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

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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!

Listening To The US Open

It was summer 2012, the Olympics had been and gone, and Andy Murray was in the final of the US Open, having just won his first Olympic gold in London. I’d not watched any of the tournament because we didn’t have the sports channels at my parents’ home in Inverness, and time difference meant that a lot of the tennis happened during the middle of the night. However, I couldn’t miss Andy potentially winning his first grand slam tournament. I sat up on my bed in the dark until 2.30am or whenever it was, forcing myself to stay awake whilst listening to the commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live. I was convinced that somehow, if I fell asleep, I’d risk Andy’s chances of winning. Fortunately I stayed awake, and he won the match; you’re welcome, Andy. First grand slam, baby!

Fast forward five years and I’m now living in London, but I still don’t have the sports channels. Thankfully, BBC Radio 5 Live is still going strong and I find myself sprawled on my living room sofa, with the commentary of Jo Konta’s first round match keeping me company via my phone beside me. I enjoy the chat on the tennis commentary but it’s fair to say I have no idea what’s really going on in the match. I believe Jo is winning?? Much like the Australian Open, my enjoyment of the US Open is limited. But only three days to go until I fly to North America, first to Toronto on Friday and then onwards to NYC on Monday next week. Despite Andy not being there, I cannot wait to see the final grand slam in action, in the right time zone! N O V E L T Y!  But for now, back to the radio.

Parkrun August

I think August will be my running peak. Not that I know what lies ahead in the remaining months of 2017, but I’ve got a feeling that my life is not going to allow me to participate in parkrun on four consecutive Saturdays again this year. At the time of writing, I have run 12 different parkrun routes around the globe, three of which I ran in the last month. I also volunteered at parkrun for the first time this month (much fun), bought some extravagant new purple running trainers (very bright) and got one of my best times to date on the last run of the month. Sort of. Needless to say, it’s been a month of running!

So, where did August take me?

Parkrun #10 – Cramond, Edinburgh
At the beginning of the month, I returned to the Scottish capital/best city of all time for a long weekend. As my fondest readers should know by now, I’m a big fan of doing a parkrun on holiday, and this seemed like a good opportunity to up my Scottish parkrun repertoire. Unfortunately, neither of the parkrun routes in Edinburgh are in the city centre, essentially because they don’t make Edinburgh City Council any money. This means that the existing routes have been set up in locations on the outskirts of the city, which are just a little bit more tricky to get to if you are a city-centre resident. The parkrun route at Cramond beach is also controversially but understandably along the beachfront so parks are very much not involved. But who doesn’t want to run beside the seaside?

Despite its dreamy location beside the water, my sister had pre-advertised the Cramond route as being boring. Admittedly, the route is quite straight-forward: you run east along the beach front, and then run back on yourself to finish. However, the route met my essential criteria – flat – and due to the nature of the route, it was possible to get into a steady rhythm when running. Time? 31:52.

Highlight of the route? Kilometre markers along the route that indicated which kilometre you had reached on your run. I guess that’s the benefit of a non-lap route. Shout-out to my great Brussels pal Carole Teale for joining me on the run and crucially, driving us to Cramond!

Parkrun #11 – Burgess Park, London
Living in London, you’re never without choices and when it comes to parkrun in south London, I’m not even sure I’m going to get through them all this year; there are so many options. On the final weekend of the World Athletics Championships, I met up with old flatmate Bex and her husband Dan at Burgess Park in Camberwell for their local parkrun. “Ok, see you in half an hour!”, I called out to Bex as her and Dan sprinted out from the starting line. Parkrun itself is not the most sociable; especially when essentially all of your friends are faster than you! (not that I’d be talking to you even if we were running at the same speed).

