Ian picked this Saturday for another tourist parkrun. This was largely because it was a milestone for him (his 50th) and he didn’t want to have to run around our local parkrun wearing a cape: he wanted to fly under the radar, and the kind of cape you have to wear at Parkrun isn’t the kind that assists with human flight either over or under radar devices. Camperdown is closer, but with it having previously been the nearest parkrun to Arbroath before Montrose Parkrun launched, it doesn’t feel as touristy. Also, Perth is flatter, and the route takes in part of the Tay Ten which is coming up soon, and so seemed the better choice for this time of year.
I picked Barry up just after 8:00am and we managed to get to Bell Sports Centre with no wrong turns, thanks to his ability to follow GPS directions (I can’t manage this whilst driving: I can listen to books whilst driving, but not a computerised voice telling me where to go – often just after the point at which I could have safely changed lanes). Due to the longish journey, after paying the princely sum of 40p to park (actually £1 as the meters don’t give change), our first priority was to find the toilet facilities, the second being to find Ian, Tina and Craig. Luckily we managed to kill two birds with one stone, bumping into Tina and Ian inside the centre. We found Craig outside shortly afterwards: he’d already done about a 1 mile warm up jog. We thought about doing a quick warm up jog, and Barry and I did a few running drills, but mostly I just looked a bit daft as I don’t have the co-ordination for them.
We found the Start area easily enough, as a large crowd was forming, and I wandered over to a small, friendly looking group which included two hi viz wearers and asked if this was the First Timers briefing. We were quickly directed over to “the lady with the microphone” – RD Jane. She promptly made an announcement seeking first time Parkrunners and those who were new to Perth, and there was a group of around 20 of us. This included a few runners from Bushy (the original Parkrun), Lincoln, and Glasgow, in addition to Brechin and Arbroath. There was only one brand new Parkrunner though, and she made sure the newcomer had a barcode and understood the drill at the finish funnel. We then got a brief description of the route (an almost out and back route but with a narrow loop at the far end on a grassy path which prevents any contra flow) where we were assured it was almost completely flat. After the briefing was over I let slip that it was Ian’s 50th Parkrun, and she took a note of his full name. I hadn’t meant to drop him in it: I just opened my mouth and put my foot in it without thinking. Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen? It would get announced along with the other milestones, and nobody would know who he was so no worries. Wrong. Perth Parkrun have milestone boards, and Ian had to go and get his photo taken holding the 50 board, in front of nearly 350 people. Sorry Ian!
Barry and Ian made their way to the front, and I found a place about 5 or 6 rows back, whilst the race briefing was happening and photos were being taken. We were asked to cheer a couple of marshals for their first volunteering stints, and the RD got her photo taken for her milestone 100th volunteer slot! Luckily I had got my watch ready, as there was no 3-2-1 countdown, just a “Ready? Go!” This took me by slight surprise. Then I had several seconds of slight frustration as I discovered I had started too far back. The row of ladies in front of me were all setting up their phones, and I couldn’t get through, then I got stuck behind some guys wearing headphones who weren’t aware of me. The pace wasn’t what I expected that far forward, and I had to do some weaving in and out to get to somewhere I could run without clipping my stride. Craig was watching this in amusement from slightly further back, and recounted this to me later that evening whilst I was losing cash at a race night, but then recouped a fair bit of my losses by winning 3 of the raffle prizes!
Once I’d navigated my way to some space after the first 100 or so metres, I briefly picked up the pace to something unsustainable, like 6:40 per mile. I quickly dropped back to about 7:00 per mile pace as we headed north out of North Inch park, and up a surprisingly steep short section of tarmac with a very sharp right hand turn to head alongside the golf course towards the river bank. The hill is probably only about 10 metres, but for a “completely flat” course the gradient was a bit of a surprise. The section next to the golf course is very short and it’s slightly downhill which is nice, then another sharp turn (left, this time) took us onto another tarmac path along the banks of the silvery Tay. The temperature had picked up since we had left Brechin (I was a few minutes late picking up Barry as I’d had to scrape frost off the windscreen) but it was still a bit cold and misty so it didn’t look quite as lovely as it had during the bright sunshine of last year’s Tay Ten. It was, though, still a very pleasant route. The tarmac is a bit warped in places at that point, so I did spend a bit of time looking at the ground to make sure I didn’t trip over my own feet.
I was running slightly faster than I’d been doing at that point in the Tay Ten, but it felt harder. Could I keep the pace up for 3.1 miles? About 0.6 miles in my quads started complaining about the pounding they’d taken yesterday (a fairly brutal hilly 10.5 miler where all but one of the miles was sub 8 minutes, with the 10th one being a steep downhill sprint at 4:02/km pace) and I realised the answer was almost certainly no. I was going past a few guys, but a few were also overtaking me and I didn’t have the power to try and stick with them.
