When Andy Gets the Memo

The last time I wrote a blog post, Andy had made it as far as the 4th round of Roland-Garros which, given his past run of form, was already pretty good in my eyes. ‘If only he can get to a round that has the word ‘final’ in it’, I thought, ‘that will give him a boost of confidence and shoosh the haters’. I was also trying to not get ahead of myself, and think that I’d get to see him when I ventured across to Paris for the semis. I didn’t want to be disappointed again.

Clearly, Andy was out for more than a wee ‘boost’. After winning his 4th round in straight sets against Russian Khachanov, he battled his way through a quarter-final against Kei Nishikori, a match I feared because of their previous encounter at the quarter-finals of the 2016 US Open, where Kei had knocked Andy out in an epic 5-setter. It wasn’t to be for Kei this time round though; the Murray-MacArthur forces were against him. Andy had got the memo; it was time for him to hang out with CatMac at a grand slam!

I mean, I hope I get to see him closer than this at some point in my life but for a semi-final at one of the four biggest tennis tournaments of the year, I can’t complain!

Andy came into the semi-final in almost miraculous fashion. His tennis hadn’t been that great, but he’d somehow found a way to frustrate and overcome his opponents. However, in the semi-final, he was up against seed number 3, Stan the Man from Switzerland, who had seemingly strolled into the semis on his favourite surface. I feared the worst. I was even more distressed when, at security, I had my Scottish flag taken off me. ‘But how is Andy going to know I’m there?’, I voiced to Viv, wishing I hadn’t worn it in patriotic fashion on the metro across Paris. Top tip for Roland Garros: hide your flags/take small flags/dress as a flag. I’m convinced my lack of flag affected the outcome.

Back to the match, Andy defied all odds and played some of his best tennis of 2017. He won the first and third sets and at one point, Viv whispered, ‘He might actually do this’, echoing the thoughts I was too scared to voice out loud. But again, Andy got the memo. He knew I didn’t have final tickets so rather than me being disappointed at missing an Andy-final, he decided to play really well in the semis and then take a bow out of the tournament. Ha, or not. Given the tennis that was played over the whole tournament, Stan earned the win, but Andy deserves so much credit for his persistence and determination. How on earth does a player have such a bad warm-up clay season, yet still get to the semi-final, and almost the final of a grand slam? That’s the number one player in the world, for you!

When Roland-Garros Is On ITV4

Somehow February turned into June and Roland-Garros, the second grand slam tournament of the tour, and finale of the clay season, is in full swing. Though it’s been a few months since the last grand slam took place in Australia, various tennis-themed headlines have distracted me from the grand slam drought:

(1) On 22 March, an hour long online queue led to me successfully acquiring tickets for the semi finals of Roland-Garros (was very late to work that day);
(2) A letter arrived through the post from Wimbledon in mid-March to say I’d been successful in the ballot, on my first attempt (March was an exciting month);
(3) My friend Sara took me to the Wimbledon Tour and Museum for my birthday one sunny Saturday afternoon in April (such a joy when Andy Murray is the current champion);
(4) The Great British Tennis Weekend in May saw me discover my local tennis club and start a beginners course (we weren’t taught tennis at school in Inverness, very deprived);
(5) Last week, I booked my flights to the US/Canada for my US Open tennis adventure in September (this birthday keeps on giving!);
(6) And of course there’s always my favourite Google search: Andy Murray. No jokes, my phone has decided, without prompt, to make this a favourite on my Safari homepage. It’s important to find out what the world is saying about my favourite player. Shingles? Oh no. Elbow injury? How unfortunate. 30?

Happy birthday, Andy!


It’s fair to say it’s not been the best season for Andy so far but it’s made me so happy to watch him fight through the opening rounds of Roland-Garros, and even more delighted that this viewing hasn’t been through refreshing an online newsfeed, as I had anticipated, but through live coverage, courtesy of ITV4. Who actually knew? Has this always been the case? Have I been depriving myself of the pinnacle of the clay season year after year? Thank goodness I discovered in time this year! In all seriousness, it’s like Christmas came early. Every day this week, I’ve been in work early, to leave early, to get home as soon as possible and dive my face in front of my laptop screen. I want to watch as much of this tournament as I can.

