Parkrun #15 – Mile End

Just in case I’d forgotten, parkrun was straight on it this week to remind me of my parkrun achievements. It’s like I’d turned 21 and they were wishing me a Happy Birthday. Or simply ‘Catriona, did you know you are 21?’ Fortunately, parkrun does not lie; last weekend I completed my 21st parkrun of 2017, and my 15th different parkrun in total. Only five more (different) parkruns  to go and then I’ll become an official parkrun tourist!

For the big 2-1, I ventured to Mile End in east London, to run with my Utrecht flatmate of 2007/2008, Ailidh. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough off the mark to take advantage of Ailidh’s brief running career (she did a 10k in the summer!) which meant she stayed in her lovely, warm flat whilst I ran around the park literally in front of her abode. Oh to live that close to a parkrun! However, it turned out I have more friends in Mile End than I realised and at the last minute I managed to persuade my work friend Hamid to join the partay. I love introducing people to parkrun.

Though my day in Mile End was lovely, this parkrun route was not my favourite. I think it’s because the park isn’t really that big compared to other parks where I’ve run, which means the options for routes are quite limited and in this case, straight and uneventful. You essentially run a length of the park, then back on yourself, and repeat the route one more time to make up the 5k. Annoyingly, Hamid also managed to beat me by around 10 seconds, despite this being his first ever parkrun. I’m not sure that’s how it’s supposed to work?

That same week, I ventured out to a running club at King’s Cross called Run KXIt’s a free 5k run, led by a really cool guy called Martin Whitelock, and it starts just down the road from my office. In my head, I was going to go to this running club for two weeks in a row, before my parkrun finale at Bushy Park. In reality, I only went once. Why? Though I had a great sense of achievement after my one and only run (so far, at least), I was by far, the slowest person in the pack. There were maybe 15 of us that night, and we did a 6.6k run from Granary Square in King’s Cross, up to Primrose Hill and back again. Martin had to keep coming back to check I was ok. “You know where you are now, right?”, he kept asking me. Never have I felt quite so much the south Londoner. “Nope, still no idea!”. I remember getting to the finish point and everyone else was already halfway through the cool-down. I felt like maybe I’m not running-club material quite yet.

The experience highlighted to me all of the reasons why I am such a big fan of parkrun. The volunteers don’t pack up until every runner has completed the route. Others cheer you on because they themselves have been cheered on. You never come last, because you ran, and that means you’re way ahead of all of the people who didn’t run at all. It’s such a positive environment.

One more parkrun in 2017 to complete catmacbirthdayslam

Bushy Park, bring. it. on!

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Parkrun #14 – Newcastle

As Christmas beckons, keeping up the running momentum is proving to be difficult. It’s not the cold that bothers me – Scottish, innit – but it’s just so dark, so early. At the peak of my 2017 running career, I was running two 4ks a week after work in Brockwell Park, followed by a parkrun 5k at the weekend, in various locations. Now, it’s dark after work, all the parks are closed, or questionably lit, and the only option left for running location is the streets around my house. Sure, it’s doable; it’s just not enjoyable.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself, because I did have one final parkrun in October before British Summer Time ended. Though summer is not the word I’d use to describe that Saturday morning in Newcastle. I was visiting my uni friends Alison and Tom, and their two wee girls Sophia and Hannah. Though neither Tom or Alison are runners, I couldn’t let the opportunity of doing a parkrun in another British city pass me by, and tentatively asked Alison if she’d mind me slipping away for a couple of hours to run a 5k. Thankfully, she didn’t mind, in fact, quite the opposite as the entire Merritt-Smith family descended on Exhibition Park to watch me run.

I’ve had some pretty sunny parkruns in my days; this was not one of them. It might as well have been night time, it was so dark and overcast, and the wind was piercingly cold. As I hopped about at the runners briefing, I thought to myself, this is definitely the last time I’ll be wearing my very-much-designed-for-summer orange shorts in 2017; it was my official welcome to winter running. The Newcastle parkrun is a relatively flat route, which involves running a long loop around the park and then retracing your steps to finish where you started. As there were no laps involved, and this was my first time in Exhibition Park, I had no concept of how much I’d run or how much there was left to run, until I saw the mass of people congregating at the end. I remember the last stretch, running into the wind and literally feeling like I was barely moving. Despite the wind trying its very best to slow me down, I was able to get a time of 30:58. Not bad given the few runs I’d been able to do in the lead-up to the trip.

