Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Eastbourne parkrun Grand National - 14 April 2012

14 April 2012 saw the inaugural running of the self-titled Eastbourne parkrun Grand National.

I was one of the participants, ready to tackle the gruelling 3.1 mile course.

Name: Mid-Pack Martin
Colours: Black silks, brown cap (with grey flecks!)
Odds to win: 100/1

Some mid-week rain had softened the shaded parts of the course, but a more recent warming sun and a brisk, drying wind had assisted with underfoot conditions elsewhere. The going was a mixture of good (grass), soft in places (the ditch) but with a few firm patches (asphalt).

59 runners lined up at the start, full of enthusiasm and nervous excitement. A sea of colour rippled in the warm morning sunlight, as the runners looked to get a good handy position. It was clear that some beasts were trained, primed and ready to run a big race, whereas others were perhaps there for a good day out and just hoping for a safe completion! I was there to take my chance. I knew that, barring a Foinavon style calamity (see Grand National 1967), my chances of winning lay somewhere between none and bugger all. I was there to try my best but I also knew that others had a clear fitness advantage and youth on their side.

We milled around at the start contemplating our fate. The starter called the runners into line.

And they’re off…..

Much like the real thing, the runners hurtled off far too quickly and stamina issues would surely take their toll later in the race. I felt myself consumed in the wave of speed as we careered away and knew I was going half a stride quicker than I wanted to be. However, I knew that as long as I could get into a nice rhythm, keep balanced and avoid any fallers, I should acquit myself with credit.

We ran down into Becher's Brook (well, the muddy corner of the field). Congestion as runners looked for the perfect racing line; some mistakes, but no fallers! On we pressed, round twists and turns, straining every muscle and sinew, eyeballs on stalks focussed on the challenges that were to greet us on the way.

Before I know it, we’ve completed a mile and we’re off out into the country. Rather than the 90 degree left hand jump of the Canal Turn, we had the 90 degree right hand Canal Turn. Well, it’s not so much a canal as an overflow rain sewer, but I am struggling for similes here!! Right-hand down chaps and swing sharply right. After Canal Turn is usually Valentine’s Brook. We sailed over the bridge taking us over the brook (the aforementioned overflow) and headed down the far side of the course.

The headwind here was really strong and was clearly beginning to take its toll on the runners as they tried to maintain a good gallop. The leaders were away and I was caught at the back of a small group of five. Soon, five became three, as a trio of us pushed on as we headed for home.

It was now that stamina issues came into play. The rain-softened ground down the field edge was clearly affecting a couple around me as they started to wilt with less than a kilometre to go. I asked myself for an extra effort as we headed back down into Becher’s  Brook and passed a couple of weakening runners.

It was here, I made a dreadful mistake. I noticed Steph Burton, marshalling by the ditch. As I waved a pained hello and struggled a small acknowledging smile, I lost my footing at Becher’s and made a right howler. I was almost down, but I somehow found a leg, kept my feet and galloped on. Phew! It could have all ended in embarrassing disaster.

I rounded the field corner and headed up the long run-in for home. It seemed an eternity. Finishers were exhausted at the end. I tried to raise some speed and had I a whip to administer some sharp cracks to my backside, I may well have run on a bit faster, but the end result was that I was notably one-paced.

I had finished the parkrun Grand National in a respectable 19th position.

My final time was 23:54.

The runners streamed in at long intervals, each of them having given their absolute all. They had all completed the course and should wear that fact with pride.

Some of you may have noticed I missed out the famous ‘Chair’. Well, you’ll be pleased to know I am safely ensconced in it now, ready to tuck into a bacon and egg sarnie!

I would like to say that I ran with real Shakalakaboomboom.
But, my plodding style is more like Organised Confusion.

And if you want a tip for the race this afternoon, if one of the two horses above win, I tipped them up for you, and if they lose, I told you they were ones to avoid.

PS - no parkruns or blogs for me for the next 3 weeks. Off to London next Saturday, on holiday the weekend after and then London again on 5 May.  Back to Eastbourne on 12 May!!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

parkrun streaks

I love streaks and find that they are an excellent way to keep motivated, and where better to use them than at a parkrun. Here are a few ideas for streaks at parkrun:

Standard parkrun streak:

With this streak you are only focusing on the number of continuous parkruns you run without missing a week. The advantage with this is that you can vary the venue that you run at and still maintain your weekly streak.

Single event streak:

This is the streak that I am currently focused on. I started this streak with Riddlesdown parkrun event 1 and have run every single event since. My streak now stands at 43. I know that the maximum number I can reach is 55, because at that point I will be forced to miss a week as I will be out of the country.

