Why would someone get up earlier on a day off than they would for work? To indulge in a spot of parkrun tourism of course! Arthur Grant from Arbroath Footers has kindly organised a program of 12 tourist parkruns – one per month for a year – and the first one was Lochore Meadows, The intention is to head further afield in better weather, and stay closer to home during the winter. So it was that I was up at 6:15am on a Saturday (forgetting to switch off the alarm clock which was set for later, and I heard my Pacman alarm clock going off when I was downstairs in the kitchen – sorry Michael!). I still managed to be a few minutes late getting to Arbroath, due to trying to take a shortcut that isn’t a shortcut, but thankfully they hadn’t left without me, and we had plenty of buffer built into the journey time.
We arrived at Lochore Meadows Country Park just after 09:00am and quickly found the facilities. It was lovely and warm indoors, with a beautiful view of the Loch. But it was very, very windy outdoors. “Blowing a hoolie” as my other half might say. We looked to see if there was somewhere to leave our jackets, but it didn’t seem likely as the finish is at a different location to the Start, so we scurried back to the cars to drop off our jackets, then started jumping around trying to keep warm.
We found the other two carloads of Footers, and had a chat with Bill Duff, whom Tina knows from trail runs such as the Tour of Fife series. He’s 71 years young and still going strong, putting in a comfortable 25-something parkrun after the Ben Nevis hill race and with a race coming up tomorrow. Someone came over with the parkrun photo frame, so the Footers were rounded up and, after taking a few photos for other runners, a kindly participant took a couple for our group.
The first timers briefing was delivered by a friendly blonde-haired lady, who showed us a map of the course, talked us round it, and didn’t mind that most of us were still bouncing around trying to stay warm. She did a bit of jumping herself. Then she mentioned that there was a box we could leave things in which would get carried over to the finish area by the volunteers. If only we’d known that before we took our jackets to the cars. Rhys had been sensible enough to keep his sweater on, so at least one of us could take advantage of it. We were also warned that some sections of the route were a bit muddy due to recent rain. Christine was wearing her new Saucony’s and was a little concerned by this news. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad, and the uppers at least remained largely pristine. I went off and ran 4 or 5 laps of the centre to keep warm before people started entering the Start funnel, then joined Peter and June near the front.
During the pre-event briefing, we discovered that we were far from the most far-flung visitors, even with June and Peter visiting from Austria. There were tourists from several places, including South Africa. It didn’t seem as busy as Montrose parkrun – maybe the wind had put some people off. But everyone clapped all announcements, and the people in front of us were friendly. When Peter said he wasn’t sure where to go, the lady at the front said “Just follow this guy.” I’d asked her if it was her local parkrun and she said it was the second closest to her. At least she knew what was coming up. There was another tall lady just behind me in a light blue top who looked like she might be speedy, and another couple of ladies slightly further back. Having looked at the results from the previous week I knew there wasn’t any chance of being first lady across the line, but my marathon training plan was for an 8 – 10k tune-up race so I was planning on a hard effort and hoping for sub 22:30 and a decent placing.
The usual 3 – 2- 1 and we were off, heading across the grass towards the Lochside path. Several people immediately passed me. The tall guy in the pink race t-shirt just behind me, who had spoken to June after she mentioned visiting from Austria, ran alongside me and asked what the reason was for the influx of Footers. I explained about Arthur’s tourism schedule, then, after checking my watch, said I’d have to let him go as he was too fast for me. The pace had said 6:00 per mile. I know the trees mess up the GPS though, and though I love my new Fenix 5S (a fantastic deal on Prime Day), the GPS seems less accurate than my old Vivoactive HR. I slowed down a little, and was happy when it dropped to 6:50, and eventually 7:05, even though I had no idea as to the accuracy of the readings.
