This seasonal period has offered me the chance to take part in some extra parkrun opportunities on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day. I find it mad to think that a couple of years ago I would not have completed either, and yet now parkrun is a predominant feature in my plans. I think if there was any doubt about the impact parkrun is having on peoples’ lives and their physical activity habits, then this time of year demonstrates it more so than ever. Over 62,000 people took part in a parkrun on Christmas Day, and at the Clumber parkrun event I attended on New Year’s Day the attendance on the 1st January 2018 had almost doubled from that of 2017. They are quite simply crazy figures!
In somewhat shocking news it was not even my idea to go to parkrun on Christmas Day - my sister actually suggested it first! I took my sister to her first ever parkrun, and a few years ago she would have seen no point in driving for half an hour, to run for 20 odd minutes, to then drive half an hour home again. She has got the parkrun bug now though! Christmas morning came and I was pleased it was unseasonably quite mild, meaning I could wear my apricot Lincoln parkrun vest with pride (see first image). I was back in my childhood hometown of Stowmarket in Suffolk for Christmas so we headed to the nearby Bury St Edmunds parkrun set in Nowton Park. I had ran here before in the summer when back in Suffolk for a wedding, so knew the course, however had somehow not thought about the change of season and that I may now need trail shoes to combat the winter mud...! The course is clearly set off road and has a few longer gradual climbs set across the two loops. On the first lap I felt I ran round quickly, my Dad had come to watch us (I haven’t quite got my parents running... yet!) and he nearly missed me as was not expecting me to complete the lap so quick - I think after standing for hours waiting to glimpse me in a marathon this was a shock to him! By the second lap the mud had thickened from the hundreds of footsteps and I was slipping all over the place at times! I managed to keep upright, keep going and keep my Santa hat on my head though. I battled through to the finish in some seriously sticky mud, which zapped any form of sprint effort, to a pleasing 22:21 time. I loved the run; it was great to have my sister there running too and also my Dad watching, it felt like a real family morning which was perfect for Christmas, and looking around it seemed we were not alone in embracing the parkrun festive joy as a family/group.
On New Year’s Day I knew I wanted to go to a parkrun, it was just the question of which one! In the end I opted for Clumber parkrun (see second image), I had ran here last New Year’s Day and the event also started at 9am still, which just seemed right to me! Clumber parkrun is another off road route, so this time I remembered to take my trail shoes with me! These clearly helped, as did my memory of the course from last year. It was crazy how the two laps seemed to speed by, I barley remember completing the first - although I am sure I did! It was sticky and slippery underfoot at times but I coped better, although I noticed I did lose a bit of ground on a few other runners during a steeper climb on the route; my confidence pushing up a slippy hill at speed was not quite up there! A gravel path finish was much preferred though, and I injected my sprint kick to stop the clock at 21:27. I was really happy with my time as last year I finished in 22:09 - so this showed some large improvement. Although I didn’t quite place first female as I did last year - a new course PB is something I will gladly take going into 2018, and it felt a good way to mark the first official day of my London Marathon training.
My parkrun aims for 2018 are to hit 100 runs (currently on 72) and edge closer to my 25th volunteering milestone (currently on 15). I would also love to sneak a sub 21 minute time again, which would probably be at my home parkrun in Lincoln. Whatever happens I am sure my Saturday mornings during 2018 will continue to be dominated by barcodes!
The sight of hundreds of lyrcra clad runners clustered around a single point at a park on a Saturday morning is now not so strange thanks to the phenomenon that is parkrun. However this Saturday morning, Tring saw a rather disproportionate number of runners descend on their local parkrun event, nearly all dressed in apricot coloured running gear. The parkrun Annual Conference was being held in nearby Berkhamsted and what parkrun conference would be complete without a parkrun visit on the agenda? I had been fortunate to be invited to the conference after recently taking on some volunteer work associated to a new project parkrun are delivering. So I too donned my apricot pakrun running vest, proudly bearing the name of my home ‘Lincoln’ event, and joined the 150 plus conference delegates to experience Tring, boosting their usual Saturday morning attendance by around 150 in the process!
Saturday morning was absolutely beautiful; the air had an early warmth about it which did not take an expert to forecast a hot day ahead. After a few glasses of wine Friday night I had been convinced by fellow delegates that running down to Tring from Berkhamsted before parkrun was a good idea - to be honest they did not have to try that hard to convince me. No one knew the route exactly, but there was a lot of enthusiasm. It was in fact a great idea, and as the sun was slowly rising into the clear blue sky I joined a number of runners to complete the 6.2 miles down to Tring, weaving our way through beautiful countryside, and probably surprising a few early morning drivers who were most likely not used to seeing a mass of runners out so early!
As we arrived at Tring park we joined the other delegates to create a sea of apricot. The park looked amazing, a green rolling landscape with the quirky addition of cows dotted around – Tring even have a 'cow marshal' volunteer role and a cow bell to ring if you set a PB! There had been much talk about the Tring course. Some had ran it before and knew what to expect, but the majority of us were Tring parkrun tourists for the first time. I knew there were hills, and the first kilometre was said to be a particularly ‘character building’ hill. The new runners briefing was possibly the largest I have ever seen, and the volunteers joyfully explained to us what to expect from the course – no shock, hills.
Taking my place in the starting huddle I knew this was not going to be anything like a PB run – my home Lincoln parkrun is fast and flat! – but I aimed to simply enjoy the route and push as hard as possible. The first kilometre was certainly character building. From the start we began a climb up a long grassy hill, definitely not the sprint start I am used to at Lincoln! As I reached the summit of this lengthy mound the course turned and continued to climb further, this section was even sharper now and wound through welcomed woodland shade. At this point Chrissie Wellington, British triathlete and four time Ironman Champion who now works for parkrun, overtook me – at least I was briefly in front of her for a kilometre! Finally the route stopped climbing and it soon became apparent the hills were worth the burning quads. A brief spell of flat along the top of the ridge let us experience the views below which were quite simply stunning.
Much to my quads delight the course then treated us to a section of downhill; freewheeling on dirt track, I felt amazing. This sensation was short-lived though as the route turned back onto grassland and I was met with a visibly undulating route ahead, some mounds were steeper than others and my quads began to whimper again. I then came to what the volunteer at the run briefing had called something like ‘false hope corner’ (I cannot remember the exact wording now!), it seemed as though you were at the finish and the funnel was in sight, however a sharp left turn in the other direction told you otherwise. The heat was apparent now and my legs were getting heavy beneath me, I hadn’t been paying attention to my pace at all, but I glanced at my watch to see how far left I had to go. Less than half a mile; I could do this. But wait, there was another hill. Jokingly known as Heartbreak Hill, the hill falls just when you thought you had made it. A steep slope presented in front of me; I smiled and laughed with the marshal stood at the foot about this being some kind of torture, but I was determined to make my way to the top, and even mustered something from my weary legs for a sprint into the finish funnel. Finally, no more hills!
My time was 26:08, virtually five minutes slower than my usual Lincoln parkrun times, which indicates the sheer difference in terrains. Tring parkrun was challenging in a new way though, and despite the demanding course, I absolutely loved it. The volunteers at Tring were amazing too, and I took great pleasure from looking at the photos taken afterwards, which shows so many runners winding through the gorgeous landscape. I would love to run Tring parkrun again in the future and would recommend it to anyone; it is tough but as with all parkrun events, everyone is welcome and I was seriously impressed by some of the younger children, buggy pushers and more senior adults tackling the climbs. Moreover, who could resist the chance to get to ring the famous PB cow bell!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...