 


I’d originally considered visiting Paris twice during this tournament, to experience both the early rounds and the finals, and to ensure I actually saw Andy play (remember that time I went to Australia?…). However, work constraints meant this wasn’t possible, and with an American adventure still to finance, it was probably for the best. Instead, I focused my efforts on getting finals tickets and when tickets went on sale on 22 March, I successfully managed to get myself 7000th-odd in the RG online queue for tickets. Unfortunately, the final was sold out by the time the 7000 people in front of me had finished their online shopping, so instead I opted to get tickets for the two men’s semi-finals. Two matches for the price of one? Sounds like a good deal to me. Read more about my experiences of getting tickets for the grand slams here.

Viv, a friend from Japan, is joining me for the Parisian adventure which will see us hit up Roland-Garros in the flesh on Friday, go for a cheeky Parkrun on the Saturday morning and then hopefully, if I haven’t made up that this exists, watch the final on a big screen by the Eiffel Tower on Sunday. Only two rounds stand between me and an Andy Murray semi final – fingers crossed he gets the memo this time round!

Parkrun #5 and #6 – Wimbledon and Tooting, London

It’s been a while, blog. And that’s why I’m going to make it up to you by documenting not one, but two parkruns in this post. What a treat!

 

 

The challenge I set myself at the beginning of the year was to run at least one different parkrun every month. April saw me return home to Inverness for a weekend, where it would be rude not to do my first Scottish parkrun. This was followed by my birthday weekend back in London. As part of my celebrations, I had invited my friends (of the running variety) to join me for a tennis-themed (location only) parkrun in Wimbledon. In the end, April was the month where I’ve seen the most improvement as a result of me doing the Dulwich, Inverness and Wimbledon parkruns on consecutive weekends. It’s no wonder I got my fastest time yet in Wimbledon – 31:05, baby! And yes, if you’re counting, the two new parkruns in April meant I was going above and beyond my challenge. Oh, how smug I was in April.

 

 

Unfortunately, May has been less fruitful. Two weeks travelling for work, and a week overcoming a virus, has meant that any fitness gains I made in April were lost in May. However, I knew that in order to keep up with my challenge, I had to do a run today as it’s the last Saturday in May. The good thing about parkrun is that you can always walk if running gets the better of you. I don’t like to stop but if it’s a choice between finishing the parkrun, and not finishing it, I’ll happily surrender! I really struggle to run in the heat, and with it being around 22 degrees at 9am this morning, I knew it was inevitable that I’d have to stop. In the end, my time was 35:00. It’s not terrible but it’s also nowhere near my best. Still, as long as I stay healthy and train during the week, I should be able to improve on that next weekend. And that’s what it’s all about for me: challenging myself to improve.

 

 

So what are the routes like? Both flat, obviously. Otherwise I wouldn’t be running them. One of the main criticisms I’ve heard of parkrun routes concerns sections of the routes being narrow trails, meaning that if there are many runners, it can be hard to run at your desired speed. This is a challenge of both the Wimbledon and Tooting parkrun routes. However, it only tends to affect the beginning of the race when everyone is bunched together. As people establish pace at their own speeds, the route becomes less busy. What particularly struck me at Tooting parkrun, and to an extent at Wimbledon, was that the volunteers who were rallying the runners to keep going, were located in different locations around the course. I think this is so important because it makes a huge difference to your motivation levels if there is someone telling you to keep going, you’re doing really well, throughout your run. What really motivated me at Wimbledon as well was that on the second and final lap, towards the finish point of the race, there was someone calling out the time. I heard 30 minutes and knew if I sprinted to the end, I would be able to get a PB. And that’s exactly what I did. Thanks a million, Wimbledon!

