Monkey madness: Rob, Paul and Michael Stanley-Jones stretch during the 1997 City2Surf. Photo: Craig Golding
Rob Stanley-Jones is not expecting to run a personal best in this year's City2Surf. It is taking longer and longer each year, now that he is one of the most beloved and sought-after entrants in the 85,000-strong race.
"Everyone has a phone on them, everyone wants a photo, and we can't help but oblige," he says. "We stop, we make their day, and we keep going. But we don't mind – it's all about fun."
For 28 years, Mr Stanley-Jones, 42, and his brother Paul, 44, have entered the world's biggest run dressed as gorillas. It is a tradition that started when the pair were teenagers growing up on Sydney's northern beaches. The family would usually run the City2Surf together, but Paul and his best friend at school wanted to "do something different and dress up".
Bananas: Rob has been running the City2Surf in his costume since 1985. Photo: Janie Barrett
"We went to the fancy dress store and had a look," Paul says. "The suit just stood out and we thought – we’ve got to do that!"
Paul and his family drive down each year from Evans Head, near Ballina, sometimes bundling into the car straight after the race for the 10-hour trip home. In past years when the brothers have been away, their parents "filled in" to keep the tradition alive. The next generation are being inducted, too –Paul's eldest son, Jack, usually runs in costume but has been sidelined this year by a broken leg.
It can be sweltering under all that fur, but the brothers look on the bright side. "We’ve got a few standard lines we use about hair-conditioning," Rob says. "It is hot, but we lose a fair bit of weight on the day."
There are other characters – Superman, Spiderman and a superfluity of Sydney nuns – also pounding heartbreak hill but Paul and Rob believe the gorillas have the record for consecutive appearances. They are now such stalwarts of the race that spectators and residents will wait on the roadside proffering water, hugs and, of course, selfies. Last year, they had their photo taken with Tony Abbott and have high-fived countless sports stars, celebrities and other well-wishers.
Rob has battled testicular cancer and he and Paul previously used the race to raise money for the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse foundation. This year's event will also be tinged by sadness – their father Michael passed away from leukemia a few weeks ago and will not be at the finish line to greet them.
"It is a very strong family tradition and it will be quite sad," Rob says. "We’ll probably shed a tear or two."
But for these self-confessed pranksters, it is all about entertaining the crowd – and the show must go on.
"Usually what we do is run up behind people and scare the hell out of them," Rob says. "Everyone around us gets a really good kick out of it. It makes people's day, it makes people laugh."