Monthly streak:

The monthly streak is good for those of you that can't make it to a parkrun every single weekend. All you need to do is make sure you run at least one parkrun every calendar month. I am currently on 12 consecutive calendar months.

Personal best streak:

How many personal bests can you run in a streak. Adjust it to suit your own needs. Maybe this is best measured on a monthly basis to avoid overdoing it. For example, you could aim to get a new personal best each calendar month or even just every year.

Volunteering streak:

As you will all know, volunteering is a huge part of parkrun. So why not make a volunteering streak one of your goals. If you are a committed runner then you may not want to give up too many runs. The great thing is that you don't have to! You could volunteer each week to set up the course, or you could even write the event report. For me, I think a monthly streak is the way to go, and I would like to volunteer once per month, for now it will be focused on report writing, but once my running streak has been broken (see above) I am going to try out a few of the different on-the-day roles on offer.

Attendance streak:

Where you mix running and volunteering and both are valid as part of the streak.

The 50 run streak

You participate in 50 parkruns in the shortest number of days possible. Technically this doesn't have to be a streak, but I like the idea so stick with me on this one. On the surface, this looks like a simple case of 351 days (50 weeks), but it is usually possible in less than that as many venues put on extra events over Christmas and New Year. If you took part in the New Year's day trifecta you can make this streak even shorter. From my calculations, if you had run all of the extra events it would have been possible to have done this in 309 days (44 weeks). My calculation does not include any of the bespoke parkruns so mathematically it probably could be done in less days. I am working on this one and I think I can complete it in 323 days (46 weeks).

The 'remembering your barcode' streak

You remember to bring your barcode. See how many events you can run without forgetting it. This one could have some comedy value to it, especially for serial offenders!


So, there you have it. A few ideas for parkrun streaks. If you have any of your own ideas be sure to share them in the comments section (or even write a parkrunfans blog post about it).

If you want to see how I get on with my streaks just pop over to my blog.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Inaugural runs: Netley Abbey parkrun (17 March 2012)

I clocked up my 15th inaugural parkrun today at Royal Victoria Park in Southampton, and a very unusual inaugural it was too.

As a runner, it didn't really feel at all like an inaugural event. Eastleigh parkrun has been mothballed for a while, and most of the runners and volunteers were Eastleigh regulars. Familiarity abounded and the banter felt as though it was picking up where last week's parkrun at Eastleigh left off.

For the event team, experienced though they are, I suspect it felt very inaugural indeed. With only 10 days to get a new parkrun off the ground there were probably any number of last minute niggles to sort out. But sort them out they did, and the result was a treat. The rain stopped just before nine and didn't return until after eleven. No-one got lost. Timing and scanning devices behaved and there was even a home-made chocolate cake.

So what's it like? Four laps around the park, which come complete with an old chapel and great views across Southampton Water. To add a little variety, the first lap also has a bonus tree-lined out-and-back section halfway round.

The view from the back goes something like this:

Lap 1: Run to start of out-and-back section watching runners streaming away in front of you. Marvel at the steep drop along the right-hand-side of the "out" leg, taking a cautious step to the left to allow you to cheer on the faster runners on the "back" leg without tumbling into the ravine*. Rejoin the main lap as the faster runners re-reach it on their lap 2. Cheer them on as they lap you.

Lap 2: Continue to cheer on faster runners on their lap 3.

Lap 3: Continue to cheer on faster runners on their lap 4. Watch as they peel off into the finishing funnel. Think rude thoughts and mutter darkly under your breath.

Lap 4: Revel in the good-natured encouragement from the already-finished, regretting that you ever thought anything mean about them and their athletic prowess. Focus on the runner in front hoping that you can use their push for the line to inspire one of your very own.

Take your position token. Get scanned. Chat**. Eat delicious home-made cake*** courtesy of Barbara****. Go for a cup of tea*****.

Special mention also to @N0rm, who followed up his epic cycle-to-Eastbourne-parkrun-train-home with a train-to-Netley-parkrun-cycle-home, and to Becky and Rob whose encouragement on their lap 4 (my lap 3) went a long way.

*I may be overstating this element a little, but bear in mind that I can fall off my own feet while walking along a perfectly flat, perfectly paved section of pavement.

**To Ian, who needs only 4 more venues or 1 more inaugural to get (back) on the most events table, and to Lisa, a genuine first time parkrunner who seemed to enjoy her first taste of parkrunning.