So, what’s next? I’m so glad you asked. In case you’re not quite up to speed on your tennis calendar, Roland Garros starts on Monday and I’m eurostarring across to Paris at the end of the second week to watch the semi-finals. Conveniently, France has caught on to the parkrun craze, so hopefully I can be back at my best in two weeks time for my second international parkrun of the year. Bring it on!

 

 

Parkrun #4 – Inverness

“The weather is usually on our side for the run,” a woman said out loud to no one in particular, as we huddled together under the tree, waiting to be summoned to the starting line. I was at Parkrun in my home city of Inverness for the first time and it was pouring with rain. I was in shorts and a hoody, shivering, wondering if maybe I could just sit in the car while my sister did the run. Of course, she was warming up, running around the pond as if there was no rain, the hardy Scot that she is.

I feel like a lot has happened in my running career since my Dulwich Parkrun post. The falling-down-the-stairs incident that I mentioned in my last post resulted in me learning the word coccyx and being in pain walking and bending, never mind running. As a result, I was frustratingly out of training for about two weeks. Somewhere in that time, the clocks changed and the nights suddenly became longer, meaning that when I was able to run again, I could finally run somewhere after work that wasn’t the streets around my house. Winning!


I’ve been back to the Dulwich Parkrun a few times now, I guess it’s fair to say it is my route of choice. I’ve even found myself taking the bus there midweek to practise. “You do know there are other parks much closer to us, right?”, asked flatmate Sophie, bemused that I had ventured to a park so far that it requires a bus-ride both ways. Yep, I know, but I’m going through a phase at the moment where I only want to run Parkrun routes, partly because I know the route is 5k exactly. Added to that, there’s something satisfying about doing the exact same route and improving your time on it. And then there’s Dulwich Park itself: it’s a lovely place to run! More recently, I’ve ventured to Tooting midweek because it’s marginally easier to get to and they also have a Parkrun route. Tooting’s a funny park though – it’s very bitty and not the most scenic.

Back to Inverness and shielding from the rain. For a few seconds, I wondered if my brain was playing tricks on me. When I looked left, I could see the rain lashing down. When I looked to my right, the sun was reflecting off the pond, from its perch in the blue sky. Welcome to Scotland, where the weather varies depending on the direction you’re looking in. I removed my now drenched hoody and moved out in the direction of the sunshine, ready to start the run.  The Inverness Parkrun is currently taking place in Whin Park, while its regular location, Bught Park, recovers from the weather and human trampling its had over the past few years. Similar to Dulwich, the current Inverness route has you running several laps: two small loops and three large loops. Around the pond, along the mud track beside the river, past the hippos, out one end of the park and straight back in, before repeating the route again. Mentally, this is the kind of route I like: you do one lap, you immediately feel a sense of satisfaction, and you know exactly what you need to do before you can finish.

So how am I doing time-wise these days? It varies. I’d read in the Inverness Parkrun blog that runners never get PBs doing the Inverness route because of the terrain and weather conditions. Though I didn’t stop on my run, my time reflected this idea: 34.06. However, one week previously, I’d run the Dulwich Parkrun in 31.25. That same week I’d run midweek in Dulwich in 32:27, but then in Tooting earlier this week, my time was 34:09. So, what can we take away from this? I am fastest in Dulwich! Ha, you can see why I keep going back. I’d actually walked part of the way on that 31.25 run which suggests I am sometimes still faster walking than running. However, the good news is that I didn’t stop on either of the Tooting or Inverness runs this week which means that mentally, my belief that I can do 5k without stopping is growing. What’s my aim? Sub-30. I don’t think this is going to happen for a while yet but I definitely think it’s attainable. Will blog to let you know.

By the way, the woman was right. The rain stopped, we did the Parkrun in sunshine, and then the rain started again. Always trust the locals!

The Wimbledon Tour

“Winning Wimbledon is the pinnacle of tennis,” Andy Murray had said shortly after winning his first Wimbledon title, 77 years after the last British man had achieved the same accolade. As a fan, and a UK fan at that, it’s no surprise that Wimbledon is held in the same high esteem by me as it is by my favourite tennis player. I re-watch the 2013 and 2016 finals on a regular basis in a way that I have never done for the 2012 US Open final or either of the Olympic titles that Andy has won. It’s all about Wimbledon. Given my adoration of the tournament, you can imagine my delight when Sara, a long-term friend from university, presented me with an envelope which contained ticket confirmation for a tour of the Wimbledon grounds and museum entrance. My favourite place in London? Today?

