Darwin parkrun, NT

Darwin parkrun route
Darwin parkrun route.

Peel club! That’s what the Aussies call the group of people who have run a parkrun in every Australian state, and today I joined them. This wasn’t the toughest in gradient or terrain, being a mildly undulating run on paved paths along Darwin’s waterfront. But it has to have a 7am start because otherwise it is too hot. 25 degrees or so for the run, and heading up steadily to 35 over the day, and very humid, which makes a lovely warm blanket settling over you on the run. It’s not the easiest. Apparently it can be much less humid in winter, and around 19 degrees – pleasantly warm but not punishingly so, and if you can visit in July, I’d recommend it.

Runners, Darwin parkrun
Out and back course, so you can see others.

It’s all as well organised as you’d want. No marshals out on course, but it’s pretty straightforward – cross the field to start, run along the main path of the esplanade, ignoring the loops off to the left (on the way out); turn around at the cone at the far end, back to the path at the beginning (but not the field), turn around and do it all again. On the second lap, cut left across the field to finish, as the cone tells you.

The sign on the cone shows you, at any rate.

View after the turnaround point.
View after the turnaround point.

There are toilets at the start, which is near the car park at the South end of the esplanade. From the YHA I stayed in, it’s a short walk, so I could roll out of bed at 6.30 and make it without any worries.

Darwin parkrun finish.
Darwin parkrun finish.

It’s hot, though. Really hot.

Mansfield QLD parkrun

Mansfield QLD parkrun route
Mansfield QLD parkrun route.

Back in Brisbane, and I was staying in Carindale. It’s a large, well-to-do suburb, which means parts of it are not terribly convenient for public transport, if well linked by roads. But it is well served for parkruns, with Wishart, Minnippi and Mansfield within a few kms. I ran the inaugural at Minnippi in November 2013, so the offer of a lift there from my host still wasn’t enough to tempt me. Nor was the idea of getting up before 5 to run to the station in order to hop on a train to Zillmere. Stuff the Z, I’ll go for a nearby one.

Race to the finish, Mansfield QLD parkrun.
Race to the finish, Mansfield QLD parkrun.

All of which sums up my decision – Mansfield QLD, because it was a jog away and because it’ll let me attempt a Mansfield match-up when back in the UK. And, when I looked, there’s a Mansfield, Ohio, with a parkrun, too, so I will take that in if I get near later in the year.

The start line, head in this direction. Blue signs give an idea of where to stand according to your finish time.
The start line, head in this direction. Blue signs give an idea of where to stand according to your finish time.

The route is usually on a bikeway which is currently being resurfaced, so they are running an alternate course. It involves three out and back sections, the first heading up and round the water, the second back along there, under the bridge and along the edge of the golf club at the top of the map. Then finally, back along the original path, past the start/finish, out to the bridge that is being worked on, and back.

View from the bridge, as you’d see it on the way back from the second out and back section. Or not at all, if on the usual course.
View from the bridge, as you’d see it on the way back from the second out and back section. Or not at all, if on the usual course.

On a sunny day, 7am felt the ideal start time as the sun climbed in the sky. There’s a gradual climb on the top section, and the 3 u-turns are there to slow you down, so it isn’t the quickest, but is on very good surfaces. The event team were as competent and friendly as ever.

Runners cross the finish line. The taller runner didn’t actually win the sprint, but the other fella stopped short of the line.
Runners cross the finish line. The taller runner didn’t actually win the sprint, but the other fella stopped short of the line.

Numbers vary. We had 161 finishers, the same as three weeks before, but the two weeks in between saw 90 and 105 runners. Those are all manageable numbers for the paths, with a nice stream of people coming by on the other side of the path. The inaugural saw 375 runners; plenty of other parkruns in Brisbane for people to visit from, and they have only once got over half that number since. That said, this was only event 39, so there’s plenty of room to grow.

View of the beginning/middle of the course, on the alternate route.
View of the beginning/middle of the course, on the alternate route.

Gungahlin parkrun, ACT

Gungahlin parkrun course
Gungahlin parkrun course – arrow marks the wrong turn.

I had the car till 11, so could head to any ACT parkrun, with three of the four roughly equidistant from where I stayed in Downer. All looked good – similar fields, beautiful locations. Gungahlin won my vote, on the basis that I’d head to Burley Griffin while sightseeing, and Ginninderra has been done by a fellow tourist already, and isn’t a loop. I suppose Gungahlin isn’t a pure loop, as you cross the start and do another 200m or so to the finish, but it’ll do very nicely.

Yerrabi pond
Exploring the route beforehand. Sri Chinmoy may run races here.

I arrived nice and early to make sure I could park – partly to avoid panic, mostly to avoid embarrassment while faffing with the automatic. I walked into the park at the same time as the run director who commented on my 250 shirt, then realised he knew me – we ran together at Railton before Christmas, he was the Canberra visitor that day. We didn’t chat much on either occasion, but now I see he has run 30 different parkruns, including his recent tourism burst in Tasmania, so that was an opportunity missed.

