Saturday, 12 May 2012

Diversions, dodgy waterworks and dreaming the dream…

My first parkrun for three weeks and my first back at Eastbourne for four. Trips to London and the lovely 'Isley' Wight in between have meant four weeks of abscondence from the sunshine coast. The sunshine coast? Don’t make me laugh! For these past few weeks it has been greyer than an over-90’s day out – and just as wet!

Parkrun number 9 for me today and what a scorcher for my return. I wasn’t convinced when I woke up and a northerly wind was howling its way down my road on a Hastings hill. But, the sun was shining and I had packed a short-sleeved t-shirt in my rucksack in case of warmer climes in Eastbourne.

On my arrival I pottered about, jig-jogging, taking sips of water, catching glances of other people and experiencing that awkward moment when you’re not sure whether they’re looking back at you and whether you ought to say hello. Quite often, they’re merely looking directly over your shoulder at something else. What usually starts with a lift of the hand and the beginning of a ‘he-‘ quickly descends into a fake ‘ahem’ cough and a quick-thinking scratch of the head as you realise they haven’t clocked you at all. Feel the blood begin to flush your cheeks.

I changed into my short sleeved t-shirt, making I sure I did so when few people were around. My booming physique would surely have set a few heart rate monitors into irreversible overdrive. You see, I’m thoughtful like that.

Starter calls us over for a special announcement. Have I won the prize for best Eastbourne blogger? No. Has there been a mistake because it’s parkrun and the sun is shining? No. Have they diverted the route away from the army assault course section? YES!  Owing to the recent wet weather, which, by all accounts, led to ankle deep water for some last week, a visit to the ditch had been dropped from the itinerary. We would not now descend into the grimpen mire and would, instead, take the route along the football pitch edge, on higher and marginally drier ground. This shortened the route a little, so an extra diversion was added, which I will recount shortly.

Starter counted down from three and blew his whistle; a real pro. There followed a two second delay as I tried to press start on my Garmin – believe me, when you’re as stupid as I am, even pressing a button on a watch can be a challenge!

I set off at a slightly more conservative pace than usual. I wasn’t in the sub 7 minute mile melee that usually ensues for the first hundred yards and, instead, settled in at 7m 10s.  We were clinically diverted away from the ditch by the fabulously marshalling Steph (who does running) Burton and along the football pitch edge, which made its own attempts to hobble the runners. The grass was quite long here and I noticed two people put their foot down only to see it disappear a few inches into a hole or depression in the ground.  Running in long grass is akin to running through tyre hoops – that strangely odd wide stance and high knee lift as you try to avoid hidden holes and shoelace/greenery entanglement. There was a slightly flattened strip where a car tyre had pressed the grass and many runners tried to use this as a guide.

On reaching the other end, instead of turning left onto the path, we were sent round a small copse and then switch-backed round a playground – more twists and turns here than an Agatha Christie plot! I felt sorry for the marshall at this point, who must have spent 40 minutes standing in a stench of dog dirt, because it was pretty strong round there.  You have this panicked ‘was it me’ moment as you kick your heels up high behind you, aim to check the soles of your shoes and then witness  all the runners around you doing the same.

Thanking the lord (real or imaginary) that our tread was clear, we continued back onto the familiar route.

Now, all week I have had Les Miserables songs going through my head. By the way, if nobody has ever seen this show, it is the one thing you must do before you die.   I don’t know much about the French Revolution and opera-style singing was never ever my thing, but this show transcends all of that and is guaranteed to blow you away beyond any other entertainment you’ve ever experienced. If there is a more technically brilliant, orchestrally goose-bumpy and, at the end, spine-tinglingly rousing song on Earth than 4 minutes of One Day More, then let it be known.

(Alfie Boe and cast at the 25th Anniversary concert version attached here:

Anyhow, what has this to do with parkrun today? Well, as my breathing became a bit laboured early on through a bit of fitness deterioration, I needed something to concentrate my mind. So, in my mind’s eye I was Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean singing One Day More and Who Am I. I didn’t vocalise this on the route as I could not be responsible for killing both the song and my fellow parkrunners. Incidentally, if Jean Valjean had a parkrun number he would have to be 24601. (Anyone who has seen Les Mis will understand!!) I’m not 24601 – I’m 237259! I did manage most of Do You Hear The People Sing and a bit of Master of The House as well. I did not belt out I Dreamed a Dream.  If I had a key, it would probably be the wrong one for me - and I forgot about it.

Before I knew it 3km had passed and I knew my pace was lagging a bit. My watch had me down at 8 minute miles and the northerly wind was blowing headlong down the back stretch. I really, really wanted to walk but I kept forcing myself onwards.

