#15: St. Andrews

This weekend marks the first anniversary of moving into our flat in Edinburgh. A few weeks after we first got here, I went to see the Edinburgh marathon since the route goes quite near to our flat, and I really love hurling ‘encouragement’ at strangers. Of the many highlights that morning, we saw a runner from my old London club London Heathside and gave the runner a massive cheer. Returning home buzzing from all of this I signed up for the 2017 event straight away, then promptly forgot all about it until about 2 weeks ago.

Apart from the Portobello Promathon 2017, the Edinburgh half marathon is the only thing I’d actually signed up for in 2017, with the rest of my entire calendar dedicated to parkrun. It occurred to me that since the half marathon was coming up, I should probably try and do a few runs that are longer than 3.1 miles, since otherwise the final 3.1 miles of that half are not going to be at all pleasant. With that in mind, over the last few weeks I’ve done one 11 miler, and at #14: Strathclyde last week, I found that the 2 mile jog to the start, plus then running the course twice and back to the station made up a reasonable distance. This did though mean that I had to be slightly less sociable than I would otherwise have liked. Even though this worked well to get the miles in, it still felt like a bit of a compromise.

For this week at St. Andrews, the plan was to do two events. The first would of course be St. Andrews parkrun, the second would be the Norman’s Law hill race organised by Fife AC. Thankfully there is no need to register for the hill race before the day, so I could easily chicken out, but across the two runs, I would probably clock up around 9 miles, and a good portion of one of those miles would be on a gradient where I might need to also use my hands.

St. Andrews parkrun is one of a handful of Scottish parkruns I’d done before this year. The last time I ran it was on Christmas Day 2013. I remember that there was a secret Santa which we got involved in, and a good few dressed up for the occasion. The event was brilliant, and not only set a great mood for the day, but left a lasting feeling of smugness which meant that no sort of festive treat was off limits. Not that it would have been otherwise. Since this run was also quite early on in my running years, having only really taken to it in 2011, I was fairly confident that my time on that day of 22.19 should be fairly beatable. Now, I know some runners are quite competitive with other people, but personally I’m only ever competitive with one person. Me.

Despite a few wrong turns and the odd diversion on the drive over to Craigtoun Park, we made it to the park in plenty of time to warm up, and for me to demonstrate an alarmingly good memory of the park layout. Crucially, I had remembered where the loos were. Near here, we found the race organisers, and where to leave the bags. At this point, I decided that it was maybe a little too cold for short sleeves, and elected to put on the long sleeve top I had in my bag just in case. It turned out however that I had brought wifey’s version of that long sleeve top, and though the cropped top belly hanging out look might at one time been quite fashionable, it didn’t really seem to suit the surroundings that day. I decided maybe it wasn’t that cold after all.

Down to the start line we’re joined by the usual suspects – as well as a bride-to-be complete with bridesmaids (good luck guys!) – for the briefing. In some regards I’m quite glad I’m not super fast. This means that I just need to follow the guy in front. Were I to be that guy in front, then who knows where we might go and how long the course would be. We’re told that next week will be the 5th birthday of this event, and I’m slightly miffed I didn’t plan things better so I could be there.

The starter calls out go, I start my watch and notice all too late that I’m stuck behind a small fence. I shuffle out and onto the course proper, bid wifey a good run and off I go up the first straight. We cross over the miniature train lines and turn left as we see the swings on the right hand side of the course as we’re away heading slightly uphill toward the cafe and the loos. Past the loos, and no time to stop this time as we bend round to the left, onto a gravel path and we’ve a nice short downhill section to enjoy. As we reach the end of this the path goes left again and we’ve now got a short hill to climb. My memories of the course weren’t hugely clear, but I definitely remembered that there was a sting hidden somewhere round the back of the park. The gravel path means a little more work for every step, but we push on and the path opens out as we’re in the upper section of the park. I’ve been keeping tabs on a young guy in orange for most of the course so far who seems to be running pretty steady. For me now, the game plan is to run pretty hard but not to absolutely bury myself, so I’ve got something left for Norman. As we run along the stretch on the top perimeter of the park, I notice we’re still climbing slightly, but the path is coming to an end, and the corner marks the end as we swing hard left and down a nice long stretch to the bottom of the park. This section last time we were here was over grass, and I recall in December this was a bit squelchy in places – so I’ve even less excuses for not beating my own time. Hard left, over a tiny bridge and we’ve the long straight along and past the start line. At this stage, my orange shirted companion is starting to slow up and I pass him as we’re going past the play area. Mile #1 is done in 7.03 and everything is going to plan.

Round past the loos for the second time and a few seconds to enjoy the descent before rounding the turn for the short sharp stealth climb. This section feels quite enclosed, with I think a wall on one side. Personally I always feel like there is a castle on my side. As I’m going up the hill, I’m trying to stay to an even effort and in doing so my friend in the orange top glides past me. No matter, it’s a run not a race and I’ve got a long day ahead. Around the top of the park there are some friends and family cheering us on, and as we’re coming back down the descent to the bottom of the park I’m feeling pretty good. Over the mini bridge once again and onto the long straight I’m back on the heels of my friend again and past him once more. Along the long straight, past the playground and mile #2 is done in 7.05. I’ve slipped a fraction off the pace, but not nearly enough that I’m worried about it.

It’s around this point that I started to catch up with the tail runners on the course. The toughest part of a 5k I believe is the fourth kilometre. At this point, you will have been working hard for a good while, you’re starting to fatigue and your mind is starting to ask the question ‘oh what’s the point?’ One of the great things about working in miles is that this question doesn’t arise, and for my brain at least having ‘just one more mile’ to go, is easier to deal with that having 2k to go – even though they are only 400m different. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it works for me. As I went through the final lap, I cheered well done to as many of the runners I passed as I could. Each cheer for them gave me a boost and as I went through that lap, and through the hidden fourth kilometre I felt better and better. Onto the climb by the imaginary castle and I felt strong, over the top and along the park and wondering how the final mile of this course seemed to be melting away easily when the final mile at #14: Strathclyde had felt like it would never end. Rounding the corner at the bottom of the park and over the mini bridge, the moment I’d been preparing myself for arrived as my orange shirted companion cruised past me. I wondered about going after him, but he had clearly left something in reserve and whereas some people come past fast and then stall a few meters ahead, this was more like I had stopped altogether and he was accelerating away from me. As we went past the playground for the final time mile #3 buzzed past at 7.00 meaning I’d managed to pace pretty consistently, for once, and now we just needed to finish the job. The final stretch of the course is on a slight uphill gradient, but then there is a cafe right next to the finish line, and the thought of cake and tea is more than enough to offset this.

Scores! 28th place, 21.22 (new PB!)

Next week I’ll be in Aberdeen. Not yet decided on which of the runs I’ll be doing, I’ll tweet about this later in the week…

For those wondering, I did also take part in the Norman’s Law hill race, it was really fun. Here’s a picture of me, having fun:

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