That night at dinner, Alison asked Sophia what her favourite part of the day had been. ‘Watching her run’, said Sophia, pointing at me. Note, she is three years old. She also asked me why I wasn’t wearing my orange shorts any more. I know, Sophia, if only I could wear my orange shorts all of the time. I’ve done parkrun with a number of friends but I think this was my first time having people watch me run. At one point, I looked up and saw a group of people waving. ‘Aw, that’s nice that those people are waving at their friend’, I thought, before realising that ‘those people’ were my friends, and they were waving at me. As I sprinted to the end, Alison and Sophia were there cheering me on, and Sophia immediately came running over to me, looking generally quite fascinated by me and the fact that I’d just spent the last thirty minutes running round a park. ‘I want to run!’, she exclaimed. I will happily take you running little one, but it might be a wee while longer until you can join the parkrun craze!

When CatMac Met Judy Murray

Being from the capital of rural Scotland, there weren’t many opportunities to meet anyone famous while I was growing up. I think I received an autograph from Cobra from Gladiators when I went to see a pantomime at Eden Court, back in the yonder 90’s. I upped my game (slightly) at university, meeting Bradley from S Club 7 at Potterrow one Big Cheese night. I even got my photo taken with him and everything. I know, right? I’m basically a pop star. 

I hope these anecdotes illustrate why I proved myself to be the ultimate fangirl the time that I did actually meet someone who is known to a global audience; I have minimal experience of playing it cool!

So where and how did I meet Judy Murray? Earlier this summer, Judy published Knowing the Score, an autobiography that details the pivotal role that tennis has played, and continues to play, in her family’s lives. Over the summer, she travelled around the country, promoting the book, and after I missed her doing a book-signing at Waterstones, I jumped at the next opportunity to meet her. This turned out to be an event run by the delightful independent bookshop in Dulwich, Village Books, complete with interview, Q&A, and an opportunity to get your copy of the book signed by the lady herself.

Skipping to the end of what was a very entertaining evening, uni-friend James and I headed straight for the signing queue meaning my turn to speak came around very quickly…

CatMac: ‘Hi, I’m Catriona and I’m from Inverness and I’m a huge Murray fan!’ (could I be speaking any faster?)
Judy: ‘Oooh, there are lots of Scottish people here tonight aren’t there.’
James: ‘Yes, there are.’
CatMac: ‘But he’s Northern Irish.’ (indicating James)
Judy: ‘Oh, that’s not the same.’
CatMac: ‘No, definitely not.’
Judy: ‘Would you like me to address the book to anyone?’
CatMac: ‘Well I have a wee story for you.’
Judy: ‘Oh?’ (have you seen how many people are behind you in the queue?)
CatMac: *unveils t-shirt*. ‘This year I turned 30, like Andy (why am I telling Judy how old her son is), and to celebrate I decided to go to all of the grand slams! Andy went out before I even got to Australia (why am I highlighting this, move along quickly), but then I saw him in Paris and twice at Wimbledon, and then I saw Jamie twice at the US Open!’
Judy: ‘Ooohhh, that’s good’. (No idea if Judy actually said this).
CatMac: ‘So can you address it to catmacbirthdayslam ?’ (I think I forgot to say I blogged about my grand slam tour so this probably seemed extra random).
Judy: ‘catmacbirthdayslam’ *writes*.
CatMac: Thank you! (I hope I said thank you, I actually have no recollection of how it ended).

Cue us walking away and then me reliving the entire conversation to James over and over again on the bus back home. And then to my flatmates, and then to my sister, and then to my fellow Andy Murray fans Alison and Becky. And then, of course, I had to tell Twitter.

Now there are many reasons why I am a fan of Judy Murray, but what happened the next morning probably tops them all. She tweeted me back!

So kind of her to imply there was mutual waffling.

