#24: Montrose

After finishing the parkrun at #23: Ayr last week, my fellow parkrun tourist based in Ayr then took me on a bit of a tour around to see the sights. It’s a great example of just what has been brilliant about this whole tour so far, I can’t really exaggerate how welcome I’ve felt wherever I go. Part of the tour was off to see some of the beaches in Ayr, and though it was fairly bracing, we dipped our toes in the sea and they promptly went numb. It occurred to me how nice it would be to live by the sea and to be able to do this whenever I liked. It was I think around Wednesday when I realised that I *do* live by the sea, and so on Thursday I jumped in the car and drove the 3 miles to have a little walk along the beach. One of the great things about being a grown up is that you can do what you want. The problem with being a grown up though is that we often find ourselves stuck in a rut, and it’s all too easy to forget that we can have little tiny adventures in a few hours on an otherwise boring weekday night if we want. One of the most inspiring things I’ve heard about recently is a friend of mine in Cornwall who from time to time gets a takeaway, then rides to a place with an epic view for an impromptu picnic. It’s got to be a bit better than watching the TV surely?

One of the key things to master with running is the art of getting the excuses in before a race, without overdoing it. The ideal is that your fellow runners will be thinking you’re amazing for even turning up, so any result is a bonus. The trick to this is reveal details of the last few days, but never relate them to how you are feeling now. So, for example, I might mention a training session that I did yesterday, and how tough it was. Or, I might talk about a cold that I had mid week, whilst obviously sniffing / coughing etc as noticeably as possible. As soon as you hear ‘oh, getting the excuses in early are we?’ – you know the game is up and you’ve been rumbled.

I was very lucky to meet one of the core team from Montrose back in #17: Stonehaven. At the time they were shadowing the run director in the final stages of preparation for their official start. I had been hearing strong rumours about a Montrose parkrun, and at that point I then had a start date. I knew that the course would be a pan handle, but sadly I didn’t know where the course start was. Crucially, I didn’t know how close it was to the train station.

A few weeks later on as Montrose appeared on the official site, I found that the course was around 1.2 miles from the station. The options for trains from Edinburgh are somewhat limited, arriving into Montrose at either 9.13, or 2 full hours earlier at 7.13. Given that the more sensible option would leave only 17 minutes to run across town to the start line, I started to worry that were the train to be delayed at all, I would be cutting it very fine to make the start. The car it would have to be then.

Resigned to a long drive, I resolved that the only reasonable thing to do was to offer out the other spaces in the car to anyone in the club who fancied joining me. A few clubbers quickly stuck their hands up, and I’d have some good company for the trip.

A few days before the trip north, I saw a posting from Montrose on Facebook which appealed for potential tourists like us to maybe wait a few weeks until things settled down. I’ve also recently joined a group on Facebook for parkrun tourists, and amongst other things like highlighting that this foray into touristing is merely a small dalliance, I noticed that touristing to inaugurals was discouraged. This seemed odd to me, since at the time I was thinking purely from the point of view of how exciting it is to be at an inaugural event. The thrill of supporting a new run, and celebrating it officially joining the fold. The reality though is that a lot of people think the same way, and this simply serves to put pressure onto a new team. Speaking to another more experienced tourist recently, I heard about a new event which attracted over 500 runners, and since a new parkrun will only have 500 finisher tokens, this presents a big problem. I therefore worried quite a lot about my decision to visit Montrose on that weekend. Sadly though at this stage, the dates for the rest of the parkruns on my list are now pretty much set in stone, and I’d have to live with it.

It seems that our luck is in this year in Scotland, and summer has come on a Saturday. As we made the drive north, the sunglasses I’d brought just in case became indispensable. We arrived quite early, finding the start line without too much trouble. We didn’t realise however the first time that we were in the right place, so about-turned, went down a dead end for a look around, then went back to where we were in the first place. This time we went a few metres further and around a short bend which revealed the car park. Shortly after we got parked up, the Edinburgh parkrun tour team turned up as well, so we’d have some good company from auld reekie.

