Parkrun #1 – Studley Park, Melbourne

“This is one of the more difficult Park Runs in Melbourne”, a fellow runner explained to me as she went on to describe the hilly, zig-zag trail which would make up my first ever Park Run route. Typical, I thought, trust me to choose a challenging route for my first ever 5K, in 20 degree Melbourne morning heat, no less!

Ok, Cat, we’re confused, you’re not a runner?

You are right, I am not. But I am a huge fan of Park Run. What’s not to love about a community coming together every Saturday morning to run, jog, walk together, simply to encourage healthy living? I’ve been chatting about how much I love this concept since like 2014. It was about time I actually got involved.

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Deciding on a whim just after Christmas that in 2017 I would do a Park Run slam, as well as the tennis slam, I then proceeded to buy some fun sports clothes. You have to look good to feel good, no?! (she says having gone on a morning run without having had a shower/without any make-up on; I am actually a new person). I had heard about the ‘Sofa to 5K’ apps you could get on your phone so downloaded an app, introduced myself to my trainer Michael Johnson (“Does he phone you when you want to go for a run?”, my air bnb host asked me, believing that somehow I have connections to the legends of athletics) and began my nightly runs around the block in south London’s baltic temperatures. Considerably less fun than running around a park in Melbourne, I can confirm!

The ‘Sofa to 5K’ concept is an eight-week programme, designed to gradually build up your stamina and fitness levels to enable you to run a 5K. I had three weeks to complete the programme and needless to say, my fitness levels did not allow me to complete the run without stopping. However, I did run about 3K without a break which I considered to be a personal achievement. Did I mention it started at 8am? It’s weird how time becomes a different concept when you’re on holiday – I’m almost certain I will struggle a lot more with a 9am Park Run start when I return to London.

When you register with Park Run, you get a unique barcode which is scanned after every run to give you your time. My time today, and hence my PB was 45:57. My sister, a legit runner, has a PB of 20:48. So: I know what I want to have achieved come December 2017!

Cheers Park Run Australia, see your British counterpart in Feb!

Blue is the Magic Colour

I am quite proud of my birthday slam t-shirt, made by the very patient and talented designers at Logopress in London. Though it’s one t-shirt for the year, i.e. all four grand slam tournaments, I chose the colour, a mediterranean blue, with the Australian Open logo in mind. Never will I be so coordinated with a grand slam tournament.

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Not forgetting my incredible nails as well, courtesy of Wah Nails, a nail salon specialising in nail art in Soho, London. The girl who did my nails had seen the brief about what I wanted as my design and had gone out specially to buy some grass-like material in order to create some 3D tennis balls on my nails. Wowee! I’m really not sure if I’ll be able to cope when it comes to taking these amazing designs off my nails. Can’t we make them permanent?

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Watching the Tennis When You’re Not At the Tennis

Much like London during Wimbledon, there are an abundance of screens dotted around Melbourne, enabling you to watch the tennis, even when you’re not at the tennis. Although I had googled where to find the screens, I didn’t attempt to seek out a specific screen, partially because I quickly learned: there are screens everywhere. Here are my favs:

(1) Federation Square
Federation Square, situated beside the famous Flinders Street Station, is the beating heart of the city centre, and provides a central, public space which is used for multiple cultural and touristic purposes throughout the year. Interestingly, it was recently named the 6th Best Public Square in the world; not a shabby claim to fame at all. This is where you can find not one, not two, but three screens all in close proximity: two outside in the square itself (literally facing each other) and one inside the cafe area of ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (a museum like no other). Between the two screens, I camped out to watch Jo Konta take on Serena Williams. Unfortunately, the match did not go in British favour, but basking in the sun, surrounded by a majority British-supporting crowd, made for a very enjoyable experience. FYI, this square was not named after Roger Federer but there is a huge placard with his face on it beside the square because, why wouldn’t you? Everyone loves Roger Federer.

