Friday, April 24, 2015

To Canberra, with love

A friend once told me, on our parting, "this is not an end, just a new beginning". Which I thought was a pretty damn wise thing to say. And kind of wish it was me that thought to say it (Even if it's not exactly original).

Just over two three four weeks ago I finished dotting the final i's, crossing the final t's, and inserting the final commas into my PhD thesis. After an evening spent battling with the RSES printers, and the following morning spent alternating between wrestling with the binding machine and/or loudly singing and dancing to today's popular music*, I finally submitted. 2pm Friday 27th March 2015, almost exactly 4 years and one month after arriving at the ANU.

Novelty pen, the only way to sign off your Phd really.

The reward for 4 years of study? A serious pen.

The last two three four weeks have been full of wild celebrations. Like, buying myself Tina Fey's autobiography (Amy Poehler's was $10 more expensive...). Reading Tina Fey's autobiography. Reading Miranda Hart's autobiography. Reading Sir Edmund Hillary's autobiography (one of these is not like the others). I've been enjoying a solid 8+ hours sleep each night. And doing all of the puzzles in the paper, just because I can.
It's been a bitter-sweet few weeks however, as finishing my thesis also meant finishing my time in Canberra. And, even if leaving the 'burra is a new beginning rather than an end, it doesn't make it less difficult, because, as it turns out, I've kind of fallen in love with the place.

I'm not going to lie though, Canberra wasn't exactly my first choice. Four years ago I was investigating applying for Masters programs in geophysics in Europe when my mum suggested the ANU in Canberra as an alternative. Her main reasons where she thought I'd enjoy it there and learn a lot...and it was closer to home... I was unconvinced, that Canberra was my best choice however. However, when the Australian government offered me a nice scholarship (cheers!), the decision was essentially made. Two months later, on a stupidly hot (or what I'd now call 'normal') February day, I arrived in Canberra.

And the following 4 years have proved my Mum right. On all counts. Which is why it's taken me so long to write this post. It's not because I'm sick of writing post-thesis (I kind of am), but because I don't know how to eloquently, or at all sufficiently, express just how much gratitude I have to the Canberra community.
So I'll start with something easier: Just to prove that I've learnt a few things over the last 4 years, here's a few life lessons I've taken from Canberra:

  1. SPIDERS: Yeah I know what you're thinking, 'oh gawd, she's back onto ranting about Aussie animals!' But bear with me, please, you see, I have to work my way up to the serious stuff. Anyway, I was fortunate to arrive in Canberra after it's first wet summer in years. Yay! No drought! However, just as happy at this fact, were the gazillions of spiders that hatched that year - to be found between figuratively (and for the sake of the story, literally) EVERY tree in the ACT. I lasted 15s into my first training before receiving my very first 'spider-web facial'. Cue frantic brushing out hair and stripping off and shaking out of shirt, before turning around and seeing to my relief(?) that there was still a giant orbweaver spider the web. Phew! On returning to the car post-training and retelling my epic tale of survival to the Lawford's I was told not to worry as the giant terrifying friendly spiders with their giant fangs will just drop off you once they realise they're not in their web anymore. This was followed up with the less reassuring comment "And orb spiders sometimes live two to a web"...which, I laughed nervously at, assuming it was a joke. (I learnt recently, it was not. Oops).
    This fella. While non-aggressive it is said that
    "...the fright of this spider crawling over one's face can be terrifying
    and cause a heart-attack..."
    ANYWAY, I am now happy(?) to say that I am a veteran of hundreds of spider-web facials. I can't say that my face is smoother, relaxed and younger looking for it, but I do seem to still be alive. And what's more just to prove a point: in my last week in Canberra I was out training on Stromlo (on a map that used to be called kidding), when I was a little slow at side-stepping a web. On looking down, I was a little surprised to find that for the first time ever, I had acquired a rather large new friend from the web. But, I am proud to say that no large scream was emitted, and my shirt remained on. Mainly because, before I could react, my new friend took offence at his new home, and abandoned ship. So there you have it, nothing to worry about! (Apart from the second spider that may have been in the web...still haven't found where that one landed yet...)
  2. TIME MANAGEMENT/ RUNNING EARLY MORNING: On arrival in Canberra I was immediately invited along to the Cockatoo's Sunday long runs. Awesome! Unfortunately for me, however, these runs began at 8am on a Sunday morning...on the dot. Let's just say, in those first few months I had a few solo long runs as I arrived a little late, and proceeded to incorrectly guess which way the pack had started off! I can proudly say that my timeliness has subsequently improved no end and I have not missed the start of a long run in years! Well, maybe not. I have, however, learnt the reason for the 8am starts. If you don't start before 8am in summer, you're not going to have fun. Full stop. Which brings me to lesson number three:
  3. COPING WITH THE HEAT: Know your weather forecast and hydrate sufficiently! A couple of weeks after moving to Canberra in 2011, I ran my first National League races for the Cockatoos. The weekend of racing included a mass-start long distance on Mt Ainslie, the majestic (unbiased opinion) hill that sits in the middle of Canberra. The race started at ~9.30am, by which time it was hitting 30deg, with the first leg going from one side of the mountain to the other. This resulted in a 4km full paced race along the fire-trail, in the heat of the sun, with the pack headed by in-form Kathryn Preston and Jo Allison. Suffice to say, things did not go well after about the third control as I began to suffer more and more in the heat, culminating in some very rookie, very amusing-in-hindsight mistakes (the map's below somewhere). I'm still not sure how or why I finished the race. I do know that I was one giant blubbering wreck at the finish, and am greatly in debt to those who fed and watered me post-race and got me in a shower to cool down.
    Pictured: Me post-race.
    I can now say though, that my weather-forecast reading and hydration techniques have improved immensely. In fact, this summer, I managed to start a long run at 6.30 am. By choice. I know. I barely know myself anymore! Thanks! *takes bow*.
  4. ORIENTEERING: Four years and one week after running that first NOL long distance, I went back out on Mt Ainslie and reran the course, head to head against some of the cockies flock.
    Click for larger image, and second map.
    Four years stronger and wiser (and about 15 degrees cooler), I managed to take 14mins off my previous time, and about 4 minutes off Kathryn's winning time. While a lot may have changed in the 4 years between my two runnings of the Mt Ainslie course. One thing that hasn't changed is the post-race banter, with longer spent having coffee, lunch, and chatting afterwards than was spent actually racing. 

