Saturday, 28 April 2012

Side stepping the puddles at Colwick

Colic is way the locals say it . That's a tip I could have done with on my 2 wheeled Monday reccy.
Once the location was sorted I got close to the course on 4 wheels by going round the back of Nottingham Racecourse (horses) beyond the Colwick Hall Hotel, Colwick Park, Racecourse Road, Nottingham, NG2 4BH, to the far end of the unmade car park ("This park is locked at 7pm" - no problem). Its a 400 metre stroll along the paths, keep going towards the water, cars and the 9 metre high 'wall' in the Adventure centre. See the 'parkrun' site for details of the several car parks in the centre of the park but when approaching from the city centre, west, you save about 2 miles and 10 minutes and its free.

Packed earth paths thread their way small trees along with cinder paths through grass swathes make Colwick a beautiful and tranquil park. Until the stampede of 100+ 'parkruners' invade once a week.

The course is clockwise around a small loop, a big loop and the small loop again, ultra flat the only undulations are flood control levees that shape the lakes and waterways which seem to be all over the place. The start is one side of the Adventure centre and the finish at t'other. When dry it must be a flier, get that tempo going, hold on and a p.b. must be within reach.  . . . it was wet on both my appearances.

The run sets off on the small loop, an early tight right turn gives a view of the runners ahead, or behind! Then its stretching out before the path splits and a 'smiling volunteer' directs you on the only left fork on the course, just as you can see the finish to the right. Onto the big loop, long views of the route ahead mean its difficult to go wrong. If there's a wind, some open stretches can seem a battle but the views of geese, ducks and boats distract you from the pain.

The right turns and views keep coming as the route moves onto the hard paths good for speed if not for comfort. One straight gives you the choice between both surfaces, most choose the road, before ducking into woods and onto the small loop again. The aforementioned tight right looms again for a view of your pursuers! if you go for a long wind up to the finish, now's the time. Thank goodness 'Smiling volunteer' points right this time, and you can see the finish, 45 seconds later its all over.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


On Sunday I ran past the entrance to Alice Holt.  Alice Holt is our local forestry commission woodland.  A beautiful place that plays host to the annual Bolt Round The Holt, picnics with children, walks with dogs and where many a local child has learnt to cycle.  As I plodded, painfully and slowly, towards Farnham I mused that Alice Holt could make a good parkrun venue.  There are loads of paths through the woods, plenty of car parking but the requirement for a place to have coffee left me wondering if the rather basic 'Forest Centre' would be able to accommodate the needs of many ravenous runners.  From looking at the website, it appears that the cafĂ© has had a bit of a makeover recently, so maybe it would be just the ticket!

Yesterday evening I received my 'parkrun newsletter.'   In it there was a call for people who might be interested in volunteering to set up a new parkrun at Alice Holt.  A parkrun 4 miles away from me sounds ideal!  And being involved in setting up a new parkrun would be very exciting.  But Basingstoke parkrun feels like home to me! I've made so many new friends there and been made to feel part of a community in a way I never imagined possible.  Of course the same thing might well happen at a new venue that I choose to attend on a regular basis, but I'd always wonder what was going on over in Basingstoke.  

I think I've decided what I'll do.  I will be enthusiastic about helping to get this parkrun off the ground.  I will tell all my local running friends about it.  I will most certainly run the first run.  After that I will run at Alice Holt once a month, and volunteer there on occasion too (how else will I get to know people?) but keep Basingstoke as my home run.  

All this presupposes that I can still run!  After an 8.5 mile run on Sunday, which was painful for almost every step of the way, I didn't run again until this evening.  I had a sports massage on Tuesday and felt really good afterwards.  I was advised not to run on Wednesday (by the masseuse) which was fine as I was out for supper, so tonight was my first run in what seems like a long time.  

It still hurts.  In fact my legs seem to be developing more aches and pains than ever before.  I managed 3.3miles - just!  It seems I have made the right decision not to run the Bracknell Half Marathon on Sunday.  In fact, I don't think I'll get a long run this weekend at all, as it is my youngest son's birthday on Sunday.  I may manage parkrun on Saturday, but whatever happens this is going to be a very light mileage week for me.  

Maiden parkrun win with exhaustive tactical analysis

I remember the first time I got a glimpse of a parkrun victory.  About a year ago at Finsbury Park, I was astonished to find myself in the lead after about 60 yards.

Wahey, I'm winning!  I thought.  Ok, keep calm, there's a long way to go...

At this point, one of the other runners came past me as if I was standing still.  I watched calmly - if a little resentfully - as he vanished into the distance, taking with him my hopes of a maiden parkrun win.  I hung on for a stoical second place.  The runner in question had never visited the Finsbury parkrun before and never has since; I'm not bitter - I'm just saying.

