Christmas morning. A time for getting up at the crack of dawn and experiencing the wonder of the season through the eyes of small children? A time for peeling sprouts? Visiting relatives? Getting stuck into the sherry straight after breakfast? I’m the youngest member of the household where I spend Christmas, and, as has been pointed out to me a few times recently, I’m definitely no longer young. I’m not great at peeling sprouts. And I’m not much of a drinker. I am, though, pretty keen on parkrun. So when I saw that Hay Lodge had declared for Christmas, I was delighted. What better way to spend Christmas morning.
Although I’ve done Kirkcaldy parkrun on New Years Day for the past couple of years – even managing to fit in a double parkrun with Dunfermline too last year – I’d not yet experienced a Christmas morning parkrun. My local parkrun, Montrose, had put one on but I always spend Christmas in the Scottish Borders, and there’s never been one on there before. I’d run Hay Lodge parkrun once before, on my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. They don’t run, but enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and wee jaunt to Peebles, one of the nicest towns in the Borders. Even though nothing else would be open on Christmas Day, they were more than happy to make the trip.
Mum thought we should leave Galashiels by 8:40am. That seemed on the early side – it’s an 18-mile trip on what would be very quiet roads. But she was probably right. We left shortly after 8:50am and, although there wasn’t much traffic, the road is rather narrow and winding, and we arrived with fewer than 10 minutes to spare. I got Dad to let me out at the car park entrance, and made a mad dash to find the Rugby Club toilets whilst my parents got the car parked and spent some time chatting to one of the marshals at the top of the park. Meanwhile, I was wondering where they’d disappeared to, and was looking for somewhere safe to leave my massive coat. I ended up leaving it on a wall outside the rugby club, where a few others had done the same thing. I was hoping my Mum would appear before the Run Directors Briefing, but there was no sign of either of them so eventually I dumped the jacket and made my way to the 24 to 28-minute start section. As I took off my jacket, a lady who was there with her son said to me “You’ve got a 50 on your back: you must be good at this.” I responded with something along the lines of “It just means I’ve done several of them, it doesn’t mean I’m any good at them.”
There were plenty of runners dressed for Christmas, with several wearing Santa hats and some even in full Santa costumes. It was much milder than expected for this time of year – around 7 degrees and with absolutely no frost. I suspected they would be regretting their outfit choices before the end of the first lap.
Three, two, one and we were off. I’d stood a little too far back, and it took several seconds to get past some runners who were probably at 28-minute pace. However, I’d set my Garmin to start searching for GPS at the start of the Event Director’s briefing, and it still hadn’t found it. So the pace readings jumped around wildly and seemed inaccurate (i.e. too fast). When your watch says you’re at 2:50 pace (I’ve recently switched it to kilometres since that’s what they use in Sweden) but it feels like 4:30 pace, you know something is awry. Sure enough, this came back to haunt me later.
Hay Lodge is a 3-lap parkrun – kind of. The first section is a slight downhill, starting at the far end of the park, and you only do the first part of that bit once in that direction. We reached the first marshal at the other end of the park, thanked him for volunteering, and made the sharp left-hand turn along the bottom of the park near the river. There is a very small section here where you need to run on grass. The benefit of this is that it widens at this point which enabled me to go past a couple of runners. Although the weather was perfect for running, the rain of previous days meant it was a bit muddy though, and my trainers never really recovered from soaking up every possible grain of mud out of that soil.
The path then turns left slightly and takes you up a shallow incline to re-join the starting path, but heading the opposite direction. It does this next to a white building which is probably changing facilities for teams that use the park. It’s near the finish area, and there were several volunteers in hi-viz vests cheering us on here. The son of the lady who had commented on my milestone t-shirt was also standing nearby and looked like he might be acting as support crew – ready with a drink on hand. I wondered where my parents had got to since I still hadn’t seen them. I couldn’t be sure how far into the run this was, but I knew there were 3 laps to go and it wasn’t feeling like it would be a particularly fast parkrun for me.
