Edinburgh parkrun launch, and a new PB

I took part in the inaugural Edinburgh parkrun on Saturday, an event that was special in very many ways. The weather was absolutely perfect, the course was beautifully flat, it was exceptionally well organised, there was a huge turnout, I got a new 5k PB, and – best of all – it really felt like parkrun had properly arrived in Scotland.

It did require rather an early start to get over (never popular in our household), not least because I wanted to have a chat with the guys who were behind the event. I was also determined to keep my distance from them when things were getting under way, I know all too well how busy it can be being in charge of a parkrun event, and how much more stressful it can feel when it’s the first, and distractions don’t help.

Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the man who started parkrun five years ago, was along, so it was great to have an opportunity to have the first of many catch-up chats with him whilst we waited for the event to get underway. Sadly my warmup wasn’t quite as long as it should have been, but I was keen to join the start crowd for the announcements, and quite touched to get a mention in their acknowledgements.

I was feeling good for a PB, having been pushing myself in training recently, and am feeling increasingly comfortable running with the fastest group in my training set. The last 12-18 months have felt a bit ‘flat’ on PB’s. My 5k hasn’t improved at all, and my 10k has just settled into the low 44’s. Perhaps half-marathon and marathon training have taken a bit of the focus away, but mostly I think I’ve settled into a comfort zone and have been reluctant to push myself a bit harder, so I was feeling it was time to try that little bit harder, on a course that was conducive to a PB.

I set off and settled into what felt like a comfortable pace. It’s an out and back course, so great for being able to mentally break up the sections even without a GPS device giving me splits. There were also km markers at this first event, which was helpful to be able to lock on to targets. I was delighted to get a 3:57 split for the first km, but conscious that was perhaps a bit optimistic to maintain, so eased off slightly for the next km, which I managed in 4:10. A tough session on Wednesday ensured my mind was in the right place: I knew I could maintain this sort of pace for over 5k, all be it with recovery breaks, so it was all mind over body.

The half way point was naturally enough the turn back point, which is an immense boost; Really enables you to focus on the work ahead, and keep the effort up. My 3k split was 4:12, so pace was looking consistent, as I focused on what I find the toughest section of the race – the 3-4km where you’re really beginning to feel things, and need to dig in and battle those demons niggling away. 4km went by at 4:18, so slightly down, but easy now to focus on the end: It was in sight! A few supporters in the last stretch said I didn’t look like I was working too hard, but I knew I was, and somehow managed to find a tiny bit extra to cross the line with a 4:08 split, and a 20:43 overall time, a PB by 16 seconds from over a year ago, and the first PB of any sort for quite a while.

I’ve always felt it’s important not to push so hard that you’re sick at the end: I’m determined to enjoy my running first and foremost, times come after that! This time I pushed it a bit harder than I had done before, and kept my dignity (just!), and even remembered to take a token at the end of the funnel (the shame I’d have felt if I’d forgotten!).

Naturally chuffed to find myself with a spangly new PB, and feel there’s much more to come where that came from. I’ve a real sense of determination to push my times, particularly in the short-medium distance events, over the next six months, and a sub-20 5k and a low-40’s 10k time feels like it’s not all that ridiculous now.

The post-run parkrun chat went on for a long time – we finally headed back towards Glasgow around 2pm, having stayed for coffee and cake whilst the Edinburgh team did their results, and discussing various parkrun plans and ideas. The Edinburgh team did spectacularly well, and blew apart the first-event attendance record, with 204 participants. With Glasgow parkrun having 193 runners, that meant that almost 400 runners were taking part in parkrun events in Scotland on Saturday.

Huge congratulations to the Edinburgh team for staging a great event on Saturday, the first of many. And as the awareness of parkrun continues to grow in Scotland, we’ll surely see more events starting wherever there are determined individuals who fancy stepping up to make it happen. Sterling, Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness are surely only a matter of time. Perhaps even a second event in Glasgow before too long (largely we just need an event director who wants to drive it forward). With coverage such as this piece in the Sunday Herald featuring parkrun rather prominently, awareness is growing all the time 🙂

parkrun is growing in Scotland

It’s been almost two years since I started making noises about starting a “Glasgow Time Trial” (parkrun, as they’re now known). And what a journey it’s been. A lot of time and effort by myself and others, but that work is offset many times over by the immensely rewarding experience being involved with parkrun almost every weekend since then has been.

parkrun’s principles of a fun, sociable, inclusive, free, weekly timed run are a wonderful, and it’s so good the idea just spreads – an ideal example of a meme.