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(2) Crown
If in doubt about the names of streets and areas in Melbourne, choose your favourite London location and chances are, you’ll find it in the Australian city (no but really, I’m staying in Richmond, I saw a bus to Camberwell, just waiting for Brixton to pop up). A friend had advised me to go to the Southbank area, south of the Yarra, and right enough, when I arrived in the area, I felt like I stumbled back onto the Southbank in London. Either Southbank wins my heart. It was here that I stumbled across the intimate outdoor screening beside the Crown, a very posh hotel/restaurant/casino complex, with deckchairs aplenty and a Pimms stand at the back. I watched the last couple of games of the Dimitrov vs. Goffin match here and was pretty gutted I hadn’t found the venue sooner. Who doesn’t want to sit beside a river on a summer’s afternoon watching tennis and drinking Pimms?

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(3) Home
Every evening since arriving, I’ve returned back to my Air bnb apartment and watched whatever tennis is going with my Air bnb hosts. It was Nadal vs. Monfils on Monday, the end of Federer vs. Zverev on Tuesday, Nadal vs. Raonic on Wednesday. Tonight I’m off to Fed Square to watch Federer’s semi final against fellow countryman Wawrinka. I’m not gonna lie, I’m getting pretty psyched up about the idea of a Nadal vs. Federer final. Wawrinka, Dimitrov, can you just stand back and let that happen? The world will be forever grateful.

I love being able to watch tennis where ever I am, whenever I like: being in the right time zone is the best. I am seriously considering how I can give up my day job and become a groupie, following the tennis players as they travel the world on tour. Andy Murray, what can I do for you?

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When Andy is Knocked Out Before You Get to Australia

It was just after 22:35 when our plane touched down in Melbourne. Copying the woman next to me, I got out my phone and took it off flight mode, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to check anything until I had Wi-Fi. That’s when a text message from my sister popped up: “Awwww nawww”, I read. Oh no, I thought. There was no way of knowing for sure at the time but I knew deep down my worst fears were true: Andy had gone out.

It’s now an hour later and I am lying on my bed in my hotel room beside the airport in Melbourne. “You’ve got friends and family here right?”, the jovial pick-up-bus driver asked me, after I’d explained the scenario. “You didn’t just come here to see Andy Murray, did you?”.

Thankfully, no. This is really disappointing, of course it is, but it does not mean that this trip has lost its purpose. First of all, it is a very lovely 20 degrees outside and I am so excited about embracing summer. Secondly, I am seeing a number of friends while I’m here who I never see so that’s always fun. Thirdly, I love tennis, and there are so many amazing players still in the tournament; Federer for the win? Fourthly, I’m still on holiday! This beats going to work any day. And however disappointed I might be, I’m pretty sure Andy Murray is feeling a lot worse right now.

Still, I hope he sticks around for the tennis banter cos otherwise my pitch doesn’t make sense. Two Scots, Andy; we’re in this together!

The Buzz of the Unfamiliar

I never sleep on overnight flights which is unfortunate, considering I seem to be on one every couple of months at the moment. Knowing this, and also not being the biggest fan of long-haul flights, I purposefully broke up my journey to Australia by stopping off in Hong Kong on both legs.

Last night I arrived at the airport, checked-in to the Regal Airport Hotel (literally 2 minutes walk from Terminal 1) and mooched about a bit before getting some much needed sleep. This morning I realised how much of a daze I’d been in yesterday because it suddenly hit me as I walked back to the airport: I’m in Hong Kong! You know that buzz of excitement you feel when you’re somewhere new and unfamiliar? Though I’ve been to Hong Kong before, that was only for a week back in 2011, and to be honest, that feels like a completely different part of my life.

In the same way that we have this idea that children are fearless, I wonder if I was a braver person and more adaptable to the unknown when I was in my early 20s. I think back to that time I lived in Japan, roaming about rural Kagoshima, a region that Japanese people are unfamiliar with, never mind anyone else, and wonder, could I really do that now? I think the answer is yes but I guess my life is so familiar and comfortable now, living in London, that I fear I’m becoming allergic to the challenge of living abroad.