Is Andy coming, too?


“It’s funny,” I voiced out loud as we walked towards the Wimbledon grounds, on one of the sunniest days of the year so far, “This is one of my favourite places in the world, yet I only come here once a year.” Until I gain my Wimbledon member status, it’s unlikely that my visit stats will be changing much, though I do plan to double my record by attending the tennis twice this year. With my tour of the grounds now behind me, that brings me up to a projected total of three visits for 2017!

Some have asked if it is worth doing the tour/going to the museum if you’ve been to Wimbledon as a spectator. Or is it just for the tourists who poorly plan their London holidays to fall outside the 2-week window of the tournament? I’d say: if you love Wimbledon, and you love tennis, you’ll love this.

 

The Tour

On the 1.5 hour tour you spend time in the broadcasting house where you are taken to the BBC studio, i.e. where Sue Barker chats tennis and interviews players every day of the tournament. You’re taken to the main interview room where players are obliged to be interviewed after their matches, regardless of whether they won or lost, and you have a chance to sit on the interviewee seats and see how it feels. You also get to see where the players enter the grounds, and walk around other VIP parts of the grounds which you wouldn’t have access to as a regular punter. And the final treat? A visit to where all the tears and joy have surfaced: centre court!

There were a lot of fun facts on this tour and I came out of it feeling like quite the Wimbledon expert; I plan to voice them loudly when I’m in the queue in July so people give me tennis respect. If you intend to do the tour in the future, maybe skip forward to my museum spiel so I don’t spoil the learning process for you!

Cat’s fav facts. Did you know…

(1) Wimbledon, as we know it, started in a different location down the road, and as a croquet club. It was only in 1877 that the name changed to include (lawn) tennis, and then only in 1899 that tennis became the primary sport in the name. This is the name it has retained ever since: The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Frightfully posh.

(2) The grass is kinda a big deal. It basically takes all year to cut it back, germinate it, cut it back, let it grow, cut it back. This grass is nothing less than perfect for Andy and friends!

(3) Last year, there were 5 million hacking attempts on the Wimbledon website. Like, why? Guys, you can’t stop Andy Murray from winning Wimbledon by hacking the website.

(4) The BBC studio is one of 18 broadcasting studios in the broadcasting house, and the broadcasting partnership between the BBC and Wimbledon has been running since 1927, making it the longest broadcasting partnership ever. Wowee. Just as well though, I would cry if the BBC lost broadcasting rights; Wimbledon is nothing without Sue Barker.

(5) It only costs £95 to become a member at Wimbledon  – bargain! All you need on top of that is three letters of recommendation from current members, or be a Wimbledon champion, or be heir to the throne. So obviously I’m about to become a member any day now.

(6) Tim Henman was asked last year how he’d feel about Henman Hill being renamed Murray Mound. Tim said straight-up, no: “If Andy’s going to win grand slams, I’m going to keep my hill.” Or words to that effect. I end up calling it both so people have no doubt what I’m talking about. “Shall we go to Henman Hill/Murray Mound?” This is definitely a long-term practical answer.

(7) Since 1887, there have only been six Wimbledon tournaments where it hasn’t rained at some point in the tournament. 2010 was the most recent year for this. Let’s hope 2017 follows suit!

(8) Mind that time Andy won Wimbledon in 2013 for the first time and he jumped up into his box to hug his coaches, and Kim, and then he forgot his Mum? Good times. Well turns out that’s a tradition that harks back to 1987 when Australian Pat Cash won Wimbledon and shocked everyone by clambering over seats to celebrate with the people he loves. It’s not obligatory, mind. Last year, Andy was so overcome with emotion that he just sat down to take it in, and even his pal Djokovic decided to eat a blade of grass when he won. I mean, each to their own.

