Date & Time: Saturday 2nd June 2018 at 09:00am
Although I’ve been doing Parkrun semi-regularly since last summer, I’ve only attempted two different Parkrun courses: our local one at Montrose, and Kirkcaldy Parkrun which is a 2 minute jog from my in-laws. So our trip to UKGE 2018 (which you can read all about here (I’m curious to know just how small the overlap is between those board game and running enthusiasts: so far it seems to largely be myself and Stuart, at least in terms of the people I know)) seemed like the perfect opportunity for a bit of Parkrun Tourism. The Expo is always really busy on the Saturday morning and we had nothing scheduled there until 11:30am, so there was ample time to fit in a Parkrun.
I turned up to Brueton Park car park about 25 minutes before the start, as the website had warned that the car park was usually full by 8:40am. I headed over to a ticket machine with handbag on my shoulder, ready to pay for parking, but a nice lady stopped me and told me that parking was free. You did still need a ticket though. I thanked her and she said I had looked like a tourist. I’m not sure whether it was the handbag, the look of confusion, or the Smokies 10 t-shirt which gave it away first.
Returning to the car with the ticket, I persuaded my other half to come along to the start point to take photos, as blog posts are usually infinitely better if photos are included and I had no idea if there would be a photographer there. Unfortunately I hadn’t checked how far it was to the start line. It turned out to be around a mile from the car park. My other half is not a runner, or, indeed, keen on any form of physical exercise. This is as far as I got him to come before he turned heel and sloped off with my camera.
Michael sloping off was fortunate, as I still had a long way to go to get to the start line, and would have missed the First Timer’s Briefing if I hadn’t started jogging to get there. As it was, I missed the very beginning of it but caught the main parts.
Although I had checked the Parkrun page for the course and the results for a previous week – in order to get an idea as to the likely number of runners and my likely finish position range – I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of people there. This week there were 547 people who completed the run: Montrose Parkrun averages around 105 runners. The Start area also had chains on both sides to keep us neatly contained, and placards with expected finish times to enable/ persuade runners to start at a position that would cause the least amount of frustration to both themselves and runners behind them. I picked a spot about halfway down the 20 – 24 minute group since my PB was 22:06 (it’s now 21:50 – I’m so happy to have finally cracked that 22 minute barrier), and listened to the Event Director’s briefing. It was here I discovered that we would be passing runners coming the other way and that there was a lead bike to clear the path for runners and stop those coming the other direction from getting in the way of the front runners heading the opposite way. All of this was new to me.
With so many runners, it took 8 seconds for me to get across the start line, despite being in the 2nd group as it were. The course involves just over two loops of the beautiful Brueton Park, with a double loop of a pond at the bottom and a slight additional detour at the top on the second lap. It’s an immediate uphill start, and I guessed that fact and the congestion at the start of the run, were responsible for the slower than expected pace my Garmin was telling me we were doing. However, at the top of the park we were still slower than 8 minute mile pace and I decided some people must either have been being optimistic about their finish times, or else wanted to start nearer the front in order to have more chance of getting a PB. I started trying to overtake. This required running on the grass at points, and stepping out into the contra-flow lane. This was fine initially as nobody was heading back to join us – yet. I passed several runners on the first downhill lap before we saw the lead cyclist heading back up, and he was waving those of us overtaking back into the left hand lane. Montrose Parkrun is a single loop course, so I only usually get to see the winning guys for the first half mile or so, from behind, as they disappear into the distance. It was an interesting experience to see them actually running towards us. They just looked so powerful and graceful. I’d love to get to that stage.
