Runners make rainbow of fantasy gear

Like a swarm of killer bees descending on Bondi Beach, the droning buzz started about 8.55am, when the first of the preferred runners began the descent down Military Road. And by 9.30am, weary backpackers naive enough to stumble out onto Campbell Parade were in for a rude shock.

Superheroes, fairies and Lego men in suits, gorillas, bananas and colourful boots - it was like a Pixar film come to life, and everyone was running from Shrek.

About 85,000 people braved brutal conditions to take part in The Sun-Herald City2Surf, presented by Westpac, battling head colds and freezing head winds to take part in the world's biggest fun run and raise almost $4 million for charities.

As the elite runners were released on the crack of the starter's pistol, the remainder of the capacity crowd discarded jackets, jumpers and tracksuits in favour of suffering through spitting rain. The mass apparel dump was a final shirt-off-the-back donation to the Salvation Army.

The North Bondi Surf Club patrol ran in the name of tradition, the banana woman ran for Barnardo's children's charity and the University of NSW Run for Louise group ran in memory of Louise Brown, a law student who died in a Paris fire last year. The UNSW group aims to raise money for the Louise Brown Award, which will provide financial support for an internship abroad that promotes human rights.

''It's a tough race and it doesn't get any easier when the wedgy kicks in off the start and the chafing sets in up the first hill,'' yelled members of the North Bondi Surf Club crew, dressed in vintage life saving attire, Speedos and carrying a rope and reel.

Almost every entrant ran in the name of a good cause, including the chef Neil Perry, who raised more than $41,000. Team Stillbirth gathered more than $107,000 to save infants, while the Cure our Kids and Bandaged Bear teams raised almost $80,000 and $45,000 respectively.

And while Melbourne's Liam Adams crossed the Bondi Beach finish line first in just 41 minutes, 31 seconds and the women's winner, Lara Tamsett from Coogee, crossed the line at 46.55, every entrant was a winner - even those escorted over the finish line by wheelchair, bloodied and bruised from nasty falls among an anxious crowd.

Fathers were dragged puffing across the finish line by their sons, as mothers pushed prams occupied by toddlers oblivious to the might and effort required to trek the 14-kilometre course and that endless climb known as Heartbreak Hill.

And, as unattractive as 85,000 heaving, bloated faces gasping for air is, there are few things more beautiful than seeing the overriding sense of accomplishment on an assortment of faces, big and small, young and sore, as complete strangers embraced one another in a true acknowledgement they had all shared in an experience none of them would likely forget. And they'd got a medal to prove it.