Festival, Footy, and Fruit of the Vine

A personal half-marathon best, an Australian Rules final match at the MCG, and hard work with good company.  All in all, two great weekends.

Not so great expectations

This morning I rolled out of bed at 5 AM, walked to Town Hall, and hopped a train to Milson’s Point, the start of the Sydney Running Festival.

I was more subdued than I usually am for a race.  First, Lisa was home sick and couldn’t run in the race, and she’s been training incredibly hard, so it was tough leaving without her.  Second, my knees have hurt when running since my City 2 Surf practice run, and my IT bands still hurt after any intense cycling workout.   And third, I hadn’t done a run over 14K since June, while training for the Hunter Valley half marathon (which I had to skip due to a lung/sinus infection). Somehow I was registered in the “A” group, which was the first to start, and the quicker pace around me got me moving at a reasonable pace right off the bat.

I’ll skip the play by play and just say I relaxed through the run, and was shocked to find myself looking at 3K left and a chance to run under 1:45, with my previous best being 1:48.   I kept my pace quick and gritted through the leg pain.  My lungs were fine, no cardio problems whatsoever.  I crossed in 1 hour, 43 minutes, and 9 seconds, my fastest half-marathon by over 5 minutes.   The day couldn’t have been better:  cool enough, little wind, and a generally flat course than only changed elevation by about 100 meters over the 21.1km.   My finish, and the run.

Footy Finals

What we call “playoffs” in the states are finals in Australia.  Last weekend Lisa and I flew down to Melbourne and caught a qualifying final between Hawthorn Hawks and Collingwood Drunken Brawlers, two bitter AFL rivals.   A big reason for the trip was getting to see a match at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds), the mecca of Australian Rules Football.

The match did not disappoint – the first quarter was some of the toughest competition I’ve seen in sports.  AFL pits two teams of 18 wide-receiver shaped athletes against each other for two hours of running, with no protective gear and minimal safety rules.  The coordination, reflexes, stamina, and toughness of these blokes is off the charts. The stadium had 85,000 fans despite a rainy, windy night in Melbourne.

The match stayed close until the third quarter, when the Hawks began to execute like a machine and quickly created a gap that would only grow for the remainder of the match.

Our mate Neil had picked up tickets for us and I loved every second of the match.  I picked up a Hawthorn scarf for myself and Lisa surprised me with a Richmond Tigers (Neil’s team)  t-shirt that she picked up for me.

We’ll make no wine before its time

Neil and I headed out the next morning at sunrise and drove out to Heathcote, where he and Margie own a small winery.  Our mission that morning could not have been more filled with testosterone: Rent a Kanga (the tractor pictured at right) and buy a chainsaw.  The rest of the day we put them to use, along with 5 or 6 of Neil and Maggies mates, relatives, and co-conspirators in their wine hobby.   Followed by an amazing dinner of veggies and roast pork cooked in camp ovens, I slept like a baby for the first time in weeks.

The next day was chain gang work from morning to evening, and I loved every minute of it. I remembered what it was like to be woken up by my dad, to eat a quick breakfast, grab a pair of work gloves, and spend Saturday working with my dad.  While as a teenager I always wished I was somewhere else, I’m glad my dad taught me how to work, how to handle a chainsaw, and that I’m generally comfortable with tools although it always takes me a little while to get back into the swing of things.

While we didn’t do anything related to wine making, we did a lot – new posts cemented in the ground and wired up, and a new crushed stone driveway for the shed (and a few stones for Neil’s neighbor who used to be a jockey!)

At the end of the workday on Sunday I was trying to figure out why I felt so good, and realized it was because I could breathe.  No allergies in the country in Victoria – I had forgotten what it was like to take a breath and have to exert effort.  Now I’m back in Sydney and missing the air in Heathcote!

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