Glasgow parkrun’s course

I ran my 28th parkrun today, my 18th at Glasgow, and for some reason felt rather nostalgic to the whole process that led to the course we use in Glasgow. Perhaps it was a refreshed appreciation of the beautiful park that we get to run in every week: It took a horrific pounding in the storms at the end of the week, and lost a few trees. The course was quite heavily littered with twigs, branches and leaves, as if to let us know what it had gone through.

Plus it was the first time I’d run the normal course in a quite a few months – 23rd October according my athlete history – The events I ran in December and January were all on our alternative winter conditions off-road courses.

Anyway, the Glasgow parkrun course (here’s a link to the course map). Curious history, and I feel motivated enough to write a few notes down on it whilst it occurs to me. It’s also wrapped up in a bit of nostalgia about the journey Glasgow parkrun has been through since starting. I’d wanted to write something around our 2nd anniversary, but events intervened.

When I first sat down to think about likely courses, options were limited: There aren’t that many ways to fit in a 5k around Pollok park that’s easy to manage on a regular basis. Try playing about with walking directions on Google maps to see what I mean. There were also logistical considerations: Iain and I wanted to keep the number of marshals to a minimum, and didn’t want to use (if we could help it) the access roads in the park (more marshalling required). So that ruled out a circular route near Pollok House. Also the lovely riverside path just gets too narrow, and the Old Stable Courtyard has blind corners.

So North Wood it was. Two laps too, as an out-and-back didn’t really fit the paths, or what we wanted (we’d take over the main paths). So as anybody who’s run the course knows, we have is a properly “undulating” two lap (ish) course. I remember – before we started – being very worried that people would feel it was too difficult for a weekly event. So I worried that people would just run it once, and think ‘sod that’. Particularly as this was the first Scottish parkrun, with zero awareness of what parkrun was: I real worries that the concept wouldn’t stick.

But precisely the opposite has happened. Runners seem to love the course, and the challenge it offers. So Glasgow parkrun’s numbers keep climbing (We’ve staged the third biggest parkrun). The feedback I get is that the course actually one of the main attractions (alongside everything else that’s super about Glasgow parkrun, Pollok park and the Burrell). So much so that when asked, I encourage new events to ‘think different’ when plotting a parkrun course if they can and their park offers a choice: Flat courses are all very well (and sometimes necessary), but undulating 5k’s are a bit of a rarity.

It’s also good because it offers something for everybody, and presents a fresh challenge every week. My thoughts about what those challenges are, as I was running (perhaps why I didn’t get a PB!), went along the lines of this:

  • Start-1km – Slightly downhill at first, to ease you in to things. But if you’re not careful you’re tempted to set off too fast. This, as any runner who’s done a few races will know, a classic route to a bad run. Consistency is key, and a fast start can blow that apart and sap your energy. A 5k is a short and intense event, but the undulating course at Glasgow will properly punish an overcooked start. Resisting the temptation to run a fast first km is very, very hard. So the challenge Glasgow parkrun’s first kilometer offers is about not getting carried away, and finding a good position in the crowd. 
  • 1km-2km – This is the ‘main drag’ from the crossroads all the way, past the pond, to the bottom of the Glade (“the muddy bit”). It’s ever so slightly uphill for most of it, with a rapid descent soon after the pond. The incline is sapping, so important to find a comfortable pace. Nice and wide to let you pass (or be passed). Lovely woodland all around you. Still early in the event, so it’s important not to overcook it. You’ll be doing this section again in a bit. Do you ease off or push hard?
  • 2km-3km – This is the uphill section along the Glade, behind the Burrell, to the halfway point, and around back to the crossroads again. About 50% is climb, and 50% level or descent. Dig deep territory. Remembering it’s a two-lap course on the tough ’s’ bend (you know the one)! Hill training helps considerably here, as does trying to keep something in reserve for your next trip up these paths. This is where your PB is made or lost. So easy to slip into a dispiriting frame of mind and ease back completely (or is that just me?) when thinking of the next time around!
  • 3km-4km – See 1km-2km (roughly). Same as before, just with your legs starting to feel it. Those decisions from the first lap about the strategy for the second lap don’t seem so clever now. Why did I think I’d have any energy to ‘push hard’ second time around?
  • 4km-5km – Roughly from the bottom of the glade (‘the muddy bit’), to the finish. Repeating much of the 2k-3k section, apart from that delicious (there’s no other word for it) downhill stretch right to the finish, which appears out of nowhere with the enthusiastic finish area volunteers. The second time up those hills is the killer, the Glasgow parkrun test, and it really tests your legs, but also – more importantly – your mental resolve to keep pushing. But once you’re up to the top, the feeling of level course, and downhill to come, are just the spur you need to (perhaps) push hard for that PB, or to savour the relief and enjoy the descent.

And even if the challenge of running the course to the best of your ability isn’t enough, the weekly nature of parkrun allows you to experiment with strategies. Or deal with different conditions (puddles, mud, number of other runners and so on). I love to hear comments from runners about how they tackle the course. Do you “Push hard on the hills”, or “Push hard downhill”, or “keep it as consistent as possible”. Or do you “Take it easy on the first lap, push hard on the second”, or “Run a fast first km, then just hang on”. So many ways to slice and dice it. As many answers (or attempts at answers 😉 as there have been runs.

Of course, mix in with this the beauty that is parkrun. A free, weekly, 5km timed run. For runners of all abilities. The sociable atmosphere, the wonderful volunteers, the post-run coffee. The friendships made. The personal triumphs and achievements that are being discussed in detail in the beautiful setting we have.

parkrun: It’s properly good. I know every event director will say this about their event, and it might seem I’m being a bit self-congratulatory, but Glasgow parkrun – 108 events and two years on – really is everything I’d hoped it’d be, and so much more, because of the course, the park, the runners and every one of the hundreds of volunteers who’ve helped stage the event, week after week.

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