Hay Lodge parkrun started up around 8 months ago, and is the first one in the Borders region. I’d been hoping to visit the 9th event, between Christmas and New Year, but arrived to discover it had been cancelled due to high winds. This time, thankfully, the wind was almost non-existent, and the event went ahead.
I was in the borders visiting my parents, who were celebrating their sapphire wedding anniversary (45 years!) that day. They’re not runners, but they enjoyed their trip to Montrose parkrun last summer where Mum volunteered to hand out finish tokens, so they were happy to act as chauffeur, photographer and general support crew.
My Mum has a fear of being late for things, so she decided we needed to leave Galashiels at 8:15am to ensure we’d be there in plenty of time. So of course there were only the volunteers and about 3 other runners when we arrived at the park. There were a couple of guys doing strides in the car park though: they looked fast. After using the facilities, I decided to do a warm up jog with a few drills, passing several other runners who had now started to arrive and were warming up. So, despite getting there very early, I still managed to miss the first couple of minutes of the first timers briefing. This was conducted by RD Archie, and there were a surprising number of first timers (perhaps around 20, at the briefing at least), mostly tourists visiting from down south.
Heading to the start area, there were a few marshals stood at different points of the area with placards for expected finishing times: sub-20, sub-24, sub-28 and sub-32 minutes. I’d missed the important information about whether we ran around the park clockwise or anti-clockwise, but none of the slopes were close to as tough as the one at Stonehaven, and I was feeling a fair bit better than I had been for most of the past couple of weeks, so I opted for sub-24 and slotted in behind a guy in an orange parkrun top.
After the run briefing, where we were treated to some poetry which I am probably misquoting
“parkrun is a run, not a race
and we’d like to see a smile on your face”
we were off down a very gentle decline on a tarmac path. The path was quite narrow, but the starting pace was fine for me. At one point my watch said 6:50 per mile, but that’s not as bad as the usual initial rush where everyone seems to go out sub 6:00 then slows down dramatically within 400 metres.
Hay Lodge parkrun is a 3-loop course, but this first section isn’t part of the main loop – at least, not in this direction. It’s a gentle downhill for the first 500 metres or so, with the river on the left-hand side. You then encounter a hairpin bend, where we said “Hi” to the friendly marshal, and loop back along a lower path closer to the river, with the river now being on your right-hand side. This meant we were doing anti-clockwise loops of the park. There was a slight alteration to the course – which had been mentioned at the run briefing – due to a fallen tree near the bridge, so we were diverted onto the grass for around 20 metres. I’d been checking my watch and realised the four runners in front of me had eased to a pace slightly slower than I wanted to stick with, so I took the opportunity of the space to go past them at this point. I wasn’t wanting to go flat out, but I did want to ensure I’d picked the right starting area. This path climbs a little and reconnects with the initial path, about 220 metres from where we’d started. I wondered if anyone had still been heading out the way on that path when the front runners looped back, but it seemed unlikely. There is a stone building near where the paths connect, and this is also near the finish area. The volunteers on finish area duties had congregated there and were cheering us on, which is always appreciated.
Further along the path, I saw my parents, who were standing behind a park bench on the right-hand side of the path. Mum had my camera at the ready, and so I tried to pick it up a little, extend my stride, and ham it up a bit for the camera. I’m not sure it worked, but I got a “Well done dear” or something similar, just in time for the steepest section of the course.
