July was quite a big month. I’d figured that I would get the big journeys all done, then have a nice easy run in to the finish. In one month I completed Montrose, Ellon and Aberdeen. My plan of a nice easy run in though has been somewhat thwarted by the announcement of the start of Alness parkrun. This new parkrun will take the title for most northerly in the UK, meaning it will be also the furthest I will travel during this challenge in one trip. The start date is on the 26th August, which is also when I thought I would be running my home run. I have to confess, I’m pretty excited since this is a part of the country I’ve never been to before.
We’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to weddings both this weekend and last. The weekend before was a wedding in London, and although this meant putting even more travel miles into July’s already ample quota, the pay off was an absolutely beautiful ceremony for an adorable couple, followed the next day with a boat party on the Thames. I’d tried to scheme a way to fit a London parkrun in, however we were told some days in advance that the boat was leaving at the allotted time with absolutely no exceptions. Though I calculated that a London parkrun was ‘technically’ a possibility, even I wasn’t that convinced that it was actually doable. I instead went out for a run along Regent’s Canal to Regent’s Park and Primrose hill on Friday when we had more time. Back when I lived in London I did a little training on the outer circle of Regent’s Park. It seems that these habits die hard as I hit the path and automatically locked into something north of tempo and blasted out 2 tougher miles than were required.
As I get older, weddings seem to make me cry more. I think when I was younger I was chuffed for the couple getting married, but didn’t know what it really meant. Now some years later having gone through it myself, I know it’s a celebration. A celebration of that weird language you and your partner have invented from years of rubbish private jokes. That those jokes then got distorted and more bizarre over further years of misspelt text messages and misheard conversations. The way you can look at each other and know exactly what they’re thinking, except in the few times when that would actually be practical. The way you can look at the disarray the kitchen was left in, and piece together what sort of morning they had and what order they did things in. A bit like a totally useless episode of CSI. The way you can’t sleep properly if they’re away for a night. It’s all of those weird things, and when you go to a wedding and you see the ease two people have with each other, you know they probably have a list that’s just as odd. You feel the weight of just how awesome that is, the joy of the people all around you for this outpouring of love, then some kind soul starts playing ‘what a wonderful world’ on the piano just to kick you over the edge.
Wedding number two this weekend was in Fife, and so we had planned a long while back to do Dunfermline parkrun on the way over to the Kingdom. We could then hotfoot it over to the inlaws’ to get a shower and changed into our finery. If I’m completely honest, on Friday night I didn’t want to do either. I’m a kind of all or nothing sort of person. I want my time to be filled with things, I otherwise find myself getting bored. I stack my time relentlessly, it’s like I’m playing Tetris with my calendar. Periodically the pieces are coming in too fast, I can’t stop anything and I want to curl up behind the sofa and hide. Not only were the miles travelled every weekend starting to catch up with me, but over the last few weeks I’ve added some extra training effort into my schedule and maybe those 3 miles on Friday were just the cherry that broke the camel’s back. Thankfully though, I’m also the sort of person that doesn’t change their mind once it’s set, and not only did I find myself at one of the best parkruns out there, but the wedding was another absolutely brilliant one.
As we arrived at Pittencrieff park, we found the sun coming out and a brilliant looking park in front of us. I’ve never visited Dunfermline before, so my knowledge of it sadly didn’t extend much past the things I can see from the M90. Off I went for a quick warm up and explore around the park. We were a little early, so the full core team hadn’t quite arrived, and it was a lovely morning. I quickly found the toilets which were still closed, however the kind gentlemen outside the doors informed me that I could ‘just find a bush and get yer pish man’. So off I went to continue ‘exploring’. I’d heard in advance that the course at Dunfermline would be challenging, and certainly a quick recce of the park was pointing out that more than a few hills were in store. In recent weeks I have run a lot of very flat courses, and have often lamented that flat courses are actually much tougher than hilly ones… would I live to regret those words here?
As I arrived back to the start line, I found that now a healthy bunch was starting to arrive. I approached some volunteers to say good morning and to see what the course had in store. The question often comes if you’ve done the course before, and I usually have to reply that I haven’t, and explain what I’m up to. Today, this spread like wildfire. I was quickly introduced to runner after runner, each really interested in the challenge and giving some caution on the course. One lady I spoke to told me that a fellow tourist had spoken to her after running it, and informed her that the course was ‘brutal!’ As the briefing got underway, we were told that if anyone was parked in the coach park, they should move their cars since the inspectors were out and they would very likely be getting a ticket. This news meant several folks darted off in the direction of the carpark, for which the team duly waited for their return. We also heard of a car which had been struck by another driver who had since driven off. The car’s owner turned out to be a quite young lad who looked terrified about this, but was quickly assured by the event director that they would help sort everything out after the run. I was just buzzing at what a brilliant community I was surrounded by. It’s one of the most amazing things at parkrun, and though much is luck of the draw on the day, not only in the people you bump into but also in terms of me and how I am that day; today everything had landed perfectly.