The route is a single not-quite-full lap of Loch Ore, with a little added forest loop just before halfway round. We were quickly onto the Lochside, doing an anti-clockwise loop, and feeling the force of that wind. It’s a beautiful setting for a parkrun, but I was moving too fast to fully appreciate it. The lady in the light blue top went ahead of me, as did another tall lady dressed all in black. I was running alongside a guy wearing a windbreaker, but my watch told me I’d slowed too much, so I picked up the pace steadily before we got to the first left hand turn as the Loch widens out. I think the next section was on gravel paths rather than tarmac, or maybe it was just the wind direction that caused my pace to dip slowly until the next turn around 800 metres in. Shortly after this though, I saw the lady in the light blue top, and I was gaining on her. I ran alongside her and asked if it was always this windy, but got no reply. Either the wind blew my words away, she had in-ear headphones, or she didn’t have the breath to respond. I ran past and she didn’t try to stick with me.
Because I can now record intervals with my new watch, and my marathon training plan has a habit of mixing metric and imperial measurements for sessions (e.g. 8 miles with 5 * 1km at 5k pace), I’d left my watch showing the distance in kilometres (useful) but the pace and laps in miles (less useful for a 5k). I checked my watch around 1km and it was at 4:23. If the GPS was accurate, and I could maintain that pace, it would bring me in just under 22 minutes. I wasn’t sure how likely that was though. I’d hardly run during the week due to a bad cold, and, though my legs felt fresher than usual, my lungs weren’t feeling quite as strong. We left the trail and joined a tarmac section around 1.3km in, heading slightly away from the Western edge of the loch. I thought being back on tarmac would improve my pace, but instead it dipped. The first mile buzzed in at 7:07 and I did some quick mental arithmetic which said I was now below 22-minute pace by around 6 seconds.
By this point the field had definitely thinned out. Only one or two people had gone past me since the initial rush, and I had picked off some of those who had started too optimistically. Now the people up ahead were close to 10 seconds in front, and there didn’t seem to be anyone close behind me, making it difficult to pick a pace. The tall lady in black had easily overtaken the guy I was following, and was edging away. No hope of catching them, but I needed to keep them in sight as there were a fair number of bends in the path and I didn’t want to get lost. There were arrows on the paths in coloured chalk at every turning though, which, along with the friendly marshals, kept you on the right path. I still wanted to keep some people in sight though, and wasn’t prepared to slow down to do that. The route headed back onto trail around 1.8km in, and I managed to pick up the pace again. Not for long though, as we headed into the forest section which was nice and sheltered but, as promised, a little muddy. I managed to avoid the worst of it though, and it was perfectly fine in the old road shoes I had chosen in anticipation of the mixed terrain being tough on the trainers. The forest section is around 5 – 600 metres, and has a fairly sharp turn. There was a large gate somewhere in the wooded section that had perhaps threatened to blow shut in the wind, just past a corner, and the marshal headed over to it to assist the guy who was trying to keep it open. I shouted my thanks and carried on.
On leaving the forest path, you get to see the runners heading into it, and there was Christine, so I got an acknowledgement before carrying on. I hadn’t seen anyone on the way out as I’d been heading in, so the lead guys couldn’t have been more than 3 minutes ahead of me by halfway, which was encouraging to know.
We were now south of the Loch, and still surrounded by trees. I think it was here that a female marshal said “Well done. You’ll get some shade here.” She was right in that the trees on the right hand side provided a decent wind barrier. However, the path also started to climb. Fairly gently, but noticeable after the almost pancake flat Lochside and forest sections.
The second mile buzzed in at a disappointing 7:47: I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a GPS accuracy issue, but if it was right and my pace remained at that, I was going to be well over 23 minutes. Time to pick it up a notch. I was appreciating the encouragement of the several marshals out on the route, but was wishing that either there was someone to chase or someone to run away from. As I was climbing the hill, I noticed I was catching up slowly on a guy in a dark green top, and ahead of him was the dark-haired lady in black (the blonde one was long gone). I slowly reeled them in. The guy looked like he was just out for a gentle jog, and I commented on the way past that he looked far too comfortable. We had a quick chat at the end and he said it was a bit embarrassing to be told he looked really comfortable by someone who then shot off into the distance! I pointed out he could easily have followed, but he said he was too lazy. The lady also congratulated me at the end. I told her I’d tried to comment on the way past her but hadn’t had the breath to do so.
I had just over a kilometre to go, and now I’d overtaken the people I was following I was back in the situation of not knowing where the next group of runners up ahead was. Once we had crested the (fairly gentle, but not at 5k pace) climb, I could see a few runners about 20 or 30 seconds ahead. There were also a couple of ladies walking, who I overtook, breathing heavily, whilst going around a left-hand bend heading back in towards the Loch edge, but they weren’t doing the parkrun.