Gungahlin parkrun crowd gathers
The crowd gather at the start – 323 finishers on the day.

Still, he did a mighty fine and relaxed job as RD on the day. Just one thing that might have been good – give the marshal on the bridge (where the arrow is, not coincidentally) a couple of instructions. More later.

The run loops round Yerrabi pond, on a tarmacced track that might be shared with dog walkers and cyclists, though we didn’t see any today. A blessing with 300+ runners. It’s scenic, for sure. There would probably be some shade, and it’s pretty flat, so it could be quick, though in the summer you might get a head/tail wind as we had today, or very hot temperatures – running there in winter comes highly recommended by the run director. Today was a glorious day in Canberra. About 25 degrees at the highest, therefore cooler in the morning, but still plenty sweaty. I’ll take it, though – it was 35 or so yesterday.

I set off reasonably well up the pack, but was a fair way back – I start slowly, and also still can’t judge where to stand, so was a little too far down the pack. The run today had visitors from a training group, or something – 6 unknowns among the 8 ahead of me on the day, anyway, there for a speed session, but either not registering or not wanting to put their name to it. Officially, then, I was first in my age category, but might not have been, and I was beaten by the unregistered first female runner – who was out of sight.

As I worked my way through the pack, targeting an older bloke who I’d heard say he was aiming around 20 mins, I found myself in a pack of 3 fit ladies. They were being paced to 20 by a lanky runner who seemed to be pacing himself. Certainly he had plenty of ability to push on, and breath to talk, though his pb isn’t much quicker. Selfless every week, perhaps. Motivated by beating as many of them as possible, I ran through, and headed that group, with everyone else out of sight.

Running up to where the arrow is, the two runners ahead disappeared across the bridge. I had time, as if in slow motion as I approached his position, to watch the marshal leave his spot by the bridge (bear left) and nonchalantly nudge a sign round (bear right). Go past the bridge, it seemed to say. I pointed that way. He did nothing. I ran onto the bridge. So did three or four people behind me. We got a loud shout from another runner, and turned round to join the right course.

The sign was clear. The marshal was not. Perhaps he didn’t actually know. A classic ‘you had one job’, to stand there and point right, but no complaints on a free run, and at least I ran the full course. As a pack formed temporarily while we reoriented and those behind had time to catch up, there was a little chat about Steve being in a lot of trouble for cutting the corner. I heard him later talking about the results not lying. All good fun. Though results do lie if people run different courses. Not that any of them were scanning in anyway, so it really mattered even less than it normally would (which is not at all, to my mind).

Gungahlin parkrun
Nearing the home stretch, sub-20 pace pack behind me (more spread out than I remember them being).

A little demotivated, I worked to get to the head of the pack again, and it was here that I realised the tall bloke was pacing, and at least one of the female runners was really chasing the sub 20. Two of them got it, including one who had never run that quick before. The other has a much quicker pb, though hasn’t run that fast recently. I think the third was another non-scanner, perhaps disappointed at being slower than potential.

I managed to hold them all off, despite tired legs, motivated by being able to hear footsteps and the pacer motivating them from behind. They had actually spaced out a fair amount as we came along the section pictured above – here we turned left, into the last km, downhill and with a tailwind, all of which was motivation enough to get going, quite apart from the footsteps behind me.

A lovely run, though tough when pushing on a warm day. I had a brief chat with my RD near-chum, ran around the reserve a bit and pushed off to shower before returning the car and sightseeing while in town. Perfect parkrun, once again. That’s my 23rd Australian parkrun, and I’ve now run in 7 of the 8 states. I had 11 in 5 states before I came on this trip, adding Tasmania and now ACT this time.

Bondi to Coogee walk, Sydney

I stayed one more night in Sydney (thanks, Justin, Chantal, Freya, Saxon and Willow!) and took advantage by heading into the city to see the famous beaches I had so far missed, despite being here twice. Last time I concentrated on the city, this time I’ve been in Manly, up to Palm/Whale beach (the former is where Home and Away is filmed; I spent my day at the latter).

There’s a great walk from Bondi-Coogee, or v.v., so I wandered from Bondi Junction down, then along the walk. It was overcast but still warm – still better than the 40+ degrees the other day, when the walk would have been a bit of an achievement. As it was; sweaty, but straightforward.

Bondi, seen from the sculpture park.
Bondi, seen from the sculpture park.
Bondi beach.
Bondi beach.
Walking from Bondi
Walking from Bondi – as are many other people.
Waverley cemetery
Waverley cemetery. The walk would normally take you by the sea here, but a landslip in 2016 is still being repaired.
Coloured rocks.
Coloured rocks.
Coogee beach
Coogee beach.

Mosman parkrun, NSW

Mosman parkrun route
Mosman parkrun route – 3 laps, with a sting at bottom left, a short, sharp hill to run up.