Time to get under way then, and after a lovely briefing we’re up near the start and ready to go. I get us to somewhere in the ‘middle’ (i.e. toward the front, but not at the front), and though I still can’t shake this cough, I’ve been starting to feel a bit more back to normal. Maybe today I can put in some sort of a decent effort after a week of sacking off training sessions in favour of solo steady runs instead.

Go! Off we go up a gravel path, it’s a little soft, rippled and comes to an end very quickly as we’re thrown round a sharp right hander and past a sign which warns us about rabbit holes. This long straight section is on grass, and though I don’t see any actual rabbits, I can’t help but think they are massive given the size of the holes. They are thankfully easily avoidable, and the crew have put cones around the bigger ones making them clearly visible. This strip rapidly runs out as we take a hard left, round the gap to the side of a big gate and onto what I think looks like an old airfield. A few weeks ago I saw a guy in a t-shirt advertising the Prestwick 10k. Since I know very little about Prestwick other than it’s the name of a Glasgow airport, I wondered what it would be like to do a race along a runway. As we race along the giant slabs of concrete which make up this long straight section, I start to see what this might be like. The surface of the concrete slabs presents a big variety under foot, with some bits in disrepair, some bits where nature has reclaimed the ground and some bits which have been covered with a fine gravel. As I run over the fine gravel, I feel a sort of tingling sensation as the gravel is flung up and hits the back of my legs. We arch left and in every direction there’s a wide expanse of green. After a short section we dart right and over a stile – two little hops and that’s mile #1 done in 6.46.

A quick section, a hard left and we’ve now got a line of gorse bushes to follow as the sun shines down on us and we follow along the path. We’ve only gone around a couple of bends, but with the big expanse around us, and little by way of big obvious landmarks in view I’ve already lost any sense of the direction I’m facing. We take a right hander and another long straight opens out in front of us, gorse bushes to our right, trees on the left and sunshine pouring down on us. Ahead I can hear a fellow runner who sounds like he’s on the limit. I’m pushing harder than I had planned to and realising that today I’m not going to hold it. The thing with a 5k is that you always go out ‘too hard’, it just that some days that gambit works, most of the time though you end up slowing down as each mile ticks by. We turn right, through a gate and on we go onto the next section. This quickly runs out, and we wiggle through a small gap into a car park, veering quickly right and around a close parked car. Through the car park and through another gate. I’m grateful at this point since I’m at the back of a small groupetto, which means getting the gates opened for me and not having to slow down. I’m reliably informed that the gates were meant to be open, and were for runners behind me. This will of course mean the course is faster, but part of me is loving how this feels like a hill race on the flat. Mile #2 6.59

I’ve lost a lot of pace in mile 2 compared to mile 1, and at this stage I can now confidently predict this will continue into mile 3. Ah well. We come to the end of the path and a hard right to follow the trees. The surface underfoot now tells us if we didn’t know already that we must be near the sea. We have a long stretch of big pebbles which provide quite a challenge, then sections of soft sand surrounded by narrow paths of grass which I only misjudge once, but cost me a bit of effort as I dart round to take the easier path. The trees end and we’re into the open again onto a section that feels like we’re on an abandoned golf course. I don’t remember if I saw a path on this section at all, it felt like we were in the wilds which was really good fun. This all comes to an abrupt halt though as we pick up the runway from earlier. We’ve now got a mild breeze against us, but it’s enough to make this short section, probably only a third of a mile, feel very, very long indeed. I’m hugely relieved when I see the final gate, dart right and round it to the right turn that will take us back down the rabbit warren. The trees come into view, we dodge our way around the rabbit holes and as we turn left the finish line comes into view. Mile #3 done in 7.08, head down, last little stretch, and I push for home to make sure that those footsteps I can hear gaining on me don’t manage it.

This is a great run, fast, varied and feels like it takes you on an adventure. Given how open a lot of the course is, I wonder how tough this course could be on a rough day. The event went really smoothly which is a great credit to the core team, and I’ve every confidence they will go from strength to strength. We retire from the run to the elected cafe, which is on a pick your own soft fruit farm and is an inspired choice. If I didn’t already want to return, the strawberry tarts here are a good enough reason on their own!

Scores! 21st place, 21.38

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