About 50 metres past the bench, around 1.2 km into the run, you reach the bottom corner and have a sharp left turn up a short steep slope, which is kind of an s-bend as it curves back around slightly after avoiding some tree or building. The path keeps climbing for another hundred metres or so to the top of the park, and I ran level with a tall guy on this section. We continued to alongside each other until partway along “The Wall”, which is the 300ish metre stretch along the top perimeter of the park. The Wall is a very gentle uphill initially, but it then becomes a more noticeable incline. I’d asked the guy if that climb past the buildings was the worst climb. He said it was, but you have to do it three times. I asked if it was his regular parkrun, to which I was told that it was, but he’d only recently moved to Peebles so had only done a few so far. He asked where I was from so I explained my local parkrun is Montrose but that I was visiting the borders as it was my parent’s 45th wedding anniversary. He remembered this fact, and shouted “Happy Anniversary” to them on his second lap past them, which surprised my Mum somewhat. I noticed I’d slowed to around 8:10 pace, and thought I was probably holding him up, but he said he was happy with the pace as 5k is always longer than you think it is. We agreed 5k is tougher than 10 mile races as in 5ks you usually feel the need to always be pushing the pace.
Around halfway along the top perimeter the route then veers off on a shallow left turn back down the hill to join up with the initial path again, in something of an uneven sideways 8. The marshal at this corner had her young son with her, and he was playing his blue guitar. I thanked them, and told him his playing was good. I only caught a few beats of it, but I’m sure it was better than my recorder playing at that age. I’d edged ahead of the guy I’d been running with up the Wall, and went careening down the narrow gravel path trying to take advantage of the downhill whilst staying safe. I got up to 6:40 per mile pace, but not for long as it’s only about 100 metres before you hit another junction. Here there was a guy with a big sign saying “Lap 1, Lap 2” and pointing right. So off we went back onto that initial path, and onto the second lap, beginning it from around 400 metres further along than the start.
My watch had buzzed the first mile at 7:35, somewhere just before or after the guitar-playing youngster, and I did a quick mental calculation that said 22:45 for 3 miles, plus however long another 0.1 of a mile would take. Definitely sub-24, but probably not sub 23 unless I felt like picking up the pace. I didn’t though. I’d had a tough run on Thursday evening and I wanted this to be comfortably hard but not flat out.
One of the benefits of a multi-lap course in a fairly open park is that you can see how the front runners are doing, I’d seen what I thought were the lead runners (though actually I’d missed the first guy) heading back along the start of the second lap when I was just coming down from the Wall, which meant they were running around 40% faster than me as they must have been 6 – 700 metres ahead by the time I’d ran one mile. I couldn’t see how many women were in front of me. I knew I’d overtaken 2 or 3 who’d started just ahead of me, but there had been a few who had started further forward, including a young lady who’d been at the first-timer’s briefing, and I couldn’t see her so she was clearly too far ahead for me to even think about trying to catch up. Nobody was going past me though, and I listened out for that but all I could hear was the two guys in front having an intermittent conversation.
Back past my parents for a second time, and again I hammed it up for the camera, but I have an inability to look good in race photos. It reminds me of the social media memes contrasting “What I think I look like when I run” and “What I actually look like when I run”. I generally look worse than the second image.
Back up and round that s-bend slope, and I caught up with the Tail Walker at the start of the Wall. I then lapped a couple of runners on the way up the path, before careening downhill again. I think I said something positive to the guy I went past, but the lady had headphones in so I didn’t bother saying anything. She looked in the zone so probably didn’t need any distraction. My watch buzzed the second mile around about this section, and it was another 7:35, so pretty consistent. At the bottom of the hill the guy still had the Lap 1, Lap 2 sign, and he assured the man in front of me that he had another lap still to go. Back past the nice lady at the hairpin bend, and onto our final stretch along the river past the fallen tree. On the climb to re-join the higher path, I could see that the lead guys were now on their final sprint to the finish line, and I saw a guy with long hair sprinting with long, graceful strides towards the finish funnel. I checked my watch: it was not much past 18 minutes. And it said I still had around 1.1km to go. However, I also realised this meant that there was now no possibility of my being lapped as the front runners were being diverted left on the third lap, about half a kilometre or more before the section of the route I was currently on. Getting lapped is something I find rather demotivating, so it was nice to know it wasn’t going to happen.