So Jamie Murray has liked my tweet, Judy Murray has tweeted me back, and Andy Murray? Does not use Twitter. Will need to think of another way to get his attention!

A Postcard from New York

Dear Mum and Dad,

This is it. The final, electronic, grand-slam postcard of 2017. All the way from New York City! At least that’s where the photos were taken. As per tradition, I am writing this a few weeks after the event concluded (five, to be precise), which I’m going to argue is because I am in denial. How can the grand-slam tour be over already?


So I didn’t see Andy this time round 😦 But I did see Jamie play 🙂 Twice! I even had an almost-conversation with Jamie’s bodyguard. It went something like this:

Bodyguard: “Ma’am, please put away your (amazingly beautiful Scottish) flag,”.
Cat Mac: “Oh. Yes… Sorry…” *shuffles awkwardly and removes flag from innocent position around neck*

The photo below depicts said bodyguard doing his bodyguard thing, moments after telling me my flag was an inappropriate accessory. Seriously, what do these grand-slam tournaments have against flags? Anyway, between my flag fiasco and me cheering “Well done Jamie!!!!’ a million times in my proudest Scottish accent, I think I achieved my goal of letting Jamie know that his fellow country-people had his back. I’ve also learned that when there’s a competition to get to court-side for signage opportunities, the cute, tiny children are always going to win. No worries, guys, I’ll just chill back here in the second row, grinning madly like the cool, 30-year old mahoosive fan that I am.

Tennis aside, I really enjoyed my brief stint in New York and for the first time in three visits, I felt like I was finally getting to grips with the city – a feeling I also had when I was in Paris. FYI the number 7 subway line in New York is the equivalent of the Victoria line in London; it’s the line that takes you everywhere you need to go. At one end, Flushing Meadows. At the other end, Times Square and Grand Central Station. And somewhere in between, our hotel for the first few days, and my Air BnB when I returned for the final day of the slam. Oh yes, I have this NYC thing all sussed out!

One particular novelty from this New York adventure was the rare reunion with Kenneth and Anna, aka both siblings, at the same time. Sure, we never meet in the UK but New York, you say? Yes, let’s have brunch!

We also wandered along the High Line, once a rail-track, now an elevated linear park, which towers above street level, allowing you to get away from the traffic and explore central New York from a raised perspective. It’s a very cool concept which offers a slice of relaxation in an otherwise hectic Manhattan.

Brunch was a common theme on this trip, as it is in most weekends in my life, and New York did not disappoint. Though I’m not sure I’ve ever paid quite so much for a brunch as I did when Anna and I went for brunch at Bluestone Lane beside Central Park (post-run, might I add). Oh America, with your crazy tax and tipping systems. This is where the girl hovered an iPad in front of me, but didn’t let go, so she could fully observe just how much I tipped. No pressure at all. Thankfully, the food was delicious and fortunately for my bank account, I do not live in New York.

Another highlight, later the same day, was going up the Rockefeller Center which gives you sweeping views over Manhattan and, crucially, the Empire State Building (as opposed to being inside it). Whilst I may have bought my most expensive brunch of life earlier that day, at least this ultimate tourist experience was free, thanks to my pal Sara hooking me up with free tickets via her friend who works in the same building. A recurring theme of all of my blogs: having friends is the best. Fun fact: I stole photo inspiration for the pic below from a Lonely Planet blog post titled: ‘10 iconic NYC Instagram Spots‘. LP knows what it’s chatting about.

Though I’m a fan of Manhattan, I’m really glad we stayed across the water in Long Island City, and explored, albeit very briefly, a different part of New York. Before I headed to Flushing Meadows on that finals Sunday, I took the scenic and novel $2.75 NYC Ferry from the end of my street (Hunters Point South) all the way down to Dumbo, a great starting-point to explore Brooklyn, and view the landmark Brooklyn Bridge. I didn’t really have any great purpose other than wandering about aimlessly but loved having the freedom and time to do just that, especially with the sun on my side. 

I came away from this final trip thinking, ‘I could do this again’. In fact, with the exception of the Australian Open, for obvious reasons, I’m half considering doing the rest of the grand-slam tour again next year. Is that crazy? At least, in my mind now, it seems pointless going to Paris or New York unless I’ve coordinated the dates with the respective grand-slam tournaments. If tennis can feature, why go there at any other time?!

