I am back with you! Did you miss me? If you follow me on Facebook you will know that for the last three weeks I have been on the other side of the world in Australia. I had been planning to go to Australia all year but I had put off booking anything till the last minute in case of another pandemic shutdown, or international crisis or whatever. But in early November everything seemed to be in order and so off I went.
I was delighted to be back in Australia. Over there in November it is springtime, the temperatures are starting to get warm, the evenings are getting light and the trees and flowers are coming out in bloom. I had planned to stay a few days in Melbourne, staying with my folks over there and then to head out on one of my epic road trips, in this case westwards to Adelaide.
Melbourne is the state capital of Victoria and the second most populous city in Australia. The population of the Greater Melbourne area has now passed five million so around 20% of all Australians live here. It is larger than any European city apart from London. Founded in 1835, Melbourne grew rapidly in the nineteenth century, thanks mainly to the Victorian gold rush. Modern Melbourne is often voted one of the best places to live in the world. It has a high standard of living, excellent public services, a lively cultural and sporting scene and an agreeable climate. The one thing that was able to shut it down was the Covid pandemic. Australia introduced the strictest lockdown in the world. For months it was almost impossible to travel in or out of the country. In Melbourne it was particularly strict with people confined to their houses and only able to go out to buy food or to exercise. Thankfully those days have now passed but even now there are reminders to wear a mask or keep your distance.
Melbourne has a great sporting tradition. The Olympic Games took place here in 1956, the Commonwealth Games in 2006. In 2026 the State of Victoria will host the Commonwealth Games again. On the banks of the River Yarra stands Melbourne Cricket Ground, that vast Wembley sized stadium, which has hosted a number of events, not just cricket. Next to it is the Rod Laver arena, home of the Australian Open tennis.
I did not go to Australia specifically to take part in parkruns but I tried to arrange the dates so that I could take part in three Aussie events. My first event was to be early on Saturday morning in Albert Park. Albert Park is a very large park, about the size of Hyde Park, close to the city centre. At its heart is a large lake, which is used for a lot of water sports, particularly rowing. There is a stadium at the north end, home to Melbourne FC. There is a large aquatic centre for swimming and diving. The perimeter road forms part of the Melbourne Grand Prix circuit. The park is big enough to even include in its perimeters a primary and a secondary school.
Albert Park parkrun is the biggest and most popular in the Melbourne, usually attracting several hundred starters (we had 623 on the day). The course consists of a single lap of the gravel path around the lake. One circuit of the lake comes to around 4.7 km so the start was pulled back a few hundred metres to the grass beside the rowing club. I had travelled there on the morning with my cousin Simon, who is a keen ultra runner and triathlete. It was a nice fine morning, hundreds of people there, from many parts of the world. The T20 final was taking place that weekend so there were visitors from many different places. Here’s a picture of me and Simon from just before the start.
We crowded on to the grassy area and then we were off. We jogged along in the crowd in the early stages and passed the 1k marker in just over five minutes. Once the field spread out a bit we could pick up the pace a bit more and passed quite a few runners. A guy was taking pictures at around the 4k mark and he snapped us at that point, Simon looking quite cheery, me less so. Here is that photo.
We finished quite strongly and I crossed the line in 97th place in 22:20. That pleased me greatly - I had not expected anything after a long tiring journey and the subsequent jet lag. All in all it was one of the most memorable parkruns of the 300 plus that I have done. I can’t think of anything more to say except … go to Australia, go to Melbourne and, while you’re there, visit Albert Park.
My statistics for this parkrun - 97th place in 22:20. I was first in my age group and 17th overall on age graded performances.
If you’d like a glimpse of the course, here’s a report from the local TV, featuring Albert Park.
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