When I arrived, my host Justin suggested we’d head to Curl Curl parkrun on Saturday. That’s a lovely, flat and fast, parkrun – and I know that, because I’ve done it before. I had mixed feelings – I like to repeat parkruns sometimes, because it makes the touring less obsessive. Equally, I like to go to new ones because, well, they’re new, and that itself ticks many boxes.

Later in the week, perhaps remembering my previous “Wahey! New parkrun!” posts, Justin suggested Mosman, which was not much further away from home in Manly, and reliably has smaller fields. At the mo that usually means around 50 people, though our turn was a boosted field of 97. It’s pretty narrow in places, and would struggle to take too many more if they weren’t spread out.

Justin, me, before the start
Justin, me, before the start.

It is in part a looped course, starting on the grass, heading South, down towards the bottom left of the map above, where the course’s elevation sits. Only 24m on the whole course, but 8m (give or take) of that comes in the short, sharp, hill at that turnaround. A hill that starts attackable and ends survivable. And you run it three times.

Mosman parkrun route
Mosman parkrun route, beauty point on the right.

We got a photo before the start. The course looks over Sydney’s second-poshest suburb. A view over one’s boats from those houses; lovely.

Mosman parkrun
Chasing second place down (got him, though I was later passed by another).

After heading out on the grass and bashing up the hill, the course comes back on the track pictured.

View towards Sailor's Bay
View towards Sailor’s Bay.

And here is the proof of that. Just look how much sunnier it got just half an hour or so later. This was the day before the heatwave that took temperatures up to 40+, and a 7am start, but it was still pretty warm.

I was pleased with the run – slower than on some other courses, but it felt like a good 5k, and a tough one thanks to that hill. It really is the ‘scorpion sting’ I saw it described as, and makes a mostly flat course surprisingly tough.

On New Year’s Day I got onto Australia’s most events table. Browsing that table I was surprised to notice that the same was true of David Piper, a fellow UK tourist.

Australian parkrun most events table.
Australian parkrun most events table.

It turns out that he has also been to Australia before, and came back last year.

David’s most recent runs – in country a little less time than me.
David’s most recent runs – in country a little less time than me.

That made me all the gladder to have been taken to a new run, keeping in step with the Piper for a little longer.

Later I was at the SCG. England fans visited in hope more than expectation, and were rewarded with the day of Australian batting we had feared. Still, the SCG was a vision in pink to celebrate Pink Test day. It’s a magnificent thing – pink stumps and bails, police in pink caps, all the Milo kids at lunch in pink (rather than the usual mixture of pink, green and yellow outfits).

SCG, Milo kids, heightening the pink theme.
SCG, Milo kids, heightening the pink theme.
SCG, pretty in pink.
SCG, pretty in pink.

Walking from Manly to Northhead

I set off to walk from Manly beach to Spit bridge. That would be, I found out later, a 10km walk. In the end, I got distracted by Northhead, a promontory in between Manly beach and the bridge, which adds a few km of walking and a few hundred metres of elevation. Once up there, you can explore the barracks and old military emplacements, and get some great views out over Sydney.

Manly Dam park.
Manly Dam park.
View from Northhead.
View from Northhead.
Me, selfie
Me, wind blown at Fairfax viewpoint.
View through trees over cliffs and sea
View through trees over cliffs and sea.
Sydney looks distant – not so much in person.
Sydney looks distant – not so much in person.
View over Sydney.
View over Sydney.
View from the visitors’ centre, Northhead.
View from the visitors’ centre, Northhead.

Once I’d walked back down – via a lovely sandy bike track, then a steep road – I was back to crowds of people enjoying the sun and mobbing Manly itself. Relative peace was easy to find by following signs to the Spit bridge walk, though, with quieter beaches and shaded spots around the corner.

Delwood beach – this one is small and quiet compared to Manly
Delwood beach – this one is small and quiet compared to Manly.
Looking over Manly.
Looking over Manly.

New Year’s Day is parkrun double day – Coburg and Darebin, Melbourne

Coburg parkrun route
Coburg parkrun. An out and back (with hills).

New Year’s day is the only day (now) that we’re allowed to run two parkruns in one day (barring the odd anomaly). There are plenty of doubles in the UK and Australia, and my main task at the beginning of December was working out where these unfamiliar-sounding places were. Australians probably have the same problem – if you live in Western Australia, you’re miles and miles from Melbourne, so might think that Coburg is somewhere near you. I wasn’t even sure where I’d be – when I was here last, Newcastle, NSW, was the nearest place for a double, and I was in Victoria, so this time I wanted to make sure to be near one, but that still involved picking one. At any rate, the tool Rikki Prince has published was very helpful. I decided on Coburg and somewhere after I’d booked my accommodation in Coburg for Christmas Eve, so then saved Coburg for NYD, ending up running a bit further, to Studley, for Christmas Day. Luckily, I could stay in the same place on NYE, so that left a walk to Coburg in the morning.

Pentridge prison
Pentridge prison, on the way. Now being redeveloped.
Coburg parkrun pre-run briefing
Coburg parkrun pre-run briefing; leafy.