I ran along the flat section at the bottom of the park, slowly approaching what looked to be Jez – I’d only met him once before so couldn’t be sure. I went past him on the steep hill up past the Rugby Club building en route to the top of the park. It was at this point that my watch buzzed and said “GPS Ready”. I thought that meant I had forgotten to start my watch, and blurted a short (mild) expletive. I stupidly pressed the pause button, and it took me a few seconds to realise it had been running, just not recording distance accurately. I un-paused it as I started the long but gentle climb along the top section of the park, but knew I would have to guess at my time and pace. Sure enough, the first mile (it still does autolaps as 1.61km, even though everything else is set to kilometres, and I can’t work out how to change it: if anyone knows how to do this on a Fenix 5S please let me know) buzzed in at 6:22.8. My fastest mile is 6:37, and this hadn’t been that fast. Clearly my GPS was awry and was going to measure long – the only question was by how much.
It was also at this point that I finally found my parents. They’d come in by the top gate and spent a while talking to the lady who was marshalling at the top of the hill. I think her usual parkrun was Vogrie but, as they didn’t have a Christmas Day event on, she had kindly volunteered here. She had a speaker playing some rock versions of Christmas carols, and was providing serious amounts of encouragement and enthusiasm to the hordes of Santas and less Christmassy runners. Mum took my photo, and I shouted to her to take lot of photos (I meant of everyone, but she didn’t do that, though she did take a few unflattering photos of me) and that my coat was on the wall of the Rugby Club.
After the marshal there’s a nice but fairly narrow and steep downhill section which leads to a junction. I sped up along this, but not to the same extent as I did when here over the summer. At the junction is a marshal with a sign saying “Laps 1 and 2” which points right, and a sign saying “Lap 3” which points left. He hadn’t picked up the sign for Lap 3 yet, so I knew nobody was going to be breaking the 5k world record here. At this point I also went past the Tail Walker. As we were just over 1/3rd of the way round, I knew this meant I might repeat this process another two times.
I slowly drew alongside the guy I had been following up the hill, and, as we seemed to be running at a similar pace for several seconds, I asked him if this was his regular parkrun. He said that is was his local parkrun, but that he didn’t always get to it regularly. I pulled ahead of him a little at some point on the second lap up the hill, but then he overtook me again and sped off down the hill in front of me. Another guy had also overtaken me near the end of the first lap and I’d kept him in my sights but he was slowly getting further and further ahead. I checked my heart rate and this was already at threshold pace so I decided not to try and push it any faster. I went past my parents again, and was relieved to see that Mum had rescued my coat from the wall and was holding it protectively.
The second and third times uphill are always a bit odd, because you don’t know if the people around you are on the same lap as you or not. The path is quite narrow, but it wasn’t particularly congested, and there were only a few dog walkers heading the opposite direction to the runners so it was fine, other than the fact that my glutes were getting a bit sore. I’d been getting a fair amount of hill training in after discovering Göteborg is not, as I expected for a coastal city, fairly flat, but is actually much hillier than Brechin. But clearly my body still hasn’t got used to that volume of hills after some easy post-marathon and pre-emigrating weeks. The second mile buzzed in at 7:33 on my way down the hill for the second time, and I did some mental arithmetic. That times 3 plus one minute would be about 23:40 – the time I’d managed at the slightly hillier Skatås parkrun just 4 days earlier. But I couldn’t be sure what my actual pace had been for that first mile due to the dodgy GPS and pausing the timer for several seconds, and I didn’t know how far I had to go as I didn’t know how much distance the invalid GPS hits had added.
I also spent a fair bit of the start of the third lap wishing I had looked up my previous time from here. I wanted a PB, but I couldn’t remember what time I’d done. Had it been just under 24 minutes, or just over 23 minutes? I really couldn’t remember, and hoped it had been the former as then I could just saunter round for the third lap. But I had a sneaking suspicion it was the latter. I could see that nobody had finished yet, but the leading guys must be nearing the end, and I still had the best part of a lap to go.