However, for 2017, all that’s left for the era of catmacbirthdayslam is to focus my efforts on the rest of my parkrun challenge. Can you believe I’ve been running consistently for 10 months? Maybe next time I go to NYC, parkrun will be there, too! I can dream!

CatMac X

Parkrun #13 – Roosevelt Island, Washington D.C.

“So we’re essentially going to D.C. to do a parkrun,” I told my friends, as I explained my planned itinerary for my US Open grand slam adventure. Contrary to what you might expect, the parkrun phenomenon has not yet reached New York City, despite its growth more generally in both the US and Canada. This meant Sister Mac and I had to think more creatively about how to fit in a parkrun stateside. Because obviously we had to fit in a parkrun stateside!

Fortunately, when it comes to parkrun, Anna is even more of a keen bean than I am and unlike most of my parkrun ventures, I had to do zero research. D.C. seemed like like the most logical solution: only a 3.5 hour train journey from New York; the capital of the US so, you know, historically a big deal;  and perhaps most crucially, a part of the US that I’d never been to before. I was on board.

Roosevelt Island parkrun is one of two parkruns in Washington DC. Interestingly, to get there, we had to venture into neighbouring state, Virginia. Note, we did not travel far; DC is just tiny! I’d anticipated that I’d struggle on this run because of the heat but fortunately for me, the majority of the route is in shade. You essentially run along a large section of boardwalk, through a forest, do a small loop, and then return the way you came. I enjoyed the route so much that I actually took out my phone and started filming whilst running – maybe this is why my time was so terrible! 5.2k (classic not-actually 5k distance on Strava) in 33:22.

Compared to parkruns in the UK, the attendance was small at this event, with around 80 participants. A lot of people seemed to be ex-pats on holiday like us, and I was particularly amused to meet a girl (orange t-shirt below) who had done the runners’ briefing at the Burgess Park parkrun in London that I’d attended only a few weeks before. Shout-out to fellow Andy-fan Rachel who also joined us for her first ever parkrun, having arrived in DC for a summer placement only the weekend before. It’s meetings like these which make the world seem very, very small.

That’s it for the international parkruns of 2017! I’ve got three months left of this challenge and I’m currently at 18 parkruns for the year in total – so smug. I have no set plans for October and November yet (suggestions welcome!) but I am planning an en-masse group outing to the original parkrun in Bushy Park on 2 December so if you’ve read this far, and you’re keen, let me know! #loveparkrun

 

Grand Slam Number 4

Four has always been my favourite number. I think, in part, this is because I had a t-shirt as a four year old which read ‘It’s fun being four’. Have I used this reference before? Anyway, the t-shirt was right; it was fun being four. It was probably also my favourite t-shirt until I acquired my catmacbirthdayslam fan shirt at the beginning of the year. 26 years later, having conquered the closer grand slams in Paris and London, it was time for fun four to strike again as I hit my fourth and final grand slam in New York City: the US Open.

Compared to the other slams, I was extremely disorganised when it came to buying tickets, and I only financially committed myself two weeks before my departure. Part of me was waiting to see if ticket prices would go down (they didn’t), and I was also nervously waiting and wondering if Andy would definitely be playing. His seeding in the tournament would determine which days of the tournament he’d be playing on. We decided to go on the Tuesday of the second week which, had Andy played and reached the quarter-finals, he would have featured on. I take some consolation from this fact!

I ended up paying between £100-£150 for both my day session ticket on Louis Armstrong and my night session on Arthur Ashe; one of the more expensive days of my life. However, all of the matches that we watched were quarter-finals so maybe that’s just the price you pay? To be honest, I’m still not quite sure if I went about getting tickets the best way. Grounds-pass tickets only seemed to be available up until the Monday of the second week of the tournament and, as that was the day that Anna and I flew into New York, this wasn’t an option. However, top tip, which I wish we’d known in advance: the second Thursday of the tournament is completely free! Say what? I know. Also, it was possible to buy a grounds-pass for the finals on the last Saturday and Sunday of the tournament for $31.50 which I embraced, only purchasing online the day before. This is how I was able to watch Alfie Hewett in the final of the mens wheelchair singles.