The Burgess Park is another almost-entirely flat route. No laps on this route either, but slightly more interesting than running in a straight line at Cramond. The highlight of the route for me was running around the lake; the lowlight was that last home straight of over 1k – it went on forever! I always sprint at the end of my parkruns and I was frustrated on this route that I didn’t know exactly where the route would end and so left it too late to do a long sprint. The same thing happened at Cramond except this time, I thought I knew where the finish point was and so sprinted, but then realised I still had some distance to run so had to slow right back down again to finish! Anyway, you live and learn, but these non-lap routes can be tricky. Time? 31:12.


Parkrun Volunteering – Tooting, London
Knowing that I was going to run parkrun with my friend Robyn on the last weekend of the month, and having already achieved and surpassed the ‘one-different-parkrun-a-month’ goal for August, I decided the third weekend of August was the perfect opportunity for me to volunteer. Often I find that I’m free to do parkrun so infrequently that when I am available, I just want to run. August was the exception.

Getting involved was straight forward. I looked up the volunteering roster for the upcoming week on the Tooting parkrun website, saw the roles which still needed filling, e-mailed the Tooting parkrun e-mail address and asked if I could get involved. I received a response, thanking me for volunteering within half an hour. On the day, I had to be there by 08:40 to receive instructions and meet the other volunteers. My role was barcode scanning so myself and two others bopped about chatting for 20 minutes or so, before the fastest runners came in and the scanning began. It was so nice to chat to fellow parkrun fans! Usually when I go to parkrun, I do the race, chat to whoever I’ve come with, and then leave. Volunteering made it more than a run for myself; I felt like I was part of something bigger. It was also really nice to be thanked by runners as I scanned their barcodes – there’s a really great sense of appreciation which has made me, in turn, appreciate the volunteers at parkrun even more. It’s not difficult to say thank you!

Parkrun #12 – Southwark, London
Speaking of volunteers, I probably met my favourite volunteer at Southwark parkrun this past weekend in the shape of a 10-year old boy who was giving out hi-fives to all runners after every lap. I liked him so much, I commissioned him to take the photo below!

My parkrun collective of friends is always growing and I was delighted when Robyn moved to Streatham, down the road from me, and seemed to almost instantly become a parkrun convert. This was partially due to the influence of her flatmate, Joe, who, as his t-shirt suggests below, is even more of a parkrun fan than me. We’d planned in our parkrun date weeks in advance, but it seems to be becoming a built-in part of Robyn’s life schedule nowadays – that’s what happens with parkrun, you can’t get enough of it!

Though Southwark is another flat route (of course), and is another three-lapper (it’s like I seek them out), we all finished the run exclaiming how much we had enjoyed the route. It’s a bit like Dulwich in that it’s just a really lovely park to run around. It’s very leafy, there are shaded parts, the volunteers were very smiley – we loved it! Time? Well, here’s the thing. As always, I recorded my run on Strava and when I finished, it said I’d run 5.3k. Huh? My time came through as 30:34, so it’s still my best run of late, since that 4.8k run at Peckham Rye, but why did my Strava say 5.3k?!? All I’m asking for in life is to get sub-30 and for all Strava/running devices to say 5k. It shouldn’t be this hard!

So that was August. Next parkrun stop is Washington DC in two weeks, and me attempting to keep the momentum up in the north American heat. Bring it on!

When Andy Withdraws Before The US Open Starts

Mmm, essentially I want to cry. I think Andy does too. In the last hour, it’s been announced that he’s had to withdraw from the US Open as a result of his ongoing hip injury. Though I should have maybe seen this coming, I thought that because he was in New York, and putting up funny photos of himself and his brother sharing a hotel room on Instagram, he was on course for a comeback at the US Open. I guess that was his hope and intention.

On the only positive note I can think of right now, at least he withdrew now, enabling another player to enter the tournament. From my own, very selfish perspective, I’m gutted that I already know there is no chance of seeing my favourite player on my last grand slam stop of the year. Of course, it will still be cool to go to the US Open, and bop about NYC, and probably by the time I get there, I’ll be thinking much more positively, but for now, I’m just a wee bit sad. I’m clearly going to have to do this grand slam tour again (feel free anyone to finance this).

Get well soon, Andy ❤