***For one week only.

****Who was a first-timer at Eastleigh the week I visited. Isn't parkrun a small world!

*****With Robert, who unwittingly paced me around Eastbourne parkrun. I say again - isn't parkrun a small world!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Inaugural runs: Newbury parkrun (11 February 2012)

My marathon is nine weeks tomorrow. Take off the taper, and that leaves six weeks to train. So what training have I done since last Saturday's parkrun?

Nothing. Zip. Diddly.

But Saturday is parkrun day, and parkrun trumps sloth, so at 9am I joined 316(!) other freezing runners for the inaugural Newbury parkrun.

Yes. Despite snow and sub-zero temperatures, 317 people took advantage of the generosity of the volunteers and ran* around the flat, single-lap, hard-packed gravel** course with stunning views***.

And in the throng were plenty of familiar names and faces, including:

  • the race photographer that I first met at Southwick parkrun

  • a parkrun tourist who I've watched vanish into the distance at Ally Pally, Wanstead Flats, Hampstead Heath, Valentines and Wormwood Scrubs

  • the parkrunner who gave me lifts between the longest parkrun's seven venues

  • the chirunning coach from a great workshop I went to last March

  • a posse of Basingstoke parkrunners I recognised from Eastbourne's inaugural run

  • two of the touring party of Burnham Joggers

  • and Chris and Linda Cowell, who are at 1st and 5th place on the most events table and who have clocked up a remarkable 77 and 63 different venues respectively.

*jogged gingerly. At least in my case.

**allegedly. Underneath the snow.

***so I'm told. I was too busy watching my step to look up.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter bunnies!

Basingstoke parkrun received a visit from the Easter bunnies this weekend!  Two unnamed individuals donated eggs, large and small, to turn the 203rd B'stoke parkrun into a very fast Easter Egg Hunt!    I have to admit that I was neither fast enough nor observant enough to find any eggs today.  It took all my concentration just to keep on going.  And really I should have stopped, would have stopped had not my oldest child (volunteering today) hurled abuse at me as a passed the finish point after completing the first one and a half laps.  Somehow I forgot to stop, and by the time I remembered I was nearly at the end!  I did stop briefly to see if a lady who had tripped badly was OK, but help had already been summoned, so I ploughed on.

It had not been a good run.  After my nasty fall on Mothering Sunday I've had various niggles that I've been trying to ignore.  I come from a generation that were told to 'run through' the pain at school.   I am competitive by nature, so when a friend caught up with me on Tennis Court Hill pushing his 3 year old son in a buggy I was mortified!  I did put on a bit of speed and pulled ahead for a few seconds, but I was to pay for it later.  My right hamstring was screaming at me.  It continued to shout at me for the rest of the run.  I finished in a disappointing 24mins 57 seconds.   As always, after picking myself slowly up from the ground, I jogged back to meet my youngest son and encourage him over the final half mile.  He is only 7 years old, and although he runs all the way around, I think he loses concentration.  Certainly when I meet up with him at the end of the race he has bags of energy left and we see how many people we can overtake.  There is always a lovely cheer for Freddy as he comes to the finish and he always has a huge smile on his face!  This week he got a new PB too!  He took 1 second off his previous time to finish in 35mis 05 secs.

Maybe it is because we get such a great deal from parkrun that a lot of us are more than happy to give something back.  The generosity of parkrunners never ceases to amaze me!  We've had medals donated for our Christmas day run, and one very kind runner who waited at the finish line for a younger runner (aged 7) to finish on that day and give him his medal (100 medals had been donated, but 130 runners had turned up on the day). Parkrun certainly fosters a great feeling of community and camaraderie.  The support and encouragement shown to runners at all levels is exceptional.  It seems incredible that I have been doing parkrun for less than a year, it has become such an important part of my life.  What on Earth did I do on Saturday mornings before?

Now, is some generous soul could please donate a new pair of fully functioning legs to me, I'd be a very happy lady!

Inaugural runs: Mile End parkrun (4 February 2012)

Another brand new parkrun today, this time in Mile End. It starts at the south end of Mile End park, and is twice around a lollipop. The design of the course gives you plenty of opportunity to see the other runners, to shout encouragement at your friends and to monitor the progress of your rivals. It's all tarmac, undulating and kicked off with a (male) course record of 15:23.

It is also situated right next to Regent's Canal, making it a perfect venue if you fancy extending your parkrun into a long run. I know this because I was meeting a couple of virtual running buddies and was in charge of finding a route. South along Regent's Canal, West along the Thames Path and then North into Hyde Park. Job done.