When I ran the 3rd Richmond parkrun nearly two years ago (you can read my race report here), I was so struck by the light weight and relaxed system (Bushy parkrun is so big, it’s not quite as obvious it’s as simple). Compared to a lot of races, it just feels so relaxed. A handful of volunteers are needed to make the event happen. And then, the best bit, was how welcome I was made to feel by the other runners, and at the post-run coffee. I was so enthused, I got to thinking about an event in Glasgow, and so started the year-long journey that culminated in Glasgow staging the first Scottish parkrun. Together with Iain,the support of my wife Frances, the parkrun HQ team, all the other race directors I spoke too, we soon had the groundwork in place to start the ball rolling in Scotland.

The growth of Glasgow parkrun has been spectacular. From our first event with 44 runners, we’re now regularly topping 200 participants, and our attendance record is a whopping 250 runners. Over 2,000 individual runners have now taken part so far, and we have well over 3,000 people registered with it as their home run. Regular participants have made new friends, and involvement spreads

So when I heard that some runners who’d come over from Edinburgh to take part were looking to start a parkrun there, I was absolutely delighted. parkrun is such a flexible, fun and sociable way to get involved in running, I had hoped it was only a matter of time before we’d see another event in Scotland, but I’d not rated the chances of one starting within a year of Glasgow! I knew there was a lot of work behind the scenes to get the paperwork in place, and councils can be slow organisations to work with. Of course it transpired that Gary, one of the Event Directors, worked for Edinburgh council… But it’s the enthusiasm of the whole team that’s been the big driver.

The event’s starting with a bang tomorrow, and I’m excited to be going over to take part (it’ll be my 6th event, but just the 8th time I’ve run at a parkrun event!). Seeing the idea growing in my adoptive neck of the woods makes me burst with pride, and gives me just a tiny glimpse of what parkrun’s founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, must be feeling as he sees new parkrun events starting around the country/world, and the success of attendance of 3,000 runners every week taking part across the country.

For me though, whilst running is very much at the core of what parkrun is about, by far the best thing is the community and support it engenders. It’s really about the journey, and who you meet along the way, than the destination itself. Runners at the front of the pack are always great to see, but I get so much more from seeing participants from across the speed spectrum returning, growing and improving each time, learning from their experience, and pushing their own targets. It’s that determination to improve and to challenge, to have fun, to be supportive to others, and together to build something special that really unites parkrunners, and makes the event such a wonderful idea and privilege to be associated with.

The Edinburgh team have put in a lot of effort to get to this point. On the eve of the event’s launch I can’t help but be genuinely excited for them and the journey they have ahead. They’ll see and experience highs, and lows, along the way, but the sense of pride they’ll feel, as they watch runners tackle their challenges, will serve as it’s own reward. The participants, tomorrow and every week, will soon get a sense of that, and how parkrun is a wonderful addition to the local community.

Ben Venue Hill Race

When I joined my running club, Bella, I was keen to try different types of running event. Largely that meant different distances, and a spot of cross country and trail running. But hill running just wasn’t something I’d thought I’d find myself including. Hill runners, to me, seemed one stop short of ultra-marathoners, and to be looked at a bit carefully…

But as time passed, I’ve got to know one or two, and rarely heard a bad thing said about the activity. Whilst on holiday, I also read a wonderful book “Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession” (highly recommended to any runner), which sowed a few seeds in my mind, and began to feel that perhaps it wasn’t quite so bad after all. After all, you don’t have to run up the hills – just do your best to get up and down again as quickly/safely as possible, and enjoy the experience.

So when my Road Running club decided to organise a hill run – The Bella Ben Venue Challenge – it seemed like a custom made opportunity to try it out. I knew there’d be plenty of hill-running newbies taking part, so I wouldn’t feel completely outpaced.

The weather forecast though, wasn’t too promising. High winds and rain seemed to be on the agenda, as a low-pressure decided to sit over the northern reaches of Scotland. The Forth road bridge was closed to high sided vehicles. 80mph winds. I’d been assured though that a run would happen, regardless of the forecast, so seemed rude not to go and see what it was all about. It was all in a good cause too, proceeds going to Lomond Mountain Rescue team, so despite a slightly concerned wife, and baffled comments from my Glasgow parkrun co-organisers, I set off up to Aberfoyle and into the Trossachs to run up a hill not that far from where I was married last year.