The run is renowned for its hills, and didn’t disappoint. Otherwise it’s a twisty, testing out and back, on a good surface. I didn’t push too hard, but got more into the groove towards the end, and thoroughly enjoyed a run in warm air.

Plenty of people were up for a double, some heading down to Maribyrnong, some across to Darebin. I headed straight off to Darebin, trusting google maps to get me there. Which they did, via some nice cut throughs turning it into a diagonal 4 miles rather than a longer straight one. The excellent Dave, who I’d met and chatted to at Studley, asked a couple of times whether I’d taken Murray Road. No idea, just whatever google told me to do (yes, at the start of my route, then those cut throughs came into play for a runner – not for him, on the bike).

Darebin parkrun route
Darebin parkrun. An out and back (with undulations). Murray Road also shown.

I was at Darebin by 9, ready for a 9.30 start. By now the sun was out and it was getting warmer, albeit with a cooler breeze to give some relief. Where Coburg had set a record attendance, with 223, Darebin had their second-highest ever, with 202, so there were plenty of people listening to the briefing, but not so many that we couldn’t find space to run in. Darebin is a similar course, an out and back with some lumps, though it’s a little easier than Coburg. It’s on an even better, if hard, surface, if anything. I ran harder, fairly happy with the fact that I could still push despite tired legs, but all that was put into perspective as I was passed by a man in jeans, cruising.

Man in jeans, running
Jeans! And he went away from me easily.

Still, I ran my own run, and it was good. Couldn’t catch the man with a buggy ahead of me, but finished higher up and happy to now be on the Australian most events table, with 21 different runs done. Someone had called out at the beginning that parkrun royalty was in attendance, in Neil Barnett, who has completed 57 more than the closest chaser, with 205. It would have been rude to say ‘um, actually…’ so I didn’t mention it. I hoped to catch him for a chat/to flash my credentials at the end, but was busy talking to Dave about Murray road.

After we’d stood around chatting for a while, my legs were stiff for the jog back, and this the longest. Still, I ended on a high. Walking across a wobbly bridge near the end, who should be at the other end, but Dave? He laughed, and we were both a bit confused as to how I had got there before him, given he was cycling.

Something to do with Murray Road, we decided.

Darebin parkrun
Darebin parkrun. 1st couple: 1st male, second from left. 1st lady, next to her son.
Darebin parkrun finish
Darebin parkrun finish.

Melbourne-Warrnambool, via the Great Ocean road, 12 Apostles and Bay of Islands

Last time I was in Melbourne I got busy in the city alone. This time, inspired once again by Seat 61,  I took a trip by train and bus out to Warrnambool. The site suggests doing this trip as a replacement for a day tour from Melbourne, and so connecting with a direct train from Warrnambool to Melbourne in the evening.

I decided instead to stay for a couple of nights, to have a look around and run the parkrun. It also saved me a 3+ hour train ride at the end of a train/two buses ride.

The trip involves getting the 9.10 train to Geelong, then changing to a bus to Apollo Bay, and another bus from there to Warrnambool, in time to get the 5.30 train back. The full-distance train takes just over 3 hours. Arriving at Geelong, though, we were informed that the bus along the Great Ocean road to Apollo bay was getting held up by holiday traffic, so those of us needing to connect would be taken by an inland route instead. Which is a pity, missing a large chunk of the route, but unavoidable. That first bus was half full, but most of those people weren’t on the connecting bus, so either they got confused, or they were just in a hurry to get to Apollo Bay.

Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay, in the rain. Beach not pictured. Busy avoiding the rain.

The weather was pretty filthy – we got the rain that was later to hit Melbourne and rain off the cricket. As a result of taking the inland bus we had longer in Apollo Bay, an hour rather than half, but it wasn’t great. Tourists sheltering under cover and mobbing the shops rather than being able to enjoy the beach. It made for a quiet day for the lifeguards, at least, who could just watch a few intrepid surfers.

12 Apostles
12 Apostles, and tourists on the lower walkway.

The next bus should have four stops, but had to ditch two of them. We still got 25 minutes at the 12 Apostles (a ‘geologically significant marine park’), though, as the headline visit. Although the walkways were a vision of tourist hell, it was still possible to walk (briskly) the length of the walkway out to each viewpoint and snap a few pictures.

12 Apostles
12 Apostles.

Efficient tourism in action.

12 Apostles
12 Apostles.

People not pictured. But believe me, they were all around. The end viewpoint is a small, circular one, full of people. People round the edges, and people on the raised platform in the middle. I didn’t linger.

Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands – less populous than 12 Apostles, no less lovely.

We skipped Loch Ard gorge and London Bridge – the driver would have paused at the latter, but had nowhere to stop the bus. But you can see the bridge (a rock with a tunnel through the middle, very regular, just like a bridge) from the road. And then on to the Bay of Islands, which was quieter, and very lovely.

Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands.