And it's most likely this that has been the root of my improvement as an orienteer over the last 4 years; not so much all of the coffee and lunch, but rather the support, community, and competition in both training and racing, that I've found in Canberra and Australia.

Right from the outset I've been welcomed in to the community, and, despite stretching out the above ramblings, I still don't quite know how to express my gratitude enough. But here goes...

Orienteering wise: Thank you Abominable O-men, for being an amazing little club, with an amazing pun-based name. Totally not the main reason I chose the club...Thanks for all of the post-event cake, and for making the dubious decision of letting me design our new o-tops. Thank you all of the Cockies, for the trainings and awesome weekends away running and racing in new places. And to those who have let me persuade them out on exploration long-runs. Thank you OACT for fully including me, for allowing me to coach some amazingly talented juniors***, and for even allowing me to give a speech at the end of year dinner (And to those that were there, I apologise for repeating half of my jokes in this piece! They were bad enough the first time). Thank you to OA, for always including me in camps and exercises as if I were an Australian. And thank you, everyone, for eventually stopping asking if I'll run for Australia ;)

No-one dares pass us once they see the shirt.
From the non orienteering side of things: Thanks to my housies for being so understanding and kind, for putting up with all of my moods (Tired being the predominant one), and my running shoe collection. Thanks to my 2nd, 3rd and 4th households, for feeding me, and just always being there for me. Thanks to the university and soccer communities, for enabling and encouraging me to follow all of my passions in parallel.
And thanks to Canberra, for just being Canberra and not caring what anyone else thinks of you:

Case in point.
So that's it. Goodbye RSES and the OHB write up building aka (The Psych Ward). Goodbye Canberra, I could never have predicted just how good you'd be for me. And goodbye and thank you to everyone that has helped me along the way. I'm very sad to leave, but remember, this is not an end, just a new beginning (original quote!!). I'm excited for new adventures and challenges over the coming months and years. And in the longer term, who knows, I've noticed Canberra has a habit of attracting people back...

Lizzie. Out,

* A binding method that is arguably more dangerous and prone to mistakes than drunk binding your thesis at 1am. As an unnamed friend** did. But hey, I like to live on the edge.
** Malte. It was Malte. And he nailed it. Kudos.
***For any orienteer that's considering a move to Canberra (Australia), do it. In fact, if you're into coaching, there's now a scholarship for it. Even if you're not into coaching, it's a pretty amazing place to base yourself as an outdoors person, especially if you're, hypothetically speaking of course, looking for distraction from thesis writing. (cue slideshow of me ruining scenic shots:)
Mt Townsend

The Castle

Castle again.

1 comment:

  1. I have Yes Please by Amy Poehler in hardback and it is AMAZING and full of wisdom and you can borrow it when you get here :).