So what did I make of the final grand slam of the year? Flushing Meadows is definitely the biggest tennis hub of the four slams. As a result, I never felt claustrophobic or stressed because of there being too many people, nor did I have to hunt down somewhere to sit like I do at Wimbledon – simply because there is just so much space. The down side of this is that less people end up in the stadiums watching the tennis, perhaps because it’s more sociable to stay out in the grounds. As I mentioned in my last post, it was really disappointing to see such empty stadiums for the doubles and wheelchair matches. On reflection, I feel like this isn’t the case at Wimbledon because there are fewer options for places to go: people either have the choice of being rammed on the hill or watching tennis on a court.

Arthur Ashe is an incredible stadium and despite what some people had told me in advance, you can see the match clearly, even from the highest-up section of the stadium. I almost think it’s better to sit up in this section anyway because then you get a greater sense of the size of the crowd and the atmosphere. However, I did find it odd that silence is not sought in the same way that it is at Wimbledon. On Centre Court of Wimbledon, people shhh you for whispering to your neighbour. Contrastingly, at the US Open, there is a low buzz of noise during the entire match with people coming and going from their seats constantly. I guess it’s hard to police such a big stadium, and maybe it seems pointless in the top sections which are so far away from the players; are they too far away to be a distraction? There’s also music played at every given opportunity which adds to the general sense that the focus of the US Open is entertainment; the tennis comes second.

Despite my misgivings, I thought Arthur Ashe was very impressive and I loved my uber-American experience watching Venus Williams play. On the other hand, the make-shift Louis Armstrong stadium, the second biggest/most important stadium at the US Open, was almost embarrassing. They are currently renovating or building the actual Louis-Armstrong stadium which will be ready for the 2018 tournament. In the meantime, an underwhelming, steel structure was propped together for 2017. I felt a bit ripped off that I’d paid over £100 to sit in this temporary replacement. I didn’t even have a proper seat, not that this actually mattered given how few people were watching the tennis. Thankfully this is where I saw Jamie and Martina win their quarter-final so I still have positive memories of the court, despite its questionable quality.

Ach, it was fine, but it’s no Arthur Ashe!


Despite my criticism, I feel like, apart from Wimbledon, which has an unfair advantage as I’ve been there so many times, I experienced a fuller US Open experience than I did for either the Australian Open or Roland Garros. The final of the Australian Open was epic – the best grand slam final of the year by far and worth every penny of that trip – but I do wish I’d seen earlier stages of the tournament as well. The earlier stages are, in a way, more what these tournaments are all about. Similarly with Roland-Garros, I rocked up for the semi-finals, which, don’t get me wrong, were again incredible, but by that time, there’s less tennis going on in the grounds and I wasn’t able to get a true sense of Roland-Garros as a tournament.

So in conclusion, I basically need to do the grand-slam tour again, but go to the entire two weeks of all four tournaments to fully appreciate them. How can this somehow be my job? Answers on a postcard, please!

I Love Watching Tennis

Sometimes I wonder how I came to like tennis so much, given I’ve barely ever played. People ask me how I got into it, assuming my love, bordering obsession of the sport, is a result of years of personal experience. Was it triggered simply because Andy Murray is Scottish and by doing well, Scotland was being in some way recognised and celebrated? Would I have wanted to do a grand-slam tour if Andy had been English? Welsh? Or if there were no high-profile, successful British players? These are good questions and honestly, I don’t know. But what I’ve learned through this grand slam tour is that I love watching tennis; my appreciation of the sport is not limited to Andy, as wonderful as I think he is. 

As anticipated, by the time I came to be travelling to North America, I had accepted and essentially got over the fact that Andy wouldn’t be there. At the end of the day, I was still going on yet another summer holiday, catching up with several friends, exploring cities I’d never been to and, most excitingly, embracing the true time-zone of the US Open. It was definitely a better scenario to be in compared to arriving in Melbourne to find out that Andy had been knocked out, a matter of hours before I’d arrived.

