Skatås parkrun was a lovely introduction to parkruns outside of the UK. I’ve done a bit of parkrun tourism around Scotland – most recently at Hay Lodge – and one in England at Brueton, but never further afield. So when my other half said he needed to go to Gothenburg for a work-related trip, I was delighted to discover that I could incorporate some parkrun tourism.
I avoided the cooked breakfast at the hotel beforehand, to the chagrin of my other half, but I did have a large bowl of muesli, followed by some freshly baked bread with Nutella. I’d googled the address of parkrun and it was around 3 miles from the hotel we were staying in, so I planned to jog there, do the parkrun at a reasonable pace, then jog back to the hotel. We’d only arrived at around midnight on the Friday, had no cash, and didn’t know where anything was, but smartphones and GPS are fantastic, and I assumed I wouldn’t need to worry about losing GPS signal in the middle of a large city. I put the address into my phone and headed off.
Despite leaving the hotel in what I thought was plenty of time, I still managed to take too long getting there and using the facilities, and missed the First Timer’s Briefing. When I asked one of the volunteers, a friendly lady with long dark hair, she said I’d be fine, just follow the other runners, and take the longer path at a section where it branches. She asked where I was from, and when I said Scotland, I was told I was maybe the 4th Scottish person there today! This was from a small group of around 50 runners. A tall guy from Edinburgh came over and we had a bit of a chat. I mentioned that Montrose (my local parkrun) were having their 100th parkrun today and there was cake. He said Edinburgh was celebrating its 500th parkrun next week, which he would also need to miss. The Run Director informed us that there was cake for after our parkrun here, and he said it would be nice to be in the top 100 as Edinburgh gets over 500 participants most weeks! He’s visited Montrose parkrun before and remembers the rabbit holes, but also the friendly atmosphere.
It had been overcast and a little drizzly before arrival, but by this point the heavens had really opened and it was pouring down, so we were all sheltering as best we could on the veranda of a large wooden building. The Run Director did the briefing in Swedish, but helpfully had a map of the course on what looked like a chalkboard, and I could see it was a single loop. I lined up in the second or third row (around the middle of the pack as it’s a wide path at the start) and we were off.
The first quarter of a mile was the usual initial rush of runners. It’s a slight downhill to begin with, along gravel paths, with an almost immediate right-hand turn along another path. I wondered why people were running back to meet us, then realised it was a “run around a cone” section to add on enough distance to get the full 5 km. I’m terrible at cornering and I’m sure I slowed a couple of folk down behind me making that U-turn. The Run Director was waiting with a decent camera halfway back along this section, so I did the usual cheesy double thumbs up on the way past. I wasn’t sure who was all ahead of me, but I was following a lady with cropped blonde hair and a blue top, who had a very efficient running style. I wanted to try and aim for half marathon pace though, so I went past her before we had completed the first kilometre. I checked my pace, and it seemed to be settling between 7:25 – 7:35 per mile, which was fine, but trees cause GPS inaccuracies so I had no idea how accurate it was.
After the detour to the cone, the course continued as it would have if we had gone left rather than right at the start, along a gravel path in a clockwise loop. The path is fairly straight and open for around half a mile, then bends round to the right and the tree cover increases. Given that it was raining quite heavily, I was glad of the protection this provided from the worst of the rain. My glasses were still covered in raindrops though, making it hard to see much other than by looking over the top of them, so things were in somewhat soft focus.
Shortly after the 1km mark the path feels like it starts to climb gradually. It’s a very gentle climb (around a 1% gradient) but not imperceptible. I caught up with a guy wearing a parkrun 100 t-shirt on this section, and commented on it. He said his local parkrun was Milton Keynes, but that he was a bit out of shape at the moment. I said “Aren’t we all”, then edged ahead after a little small talk.
I was following two guys: one older gentleman in a yellow t-shirt, and a younger, very tall guy in a white top. They both had t-shirts with the same slogan on the back (I think it was “Join the movement”). The first mile buzzed 7:35 – not too far off half marathon pace. But so far it had been fairly flat. There was a gap in the trees on the right-hand side and I saw that we were next to a lake. The route continued along the short edge of the lake. There was a car-park on the right, and the first Marshal I had noticed since near the start area, who was directing us up a slope. There were some fairly large puddles and I tried to avoid these. The car park was obviously completely open to the elements, and the rain seemed to have got heavier again after a short respite.
The climb up from the lake was fairly steep for around 150 metres, getting up to 7.5% gradient in places. Being from Brechin, I’m used to hills, but only on training runs and longer races (10 miles+) so my pace dropped drastically. I did manage to catch the guy in the white t-shirt on the hill though, near the summit. I asked him if that was the end of the uphills, but he just grunted, so I guessed there may be more to come.
There was a nice downhill after the climb, but it was a bit too steep and I’m less confident on gravel descents so I didn’t take full advantage of it. This didn’t deter the guy I’d just passed, and he overtook me on the way down. We were now heading along the long edge of Harlanda tjärn, still surrounded by forest. There were more undulations but they didn’t seem extreme, and there was a nice downhill section approaching the 3km marker.