My second shot at a win came over Easter weekend at Hampstead Heath.  The field was a fair bit smaller than the first time I ran there and, because of the Easter fair on the Heath, they were running the 'B' course, which I was informed, ended with a hill which was 'like climbing a flight of stairs'.

I quite liked the look of the field: there were no club vests on show (I had a briefly satisfying image of the entire Highgate Harriers cross country team milling around at the usual start point wondering where everybody was).  On the other hand, I was feeling a bit leggy after a four-mile bike ride to the Heath.

My cautious optimism looked well founded as I hung on behind the leader through the start of the race and the first negotiation of the big hill, well clear of third place.  Having determined that I was in with a decent shout of a win, it occurred to me that some sort of strategy might come in handy.  I had a few considerations:

1. Legs feeling a bit wobbly.  Not a good idea to go too early
2. Course very hilly.  Uphill not too bad, but I tend to go downhill with all the grace and assurance of a tranquilised animal
3. Uphill finish (like going up a flight of stairs, apparently)

All of this added up to an infallible solution: sit tight until the bottom of the staircase, then run like stink and hope you're the one with more left.

Here's what my strategy looked like in my head:

In my imagination, you'll notice, my opponent looked a lot like the person out of Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Coming back to the real world, I realised that while I'd been hatching my direful plot, the guy in first place had hit a bit of a flat spot and I was suddenly a few yards clear.  Oh well, I thought ruefully, tearing up my mental notes.  Time for Plan B.

Plan B: You're in the lead. Make it stick.

Plan B had one pretty major flaw: I wasn't all that clear on the route.  However, on the one occasion I nearly went wrong, a shouted word of warning from the runner behind me set me right.  It also cost him a lungful of oxygen so I'll put it down as part of my masterplan.

The much-anticipated staircase was a great deal longer than I'd anticipated, but I came to the top with a healthy lead and romped through the line in 19:25, the fifth-slowest winning time in the history of Hampstead Heath.  (Also, one of the slower winning times is from the occasion the entire field dead-heated on 59:59, which I presume was down to a timing problem rather than an excessively tactical race.)

So, I scratched my one-year itch and scored a maiden parkrun win.  For anyone wondering how to emulate these debatable heroics, here's my breakdown of the important factors and how they relate:

A busy cross-country season, followed by three months of marathon training: 2%
Diamond-tipped tactical genius: 1%
Hot cross buns for breakfast instead of muesli: 2%
Who turns up on the day: 95%

In other words, put in the parkruns and the time will come.  Of course, a touch of Machiavellianism doesn't hurt: I made sure to attend the offroad Scrubs parkrun on Saturday after a week of torrential rain and with quite a few of the regulars resting up for the London Marathon.  Result: a PB and two wins from two parkruns this month!  I think I'd have got shorter odds against being hit by lightning on the 32nd of July.  It just goes to show, show up!  You never can tell.


Hampstead Heath course description
Wormwood Scrubs course description
Competitive Running Strategy and Tactics on
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
How to Take Over the World on

Parkrun secrets the nearly-professionals didn't want you to know about

Some of us parkrun just for the sheer joy of it, some of us parkrun to help improve our fitness, and some of us parkrun because we’re competitive little beggars and we’d do anything to get the fastest time possible.

If you fall into this third category, you might be interested to read the top 10 parkrun secrets that the nearly-professionals didn’t want you to know about!

I’m not one for elitist hoarding, so I am prepared to share these with you, FREE OF CHARGE – yes, that’s FREE OF CHARGE.

Use these techniques and I give you my 100% guarantee that there will be a large (or small) possibility of major (or minor) improvement (or regression) in your park run times.

Can you afford not to read on?

1)    Grow your hair really long and hairspray it into an aerodynamic cycling helmet shape to cut down on wind resistance.

2)    Vaseline the soles of your trainers to reduce surface friction
3)    Carb-load on baked beans. Not only are they full of energy, but you can also botty-burp the turbo-boosters at critical moments.

4)    Botox your face – wrinkles and old, saggy skin do nothing to aid your aerodynamic shape.

5)    Insert springs into the soles of your shoes. These will add at least 20 feet to every stride.

6)    Dangle your favourite snack from the peak of your cap. You will run faster as you maniacally chase it in front of your eyes.

7)    Practice running really fast downhill during the week and then just pretend it’s all downhill when you’re at the parkrun.

8)    Put a ‘You won’t catch me, you slow old chuggers’ sign on your back. You’ll have no choice but to run faster with 100 determined park runners after your blood.

9)    Alternatively, strap sausages to your back, for 100 determined park-running dogs to chase after.

10)  Attach a large elastic band to yourself and the finishing chute. Stretch back to the beginning of the parkrun and hold it tight until the whistle goes. And release…

EDIT: After trying technique number 10, I now have a new 5km parkrun PB of 6.25 seconds...

