I spent a few days at the start of this week scheming to go off to Aberdeen. As the week went on though, and the cough I’d mysteriously picked up somewhere between here and Dundee got more fruity, I started to think that I’d rather stay closer to home. As luck would have it, it was around this time that a club mate then popped up on the message board asking if anyone was interested in a jaunt to a parkrun somewhere out of town. I was feeling a bit tired and fragile after a fairly hectic weekend, and in such a state I find it quite difficult to make decisions. I was hugely glad to have this one taken out of my hands, and we soon had a rough plan to go to Falkirk.
A lot of people I think wonder about how those of us who run regularly (or indeed any other form of exercise that borders on self harm) manage to motivate ourselves on an almost daily basis to keep going with it. For me personally, I am a creature of habit. I have a number of things that I do at certain times on certain days and these are sort of locked in my mind. I never need to motivate myself to get out of the door in my trainers, because it’s Wednesday, say, and that’s what I do that day. I actually find it more difficult to not do the thing. By way of illustrating this, a good friend of mine who I’ve not seen for quite a long time dropped me a text on Monday morning to see if I was around on Wednesday evening. I really wanted to see him, but I go to training on Wednesday nights. I’m not committed to Wednesday training, I can go or not of no consequence. It still took me half the day to override the part of my brain saying ‘but it’s Wednesday, we do the thing on Wednesday’. The solution in the end was simple, I just did a DIY mini training session on Wednesday lunch time.
As the week went on, the weather got worse and somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered if I should concede that I was again getting ill. I started to look ahead to the weekend. I saw something I’d not seen for a while, a great big sunshine symbol on a Saturday in the company of not one, but two digits indicating temperature. Surely not though, it had snowed earlier in the week after all. The glimmer of hope though is that winter always has one last hurrah before it skulks away again for another year. We all know the routine by now, we get a little bit of spring in the air, it’s a bit milder and we all start to relax. The novices amongst us will put their big winter woolies away, but those of us who’ve been round a while will wait a few weeks, because we know that there’s a sting in the tail waiting for us. One last week which will come out of the blue, a reminder that winter is tough and don’t you forget it. The trick is to just humour it, look like you’re all miserable and it’ll be happy and saunter off.
By Friday things were looking more sensible and the forecast for Saturday was still persisting with the bizarre notion that it was going to be taps aff. Car share had all been arranged, and I was not only going to be getting a lift, but from my doorstep as well. I could get used to this.
As we got up on Saturday morning the sun blasted through the windows and there was not a cloud to be seen. Weirder still, it was kind of warm. I got myself ready to go in a t-shirt, but of course packed a long sleeve top, hat, gloves and water-proof jacket in my bag. I may not have lived in Scotland for that long, but I’m learning quickly.
Arriving at Falkirk a little early, we had a chance to stroll through the park and take in the sun / conveniences. My last visit to Callendar Park was a few weeks ago when I marshalled the national cross country championships. I had meant to also run the parkrun that day, but had been unwell and decided getting well sooner was better than crossing another one off the list. As we walked to the start line, my club mate who had been running at those cross country champs talked me through the course. I decided to take a warm up jog around some of the course, and what a great course it seems I missed out on. It’s fairly easy to say that though when the ground is firm and you can take it at a leisurely pace.
As I came to a halt after a tougher mile than I’d expected it to be, and the coughing started up in earnest, I knew fairly well that today would not be a classic performance. It’s a run though, not a race, the sun was shining and I was with some good friends. Things could have been much worse. The briefing was starting with the run director being ably interrupted by fellow volunteers. I started to wonder if I was in an episode of ‘That Peter Kay Thing’ as we made our way to the start line.
Off we go, arching round the semi circle of grass that sits in front of Callendar House, we turn left and we’re going along the park with a loch on our right, trees to our left. The loch is shimmering in the sun, I see some swans and all is right with the world. We’re curving gently round to the right, and though it’s not hugely noticeable yet, we’re very gradually climbing. I’m shoulder to shoulder with my club mate and driver for the day for a brief while, but he drops back slightly as we go round a sharp bend before heading onto a hard packed trail and into the trees. The trail through the woods is one of those that is normally navigated by following wooden posts with coloured stripes on. I’m not sure what colour we’re following, but the gradient has increased enough that we’re now in no doubt that we’re climbing, but not enough to do serious damage to the pace. The sun is streaming through the trees as our band of merry explorers hit the top of the hill for now. Mile #1 is done in 7.42, which considering the whole mile was uphill isn’t too bad.
The path continues in the same direction, and the gradient down is much the same as the climb up. This means that I can now open my stride slightly and make the best advantage of it. No sooner am I catching my breath than my chauffeur appears back on my side. He’s a little bigger than me, so has a bit of an advantage going down the hills. I resolve to try and stay with him as the trail fidgets its way through the trees, but it’s not easy as I’m still trying to recover from the climb half a mile ago, and maybe this cough is more of a problem than I thought. As the woods clear from our sides and we turn right into the open section of the park the descent gets a little steeper and my club mate is away. I resolve to let him go, and that I’ll probably see him again on the climb of ‘heartbreak hill’ we were warned about in the briefing. Callendar House comes into view in front of us, and I glance to my right and I see the hill. Hmm. This may be a problem. Mile #2 is done in 7.01.
Nothing for it, shorten my stride, bum out 5, 6, 7, 8 and back. As I’d half suspected, my friend is soon alongside me again, and I foolishly push for home. About half way up the hill I realise I’ve made a big mistake. My form is all over the place, and I’m breathing a little bit like Arnie on Mars at the end of Total Recall. A few people are walking it, and I start to think about joining them. The hill is steep, but thankfully over quite quickly. I’ve gained probably a few metres on my friend, and as we go back into the woods, I realise that we’re now back on the bit of the course that we ran at the start but in reverse. This means that we have nearly a mile of gradual descent into the finish. I’m struggling to recover from my time on the surface of Mars, and in the back of my mind I’m wondering if I can hold off my club mate who I know is better on the descent than me. I’m also having a huge internal battle between the part of me that’s apparently a bit competitive, and the rest of me that’s not feeling that well and would really rather the last mile of the run was actually enjoyable.
Back out of the woods, and we’re back alongside the loch which is still shimmering away. I’m flagging, and as I swerve to avoid a dog my club mate is on my shoulder. We’ve only a little way to go, but at this point we’re basically on the flat and it’s all to play for. The finish line comes into view, we’ve still a hundred metres or so and off he goes. I launch a counter to go with him, and, after 5 metres of this foolishness I find I’ve got nothing and let him go. Three more people go past me as I jog the last stretch, two of whom I saw walking up heartbreak hill; maybe I should have joined them after all.
Scores! 49th place, 22.53