All in all, it was worth the journey. 6 people on the bus, I think. We stopped to pick up a passenger just once, at Port Campbell, and I knew him – Silvestre, with whom I’d roomed and walked in Bicheno, Tasmania. We caught up, and then I left him to catch the train while I strolled through Warrnambool, which is a pretty town; plenty of beaches, and some decent walks between a few lookout points. If you hire a bike/go for a long run, you can get to an extinct volcano, further west, too.

Sunset in Warrnambool
Sunset in Warrnambool, Lake Pertobe.
Sunset in Warrnambool over the lake
Sunset in Warrnambool over the lake.
Info panel about Maremma sheepdogs, which protect Little Penguins in Warrnambool
Maremma sheepdogs protect Little Penguins on Middle Island, Warrnambool.

Isn’t that fantastic? Little Penguins were nearly wiped out by foxes and other predators, then someone had the bright idea of using Maremma dogs. In the first trial, the dogs swam back from the island, but were otherwise successful. Now they live alongside their penguins for a few days at a time, and there are many more penguins.

Merri Island and Middle Island
Merri island (front), Middle island (where the penguins live, behind).
Thunder Point view
Thunder point, seen without rain (unlike on my post-parkrun run).
View down to Lake Pertobe
View down to Lake Pertobe. Bridge in the middle is on the parkrun route. I read a book not far from here, on a bench, joined by an old lady with one finger to her ear ‘I’m just approaching the bench now, so you can join me here’. Company, I thought, and soon to be more. But there was no more; instead, she had several more conversations with her finger to her ear. Halfway through, she lost the narrative thread, needing more stimulation to come up with ideas. I think she started out as some kind of kindly old lady meeting a friend, then became a secret agent, had a lapse into saying ‘yes…yes’ a lot, not much excitement there. When I left she almost certainly slipped right into describing my movements, suspicious or otherwise; much better.
Lake Colac
Lake Colac, seen from the train. Enormous lake, but it has run dry twice in recent years.
Fields of corn
Fields of corn, from the train.
V/line tickets
V/line tickets. Top, paid-for, train and buses. Bottom – couldn’t book this one online, but travelling on NYE meant the 5.28pm train to Melbourne was free. So I reserved a spot on that one, thanks very much.

Melbourne and the MCG, Boxing Day test days 1 & 2 (and 3)

Narrow view of cricket, back of a covered stand
View from gate 1, MCG – better in person than it looks.

In a day or two I may look back on these words and shake my head sadly, but for now the cricket is full of possibility. Finally England look rock-solid, thanks to Alastair Cook not just scoring a few runs, but marching to a century. Australia’s first strike bowler out injured, his replacement, Bird, looking accurate and testing, but not so quick, and Cummins suffering an illness that robbed him of 5mph. Today, for the first time, the scoreboard did not contain one of ‘match fastest balls’ or ‘fastest bowlers in this match’, that information deemed unimportant while two of Australia’s bowlers were missing and Broad, whisper it, had hit 89mph anyway.

I arrived in Melbourne on Christmas Eve and rode the train out to Coburg, where my AirBnB room is. Coburg seems a nice suburb, a mix of nations, houses squashed in in places, but rows of neat lawns linked by concrete pavements, with a path along Merri Creek behind the houses to give a bike route into the city. My host showed me round, then disappeared. He has only lived here a couple of months, and has already converted the lounge into a bedroom. I picked him for a gamer, up late to enjoy more competition from more populous countries in different timezones, aiming to rent out rooms so as to supplement work. In fact, given that he didn’t surface till 4pm, I wonder if he is aiming not to work at all, though it is Christmas and even the Aussies get a day or two off.

At any rate, a tram ride on the no.1 took me into the city and despite walking the wrong way from the central station at first, I was in the ground before the first ball was bowled. Not quite the same spine-tingling feeling as I’d had in 2013, partly because I’d had to rush a bit, only soaking up any atmosphere at the end of my walk as I finally joined the throngs of people heading in, and partly because I only had a general admission ticket, and didn’t bother heading up to the 4th level, immediately finding a standing spot behind seats on level 1 which I figured would be the best view I was likely to get.

As ever, the Guardian do a good job of summing up the atmosphere. I suspect many haven’t noticed, but with a rolling crew of Vic Marks, Selvey and Gideon Haigh giving the many others involved something to aspire to, I reckon their coverage is the best. Certainly the beeb and Times have spotted their over by over coverage and done a Sky on it (that is, taken the concept and yet not managed to do it as well as the original despite greater resources). At any rate, I enjoyed a variation on the classic ‘watch on telly with radio commentary’ (not so doable now the TV has a satellite delay, though I haven’t tested it here, where cricket can still be popular among kids because it is on free-to-air TV), with ‘watch in the ground, read the over-by-over’.