Whilst these techniques have been tried and tested by me and, perhaps, other nearly-professionals, please note that I am not responsible for any damage, injury, or psychiatric sectioning required after attempting them.

Other blogs:
Playing away – I just can't stop myself - Richmon parkrun 21 April 2012

The Eastbourne parkrun Grand National - 14 April 2012

Eastbourne parkrun 07 April 2012: The satsuma that got squeezed!

A parkrun lesson

How parkruns and bumblebees can lead to half marathon success

Eastbourne parkrun 24 March

Eastbourne parkrun 31 March 2012: How Kathy Bates sabotaged my parkrun

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

PLAYING AWAY – I JUST CAN’T STOP MYSELF – Richmond parkrun 21 April 2012

I had said I was taking three weeks off parkrun blogging, as I couldn’t go to Eastbourne parkrun again until 12 May.

This week, I had an impromptu away fixture and my blogging brain went into a hyperdrive of excitement.

Up in Twickenham to spectate the Virgin London Marathon, I took the opportunity to show Richmond parkrun what I’m all about.

It also meant the return of the wonderful satsuma. Lynda, our good friend and Twickenham resident, was hosting us for the weekend and, resplendent in her orange Berlin Half Marathon top, we set out to conquer the course.

I have run around Richmond Park once before, for a 10k Fix event at the back end of February, so I knew the course outline; where I could run hard and where I could run harder.

It was a cool morning as we strolled the couple of miles along the river from Twickenham to Richmond, only really warming ourselves up with a struggle up the hill at Turner’s view.

The park itself was buzzing with Saturday morning exercisers, be they cyclists, dog walkers, sole runners or park runners and the sun tried desperately to battle the little showers that were trying to force themselves upon us.

I took the opportunity of an emergency wee. Big mistake. Richmond might be a posh place, but the park must have the stinkiest toilets in the whole of the country. I can’t back this claim up with any additional evidence, other than to say I felt utterly nauseous trying to have a pee through what smelled like the stench of month’s old stale urine. Boy, was I grateful for some fresh air. Is there a prize for best and worst parkrun toilets?

Proper runners do proper stretches. Lynda and I indulge in pretend stretching; the art of looking like you are stretching. On this day, we had the beautiful landscape to assist us. See me below, being a plank, on a log, just behind Lynda performing her stump-stand-side-stretch.

We were called into line at 9:00am prompt. There was a little bit of housekeeping and then some applause. Clapping? What for? I couldn’t hear the chap at the front, but apparently Richmond parkrun claps all the first timers running there that day. How delightfully cosmopolitan! I’d never experienced applause of such gay abandon in the provinces. Thankfully, it fell short of any American-style whooping and hollering! Cosmopolitan or not, we’re still British, you know!

The run itself was really good. The sun was shining but not too warm. I thought the path would be quite crowded, but space opened up pretty quickly as we ran down the hill, with an amazing view of the London skyline in the distance – the London Eye was clearly visible, as was that thing that looks like a bullet – I once thought it was called The Avocado, until I was told I had confused my fruit and vegetable buildings.

At the foot of the hill, a few deer contemplated what on earth 300 human beings were doing pummelling their way through trees, when they clearly thought it was a much better idea to spectate and chew the cud. For a moment I wanted to stop, as it looked like a perfect Instagram moment, before realising I was both running and not in possession of an iPhone.

The incline loomed ahead, so I just decided to put my foot down and hurtle up it. I saw my other half, Rich, poised with camera a few metres ahead, so I thought I’d start sprinting. The resulting shot is an example of how not to run! Bent at the waist and over-striding is not a good look, nor is it an efficient way of getting from A to B. Having said that, I blame the photographer for not ensuring the picture was taken with me looking at my best. No careful positioning of the subject, no ‘say cheese’.

Completed the course in 24:01 (Garmin) 24:05 (barcode time), which is some 30 seconds slower than my Eastbourne parkrun PB and about 10 seconds slower than my Eastbourne average. Finishing position of 116.

Lynda, popped round the corner about 5 minutes later, and whilst she hadn’t run to her best form this time, she still had time for a comedy photo opportunity.

What does one do after a parkrun? Some go for coffee, some go for pain au chocolat, some go and deconstruct how Turner may have interpreted the physiological vagaries of the human body in art form, whilst overlooking the River Thames. We, of course, did all three…

Other blogs:

The Eastbourne parkrun Grand National - 14 April 2012

Eastbourne parkrun 07 April 2012: The satsuma that got squeezed!

A parkrun lesson

How parkruns and bumblebees can lead to half marathon success

Eastbourne parkrun 24 March

Eastbourne parkrun 31 March 2012: How Kathy Bates sabotaged my parkrun