28.03.19 - trying new things: run club + flying in a crane

My plan for this post was mainly to highlight my day at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus yesterday. However, the longer I thought about what a crazy day I had, and the concept of moving out of my own comfort zone - the more I thought about how far outside I was outside that zone on Wednesday night as well.

Going to a run club was a totally new experience for me. I’ve run casually for most of my young/adulthood, but never with a group. Like many things in my life, I like that running is generally a solo activity. Yet over the years my friends have sang the praises of run clubs, and that kind of good press sticks. When I started thinking about ways I might make new friends and connections while abroad, I looked into my local options.

I had initially thought I’d join a different group, but after getting to know the city a bit better I did some more research to find something closer to home, and I’m so glad I went through another round of searching. I came across Girls Run Sydney, an all female running squad who get together every Wednesday to make a loop or two around the CBD. From their Facebook it seemed like a welcoming and supportive group, and I decided that the next Wednesday I was free I’d join in.

I nearly chickened out when the time came to head out the door, afraid to put myself out there. An important element of this story is that though I run, have raced, and currently have two races on my calendar, I’m actually really, really bad at running.

Part of it is just general being out of shape. Part of it is that I’ve fallen off my training for the better part of this year as I existed in the weird transition that was post grad school/first semester teaching more than one class/preparing to move to a new country. Part of it is that I’m incredibly irresponsible when it comes to doing the proper speed work and cross training. All in all I’m a person who is really not in any place to be running, yet I keep heading out the door most nights of the week for my slow as can be jog through the park.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my goals are for my time here in Sydney. My initial plan was to run the full Blackmores/Sydney Marathon. In assessing my goals I’ve pretty much decided that I’ll be only running the half instead. I want my focus to be not so much in just finishing the thing, as it has been in past races, but to:

1. move away from the walk/run interval system I’ve relied on in the past

2. become a stronger and faster runner

My hope in dropping the anticipated mileage is that I’ll save myself some time in training (because WOW I’m busier than I thought I’d be) and it will help keep me and my training in line with these goals.

I really thought this part of the post would be short but here I am still rambling on about how I like to run but am bad at it. All of this is meant to lead up to me saying that YES I went to run club, and YES I felt incredibly awkward, and NO I could not keep up with the badass ladies of Girls Run Sydney. I’ve always been the backest back of the packer (Tyler calls me the race caboose) so I was not at all surprised.

I loved the general attitude of the group, and was really touched when one of the pacers hung back to make sure I’d be okay. I told her to go on without me, and assured her that I’d be fine on my own despite not knowing the route yet (I got lost, but hey! it was actually worth it – I ended up behind the opera house and caught a beaut of a sunset). And despite my ‘choose your own adventure’ detour, I ended up with the group back at our original meeting point.


What really made the night for me, and the reason I’ll be back again next Wednesday, and the Wednesday after that, is that despite not being able to keep up, I had one of the best runs and workouts since I arrived in Sydney. Just trying to keep the girls in my sights pushed me harder than my lazy brain has ever allowed me. That’s a major win in my book. Maybe by the time I leave here I’ll actually be able to keep up with the tail end of the group.

At least at run club I got to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. HIE was a different story.

I was pretty beat after only 4k, and waking up at 6 the next morning was not pretty. I nearly missed my train, spilled coffee all over myself and my camera bag, realised I forgot my book at home, and could only get a seat facing backwards on the train (after a lifetime of never being bothered by it, it now makes me sick because of course it does - it’s our main way form of transportation). Not the most promising start to the day.

The train ride to campus was about an hour and a half, and I was grateful that the faculty member I was meeting had sent directions explaining which stop to get off at and the where the campus shuttle would need to take me. The shuttle driver was also incredibly helpful and brought me right to the building I needed to be at. My day was definitely taking a turn for the better.

If you saw my Instagram post you’ll likely already know that I was expecting to get a general tour/overview of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment while visiting. However, when I met with Doctor Paul Rymer, one of his first questions for me was “how are you with heights?”

To be honest, I’m not sure what my answer to that question is. I think I’m fine with heights, but am generally afraid of injury and death? And there seems to be a slightly increased likelihood of one of those things happening when height increases. But at the same time, was I really going to let my general anxiety and fears stop me from jumping on an opportunity that may not be available to me again? Of course the answer is no. So my answer for Doctor Rymer was, “heights? I’m fine with heights”.

So that’s how I ended up in a harness, tethered to a yellow box lifted by a crane, nearly one hundred feet in the air. I was above one of the six rings of the EucFACE experiment, which is looking at the effects of increased CO2 on native forests. Three of the rings are pumped with carbon dioxide to mimic the expected levels of 2050, while the other three act as controls.

Being up in the air wasn’t as scary as I’d anticipated, partly because I didn’t stop shooting until we were back on the ground and it kept me focused. I didn’t move around the box all that much, and when I did it felt like trying to walk across a rocking ship. It was a beautiful day, and we kept raising to move through the ring, and then lowering back down so the researchers I was accompanying could cut off and mark branch samples. All in all I think we were only up for a total of ten minutes.

Once safely back on the ground, Doctor Rymer took me into one of the other rings on foot to get an up close look. In each ring there’s a variety of measurements being taken and simultaneous experiments looking at factors affected by the increased CO2, ranging from manual rainfall collection to video monitoring of potential tree flowering. There were complex recording devices next to repurposed laundry baskets for catching leaf drop-off and debris. Just the type of strange human/nature/tech juxtapositions I love!


By the time we finished up at EucFACE, it had already been two hours, and both Doctor Rymer and I were late for our next meetings. I spent the afternoon chatting with a lovely Fulbright scholar, Vicky, who is based at Hawkesbury and who I had met at orientation in Canberra. She’s a Phd student at WSU and headed to the states in the fall to take on her own research project. After we finished up I jumped on my train home. I was quite thankful again for the shuttle driver, who told me to get off on a different stop than I’d gotten on to make sure I made the next train to the city (the trains out west do NOT run as frequently as I’m used to in the CBD) and I settled in for the ride back home again. By the time I made it back I was exhausted, dehydrated, and sunburned. It seems crazy to say, seeing as though I’m on a non-traditional, work from home schedule, but TGIF.