 

The Museum
The museum is an incredible historical resource, telling the story not just of Wimbledon but of tennis in general, and how it has evolved over the years. I’d say it’s up there with the Parlamentarium in Brussels as being one of my favourite museums of all time (those of you who were with me in Brussels know this is high praise!). You can pick up a headset from the shop upstairs or you can choose to tour the museum without – I’d suggest you pick one up and then and choose what you’d like to listen to. The museum is very interactive, you can test your tennis knowledge (go to the museum after you’ve done the tour of the grounds if you want to feel smart!) and about halfway round, there is the coolest virtual reality experience ever where you’re transported to various venues within Wimbledon and given 360 degree vision thanks to some snazzy camera work they did last year. The highlight of the museum, for sure!

In conclusion, this is a must for all tennis-loving, Wimbledon-loving fans. And pre: Wimbledon 2017 is the perfect time to visit – because it’s all about Andy!

You can buy individual tickets for admission into the museum, or you can buy a combined ticket for museum admission and a tour of the grounds. There are no tours between mid-June and mid-July. The museum remains open in the lead-up to the tournament and is open to ticket-holders during the tournament. A few days after the tournament has ended the museum opens again. Check out the Wimbledon website for everything you need to know!

Parkrun #3 – Dulwich Park, London

Somehow it’s March already and having been travelling and sick the past two Saturdays, I was buzzing for my next Park Run. Keen to find a route that was hill-free (sorry Brockwell, not sure I’ll ever be back) I decided to take the short bus journey east to Dulwich to see if I could find a route that was going to help me live out my March aim: to run a 5k non-stop.

I know it goes without saying, but the more you do Park Run, the greater your chances are of running in favourable weather conditions. In contrast to when I could hardly feel my fingers as I ran through the “snow” at Brockwell last month, yesterday morning was a beautiful, sunny, spring morning in Dulwich – the sort of morning where it’s a joy to be outside and you’re thinking, “I should get up every morning and run a 5k”.

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So how was the route? Perfect. Three laps around the park = 5k exactly; James’ Strava app told him so. Sure, there are a couple of gentle inclines but nothing that prevents you from running the entire 5k at a consistent pace. So did I? Yes! I felt like the first lap went on forever and with two laps to go, I’d already been lapped by a number of runners, striving ahead on their last lap. But this was my race, not theirs, and I focussed on what I’d set out to do. I was so chuffed when I was able to sprint through the tunnel at the end and collect my token: I’d done it!

Unfortunately, my time came through as 37:04, which is 2.5 minutes slower than my Brockwell time. “How is that possible?”, I thought. I’d stopped twice on the Brockwell run because of the hills, yet my time was quicker than on the Dulwich run where I hadn’t stopped at all. “Different course, wind, weather, how congested it is at the start, how your body feels on any given day”, replied my sister, my Park Run guru. I guess the true test is to do the same Park Run route again. Assuming my body recovers from me slipping and falling down the stairs in my flat last night, my plan is to put this to the test next week.

Park Run addict? I might be heading in that direction…

 

Parkrun #2 – Brockwell Park, London

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Deciding to do a Park Run every month was easy when I knew my first run was going to be in the warm climate of summer-in-Melbourne. Maintaining any kind of running routine when I returned to hovering-above-zero London temperatures and what feels like permanent darkness has suggested the next couple of months might be a bit more challenging. I can confirm I am officially not a fan of running in the cold!

Still, Michael Johnson is helping me out and I completed my second Park Run this morning at Brockwell Park, my local Park Run located about 20 minutes walk from my flat in Brixton. And guess what? I got a PB! I couldn’t quite believe it when the results came in: I achieved a time of 34:33. That’s more than 10 minutes off the time of my last run. My friend Susie joined for the adventure – for some reason getting up at 07:45 on a snowy Saturday morning appealed to her – and we both felt incredibly chuffed with ourselves at the end. However, despite the drastic improvement on time, I stopped twice on this run (those Brockwell hills are no fun) so my March aim is a non-stop-run. Let’s do this!