When I look back on my ten-day trip now, I realise how much the time zone really made a difference. Sure, I went to Flushing Meadows twice: a day session on Louis Armstrong/rest of the grounds, a night session on Arthur Ashe on the same day, and I came back on the last day of the tournament to watch the final on the big screens. But it was more than just those two days. That second week of the tournament, I was watching tennis on TV almost every night, post-tourist-fun, pre-sleep. Looking back at my Twitter feed, I realise that I was all over what was going on in the tournament, too. Del Potro coming back from feeling like he was going to throw up, to beating clay mini-king Thiem, and then going on to beat Federer. The excitement of having four US players in the women’s semi-finals of the US home slam. Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis battling through to win their second mixed doubles title together, 2/2! And then the battle of the Brits between Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett in the wheelchair men’s singles semi-final, whilst also competing together in the wheelchair men’s doubles which they went on to win. Sure, I could have followed the tennis to this extent in the UK, but I would have been considerably sleep-deprived to have experienced it in the same fashion!

The highlights though, admittedly, were those matches I saw in real life. I was so chuffed to be able to watch Jamie Murray play in both the men’s doubles and mixed doubles quarterfinals. The doubles matches are hard to plan for – sometimes they are scheduled on consecutive days, sometimes there’s a day’s break – so it was really fortunate to be able to watch both. I’m a particular fan of Jamie’s men’s doubles partner, Bruno Soares, partly because he’s Brazilian and partly because he once liked my tweet! (I’m easily won over). Unfortunately, it wasn’t Jamie and Bruno’s day, but thankfully, that match came first. We ended on a high, watching Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis play a very close match against American Spears and Cabal but eventually coming through to win the match. Claim of the tournament: I filmed match-point, tweeted my video and tagged Jamie, and he liked my tweet, too! These guys! They have my ❤

For my night session at Arthur Ashe, the first match scheduled was Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova. Honestly, I wasn’t that excited ahead of time. I’d seen Venus play at Wimbledon in July, and she’d dominated the match which didn’t make for interesting tennis; I assumed every match featuring a Williams sister would be the same. However, this match was the complete opposite, the momentum kept swinging, and it was impossible to predict the result. Each player won a set before it went to a tie-break in the third, with Venus eventually claiming victory. One of the best aspects of watching the match was simply being inside Arthur Ashe, which has a capacity of almost 24, 000, the biggest capacity of any tennis-specific stadium in the world. You can imagine what an American crowd this size sounds like when watching one of the most celebrated American tennis players of all time: epic. By the time the match had ended, it was almost 10.30pm at night, and there was still a whole match to be played in the men’s quarter finals. I confess, I went home at this point. Sure, I love tennis, but I also love sleep, and staying healthy, especially on holiday. The only players I think I would have stayed to watch at that time of night would be Andy or Jamie. For anyone else, I can watch the highlights!

The last match I watched in real life was the wheelchair singles final between Brit Alfie Hewitt and Frenchman Stephane Houdet. This was the first time I’d ever watched a wheelchair tennis match from start to finish and I really enjoyed it. It’s one thing to manoeuvre yourself and your racket quick enough to hit the ball, but it’s another level of skill to do that and manoeuvre a wheelchair at the same time, even with the rules allowing for two bounces, rather than one. It wasn’t to be for Alfie, but with the match going to the full three sets, it was still an entertaining match to watch. And did I mention Alfie also liked my tweet? 😀

One thing that really struck me about the US Open, which may also be the case across all of the grand-slam tournaments, is the apparent lack of interest in doubles/wheelchair/quads tennis. The grounds at Flushing Meadows are fairly sizeable, definitely bigger than Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and I think the Australian, too. This means that there are loads of places to sit and eat, without being in any court or watching any tennis, and weirdly, that is what a lot of people choose to do. Even though they’ve paid to come and watch tennis! Face palm. I don’t understand. There was hardly anyone on the Grandstand court watching Jamie and Bruno in their quarterfinal match, and it was only half full when we watched Jamie and Martina. Given how little tennis was still going on by the last day of the tournament, I was surprised how few people came to watch the men’s wheelchair singles final on court 17. Anyway, each to their own, but if you want my advice: if there’s tennis being played, watch the tennis!