Day one was slow. Not actually ‘boring’, as the half-English, half-Australian lady called it, very disparaging of Warner finally slowing down as he neared his century; “I get that it’s good for his stats’. It seemed very unfair, but he scored so quickly early on, that his slowing later may have looked super slow. The greatest moment, for the noise it generated and the pure theatre, came when England, with Tom Curran’s regular slower ball to confuse, set Warner up nicely to spoon one in the air with a wall of fielders in front and he duly did on 99, caught by Broad. Cue a huge noise from the England fans, who were still singing as the replay showed a possible no-ball. Now the noise swung as the Aussies drowned out the England fans. The noise! My goodness. Brilliant.

Warner was out soon afterwards, his innings looking better and better as England totally slowed Australia’s scoring. They’ve not always had two batsmen motoring at the crease, and that’s almost been their secret – Bancroft was way out of form, barely contributing runs, but England still had to bowl to him, and meanwhile Warner will always score, so just hang in there and if nothing else, tire out the bowlers. Several of their partnerships have been, or have started, in similar one-sided fashion.

It was slow, though, and I wandered outside for lunch, not returning immediately. Four lads were playing a boisterous game on the green sward right outside the MCG, and I was impressed that they were happy to let 5 other lads join in after they’d first walked by to eat, then come back. You might expect some rutting heads, or inter-group competitiveness, but they passed the bat round happily. Meanwhile a family had joined to my right, their boys hovering on the side, and soon a couple of the lads waved them into proper fielding positions, in the thick of it. With the next wicket, the eldest was given the bat, the bowler’s mark was moved forward, and his brother was given the ball. Fielders crowded round, so it was competitive, even intimidating, but they’d included the boys so effortlessly and so simply that it was a beautiful thing. Other youngsters were included, too, the bat moving round the group quickly. Lunch ended inside the stadium and everyone moved off. The parting shot reached my ears, fading on the wind as they left, “yeah, but the real game’s out here, right mate?”

Pick-up game outside the MCG
Everyone welcome to the game outside the MCG.

With Australia well set at the end of the day, I patted myself on the back at my good judgment in only having tickets for the first two days. Dare we hope to get Australia out for 350? Well, it’s possible. It seemed more likely that we’d all watch Australia bat, then put England in, we’d hope again and they’d lose at least one wicket too many.

View from a seat
View from a seat, block M7, gate 4, row Y. Shaded till 1ish.

I didn’t rush, though, and a huge roar greeted me as I, um, got my bags checked to go in. “Smith out bowled”, said the bloke from St Albans cricket club behind me “I hate you” – this to his mate, who perhaps had insisted on slightly too lavish a breakfast. I’ve hoped before, though, and now the scene was set for the Marshes to do the damage instead, with Ali bowling and leaking runs. The Australian crowd booed, the English hmmed in anticipation as Ali was swapped for Broad, and it started to happen. Three Australian batters pulled the ball onto their stumps, finally the luck that England needed. Crucially, Cummins looked comfortable but for once didn’t have a mainstream batsman for comfort, and Broad and Anderson were on to give nothing away. I had a seat today, and watched from there up until lunch. Broad appealed loudly for LBW against Marsh, and it wasn’t given. But something seemed different – normally he looks confident, but with an air of bullying ‘come on, give it to me’. This time his face was much more ‘but, but – that was out!’. They reviewed it, and sure enough, it was plumb. Never mind hearing the noise when Warner was repealed, I was in the ground when Broad got a review right.

314-6, and the OBO commented ‘What England would give for another before lunch’. They got two, Paine out despite looking totally comfortable, and lunch-watchman Bird out despite killing time with a review. One more and they could have extended play, but it didn’t matter – ill Cummins was next out, and with Lyon and Hazlewood at the crease, for a change the tail wasn’t wagging, and it just felt like a matter of time till the last wicket fell. And it was.

IMG_20171227_153313906-1024x768
Back in the stands. The T-shirt in front of me said ‘Ashes tour, England v Australia’. Lovely. The phone cannot do it justice – the whole thing is in colour to the naked eye.

The sun had crept over my position during lunch, so I made the most of sitting down, watching it creep toward me, then stood up. I ended up next to a Southerner, here for just a week to fulfil a lifelong dream to see this match. He had also been sat in a sunny seat early on, surrounded by Aussies. When Smith chopped on he announced ‘see, no problem with our fast bowlers – he’s been beaten for pace!’. He liked the joke; I heard it three times. He was in for four days no matter what, but we enjoyed the opening part of the innings, hoping for a 50 partnership but not getting it, Stoneman out after a solid beginning. Something seemed different with Cook, though – he looked comfortable. Lack of pace in the attack? Helped by there finally being a sense that if they see off one bowler (Hazlewood) it will get easier? Or just the result of practice? It is a very odd thing that when things are bad (like England losing 3-0) everything can be painted in a bad light. I’d read in the week that Cook had spent hours and hours in the net since the last test, and how that showed he was short on confidence.

View over the MCG from the fourth tier
View over the MCG from the fourth tier.