After parking up, I headed through the paths to the start area, and sorted out registration. £5 is incredibly good value for a race, particularly for such a good cause, and given the marshals had a heck of a way to go to get to their various points.

Given the high winds, the course was altered. Quite sensibly. That the marshals – Mountain rescue team members I should add – couldn’t stand up on the ridge, it was felt appropriate to adjust the course. Even though it looked delightful at the start, we were sheltered, and I’d seen how changeable the weather was.

After the start, we headed up through hard-packed forest paths, which were really quite delightful. For a road-runner like myself, quite a novelty, but the steep inclines were taken steadily, and it felt quite odd (for a road runner) to be “allowed” to walk as much as I did. I was also determined to enjoy the experience, and not push too hard. Nonetheless, I had perhaps set off a bit too fast, so deliberately eased off and let a few folk past.

The checkpoint at the edge of the forest marked the start of the ‘real’ hill running. We were out onto exposed hillside, which had a generally visible path up, but it was heavy going. Very muddy indeed, and quite disconcerting to place your feet into what looked like wet grass, only to sink knee deep into quite slurpy mud! Thankfully my shoes didn’t come off, but it was a close thing! I put the prospect of having to wash my clothes out of my mind and just enjoyed it: It’s not every day you’re able to get quite as muddy 🙂

It was tough going at points. A few scrambles required, and if not a scramble then a bog to navigate, but my legs seemed to hold their own, although I was very grateful to finally see the lead runners approaching in the opposite direction. Fellow club runner Matt Williamson was just in the lead, and haring downhill at quite a rate. Impressive stuff, but I knew I had nowhere near the confidence to do anything like the lead runners were managing!

The top was approaching, and I was passed by plenty more fellow club runners, one or two of whom warned about the winds at the top. And I was grateful for the warning, as no sooner as the cairn that marked the turning point came into sight, the winds hit, and it was quite something. I was blown in all directions, and it was everything I could do to get to the cairn and see the incredibly resilient marshal note down my number, before turning and struggling back down, passing on the warning about the wind to everybody I passed!

The descent was, at first, wonderful for the fact that I had my breath back and could enjoy the experience a bit more. But soon found focusing on finding a safe path at the higher speed I was travelling more than made up for it. A few slips and a nearly twisted ankle made me certain to be careful, but also not to think too much. Instinct felt more reliable than trying to rationalise which path seemed better. Just get on with it!

Getting to the bottom of the exposed hill and on to the hard-packed forest paths was a welcome relief, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable run down through the forest. Rather than belt it out, I decided to enjoy the run, and fell into an evenly paced run with another runner, and we had a lovely chat as we descended. Some absolutely stunning views out over the Trossachs, with Loch Achray in the distance. After a while though I felt strong enough to push on a bit harder, and set off in search of a needed cup of tea!

Crossing the finish line (a time of 1:22:09, the winner finishing in 51:17!) was a great relief, with an enormous sense of achievement, but nothing as compared to the wonderfully warming cups of tea the club had put on in abundance, and a marvellous spread of home baking. Plenty of post-run analysis with the many experienced (and newbies like myself) hill runners. All seemed to agree the decision to adjust the race the correct one, and all seemed to feel it was a great new addition to the hill running calendar.

Route

Looking at the course profile here (via Chris Upson), it seems there was 860m (1,800ft) of climb involved, over a 6.4 mile (just over 10k course). A few years ago I’d have felt that would be quite a decent achievement for a hill walk, but the idea of running up and down just not something to ever consider. Madness. Yet delighted to have felt able to have taken on the challenge, experienced hill running for the first time. Amusingly I even now find myself with an athletes entry on the Scottish Hill Racing website!

My legs aren’t too bad, two days afterwards. Much better than I expected to be honest: perhaps the hill work paid off! Whilst not a hill running convert just yet, I’m absolutely delighted to have taken part, and certainly going to try another hill run in the not too distant future. Living in Scotland means I have some of the best scenery in the world on my doorstep, and being able to combine seeing it and experiencing it through my passion for running, just seems an ideal combination.