My Garmin buzzed at the first mile and told me my pace was 7:29. Not too bad given the slow start, but not great either. I knew this wasn’t going to be a good course to attempt a PB, but I wanted to at least stay consistently sub 23 minutes, even with the lack of training and sleep deprivation of the preceding week. The second time up the hill was a bit harder as we had to run up the full length of the park, not just half of it. I managed to keep overtaking sporadically though, and was catching up with people who were going at a better pace for me. I was also starting to sound terrible though: I haven’t learned how to breathe properly when running hard, and I’ve had a lingering chest infection that is gone-but-not-quite. My breathing was therefore loud and raspy, and was probably rather disconcerting to those within hearing distance. I’m sorry if it put anyone off their stride.
I thought it might ease off on the second downhill, but I had picked up the pace and started overtaking more frequently as I was worried I wouldn’t get sub 23 if I didn’t take full advantage of the downhill. The second mile buzzed and my Garmin displayed a pace of 7:12 – even subtracting the 8 seconds it took to get over the start line that was a noticeable boost in speed, and I calculated that sub 23 was still possible if I could hold it together on the uphill. I picked the pace up further, and my breathing got so bad that near the bottom of the hill a guy I was passing said “You sound like I feel.” I said something about a 7 week chest infection not being enough to deter me from a bit of Parkrun Tourism, and ran off ahead of him. It was the truth, but in retrospect it’s maybe not that encouraging to tell people you’re overtaking that you’ve got a chest infection but are still able to run faster than them – sorry for that – I just didn’t want everyone thinking that’s what I always sound like! The slight embarrassment about how I was clearly sounding to others wasn’t enough to make me ease off the pace though. I know it’s a run, not a race, but I’m ridiculously competitive, at least against myself.
The four kilometre marker was a welcome sign, but we had further to go up the hill this time. The route finishes further up the hill than the start, meaning it has a slight positive ascent: there is more climbing than descending. At this point I had passed the tail walker and some of the runners at the back. This was also a somewhat novel experience. Kirkcaldy Parkrun is just under two loops so you do lap a few people if you’re quick enough, but the tarmac paths there are at least 4 times wider with no contra-flow so it’s not necessarily clear whether you are lapping someone or they have just slowed for a quick walk/ slow jog recovery. I tried to say encouraging things to the people I was lapping, but was mostly struggling to breathe without wheezing. I was encouraged when the three mile lap time came in at 7:00, but I didn’t have much of a sprint in me. In fact, a guy who had been behind me sprinted past me and ducked in front of me less than half a second before the finish line – not leaving me time to respond. We got exactly the same finish time, but he took the 65th position. I was slightly miffed at not getting a chance to try and chase him back down, but I hadn’t noticed him getting ready to make his move. Maybe if I’d worked on my breathing technique I would have had more chance of noticing.
The finish funnel at Brueton is really long and snakes round at right angles before you get to the volunteers dispensing finish tokens. They also have more scanners on duty than at Montrose. I got my token scanned by the same lady who did the First Timers Briefing. Despite some doubling up of duties there were still a lot of volunteers required, and it seemed to be a very well-run operation. I thanked a couple of the volunteers and asked the lady at the registration desk where the photos would be posted (I’d spotted a photographer on the way round) and if I’d be able to use them in this post. I got positive answers to both of those, so thanks to John Williams for most of these photos.
I finished in a time of 22:46 in 66th position and was the 5th female across the line. I was reasonably happy with that given that I calculated it was really 22:38 (taking into account the delay in getting to the start line for me compared to Montrose where I start in the second row) and given my lack of sleep and atrocious nutrition over the preceding couple of days. The park was lovely, the marshals were encouraging, and the volunteers in general were both friendly and well-organised. As I had to be back at the UKGE before 11:30am I didn’t have time to stick around for a post-Parkrun coffee and instead headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before heading to NEC.
Brueton Parkrun was a great start to the day and helped get me in a relaxed frame of mind before beginning what ended up being an 11 hour day of meetings and gaming. I don’t know if I’ll be back there anytime soon, but if you’re ever in the Birmingham or Coventry area it’s worth going along.
All photos not stated as being taken by myself or Michael Heron were taken by John Williams. A complete album of photos from the event are available from the Brueton Parkrun Flickr Group