And We’re on the Road to Bondi: A Runner’s Perspective of Civic2Surf

Civic2Surf is a student-based initiative in support of Batyr, an organisation that focuses on preventative education in the area of youth mental health by educating university and senior school students about the networks and support systems available to them. The initiative is a 340km road relay-style run where about 70 ANU students run from our very own campus all the way to Bondi Beach in Sydney. Civic2Surf was founded in 2011 with the aim of supporting Batyr in trying to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues amongst our youth. Their efforts focus primarily on initiating open and honest dialogue around the prevalence of mental health. Year after year the event successfully raises crucial funds and awareness for the organisation.

I sat down with Civic2Surf veteran and third year arts/law student, Billie Hook, to talk about all things Civic2Surf and find out what a day participating in the event might look and feel like for her.

Billie first became involved with Civic2Surf in her first year at ANU, and has participated in every subsequent iteration of the event. Even now she’s keen to ‘dust off her runners, pull on some socks and get stuck into the running again this year!’

The message propounded by Batyr and their largely student-driven organisational hierarchy is really powerful. Billie said, however, that there was an even stronger personal pull to Civic2Surf. ‘Having had experience throughout high school with mental health difficulties – both my own and my friends’ – hearing about Civic2Surf and Batyr was a significant challenge to my past perceptions about asking for help. Running in the event was a real opportunity to tackle my own barriers around discussing mental health, as well as to promote this to the people around me. Getting to do this while being physically active and surrounded by friends, both old and new, is what kept me coming back!’

Billie also said, ‘I loved the concept of the actual event. Not only does Civic2Surf need a physical effort from each of the runners, we do this run together. No one leg gets the team from Canberra to Sydney – it is through a combined effort, running together, all pushing ourselves, that we make it. I’ve always thought that it is a really poignant metaphor for what Batyr is aiming to do. Smashing stigma surrounding mental health requires both the efforts of those who are suffering and of the people around them to open up conversations and break down barriers.’

Billie exudes an enormous amount of passion for the project, so I asked her whether she’d ever been involved in a more administrative capacity. ‘In my first year I was simply a runner. I was so inspired by the efforts of those organising the event that I decided to apply to be a part of the following year’s committee and, luckily for me, I was picked! I was appointed the events director. This position involved coordinating everything from barbeques and other food-based fundraising drives at ISO events during the year to the seemingly mammoth task of feeding and housing 70 runners in Bowral at our midpoint overnight stopover. Being on the committee was so much fun last year – it was definitely a massive effort and a step up from simply being a runner in the event. The sense of achievement, however, seeing 70-odd tired, hungry and exhausted runners jogging down the promenade at Bondi Beach, is something I will never forget.’

Billie is on the committee again this year – this time as trainer with Claudia Crawley and Sarah Davoren. Billie noted that all three of them ‘really want to emphasise this year that anyone can participate – anyone can run 5km with the right training – and this is the training that we will be doing. We want to have a solid training period so that anyone interested can build on their fitness, at whatever level, so that come August we have a team of runners confident in their own ability. The link between positive mental health and exercise can’t be overemphasised – it’s a strategy I have always found super helpful in maintaining my own mental health – and so will be a great way to promote Batyr’s message in the lead up to the event.’

If you want a feeling of what the event actually looks like from the eyes of a runner, then you simply need to hear about Billie’s run last year:

‘Last year, Saturday morning, it is cold, a little damp and very foggy. It is roughly 6am and I feel like a bit of a zombie. I am absolutely exhausted. I’ve gone from the interhall soccer final to a 5.30am wake-up and it doesn’t stop there – I’ve been on the go, running, driving, shopping, organising and (luckily for me) a little bit of sleeping.

But here I am, 6am the next morning and I’m awake and standing in the cold morning air of the Southern Highlands. My running shirt is a bit dirty and very smelly from running in the rain yesterday. We’re standing on the side of the road waiting for the first leg of the morning to finish.
I am always struck by how beautiful the Southern Highlands is in the early hours of the morning. I can see green fields – so many fields – gentle hills, blue skies … it’s honestly straight out of a picture book.

We run and the 5km mark is a lot longer than I remember it being – every hill we go over I expect it to be the last. But the four of us keep running, through the Bowral shops, past houses – followed by the safety ute and Sam’s intermittent ‘keep running, girls’ as a constant accompaniment.

For this 5km, the four of us run as a team. We push each other up the hills and pull out the lolly snakes when one of us is tired. We just chat, and laugh, and complain when we’re not there yet. We are running together while we get to know each other better, and it strikes me that this is what Civic2Surf is all about – our physical challenge is matched with a forming of supportive and positive relationships. Suddenly there’s the car, and we’re done, and we’re on the road to Bondi.’