There was no chance of catching either of the guys ahead. But there was a female runner who was slowly coming back to me on that final climb up the hill. I was pretty sure she was one of the many ladies who had started and stayed in front of me, rather than one of the ladies who was on their second lap. I went past shortly before the marshal point, and hoped she wouldn’t stick with me.
I’d checked my watch at the top of the hill and it said something like 4.7km. That was a definite lie. So this was going to be measuring 2 – 300 metres long. Oh well, I’d just have to go by the timer and add ten seconds to counter for the pause. I told myself it was all downhill from here (a slight lie) and tried to pick up the pace. Charlotte told me you can endure anything for 5 minutes, but I’m not sure that’s true. However, running slightly faster than feels comfortable is manageable for 5 minutes even if it isn’t pleasant.
When I reached the marshal with the two signs, he seemed to be indicating that I had another lap. This definitely wasn’t the case, and I told him I’d been following the guy in front for the last two laps and headed left. There isn’t too far to go before the finish, but there was nobody to chase. I checked my watch and saw it was going to be close for 23:00 minutes.
The finish is probably the thing I like least about Hay Lodge parkrun. I mean, it’s great to get finished, and get the support of all the volunteers and faster runners. But the finish is an uphill finish on grass. And that meant 30 or so metres of running uphill on soft, muddy, grass. I really struggle with power loss on grass, especially when it’s soft underfoot, and it completely impeded my ability to do any sort of a sprint finish. If anything, I slowed down on the way to the finish line despite trying not to. I was waiting for someone to go rushing past me, but thankfully nobody did.
Mum and Dad were waiting for me at the finish line, and I got my finish token and it was almost immediately taken and scanned within a few seconds. One of the volunteers kindly took a photo of the three of us, and I did a bit of half-hearted stretching as we watched some other runners come in. Dad told me how impressive the leading guy had been, and asked if I knew him. As he had already left, I had no idea who he was talking about. Thankfully I hadn’t been lapped by anyone – which is always a bit of a worry for me on 3 lap courses – so I hadn’t seen any of the lead runners after the first couple of seconds.
Jez arrived after a couple of minutes, and he told my parents about my mild incidence of swearing at my watch. I guess I’m too old to get grounded though, so it doesn’t matter. My watch had said 22:56 when I stopped it, so I knew the official time would be slightly over 23 minutes. I was hopeful it was a PB but I’d have to wait until the results text arrived to know for sure. We spoke to a few other people. The marshal with the rock carols had told Dad that they’d expected maybe 10 or 20 people to turn up this morning. It was the first Christmas event they had put on, and their usual attendance recently has been in the 40 – 70 range. In the end, they’d been pleasantly surprised but thankfully not overwhelmed, with 87 runners. Dad wanted to stay and see the final runners come in, but I’d lapped the tailwalker twice and thought it might be another half an hour or so, and we needed to get the turkey in the oven. So we said our goodbyes and headed home.
Hay Lodge is a lovely setting for a parkrun, and though one of the tourists proclaimed it to be “tougher than Camperdown” I wouldn’t agree with that. Sure, three hills (or the same hill thrice) can seem tougher than one hill, but it’s much shorter and less steep. Parkrun was a fantastic way to start Christmas, and Mum, Dad and I all headed home in good spirits, with it having set us up nicely for the rest of the day. They’d got to see some people they wouldn’t otherwise have seen, and I’d managed to get some exercise done in lovely surroundings. As we were settling down for a post-lunch nap (I’m sure this is traditional on Christmas day), I got a text informing me that my time was 23:02 and a PB. Only by 3 seconds, and sadly not sub 23, but it was still a pretty nice Christmas present. If you get the chance to go to a Christmas parkrun, either as a runner or as a volunteer, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a great way to get out of the house, let the kids burn off steam, spread a bit of goodwill, and build an appetite for that delicious Christmas dinner. It’s definitely something to put on your Christmas list for next year.