This was to be my first time running at Leamington parkrun. I had no excuse except laziness – it’s just down the road and was no further really than Coventry parkrun. I call Coventry ‘my local’ parkrun despite the fact it’s about 20 miles away and doesn’t serve beer and peanuts. To my way of thinking anything I describe with the word ‘local’ should have a colourful name such as the “Tippling Philosopher’, “Golden Lion”, “Bold Dragoon” and serve drinks of a wobbly nature. And not involve running.
It wasn’t just distance that had put me off trying this parkrun though. It was something worse.
Capitals deserved. I hadn’t seen this gravity-defying oxygen-mask-requiring mountain but every time I mentioned visiting Leamington parkrun, this part of the route always got a mention by someone in the know. Of course, this shouldn’t matter. Hills are fun, right? Flat routes are boring routes. And if you ask me, I’ll tell you that I run parkruns for the fun of them. I don’t always run to get a new 5k PB.
But, secretly? Of course I do.
I would like to go for a sub-20 time but on this course I appreciated that this probably wasn’t terribly likely unless I was allowed to exchange my trainers for rollerskates on the downhill parts. I was however looking for a sub-21 time and ideally knock a few seconds off of my last parkrun time. A girl has to have goals, right? And all that speedwork had to count for something ...
The first sign that things might not go to plan was during my chat to a marshal. I’d asked him about the route and mentioned how pretty it looked. He agreed. Then looked me in the eye and said this course was the “worst in the midlands for speed” Oh. Maybe I’d better change my time goal to sub-30 minutes ...
We all lined up at the start and as I looked around, all I could see was pretty hedgerows, a nice flat playing field and a couple of lost golfers. I decided that the Hill of Death must be a tall tale to stop parkrun tourists from visiting and eating all the good cakes.
We set off in the usual parkrun start rush of flying trainers and accidental elbowing. I was feeling fresh, comfortable and had my heart set on a good time. The Running Gods knew this. And they decided to give me a kick up the arse for my optimism and sneakily untied my shoelaces about 200m in. Just before the first corner.
I decided tripping myself up on a trailing shoelace and falling on my face wasn’t the best strategy for a PB so stepped out of the stampede and retied my shoelace. I’d given myself an additional task now; make up the time lost and weave around the hordes of enthusiastic runners who had overtaken me while I’d been practising my knots.
The parkrun itself was lovely. The start was on grass but the main route was made up of narrow, pretty paths which wound and twisted between hedges and around a golf course. The paths narrowed in places and there was a fair amount of congestion as runners of a similar speed were running shoulder to shoulder, but the atmosphere was a good one and camaraderie ran high. The hedges occasionally opened out to show gorgeous views and on a sunny morning it was a lovely run.
Well. Most of it was a lovely run. The slight uphill which turned into a vertical slope - down which I fully expected skiers to come hurtling – dashed any expectations I might have had for a PB. Twitter buddies had told me that it was as fast to walk as it was to run but I decide that as I was out for a run I may as well try. I overtook the woman in front of me and a 10 year old boy who were walking up it. I made it to the top in triumph having run all the way up and just as I paused to adjust my victory signs and try to gain control of my heaving lungs and spasming calves, I was overtaken by the boy who had walked up the hill.
While fully supporting the valuable work of the NSPCC, I determined to push him in a hedge. If I could catch him.
The next section was all downhill. A fact I tried desperately to take advantage of, however my legs were having none of it. Having been pushed to run up the side of a mountain, they were now firmly telling me that if I was expecting anything below a 7 minute mile I was most definitely “having a laugh” and could “sod right off”.
Fair enough. I tottered along the rest of the route with wibbly legs and wished I’d had enough foresight to invest in some of those trainers with wheels. While I might not be able to run at speed, I was pretty sure I could roll downhill like a champ. Despite my lack of leg control and inability to control my soaring heart rate, it was a lovely parkrun and running on trails was a nice change from the tarmac and roads I would otherwise be running on.
Coming along the final section of path, I thought my body was shutting down and my eyesight was failing. (Although this is a pretty standard feeling for me at the end of a 5k) From what I could see, there were woolly sheep on the path in front of me. Squinting and hoping I wasn’t about to be trampled up by a flock of woolly creatures – bearing in mind I was in the middle of rural Warwickshire, I got a bit closer and realised it was two ENORMOUS Labrador retrievers. They looked confused at the crowds hurtling – or in my case, trundling – towards them but the owner obviously felt our 5k fitness would be improved with hound-hurdling and not-tripping-over-a-dog training in the final 200 metres and left them to wander in the middle of the path. I appreciate his thoughtfulness in attempting to improve our training, but couldn’t help feeling that maybe I could return the favour by giving him a being-throttled-with-a-dog-lead Krypten Factor style challenge.
Everyone is a coach.
Reining in the murderous thoughts, I realised I was on the final stretch and tried for a burst of speed. My legs rebelled and flailed about as though I was at a Riverdance audition but I put my head down and focused on the fact that I could have a massive steaming cup of hot black coffee and possibly a slice of cake at the end. This did the trick. I aimed my body in the general direction of at the finish funnel and managed a finish like an octopus doing a Mexican Wave.
I finished and clasped the parkrun token in my sweaty hand. And was clapped by the 10 year old who had finished several minutes earlier. I reached out to push him in the hedge but had no strength left and managed only a half wave.
He waved back.
Recovering at the thought of a coffee and cake, I got myself moving in the general direction of the cafe and met up with some of my lovely Twitter buddies. I was relieved to note they were real people although I wasn’t sure how they escaped from my phone. Laura (@TheLozzatron) was fab! And just as lovely in real life as on Twitter which was a relief as she does triathlons and would be quite capable of using her super-triathlete strength to beat me up if I wasn’t polite to her. Chris (@Rock_and_Droll) had been marshalling and cheering on the people at the bottom of the Cardiac Hill, safe in the knowledge that he didn’t have to climb the thing this week. It was lovely to catch up with them both and a relief to find out that neither of them appeared to be mad serial killers masquerading as runners. Although maybe they save the axe murdering for the 2nd parkrun visit.
33rd / 235 people
4th woman /69
1st in age group
But 32 seconds slower than PB ... I had fully expected to knock a few seconds off of this but a combination of things meant that I was slower than I’d expected. However, it was a lovely route and really friendly group of people. Sometimes it’s not all about the times.
Sub 20 time: nope
Sub 21 time: nope
New PB: nope
Children pushed in the hedge: 0 (but only because I couldn’t catch him)
Massive hills found for hill reps in future: 1
Real life friends made: 2 (waves at Lozza and Chris)
I reckon that’s a win.