends in the Welsh national park.
"The nature of marathon running is that you have to be fairly fit," says Ruth Emmett. "But if you book on to a running holiday, it's psychologically and physically more pleasant. Especially in the sun. That's why I believe people are signing up for more interesting destinations, because it gives you more incentive to go out training in the depths of the UK winter." Run In The Sun (0844 734 4556; runinthesun.com) and Algarve Running Holidays (0797 018 9785; embracesports.co.uk) offer winter training camps in Spain and Portugal.
Will I have a holiday at the same time?
"Definitely," says Sarah at Run Snowdonia. "People come to run, but we recommend other family-friendly destinations nearby too." Ruth Emmett claims some international events are perfectly geared to a multi-function holiday. "I'd recommend Sports Tours International," says Sarah. "They do organised trips to the Paris and Berlin Marathons, and the Marathon du Médoc in Bordeaux, where people end up drinking lots of wine." Also popular is the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida.
What sort of kit do I need?
"Get a running top that wicks moisture," says Sarah Ridgway. "Other than that there's no end to what kit you can buy, and you can spend a lot of money on trainers and getting them to fit right."
A list of specialist sports shops and an equipment advice forum can be found at the Runner's World website ( runnersworld.co.uk). Don't be too put off if you don't want to splash too much cash. "The great thing about running," says Joe Mackie, "is that if you've got a pair of trainers and a front door then you can do it."
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