It’s becoming clear that fitting 40 events into this calendar year is going to require some creativity. What with a busy work and family life, just about every opportunity is going to have to be seized.
I’d had always planned to include a parkrun or two in the schedule somewhere and, in the interests of variety and running somewhere new, I saw a chance to squeeze in some good miles on two consecutive weekends during which I was also away with work – and at two very different locations.
I’m extremely lucky in that my day job often allows me to see the world’s finest athletes doing their stuff up close so, when I knew I was going to be covering the Muller Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix in February, followed seven days later by the Lindsays Scottish National Cross Country Championships, I did a quick look to check my race options for both Birmingham and Falkirk.
During my trip to the Midlands, the Canon Hill Parkrun fitted the bill nicely. It would let me have the hard-running start to the day I was looking for before heading indoors to see the likes of Laura Muir and Mo Farah in ultimately record-breaking form.
Roughly three miles from my hotel room, it would also would also present the chance to do a bit of exploring in a city which I don’t know at all well. As it turned out, I was to do a little more exploring than I’d intended.
Saturday morning dawned and, with a hint of smugness, I got up early, got my gear ready and settled down to have a quick breakfast and take a final peek at the race info. I had been under the impression that ALL parkruns start at 9.30am on a Saturday (I’ve only ever done one or two previously). This, I can tell you now ladies and gents, is not the case.
Any smugness and relaxed demeanour on my part evaporated when I came to the realisation that, rather than a gentle amble to the start line, I was now going to be slotting in a tempo run.
I normally pride myself on my pre-race organisation so I was muttering away to myself as I headed in what I thought was the right direction. I had checked the map and jotted down street names but, when I came to a less than picturesque industrial estate, I began to fear a wrong turn or six had been taken in my haste.
A quick check with a slightly startled passer-by confirmed this to be the case. However, extra mileage is good, right? Furnished with the right directions and with an increase in pace, I soon reached Canon Hill Park. I could hear announcements being made over loudspeakers about the 9am start and, as I entered the park I quickly checked with the first steward I came to if I was too late.
‘No, you’re fine. You’ve still got time. The start’s just round that corner,’ was the cheery reply. I rounded the corner and was struck by a familiar sound. It was the sound of runners. Lots of runners. In fact, it was the sound of the entire parkrun setting off.
Being the honest sort I am, I ran up to the start line, to the back of the pack and got going. I wasn’t in the best of moods with myself when I set off but I quickly gave myself a metaphorical slap around the face, told myself to get on with it and enjoy the run…and that’s just what I did.
I pushed hard, I was running with hundreds of others, the park was great, as was the atmosphere. As with every parkrun I’ve been to so far, those taking part and organising could not have been friendlier, more encouraging or more helpful.
So Canon Hill Parkrun might not have been quite the accomplished 5km performance I was looking for but, as I gently meandered back to the hotel and the prospect of seeing some top class sport, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a spring in my step. I vowed I’d do better next time.
Next time came precisely seven days later, in Falkirk. Given I was covering the aforementioned cross country unfortunately ruled me out of running ‘the Nationals’. However, the Falkirk Parkrun – which just so happens to take place every week in Callander Park (which also provides the venue for the cross country) came to my aid.
This time I was properly organised, managed a proper warm-up and even a stride or two. Again, there was an impressively considerable group of runners gathered to take on a course which proved to be mostly on trails and involved a chunky hill or two.
Given the pouring rain which had turned the cross country course into a bog and some of the parkrun route into a fast-flowing stream, my decision to have packed racing flats for the job at hand didn’t seem to have been my smartest move.
The light footwear were the least of my concerns when we got going, however. My legs were heavy and unresponsive but I’m trying to be a bit more patient with myself and my running this year so I allowed myself a little time and began to feel a little stronger.
As we reached some of the early uphills, a curious thing occurred to me. It became clear I didn’t have a lot of company. Now, maths is not my strong point but I knew I’d started near the front and I could only see three or four people ahead of me. My mind began drifting towards a top-five finish.
There’s nothing like an incentive to improve your running and it began to dawn on me that a couple of the other runners were starting to tire just as I was starting to feel like I was getting a rhythm. I duly passed a couple of others and had convinced myself I was in third spot.
We reached roughly 3km and hit the slopes of ‘heartbreak hill’, an incline we had been forewarned about that, while not quite matching the scale of its famous Boston counterpart, does more than enough – particularly with a steady flow of water coming down it – to tighten the muscles and squeeze the lungs.
To my surprise, though, I wasn’t caught on the hill and had in fact gained on the runner in front. The closing stretch is quick and downhill, so I extended my stride and passed him. There was another runner still in front, but I was running out of room to try and catch him so I set my focus not being passed.
I held my position and a strong finish left me more than happy with my morning’s work. I even took to Strava to post my second-placed glory (I don’t find myself in podium places very often).
Then it was off to watch Callum Hawkins and co make this running lark look effortless, even when they were basically wading through cross country treacle. Once the final runner had slithered through the mud and the reports had been written, I quickly checked the Parkrun results to confirm my time and to see my second place for certain.
I wasn’t second at all. Another runner, who I’d conveniently managed to forget after seeing at the start, had won by such a margin that I’d only seen him at the start but never again. Told you maths wasn’t my strong point! Still, I’ll make do with third – and a couple of Parkrun experiences to remember.
- I have challenged myself to complete 40 events – involving running, swimming and triathlon – in the calendar year of 2017, the year I turn 40. I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find my JustGiving page here. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. It really is very much appreciated.