It was then that I had a curious experience. I felt a strange warmth down the inside of my leg. Typical! 39 years old and my prostate decides to give up in the middle of a parkrun! I put my hand to my thigh and, to my surprise, it was bone dry.  No esca-pee! Just warm skin. Phew! I still do not know what this sensation was, but I can only describe it as a strange warming feeling creeping down my leg and, I must say, I am relieved my prostate is still in perfect working order. If anyone has any ideas, please write to me on a postcard.

I was conscious that three people had overtaken me on the run. I tried to keep tabs on one young chap (blue t-shirt man) who collared me at halfway, but he was running a bit stronger than me and slowly, step-by step, he kept inching out a gap. Before long he was forty metres ahead and so I focussed on two other guys about twenty metres in front. Back through the twisty turny section we went and, by now, I had almost latched onto them.

I knew that, however exhausted I felt, I always managed to give a sprint finish for 100 metres or so and a little bit of a competitive edge crept in. We swung around the final bend and hit the grass heading towards the finish.  I don’t think they knew I was there. I’m short, lean and very light on my feet, so it wasn’t as if a lumbering rhino was bearing down on them. A small gap opened between them and I half thought about splitting their difference.  But the chap on the right edged slightly in, so I deftly side-stepped to my left and sprinted round the chap on the left. They both responded and a few claps emerged from the spectators as they witnessed a trio of middle aged men sprinting (and I use that term loosely!) for the line. I just had the legs of them and finished in front.

19th position (again). That was my previous finishing position and, had I run the last two weeks, my average time would have  also put me in that same position on both days.
Garmin time of 24:09 – but that is likely to be rounded up to 24:11 or similar as I fumbled with simple technology at the start.

So, another week, another parkrun. Don’t forget to have a look at the video to see what I was singing on my way round. I think next week I will be singing as The Weather Girls….. both of them!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Course Description - Sheffield Hallam, Endcliffe Park.

Course - An anticlockwise, 2 laps + a small loop.
              City park, tarmac paths with rooty sections.
Size -     250/300,  Record = 370+.

Endcliffe Park occupies the Porter valley as it opens out from the hills to the South West of Sheffield. At the SW (pointy) end of the park where hills encroach from both sides, the main path is never far from the Porter stream. Almost every metre of tarmaced path in the park is used plus the 'Back Straight' which is outside the perimeter fence. Several tight turns, narrow paths, a humpy bridge, 3 sharp inclines and road humps need to be negotiated on each lap. Its always busy, you're never alone at Sheff Hallam and even paced running is fair nigh impossible. See the packed starts, the legend who is Andrew Moncrieff and the mysterious 'man in a hat' amongst the hundreds of pictures on their facebook site. Ice on cold winter mornings causes cancellations about  3/4 times per year. Limited parking is available inside but its a 'free for all' in the streets to the south for most people.

The start/finish line is by the children's playground, you won't miss it as the fluorescent jackets and early attenders will be there chatting, stretching and greeting friends. After the usual briefing you are asked to go to the start line which is already packed 10 deep, the front row is best foot forward and hand on watch. The path is 4 metres across and is full and spilling over onto the grass for 25 metres. Squeeze in where you can.

From the start its a charge through a chicane right then left, down the right of the river to the humpy bridge and back up the opposite side to re-cross the start/finish line. That's the 'small loop' its two laps from here, a glance at your time at this point will tell you if its worth a sprint finish near the end, 2 minutes is my mark (p.b. 23mins). This first 'small loop' is cheek by jowl with runners each side, in front and behind. If you are a slow starter stay away from the front, you have been warned!

Up the centre of the park passing the cafe on the right its a 4 metre wide path. Then into a narrow section up the first incline to the lower pond on the right. Its very narrow be aware of benches on the left which threaten to leg you up. Alongside the pond and across a flat bridge to a wide stretch which takes you to the second incline. This ones a double with a flatter bit in the middle, flatter not exactly flat! Emerge alongside the top pond on your left, an adverse camber is unsettling, I stick tight to the edge of the pond for the most level section. Leave the pond across another flat bridge then up the final incline to a slow left hairpin to leave the park. Look left and down to see who's behind you.

Then its the Back Straight and it continues for about 800 metres, it is very gradually downhill and never more than 2 runners wide. Railings to the left and to the right there is an uneven grass verge with trees, lampposts and various other trip hazards. Overtaking is almost by permission, a friendly "coming through" eases the way. I tend to match pace and wait.

The Back Straight ends with a 90 degree left to return to the park, to the right is the high fence of the tennis club. This is the only proper downhill section of the whole run. Two speed bumps need to be crossed, some use them as push off boosters to maintain the increased pace generated by the downhill. I pick a stride to miss them altogether.

Another 90 degree turn, right this time, and rejoin the 'small loop'. On the second lap this is my 2 minute warning. Plenty of time to nail the p.b. or ease past that person in the annoying 'startling pink'. A glance at the watch and PUSH PUSH PUSH.