Ever since the birth of my eldest nephew over six years ago, I’ve been visiting my brother’s family in Sydney every year. Typically I’d spend my entire holiday babysitting my nephews (there’s two of them now), and taking occasional breaks to catch up with friends and uni mates who have moved to Sydney over the years. As an ex-gym bunny, a trip to Sydney also meant a break from exercise. What’s the point when I seemed to (still) be the slimmest adult in my family and my parents keep insisting I shouldn’t lose more weight? It’s hardly surprising that boredom typically sets in three days into my previous holidays in Sydney, since all I do is stuff my face with good food, watch (mostly the same) cartoons with my nephews and doing little else besides.
This year’s trip home was quite different from my previous trips in quite a few aspects. For one, I flew up to Brisbane with the specific purpose to renew my driver’s licence and visited my mother, relatives and friends while I was there. Having known for quite some time my aunt, uncle and cousins in Brisbane were keen cyclists, I decided to bring back my cycling jersey and pants, hoping to borrow one of their bikes and go for a ride while I’m there. While packing my cycling clothes, I decided to throw in my running gear so I’d be motivated to go jogging and put my brand new Nike LunarGlide 7 to the test.
Little did I know that this spur-of-the-moment decision would end up drastically improving the quality of my holiday. Even though I only managed to go jogging once in Brisbane and twice in Sydney, each time for no more than 45 minutes, they made a positive difference not just to my physical body but also my mental and emotional health. I felt energised, slept much better at night, got some ‘me’ time, and discovered different sides to the suburbs where my family live. It made me wonder why I hadn’t thought of doing this on my previous trips home.
First up, since April this year, I’ve been training towards a definite goal, namely, to do the Beijing triathlon sprint or Olympic race in 2016. In the past, I used to exercise to maintain general health and fitness without working towards any specific goals. Since I decided to train for the triathlon, I’ve become more purposeful about working out and mindful of how I exercise. I signed up and ran my first half-marathon in July to motivate myself to start running again. With a hard deadline in mind, I stopped making excuses and began making time to go jogging at least once a week to prepare for the race. After completing the half-marathon, I continued jogging regularly, and saw my holiday Down Under as an opportunity to run on different terrains.
Secondly, I had to take a break from cycling after suffering a tendinopathy relapse in my left hamstring during a tough ride in the mountains in mid September. A two-week holiday in Australia away from my road bike was perfect for this purpose and doing other exercises that put less pressure on my hamstring, like swimming and jogging, became a sensible way to maintain my general fitness.
Last but not least, I admit I used to be a scenic route snob. I was spoilt after jogging along the Vltava River and up to Vysehrad when I lived in Prague six years ago, and subconsciously decided it was only worth my while jogging along scenic routes next to stretches of water, such as the Bondi to Coogee walk and the Brisbane Riverwalk. After making do with jogging along the running track at Beijing’s Workers’ Gymnasium for the past few months, my focus has shifted from the aesthetics of my jogging trail to to the health and fitness aspects of the exercise. The funny thing was, as I jogged along roads I’d previously only driven past, I saw things in the burbs I’d never noticed before, like the swarm of cockatoos, pigeons and other birds who visit the park everyday, the palm trees in a neighbour’s yard and the views of the city when I get to the top of a hill. But the best thing about a good hard jog up and down hills is the rush of endorphins and the great feeling of having done something good for myself.
It made me wonder: why aren’t there more locals exercising in the burbs and enjoying the blue skies and clean air in Australian cities….?