I finally noticed the kilometre markers at the 3km point. I guess I’m just not very observant. One of the odd things I found about this route was the number of runners I encountered who were not doing the parkrun. They would appear from one of the other trails, join us for a short section, then head off along a different path. This sometimes made it hard to work out who was ahead of you unless they were in your near vicinity, and was unusual: when marshalling at Montrose I have sometimes tried to direct the occasional solo runner who ran past me into the woods rather than following the parkrun route, but never more than one or two, and not every week. It’s understandable though as this seems an idyllic location for a trail run of various lengths, and parkrun is still quite new here.
The second mile buzzed in at 7:51. Not a great pace for me over 5km distance, but I didn’t feel any inclination to speed up. I still had to run back to the hotel afterwards. I had my phone on me but no cash or bank cards, so public transit wasn’t going to be an option. And, having failed to research the parkrun route beforehand or get to the First Timers Briefing on time, I didn’t know if there were more steep climbs to come. We’d left the lakeside by this point and turned left towards a sports area that may have been tennis courts.
During the last mile there were a couple more climbs. For the first of these, the steep section was quite short, but the gradient went over 8% in places. My legs were feeling pretty heavy at this point, but I still had the same two guys up ahead and was grimly tailing them to ensure I didn’t get lost. Again, the guy with the white t-shirt was braver than me on the steep downhill after the climb. We headed past the courts, then wound round to the left and up yet another climb. Again, it wasn’t too bad except for a short section that got really steep. I kept telling myself it wasn’t far to go, but my watch said we had another kilometre or so and I was worried my time was going to be really slow. My pace completely crashed on that hill, down to over 10:30 per mile at the steepest part. I think this was where the 100 parkruns guy caught back up with me. I guess he had paced it more accurately. I kept him in sight but my legs were too heavy to try and stick with him. At least I had managed to overtake the guy in the white t-shirt, and still had my adopted guide runner in my sights. He looked like he was cruising round, and I was hoping he wasn’t going to go for a really strong finish and leave me for dust. I really should have thanked him afterwards but I think he may have been talking to someone else then shot off. And as he never looked back he might not even have been aware of his role as guide and pacer for me.
We were now back out into a more open area with open ground on the right hand side. The rain was more noticeable as we had lost the shelter, but the descent was very welcome on the legs. I expected to get overtaken again by the tall guy in the white top, but he didn’t appear. I could now see the building where we had started, but couldn’t work out where the finish line was. My watch said there was a few hundred metres to go, but I was hoping that it was less than that due to trees affecting GPS signals. I saw some guys ahead starting to pick up the pace and hoped this meant there was only a hundred metres or so to go. I picked up the pace too, then was disappointed when we headed around the back of a large building following a longer path rather than passing in front of it: I’d tried to kick too early and paid the price in lactic acid build up. Once I was sure where the finish area was, and the path to it, I didn’t have much left in me for a sprint finish, and I had no chance of catching either of the guys I was following.
When I checked my watch, it was a few seconds over 24 minutes – hopefully it would be under 24 on the line (it was 23:56). The marshal I’d spoken to at the start said that I was the first female, and I was pretty surprised. Because of the nature of the course, I couldn’t be sure that there hadn’t been another lady well ahead of me. My finish token said 15 (out of 48 finishers), and I was pretty happy with that.
I couldn’t work out where the scanners were, so headed over to the building we’d been sheltering at pre-race. It turned out the Run Director was scanning them with her phone. It seemed pretty straightforward. I spoke to the lady in the blue Contra top, who was now also finished. It turned out she used to do parkrun in Birmingham back when there were only 30 or 40 runners: now it has several hundred each week. She’s since moved to Devon and is an Event Director for one of the parkruns there, and suggested it as a possible tourist parkrun trip for me to make as they appreciate an outsiders perspective. I also had a brief chat with the guy from Milton Keynes, who was heading back to the UK on a freight ship later that day.
As promised, there was banana cake. And it was homemade and delicious. I asked the Run Director where I would find the photos of the event, and if it was possible to use them in this blog post. She told me to like their Facebook page, and that if I tagged them in the post they could share it. Cake finished, the bulk of runners finished, and people departing, I realised the rain wasn’t easing off anytime soon, and headed off to jog back to the hotel in the pouring rain.
Skatås parkrun is a lovely, friendly parkrun in a beautiful setting. It’s got a very different feel to the very busy parkruns in some UK cities, and it felt more like a small town or rural run both in terms of the beautiful scenery (more like a national park than a suburban one) and the number of runners participating. When I uploaded my run to Strava I was very surprised to get a cup for 10th fastest woman on the parkrun segment. By contrast, I had exactly zero cups for any other the other numerous segments along smaller sections of the route, where I was lucky if I was 30th out of hundreds. This was their 79th event, and the rain may have put some runners off, but it really deserves to be busier. If you ever visit Gothenburg, this is definitely worth attending.