Normally, you’d just point to it showing his level of desire. And that looks more like the outcome – he has hit a groove. It felt different, and the Barmy Army started up. Their song is a dirge, really, but starts well – ‘We are the army, the Barmy Army’, which you can sing at different speeds to good effect. As more people join in, the noise of that builds. Then the rest of the tune throws it away a bit. And they’re not ‘men-al’ at all. But still, the noise was magnificent, as first 50, then 70, then 100 people sang, England fans making their way to the group to join in, raise arms and sing as Cook moved towards his fifty.

Australians, meanwhile, were drinking, and hiding the beer cups, to build beer snakes. A few popped up later on in the day, to great cheers and laughter. Apparently it is a police matter, and the men in black appeared to take down pesky snakes. Frankly, the police did themselves no favours throwing people out; presumably for ‘disorderly conduct’, though I would like to see a lawyer challenges any justification, it seems tenuous to me. A snake of cups might be mildly distracting, but the crowd loves it, they make a noise, they link up chains of cups and that’s it. The ones at the Gabba got much bigger, and were mostly allowed to peter out. By all means stop it getting out of hand and spreading where people don’t want it, but the sight of police officers pushing people around, removing whoever they’d decided was the ringleader (snake builder?) just looked pathetic at best, and bullying at worst. After a while the stewards dealt with them, which was at least more in keeping with the level of offence. Meanwhile I had a small group of Aussies behind me who had the Aussie foghorn voice. There are usually a few of these, with tremendous volume. This lot moved from singing ‘AAAA-LAAAA-STAAAAAAIIIIIR’ to a great long sledge, “A-LAAAA-STAIR!!! YOU’RE THE ONLY CAPTAIN IN HISTORY TO HAVE STAYED IN THE TEAM WHILE THEIR MATE HAS TAKEN OVER! IF YOU WERE AUSTRALIAN YOU’D BE PLAYING IN THE BIG BASH!”. Which was pretty amusing, partly for being so convoluted, partly for the confidence involved in building for so long at that volume to such a specific punchline.

As the day ended, it was all about the landmarks. A lad next to me, only partly watching, reckoned Root would get his 50 and Cook end on 99. I thought the latter generous – Cook was only in the 80s, he’d just knuckle down and aim to be there tomorrow. But the lad nearly got it right. Cook pushed a single from the first ball with four overs to go, waved away a second run and left Root with all five to finish it off. He didn’t. But come the final over, Smith came on to bowl himself, with Cook on 93. Yeah, fair enough, tempt him, but also, probably, tie him down, unwilling to risk anything against a lesser bowler. Yet the first ball was a juicy full-toss, smacked to the boundary, and Cook was on 97. A clip to leg and they hustled, getting 2. Surely! Surely he’d get 100, and an awful lot of people would have to eat their words…and yes, Cook made it to 104, that last over ended up as a gift.

Plenty of room for it all to go wrong, but for now, the Australians don’t look indomitable, their use of the review system is not the best, and England have had an honest-to-goodness properly good day – excepting any ‘score 100 off 100 balls and lose no wickets’ pure fantasies, all pretty much as good as anyone could have hoped for.

_______

I was staying in Melbourne on Thursday, but hadn’t planned to go to the cricket. Given the situation, I figured I ought to, finally feeling some confidence in the team. The MCG is so big that other than perhaps the first day, you can pretty much just turn up and buy a ticket. Doing so also avoids the handling fees, which I had also done with a theatre ticket the evening before (Book of Mormon, later in January, woo hoo!). Another general admission ticket for $30 AUD and I was in, standing on level 1 for a while before finding a seat up on level 4.

It was fairly cloudy all day, with a burst of sun in the morning and afternoon, and rain for my walk home. A fabulous day’s cricket, starting to swing Australia’s way as Root gave his wicket away, furious with himself, throwing his gloves to the floor behind the boundary and leaving them there as he stomped off. When Malan was out – though not, had he only reviewed it – it was in the balance, and 20 odd runs from Bairstow and skittish Ali weren’t really enough. Ali at least got a few runs, but was in a hurry – one reporter commented ‘I hope he at least caught his train’. He was shown how to do it by Woakes, who struggled, scoring singles with Cook, but they laid the foundations, hitting a partnership of 50. And that wasn’t the whole point, as their work in using up overs had aged the ball and tired the bowlers, which meant that after Curran came in for only a short innings, Broad could ride a roughing up by the quick bowlers before taking us back to 2010-11, scoring first a useful 20, then going on and putting on a 100 partnership with Cook. For a while, they batted and took runs at will – apparently they’ve never batted together before, but they formed a good partnership, calling and running well together. They’ve known each for long enough for that to work, I suppose.

I thought Cook scoring a century yesterday was satisfying and memorable, but English and Australian alike stood to applaud the 200 when he got there. Magnificent.

Even Broad’s dismissal was entertaining. Khawaja took a decent catch on the dive, rolling over it to cast some doubt, so Broad reviewed the decision. Replay after replay followed, and it was never going to be totally clear. Broad put his helmet back on, in case any of the Aussies weren’t going to boo him off and get him worked up – he said it was hard to overturn a ‘soft decision once given’ when interviewed, but it looked out to me and the Aussie next to me*.

