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Run for your life
Apparantly over 60% of the Australian population are either overweight or obese. If you live in Sydney, however, this statistic is very hard to believe. Never have I encountered such an enthusiastic city of joggers and swimmers, of gym bunnies and weights junkies, of serene yoga devotees an red-faced boxing trainees. Doing exercise here isn’t limited to the usual twice yearly burst of enthusiasm (post New Year virtue-drive and pre-holiday bikini panic), exercise is as much part of Sydney daily life as eating, breathing and sleeping. It’s not even called ‘exercise’, it’s called ‘training’. The first time you hear the word used in this context can be quite confusing; a girl in a cafe told me she was ‘going training’ tonight. “What are you training for?” I politely enquired, assuming she must have signed up to some charitable sporting event. “Oh – just for life” she said. You don’t need reason to train in Sydney – it’s just what you do.
It’s not just the enthusiasm for sport that can be overwhelming to the new arrival – but also the frequency with which it is undertaken. Overheard on the bus one morning on the way to work, one man telling his friend: “I’m trying to hold back from training twice a day as I think I might be overdoing it a bit.” Substitite the word ‘training’ for ‘eating Magnums’ or ‘drinking vodka’ and it makes a lot more sense. Who has to ‘hold themself back’ from doing too much sport?
The most popular form of exercise is jogging, and Sydneysiders will try and fit a quick jog in anywhere they can. Step out of the office to buy a sandwich and you’ll find yourself almost mown down by a stampede of joggers squeezing in a bit of lunchtime sweat before gulping down some sushi at their desk. Wander through the park at 1.30pm and you’ll stumble across clusters of office workers frantically doing sit-ups and lunges before returning pink cheeked to give a powerpoint presentation. From 5am, joggers plough up down through the soft sand and boot camp groups perform a series of ridiculous looking manoeuvres that make you resemble in turn: a frog, a soldier in combat, a plank, or just a plonker. Lithe young things in bikinis and leathery old men with large bellies wade ito the water for a bracing early morning dip.
So basically – people in Sydney work out. A lot. And boy do they look good. Don’t get me wrong – London is full of slim, attractive people, but often it’s more in a I’ ve-been-partying-for-3-days-and-forgot-to-eat kind of way rather than I-just-ran-20-kilometres-before-breakfast. Sydney girls look strong, healthy, tanned and blonde. And the men? If you live within walking distance of Bondi Beach, a 6-pack and shades are the only accessories you need. You don’t even need to worry about shoes or trousers – strolling up the street in your speedos is perfectly acceptable. What looks suspiciously like a children’s playground is actually an outdoor gym, where Rocky-wannabes sweat it out in the midday sun, all ferocious grunting and gleaming biceps.
So what is one to do in the face of all this sport? You can try all you like to resist, but one day you’ll be strolling innocently along the beach and before you know it you’ve broken into a jog. You might think you’re lying nonchalantly on the grass, but somehow you suddenly find yourself bashing out 30 stomach crunches. You hop into the sea for leisurley dip and somehow end up swimming halfway across the bay. Before you know it, leggings have become your default item of clothing and you actually find yourself discussing how many kilometers you’ve run with the bloke in the sauna. Walk against the tide or jog with it? Resistance. Is. Futile.