At least this final lap would be marginally shorter than the previous two. I ran past my parents for the third and final time and shouted at them to head to the Finish area. Mum said “Yes dear. Keep going, you’re doing well.” And started gathering up the ridiculous amounts of stuff (mostly clothing for all weather eventualities, and my water bottle) they had brought. I was glad to get the s-curve slope out of the way for the final time, and lapped a few more runners. I went past a few more heading along the Wall. I wanted to offer encouragement to the ones who were walking up it, but realised saying “Not long now” wasn’t actually true as if they were being lapped they’d have to do it all again.
The young lad at the top seemed to have stopped playing his guitar, but he was still smiling. I headed down the gravel path for the final time, and the guy with the Lap1, Lap 2 sign now also had a Lap 3 sign, which was pointing left. I said thank you (or possibly “Thank goodness”), and headed left. My watch hadn’t buzzed mile 3 yet, so I thought the course might be slightly short – maybe because of the fallen tree? Or it could just be due to gps inaccuracies and trees in the park affecting the gps readings as I find often happens at Kirkcaldy. It did then buzz, showing a slightly slower 7:38. I tried to hold the pace I’d built up on the downhill, but it wasn’t happening. The path is flat, but the Finish funnel is up on the grassy area, and it’s a bit of a climb to get there as it’s on a slope. Grass saps my power, and hills inevitably slow me down: the combination does not make for a sprint finish, and even though I’d kept something in the tank I gave up any hopes of chasing down the guy in front. The timekeepers and other volunteers were cheering us on, and said well done when I got across the line. I was looking for my parents, and saw them, but Mum hadn’t got in a suitable position to get me crossing the line. It’s just as well she didn’t get a photo though as my finish was not impressive. One of the volunteers mis-read my club vest as “Arbroath Trotters”. I guess it could work as a Club name, but I doubt it’ll catch on as an alternative to Footers.
I got my finish token and was pleasantly surprised to see it was position 18. Not too bad, though there were only around 75 runners. I went to see my parents. Mum asked how I’d got on and I realised I’d forgotten to stop my watch. Dad said there had only been a couple of women ahead of me. I then remembered I had to find the scanners, but couldn’t see them. Then I saw a guy holding a barcode reader so found my barcode and took them over. He scanned both, and gave both back to me. I asked where I was to hand in the position token to and he said “Me. It’s a good job one of us is on the ball.”
By this point several more runners had finished, including Jez, who’d ran round in just over 24 minutes and who knows my parents from Church. We stood around chatting whilst I was stretching, and he persuaded me to try and balance on one leg with my eyes closed for 12 seconds. It seems my left side is more stable than my right. I headed off to do a wee cool-down jog, and saw that everyone still running seemed to be on their final lap now. I popped over to thank the RD (Archie Cameron, age 25: unlike tabloid journalists I don’t tend to mention people’s ages in reports, but he made a point of telling me so I thought I’d mention it) and the lady he was in conversation with. They hadn’t heard of parkrun Friends Scotland so I pointed them in that direction as a useful resource for advertising the event.
I finished in position 18 in a time of 23:05, and was 3rd female. Not my fastest 5k of the year, but also not my slowest. More importantly, I’d enjoyed it, which I wouldn’t have done if I’d tried pushing the pace closer to 7:00 per mile.
Hap Lodge is a lovely parkrun, with friendly volunteers and runners. The setting is lovely and the slopes aren’t too bad at all: overall elevation gain is only 42 metres. A few of the paths are quite narrow, but it’s not busy enough for that to be a problem as long as you line up in the right position. And Peebles itself is always worth a visit as a pretty and bustling market town. If you stay in the borders, it’s your nearest parkrun (for now at least), and if you’re in the Edinburgh area it’s much quieter than the one at Cramond, which you may find preferable. Whether you’re a local, keen on parkrun tourism, or just visiting the area, you should definitely add it to your list of parkruns to try. I’ll definitely be back soon.