I could see the Start area across the water. It looked pretty far away, but thankfully we didn’t have to get back there. Adding in the extra loop and making the distance between the Start and Finish longer seemed an unusual choice, but it does have the benefit of keeping you away from cars for the entire route. I was also now on a very slight descent, and took full advantage of that. Another small, gentle climb took a bit of the wind out of my sails, but I felt much stronger than that second mile, and I was hopeful of at least as good a time as I’d managed at Montrose a couple of weeks beforehand – when I finally made it into double figures for first female finisher with a 22:39 on a very windy day. There was no chance of catching the people in front, who seemed to be speeding up, but at least I could try and stop them extending the gap.
Another slight bend as we re-joined the Loch edge after a grassy section slightly below it as the Loch narrowed, and my watch said 300 metres or so to go. I still couldn’t see the Finish, and started questioning my GPS again. The runners ahead seemed to be re-entering a forest section though, and I had it in my head that the Finish was around one final bend after that. I headed for the line of orange cones and saw the Finish was closer than I had expected. It was a little muddy underfoot, but I tried to kick and got some cheers of encouragement as I stupidly asked the obvious question “Is this the Finish?” and sprinted gratefully towards the line. I could probably have done with the finish straight being a bit longer as I didn’t have time to get a real sprint on, and I think I could have finished a little bit stronger despite the ever so slight uphill finish.
I was pretty happy when I stopped my watch though: it said 22:24. Only my 2nd sub 22:30 parkrun of the year. And the finish token said position 10, which made me even happier: that’s the 6th time I’ve managed a top 10 finish, and the only top ten finish not at Montrose. The female volunteer with the clipboard (maybe the funnel manager?) asked me my watch time for reference (I think they were asking every 10th person) and one of them told me I was second female. It having been clear from before the first kilometre that the tall blonde lady in black clearly outclassed me, I was really happy with that. I had been expecting Carol (the other lady in black whom I had overtaken just before 4 kilometres) to try and catch me back up in that final half kilometre, but there was a fairly big gap behind me at the end.
I took my barcode to the young lad who was on scanning duties, and headed back to watch for and cheer on my fellow Footers. Rhys arrived pretty quickly. He said he’d kept me in sight for the first few kilometres, but then I’d sped off in that final mile and I’d stretched the gap too far. Tina followed with an impressive sub 25, not far ahead of Bill. Christine and Jackie followed. Jackie had kept a warmer top on due to the wind and having the remnants of a cold, but she had sensibly removed it around the halfway point. Peter and Diane appeared shortly afterwards, with Peter sticking around for a bit to chat before heading back out to find June. We cheered Arthur over the line and reminded him to stop his watch, then June appeared. The volunteer who did the First Timers Briefing came over to chat and was discussing Regionnaires and the challenge to do all the Scottish parkruns. Apparently there is a social media group for this, but you have to have done a minimum of 20 before you can join. As I’ve only done 9, and am emigrating in under 3 months, it doesn’t seem like a viable challenge for me. Hopefully I can become a regionnaire in Sweden though, since they currently only have 9 parkruns.
It had been a long morning, with an early start and a long journey. Wanting to be back in Arbroath and Brechin before lunchtime, after a short chat we headed back to the car park rather than staying for coffee. I was supposed to be heading to a barbeque in the afternoon, though there was some doubt as to whether we’d actually be able to hold it outside in 40mph winds.
Lochore Meadows is a great parkrun in a beautiful setting. It’s a single loop, mixed terrain course around a Loch. It’s mostly flat (my watch said the elevation gain was 30 metres) but with a couple of slight climbs in the second half to keep it interesting. With 100 – 200 runners per week (the average is 137) it’s a nice size too: not too quiet but not crowded either. On a warmer and less hectic day I’d definitely have stuck around for coffee and enjoyed the views. It’s a little far to travel to from Angus on a regular basis, but if you stay in Fife, or are there visiting, you should definitely make the trip.
All photos were either taken by June Rathgeb, or by kindly souls who took photos for her on her mobile phone.