With it being an out and back course, and very straight from 1km to 2.4km, you can see what’s happening quite far ahead of you. Shortly before the first mile buzzed, I was surprised to see someone who looked like Barry from the back. He had a similar build and was also wearing a black top and red buff. I very briefly thought I must be going a bit faster than I thought if Barry was still in view, but then my watch buzzed the first mile as 7:07 and I realised it couldn’t be Barry, or if it was he’d changed his mind about going for it. Shortly afterwards, I realised we could see the front runners heading back the opposite way on the grassy path, and saw another guy who looked like Barry, at least half a mile in front of me at a guess. I waved over at him and he waved back. I hoped it was Barry, otherwise I was just some random person waving at the leaders, wishing I could be that fast! (This is also true.)
I had no idea how many women were ahead of me. There were very few around me after I went past those ladies on their phones, but I was sure there must be at least a few in front. At 1.4 miles, a young lady with a short stride but high cadence nipped past me. I was slightly surprised as she must have started further back than me and taken her time to work through the crowds on the slightly narrow path. I said “Excuse me” to the taller of the two guys running abreast in front of me, and they kindly let me through. She was only 4 or 5 metres in front of me, and not getting further in front, but I couldn’t close the distance. Then at just over 1.5 miles (almost exactly halfway) we had a very sharp left hand turn onto a very short section, followed by a second very sharp left hand turn and we were onto the grassy section. The RD had warned us that it was a little muddy, but I had also been told by Craig that it was about 150 metres, so not much more than we have at Montrose: leg strength sapping, certainly, but over with quickly. Unfortunately he’d underestimated by several hundred metres: it was at least 0.4 of a mile according to my watch, and I watched people overtake me as I tried to find the best path through the mud. When we’d met Tina she’d asked if I was wearing new trainers: they weren’t new, having done about 260km, but they looked pretty new and clean – by the end they were completely caked in mud and nobody would have mistaken them for new shoes. This slowed me down to slower than 7:40 pace or so, and the second mile came in at 7:22. Still a possibility of squeaking under 22 minutes if I could get the pace right back up once we got off the grass. I didn’t enjoy this section much, but it’s much easier when the ground is dry, and even so it was nice to watch the runners on the other side of the loop who weren’t yet at the halfway point.
It was a relief to get back onto the tarmac, and I tried to pick up the pace. My quads have a bit of a delay though, and I also couldn’t pick it up quite as fast as I wanted. The grass, or just the usual pacing strategy of going out fast and trying to hold on, seemed to have had the same impact on the guys around me though, and I overtook a few of them whilst heading back along the river bank. Back around those hairpin bends heading south back into North Inch park and I tried to pick up the pace again. My watch was saying I still had over 0.35 of a mile to go, though, and my pace tanked to the point that a second lady ran past me with another guy just before my watch buzzed 3 miles (in a disappointing 7:17). My legs didn’t feel like they had a sprint left in them, and clearly I wasn’t going sub 22, so I didn’t attempt to chase her. Then, surprisingly, I heard a woman shouting my name. I knew Tina was behind me (she ran a pretty nippy 24:34 despite having Fetteresso marathon the following day) and I know very few Perth runners, so had no idea who it could be and whether they were definitely shouting for me. But unless the lady who had just gone past shared my name, it must be for me as there were no other female runners nearby. After the 3rd shout I finally realised it was Christine from the Footers! I had no idea why she would have made the trip to Perth and not done the Parkrun, but it gave me the push to attempt a final 20 metre sprint. I gratefully crossed the line in 22:09, got my finish token (number 47) and joined the short queue for barcode scanning.
I quickly found Barry, who had finished in an amazing time of 18:11 and was 7th. He wasn’t 100% sure of his time and whether it was a PB, but checking Strava he discovered his previous 5k best was 18:40, so he’d taken a huge chunk off it. He’d also found the grassy section a bit slippy and hadn’t gone full pelt (for him) on it, so I’m sure he’s got sub 18 in him. Ian had also comfortably gone sub 20, so had had a great run for his milestone. Barry was talking to a guy he always bumps into at races. This gentleman also knew the lady who had nipped in front of me in the last couple of hundred metres, so I shook her hand and congratulated her. She hadn’t even noticed she’d sneaked past me to take 3rd female finisher. Craig and Tina appeared within a couple of minutes, and we chatted to a couple of folk they knew before heading off for a few recovery miles.
Perth Parkrun takes place in a beautiful setting. North Inch Park is lovely and the banks of the Tay are always picturesque, if you aren’t working too hard to enjoy it. The route is mostly tarmac and almost completely flat. Just watch out for a couple of sharp turns, and maybe, just maybe, consider trail shoes like Calderas that can be worn on both road and trail if it’s been raining heavily as the grassy section is likely to be soft in those conditions. Out and back routes might not have as much diversity of scenery as single loop courses do, but they have the advantage of letting you know what the terrain in like and how far you still have to go. And this is definitely a fast course with PB potential. Barry knocked chunks off his PB, and Ian, Tina and I all ran, not PBs, but our fastest Parkrun times of 2019 so far. It’s a friendly parkrun too, easy to get to from most parts of Scotland, and busy but not too busy. If you’re doing a bit of Parkrun tourism it’s definitely one to put high on the list. I’ll definitely be back when I’m next in Perth for Tabletop Scotland later in the year if we don’t organise a return visit beforehand.