#14: Strathclyde

It’s funny how a couple of days off can really mess with your chi, man. I spent a lot of the week not really that sure which day I was on, tired, and a bit rudderless. I’m sure that the extra holiday is meant to revive and refresh, but this time around it seemed to just knock me about a bit. Any chance I could try again? Maybe a few 4 day weekends and I could maybe get the hang of it.

Since the start of this challenge, I’ve had one eye furtively looking over at Aberdeen. Though there are further flung parkruns out there, the four near Aberdeen *are* possible in a day trip on the train – BUT – it is a very challenging day indeed. The only train that will get you into Aberdeen on time from Edinburgh leaves at, gulp, 5.30am. Now, that’s very very early, but wait, it gets even better… it arrives into Aberdeen at 8.13am. During the winter months, this was basically far too intimidating for a soft southerner like myself, and I had put it off for the lighter, warmer milder summer months. As I now approach the half way point of the challenge, and the number of runs left starts to decrease, I reasoned that I now have to start making a dent in the Aberdeen four.

One of the unexpected and slightly unfortunate drawbacks I’ve found during this last few months, is the impact that this has had on my health. I’m one of those annoying people who rarely gets ill, or I was until this year. I’ve now had some sort of cough / cold four times since the start of the year. I don’t want to spend too much time complaining about this, my poor wife has probably already had enough of this to go round. With this in mind, I have basically decided against trying to do any Aberdeen runs in a day trip, resolving to go up on Friday evening and stay over. I was very close to doing that this weekend, but it was getting a bit close to the day before I thought of that, and things were getting a bit pricey. Imagine, having to actually plan things in advance?! So, on Wednesday I finally got my act together, and come the 6th of May, I’ll be heading toward Aberdeen.

The very next day after booking this, I found out that Aviemore parkrun will start on, you’ve guessed it, the 6th of May. Nothing I had booked was changeable / refundable… so for the first time this year, I’m going to miss out on an inaugural parkrun. Dammit! This also meant that this week’s run was no longer half way as I had thought it would be, though if the rumour mill is to be believed, I’ve a couple more to do before I reach that point.

Having done a lot of thinking about the next few weeks, I still had very little idea what I was doing this weekend coming. The weather report though was looking very encouraging, and feeling a little tired, I opted for something relatively close to home. On my travels, I’ve heard a few people talk about Strathclyde, and I was surprised at how few people seemed enthusiastic about it. I remember I looked at the course quite a while ago, and for me it was definitely a course I was looking forward to. Flat, near water, out and back so no laps, a huge number of boxes ticked in my own personal wish list cabinet.  Certainly after a few weeks of running hills as well, I was quite keen on a flat course.

Careful what you wish for.

I’ve remarked before how different trains are now that the days are a little lighter. At the start of the year I was regularly the only person in the carriage. On my trip to Motherwell, I was joined by a quite rowdy bunch, done up to the nines with a very large amount of alcohol. The fact that it was still not long after 8am didn’t seem to be a factor in the consumption of Buckfast Tonic Wine, and as well as the case of beer I saw, I also heard the following:

Man 1: ‘what’s that yer drinking?’

Man 2: ‘It’s Bell’s whisky’

Man 1: *takes a sip* ‘auch it’s awfy dry int it?’

As seems to be invariably the case when a carriage is boarded by a large party drinking heavily, an older couple found themselves sat right in the middle of the horde. They were as ever treated like royalty, and were warmly bid farewell when they left the train. You’ve just got to love Scotland.

Arriving into Motherwell, I ran down the hill all the way to the start line. This was around 2 miles, and with the sun beaming over the loch even rowing today looked appealing. Milling around the start line, I chatted with some regulars, missed the briefing, and gazed up the loch we would soon be running around. Gathering into the starting pen, I noted a guy in the same club vest I saw Calum Hawkins in at the national cross country champs earlier in the year at Falkirk. He had his vest tucked into his shorts, and with some people you can just tell that they’re going to be quite fast. The fact that I can see him probably means I’m a bit far forward given my modest abilities, but then it’s funny with me. I’m never quite sure which version of me is going to arrive at the start line. Today, I felt like I was going to give it a pretty honest go. I wanted to test myself, see what I’d got. I still shuffled back a little bit from the very front mind.

