This post is going to make me sound all athletic, and really, I’m not. But since we moved to Canberra, I’m a darned sight more athletic than at any point since childhood.
Last weekend, Canberra hosted the Australian Running Festival. A two-day series of races ranging from a 5km run to a 50km ‘ultra-marathon’ (as if a marathon wasn’t enough of a challenge).
Back in December, fresh off the plane, a 5km run through the heart of the city’s parliamentary triangle seemed like a fun thing to sign up for, so we did – me, mini-CBRbound (aged 8) and maxi-CBRbound (aged 11).
Since none of us had ever completed a 5km race before (I once did a 7.5km run in Denmark, but I walked a bit when my lungs gave out, so I’m not sure if that counts), I decided we’d best do some preparation. So, three times a week since New Year, we’ve been gradually building up our fitness using a free podcast programme called ‘Couch to 5k’.
Week One starts with a brisk five-minute walk, then, alternately, 60 seconds of running followed by 90 seconds of walking, for a total of 20 minutes. The spells of running slowly increase and the walking breaks gradually shorten, then disappear until, by Week Nine, you are running for 30 minutes non-stop. And 30 minutes’ running roughly equates to about 5km.
At Week One, mini and I were huffing and puffing, while maxi seemed to find the whole thing a bit easier. Week Six coincided with the boys’ school cross-country day and the boys amazed themselves (and classmates) by romping home in sixth place (mini) and second place (maxi) for their age groups.
But last weekend was the big one. Our original plan was to all run together and to cross the finish line holding hands, three abreast, but maxi’s cross-country performance made me suspect that we’d be holding him back, so we agreed to let him run at his own pace, to see just what sort of time he could manage.
The headline here is that we all made it round. Maxi left us for dust and did the 5k in 26 minutes. Mini and I made it home in just under 33 minutes. We all agreed that we’d do it again.
“But faster,” said maxi. “Or maybe the 10k next time?”
Over both days of the running festival, thousands of people took part – serious athletes, Dads pushing strollers, kids running with their parents – all enjoying the challenge of the races, the camaraderie of the atmosphere and the stunning backdrop of Old and new Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin glinting in the autumn sun.
Five months in Canberra and we’re as fit as we’ve ever been. But why? It’s hard to say, but the climate helps, as do the many cycle paths and neighbourhood playing fields. That, and being surrounded by so many others engaging in active sport – the ACT has the highest participation levels in Australia, with 73% of over 15-year olds participating in sport or physical recreation.
It was a thrill to be a part of it all, to succeed, and to set the seal on months of preparation. And, despite some stiffness, the next day I turned out for Gungahlin United’s Old Boys in my first competitive football match for 20-plus years.
We won too, but that’s not the point is it? The point is, this place has transformed our lifestyles and we are loving it. We’ve gone from couch to Canberra in five months, and joined the 73% who just have to get out and about in this brilliant landscape and community.