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

 

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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!