Looking up the path, I can see the way ahead littered with people, dogs, bikes… it’s going to be interesting seeing how we go through it, but with no further ado that’s it, start the watch, we’re going. Up the path we go and the obstacles somehow melt out of the way. The path gently curves up and away, and as we’re stretching out on this section, I notice distance markers for the finish. We’ve only just reached the first bend in the long straight on this side of the loch, and the guy I noted at the start line is already a good distance up the road from even the fastest of the rest of us. It’s genuinely inspiring to watch someone running like that. I’ve no time to wonder about this though as I am already working pretty hard and am having to focus focus focus on keeping to this pace I’ve set myself. As we start to see the end of the loch, there are poles at the end with what look like large yellow razor blades on them. I’m slightly puzzled by these, but keep pushing pushing pushing. On the ground I see spray painted ‘1M’ and assume that’s for us, but it’s not and my watch says 0.84M. I’m momentarily confused, but I switch back to the spring-themed razor blades getting closer and closer, and even as we approach them, I’m no clearer on what they actually are. We start to curve around the bottom of the loch and that’s mile #1 done in 6.38. If I can keep anywhere near that for the next two miles, I’m going to be a very happy camper, but only after those two miles have been completed.

Hills have a couple of effects on a runner. From a psychological point of view, they are tough but they also provide a focal point. In a hilly course, you never think of the whole course, you are focusing on the next climb. From a physical stand, though you have to work hard up the hill, you also get the descent down the other side. This helps you both recover, and makes you feel better about your life in general. The feeling that you’ve conquered the hill gives you a good mental boost as well with which to combat the rest of the course. With a flat course, there is no such break up of the course, and therefore you will run it on the limit for the whole course.

We go into some trees, and up probably the smallest hill on any parkrun course. I am already at a very high work rate and it catches me off guard. The impact of this lump is huge. I’m pushed into the red, and my pace is shattered. I do my best to regroup, and fairly quickly I’m back on message and out of the trees heading down the other side of the loch. I start to wonder how soon I’ll see that guy, but there’s no sign yet. I see the turning point coming up, and I now realise that we will be going back along a different road on this side of the loch, so I’ve probably already missed him. Now back alongside the loch, and the guy I’ve clung to for the past mile is fading. I reluctantly push on past him, and I see the trees approaching again, with the ‘mountain’ that they conceal. I’m no more prepared for the bump this time, and as I’m doing my best to recover from this I’m joined by a small group of runners who seem strong. Mile #2 is done in 6.46. I’ve dropped off my initial pace a little, and I’m now asking myself serious questions about whether I can keep this going for another 7ish minutes.

We emerge from the trees, and we’re onto the finishing straight. The finishing straight though is about a mile long, and it’s going to be a long, long mile. I’ve run hard to this point, and I’d be damned if I was going to let this hard work go to waste, but what followed was not at all pretty. The small group that caught me in the trees have stretched out slightly, but I’m managing to keep them fairly close. The guys in front are looking infuriatingly casual in their running style, I wonder if I look as relaxed from a few metres away, because I feel like a washing machine on a spin cycle with a brick in it. All the while I’m trying to reconcile the internal chaos with the serenity I can see all around me. I eventually try to get around this by focusing on the runners near me, and the road ahead. I’m desperately searching ahead for the finish line, but it’s far away in the distance. My breathing is alternating between me forcing it under control, and then losing it for a few minutes as I desperately grab great lungfuls that are never ever enough. We go around the curve and the finishing line is now within sight, but is still painfully out of reach. The runner on my right I’ve been clinging to suddenly stops, and I fully understand it. Were I not so completely stubborn I would as well. On and on the road goes as I start inwardly shouting at myself ‘I hate 5ks! I hate 5ks! I hate 5ks!’. Mile #3 finally comes to an end in 6.52, and the final stretch in front of me blurs past as we finish the job. I can barely speak as the event director asks me if I enjoyed the course. Enjoy is not the word I would have used on the finish line. There’s no getting away from it, running a good time on a 5k hurts.

I’m told that the boy who went flying up the road has broken the course record, having finished in 14.38. For those not into running, this may not mean much, but it’s really difficult to explain just how mind-blowing this sort of time is. To put it into context the pace he was running means he was covering every 100 metres in around 17.5s. I go over and congratulate him, and I’m not alone. The next fastest person round today was nearly 4 minutes behind him. On the other end of the spectrum, I believe the course slowest record was also broken today. This is one of the things that makes parkrun such a rare and special thing. Where else would you find a 5k event with such a broad spectrum of appeal?

Scores! 15th place, 20.56 (first time I’ve gone under 21mins this year, and only the 2nd time I’ve ever managed it!)

Next week: St. Andrews

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3 thoughts on “#14: Strathclyde

  1. Excellent blog! Have been keeping up to date with it. St Andrews is our regular one, my husband will be running, I’ll be the spectator trying desperately to control a mad spaniel puppy! Good luck, it’s a fast course 👍

    Liked by 1 person

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