Oh man, Australia is so far away. Having survived an 11-hour flight yesterday, I am now gobbling down some pancakes in the airport, before embarking on a 9-hour flight to Melbourne. Again, though I’ve been to Australia before (the return to unfamiliar yet familiar destinations is a common theme in my life), I’d travelled from Japan the last time (also via Hong Kong) which meant the journey was somewhat shorter. Roll on getting to the other end and embarking on my one-week residency at the Australian Open!

En Route to Aus

You always think you’re going to have loads of time at the airport, waiting to board your flight. At least, I always think this and then find myself frantically rushing about trying to achieve a million things in a half hour stint (pretty sure I’ve bought every adaptor in existence several times over; they just seem to disappear into a black hole). Yesterday was no different and though I intended to launch this blog whilst sipping on an iced coffee at Caffè Nero in Heathrow Airport, I am actually publishing this in Delifrance, Hong Kong airport the following day, having written up the post on the plane.

As anticipated, this week was long, challenging and so bitterly, bitterly cold, but I got through it and as I arrived home from work yesterday afternoon, I felt a huge weight had been lifted. No less because Andy Murray has made it through the first week! It’s hit home again this year how time difference has really limited my enjoyment of the Australian Open up until now. You wake up to match results. You view snippet updates on your Twitter feed as you commute into work (‘Has anyone else seen that Djokovic has just gone out?’ I wondered (almost) out loud, looking around at my fellow commuters as the bus rolled down Brixton Hill). You check-in briefly with the BBC commentary when you arrive at your desk. But by the time your caffeine fix has kicked in properly and you’re ready to face the day, Australia has gone to bed.

You can understand why I’m so excited to be able to view this tournament in real time. And if the second week is anything like the first week, it’s going to be an incredible week of tennis! My man Andy has won the first three rounds in straight sets, most recently beating Sam Querry, the man who knocked Djokovic out of Wimbledon last year. Fellow countryman Dan Evans, currently ranked 51 in the world, has shown everyone that his impressive play in Wimbledon last year was not a fluke: he’s already beaten Marin Cilic, the world number 7, and Aussie Bernard Tomic, ranked 27th, to join Andy in the fourth round – what a hero. Not forgetting Johanna Konta who is smashing her way through the womens tournament, most recently beating Caroline Wozniacki to ensure her place in the last 16. C’mon the Brits. Meanwhile, the shock of the tournament has been Djokovic going out in the second round, although perhaps less surprising really given his early exits from Wimbledon and the Olympics last year. As you can probably imagine, my initial reaction was a mix of joy, shock and disbelief, and I was messaging everyone in my phonebook to tell them (I really appreciate how many of my friends humour me and my tennis chat – thanks guys). Djokovic has been the reason why Andy has lost 4/5 of his Australian Open finals. Does Novak’s early exit finally pave the way for a Murray win?

The Countdown Is On

It’s Sunday night and all that stands between me and my first grand slam adventure is a five-day working week in the bitter cold of January-in-London. This week is going to be hard and I’m slightly concerned that potential stress will cause me to be ill; can I please have some time off work in aid of holiday health?

Hopefully the holiday prep will keep my spirits high. Being the extravagant present-giver-to-self that I am this year, I’ll be going to get me some tennis-themed nails later in the week; I’ll also be picking up my birthday-slam-themed t-shirts from a print design shop; and then I’ll be donning my pride and joy Scottish flag that’s due to arrive midweek. Sidebar: Why do I not own this already?

The tournament starts at 00:00 GMT, just over three hours away from now. Andy will be playing third on the Rod Laver Arena against Illya Marchenko, a Ukranian player, who he’s only ever played once before. The time difference means it’s likely that I’ll wake up tomorrow and know if Andy is through to the second round or not. Nervous? Errr, a little.

It was always going to be a risk booking tickets for a final where there was no way of knowing whether or not my favourite player would feature. My dates for this trip also mean that, in theory, Andy could be out before I even get to Australia. But if there was ever a season to take such a risk, it was this one. I’ve got a good feeling about this.