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Monday, 31 December 2012

#75: Two Degrees of Separation — Part Eight

The biggest issue I had upon first landing in Sydney was the 180-degree climate change. I’d gone from snow and the frost-biting heart of winter in eastern Canada, to the thumping heat and humidity of summer-time in Oz.

Minutes after touching down on Australian tarmac, I was stripping off layers like a champion layer-stripper-offer as I negotiated Customs, then headed into Sydney Airport’s International Arrivals lounge.

Staying with friends Martin and Sue, who very kindly put me up during my three-week stint in the state capital of New South Wales, I had a cool experience (to contrast with the heat) on my first full morning Down Under.

I went for a 5:45am run (as you do) through a neighbourhood in a village south of Sydney where Martin’s family had a holiday home.

As I headed up one street, I was greeted by a mob (troop or herd) of kangaroos. Perhaps 25 of the bouncing beauties. All apparently taking a break from doing some landscaping work on a resident’s garden.

We swapped nods of recognition and then went our merry ways. Well, they remained transfixed by this strange running guy – and I’m sure, in my peripheral vision, I spotted a couple of the mob (likely part of the local kangaroo mafia) practicing their Muhammad Ali shuffles, just in case I returned with backup.

Sydney is rightly recognized as Australia’s most spectacular city – and I enjoyed getting my fix of its famous sights during my time there; including, of course, the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Taronga Zoo.

It was also fun taking the boat tours around the harbour, and becoming obsessed with trying to spot Great Whites. Or any kind of fin-tastic Jaws-a-likes. Shark Bay, Shark Beach… COME ON! WHERE ARE YOU? Nowhere to be seen, as it turned out.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

I flew down to Melbourne at the end of January, and prepared for my semester studying at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), the focus of course material again being centred on physiology, nutrition and sports psychology. I also had to do a Research Methods module, which was about as exciting as watching Big Brother on Nightvision. Or DAY-vision, for that matter.

It was interesting to get both the U.S. and Australia's unique takes on the mechanics of sports science and its various elements – both practically and academically.

While in Melbourne, I stayed in the trendy South Yarra area, just off Chapel Street. This was a fluke – it just happened to be where the converted convent-turned-long-stay youth hostel recommended to me was located.

The cool things about this place were that it was cheap – and that we had our own rooms. Also, that it was near a Borders bookstore. I spent most of my free time camped out in that place, devouring biographies and mentally quaffing a large quota of the Self-Help section.

I bought myself a second-hand bike and rode everywhere when I wasn't running. My daily route to the ACU campus took me through the heart of Melbourne Park (and Rod Laver Arena) – home of Australian Open tennis – and the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). For a sports fanatic, that was pretty cool.

My timing was also spot-on to take in the 2004 Australian Formula One (motor racing) Grand Prix. The hostel was a short spin on the bike away from Albert Park, which transforms itself into a formidable F1 street circuit every March.

I cycled a lap of the circuit pre-race one evening, videoing as I went. Great fun, though it was unlikely my time of 15 minutes and change was going to trouble Schumacher and Co.

Having got the taste for marathons again with Chicago, I decided to follow up with another (my fifth) the following spring, during my stay in Oz.

As Melbourne and Sydney both hosted their 26.2-milers in the autumn/fall, I had to opt for striding around Canberra – Australia's capital city – on April 18th, 2004; the day after my 31st birthday.

I trained for around 14 weeks along the River Yarra and around the multi-cutural Melbourne cityscape. I then chose to jump on a coach for a 10-hr overnight trip to Canberra; arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning – just over 24 hours before race-time.

Not the smartest idea I've ever had (flying up surely wouldn't have cost that much more).

My pre-race prep was also a little disrupted by some dodgy chicken I'd downed on the Tuesday of marathon week.

Accepting invites to dinner on race week is like playing Russian Roulette with your marathon hopes. And you'd have thought the blood which spurted out onto my chin with the first bite would have alerted me to the fact that this particular strip of poultry thigh may have been a little undercooked.

I roomed in a hostel close to the start with a Tasmanian guy called David Bone. Dave was in his early 40's and a marathon maestro. Tough as, well bone. He actually took up the race option of carrying on after 42.2k and racking up 50. His marathon time was 2:52 and his 50k clocking around 3:30.

My race went as I feared – about as well as a guy with mild food poisoning. I was through 10k at a fair clip, but faded from there.

The second half included a fair bit of walking; much grimacing/clutching of my stomach area; and likely a lot of strange noises emanating from my gastric region.

I was able to duck under 3:30 (3:27:58; I’m sure still sprinting for the line to break 3:28) – but I've definitely spent more enjoyable Sunday mornings before and since.

A couple of running breakthroughs were enjoyed during my stint Down Under – ensuring the marathon training didn't go to waste.

I lopped a fair chunk off my 10k PB during a race in North Melbourne – lowering it to 37:49 – and also bagged my first overall podium in a race; fending off both a cold and the fourth-place finisher to snag third.

Much diligent toil on the academic front during my time in Melbourne kept my GPA (or equivalent) on course for a First. And I once more befriended a cluster of top people, including Chris Hussey (a fellow British-born) and Sean ‘Okey Dog’ O’Keeffe – who put the 'laid' in laid-back.

Okey Dog very kindly gave me a ride to the airport for my flight back to England in the June of ’04 – and arrived wearing flip-flops. But not just any flip-flops; two different ones. Apparently he’d slipped on one of his housemates’ by mistake as he dangled his foot like a fishing rod into the murky shoe cupboard.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Back in England, I bagged some editing work at the Daily Mail during the summer, then got stuck into Year Three of my degree back at St. Mary’s, determined to do whatever it took to maintain my grade average and bag a First.

Some of the Final Year elements – not least researching around a million journal articles – were a little tedious. But I kept my head down and grinded it out. I also found a loophole which allowed me to do Creative Writing as an X(-tra) Module during my final semester (the winter/spring of 2005) and helped keep my spirits up.

And, when degree results were posted one fine, June morning that year – I happily (and with an outer space-sized sigh of relief) saw I’d achieved that First (70% or above); just one of eight people on my course to do so. My mark? 71%. It had to be.

The ghost of the lost Staffs Uni degree was well and truly exorcised.

Now it was time to turn my attention to a new focus. Sink my teeth into a new challenge.

Like say… a move to Canada, perhaps?


P.S. Thanks for reading – and helping me hit 75 posts before the end of 2012! (Vancouver, Canada time). It’s amazing what can be achieved when you put your mind to something… :o) Happy 2013!


Nancy T said...

Congratulations! 40 minutes to spare! Wouldn't it be amazing if you could beat a 3-hour marathon cut-off time by that much?

Nice ending for your Canadian readers.

Is a group of kangaroos really called a "court"? I don't think I knew that.

BC Johnny said...

Thanks Nancy! And yes, it would be very nice to 'cruise' through 26.2 miles in 2-hrs 20!

Some circles I researched thought a smaller group (maybe 6-10) could be a "court" of kangaroos... though upon further reading they may just have "kangaroo court" (something completely different) on the brain. Mob, for sure, and "troop" or "herd" look to be alternative options. Updated!

Nancy T said...

Did you use this for your research? I learned a few new ones!