But still, the Barmy Army stayed in full voice, hardly stopping singing, and it was magnificent. By the end of the day, with fewer England boundaries to cheer, they adopted Jackson Bird. As he whirled his arms, warming up, they gave a big wooooooaaaaaa, with ahhhhhh following the full action. He carried on warming up, then stopped one mid-action, to huge applause. When he bowled, to Anderson, I think he’d have got a huge cheer had he got him out. And during the final over, the song was ‘We love you Jackson, we do’, followed by ‘We love you Nathan, we do’. Just great.

Score board showing Cook's score of 244*
Change the record books – Alastair Cook has the highest score ever at the MCG.

* with hindsight, he wasn’t though. That ball is dropped.

TV shows Khawaja dropping the ball.
TV shows Khawaja dropping the ball.

Studley parkrun, Melbourne

Studley parkrun route
Studley parkrun route.

I travelled yesterday. A scoot to the airport from Bicheno, ticking the trip meter over the 2,000km marker on the way, then a flight to Melbourne. Again I was in the emergency aisle seat; I think that Jetstar just like me. As a result I was first off the plane and could hear the incredulity from the ground staff as the plane completed a round trip. “Oh” said Brad, cabin staff-in-charge, looking outside after we’d taxied to the terminal, “It’s whatserface who saw us off!”. “My” said whatserface, “that was quick! How many hours was that!”. 50 minutes to Hobart, 50 minutes back, barely time to even miss the crew.

I am in Melbourne, in the suburb of Coburg at an AirBnB. I picked Coburg because there’s a parkrun there which is running on Christmas day. However, it’s also running as part of a double on New Year’s Day, so I jogged down to Studley parkrun today instead. By sheer good luck, the route there from here is, or can be, scenic: mostly along the Merri Creek route then into Yarra Bend park. I cut the corners a bit, cutting across a few roads, but for a longer run, following Merri Creek would get you there.

People gathered in the sun, by tall trees, for the briefing
Studley parkrun briefing.
Sign says Merri Creek Trail
Merri Creek sign. Yes, it seemed amusing on Christmas morning.

Melbourne has some lovely open spaces in its outer suburbs, I ran past chittering birds, a velodrome, several cricket pitches and a running track that seemed to be open for anyone to use. A few people were doing just that as I ran back, impressive effort for Christmas morning.

Suspension bridge with red pedestrian barriers
Kanes Bridge, a suspension bridge, run over after 1k (other way) and 4.7 or so (this way). Wobbles a bit.

The run got a decent turnout, 160, including several Brits there for the cricket – no quips made. No need. There are toilets near the start if you need them. And a barbecue at the finish area, which got good use today. Every other public barbecue I spotted on my way back was being setup ready for a Christmas meal – get in early if you want to follow suit!

View of a brown river from the bridge
View from Kanes bridge.

The route takes in a 1km loop, bottom right of the route map, up first to thin the crowd out a bit before the charge over the bridge, then it’s an out and back. Plenty of uneven terrain, tree roots and the like, to keep it interesting, and a couple of testing hills. I wasn’t pushing too hard, but tagged along with a group of local runners who were clearly running within themselves, which made it a nice progressive effort, accelerating towards the finish. We were a group of 4, only 3 at the end, and the one dropped wasn’t me, though I ended the run pretty much flat out while the other two jogged in. And we weren’t especially quick overall (22:00 for me). None of them checked in, so there are several unknowns in the results – not wanting to put their names to the time.

I did, of course. And then enjoyed some of the breakfast provided by Old Xaverians, who have been running and eating here on Christmas Day since the 1970s and now combine it with parkrun, which is excellent.

Sausage, bacon and egg for breakfast
Breakfast. There was fruit, cake and drinks as well. Had I not found a supermarket last night, I might have stocked up to save me going hungry/getting bored of tuna and pasta.
A volunteer stands beyond the finish line, which is marked by cones and parkrun flags
Studley parkrun finish.
Elevation map of Studley parkrun
Studley parkrun elevation. Nothing massive, but the climb near the end (which you run down on the way out, just after crossing the bridge, 1km in) is enough to give pause.

It’s a lovely run. It is still mostly an out and back, in Aussie style, but the loop, surroundings and changing underfoot conditions keep it interesting and a decent challenge. The conditions would change a bit, possibly even be a little easier, with a bit of rain – it was hard-packed mud today, so no relief if you got foot placing wrong in a rut or tree root.

A pillar stands on the grass
Pillar of Yarra Bend asylum. This is all that’s left of the asylum, placed here because it was more or less enclosed by water. Conditions were not good.

The run back was good, too, with plenty of locals out exercising to start their Christmas Day. Easy when it’s 20 degrees and sunny.

Results from Studley parkrun, event 98, 25/12/17.

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