Off we go! We have a short gentle climb up before we turn hard right onto the tree lined runway which will launch us onto the course lap. We turn right, pavilion on our right and we’re stretching out with the park on our left. We come to a hard left turn with a marshal ringing a bell for us as we pass. The path now starts to descend, there are some patches in the tarmac which are easy to avoid as the path winds left and the long path opens up in front of us. We dart to the right and the long descent now opens up in front of us. We have a long gradual descent which arches slowly left, and with fresh legs I have absolutely no problem in taking full advantage. As we get closer to the trees at the bottom of the park, I see we are approaching a ramp, runners are heading up it and before I have too much time to think about it I take the sharp left hand bend and pile it straight up the hill. For some reason, I find the hill hugely reminiscent of a hill I used for winter hill training with London Heathside in North London. Turning the corner, I accelerate as if I were running a hill rep. The climb is steeper in the first half than the second, and the bit of acceleration has meant I’ve done the tough bit before too long, leaving me to grind my way up the second half. As I get to the top, the turn is shaded under a tree and I notice there are loads of little grey mushrooms popping through the ground. Swinging round the left hander we’re again going across the park giving us a great view down the park to my left and of a big orange building to my right. We come to the end of this section where we can see runners coming toward us, they are about to start the long downhill section. It’s great to see other runners as you go round, and I happen to see my earlier advisor who asks me if the course is ‘brutal!’ I reply to the affirmative as I turn right which takes me up a slight incline before another right turn back toward the big orange house. Mile #1 done in a slightly worrying 6.47. Maybe the first mile was more down than up…
As we get near the house, we take a quick left which takes us down what feels like a tunnel. At the bottom of this we are greeted by possibly the most excited marshal I have ever encountered, it’s a damn good job too since, as we turn left as she instructs, we see a short hill under a bridge we’ll be filing under ‘character building’.
This can’t be much over 10 metres, but you certainly wouldn’t miss it. Up to the top, round to the left and past the volunteer crew and onto lap two! Excellent. Past the pavilion and thanks to the lovely marshal with the bell. Down we go round the bend, and as we hit the long descent this time I notice two of the Forth bridges in the distance, brilliant! I’m probably not pushing as hard down the hill this time since I want to be ready for the next hill rep I know is coming, but I’m still enjoying it immensely. The ramp comes into view, and there’s just something about this sort of inevitability that puts a big daft grin on my face. Up we go! a little more difficult than the first time, but I’m managing to keep my form and push on for the mushroom turn. Round we go and we’re heading toward the bit where we’ll see runners on the other section of the lap coming toward us. It’s sort of a bit like a flux capacitor. As we turn right, I’d wondered before if this section was slightly uphill, and this time I reason it definitely is, a bit. Right we go toward the orange house and it’s time to get ourselves ready for reverse helter skelter. Mile #2: 7.14.
Round the corner and there is the best marshal ever, she’s got one of those rattles in the shape of a hand and she is basically pushing us up the hill. I’m still grinning at the top as we pass the core team and we’re sent out for another go, third time lucky double or quits. Past the pavilion and my friend with the bell is still there helping us round. As we head down the descent I’m now starting to catch up the back markers. I see the name Nicola on a top and give a bit of encouragement for ‘Nicola, and Nicola’s pal’. All of this puts an even bigger grin on my face as we head toward the ramp which doesn’t seem to have gotten any smaller. It’s thankfully not gotten any bigger either, but third time’s the charm and I’m having to push quite hard to keep going. This doesn’t escape the attention of one of my fellow runners as I go past and I’m told to ‘breathe! breathe! now chin up son! breeeaaatthhhe!’ I do my best to do as I’m told, and somehow this works and I’m at the top and round the corner. I go past my friend from earlier, and again agree with the ‘brutal!’ assessment as I go along the wall and admire the views. We skirt right, right again and now I’ve just got one little task left to complete. Thankfully smiley marshal is on hand to push me up the hill again, and as I’m maxing out I can this time turn right to head back along the runway to the end. This last section is quite short, but also slightly uphill I think, so it’s time to grit those teeth, dig in, close the eyes and breathe! breathe! chin up! breeeeeattthhhe! and phew we’re done!
This is such a brilliant course. It’s tougher than some, but it’s not horrible. The climbs are definitely there, but they are manageable. The key though is that the downhill sections are incredibly runnable, which means you can both recover and really enjoy them. The standout feature though of this course were the team of volunteers and runners. It was just amazing feeling so welcomed, and so instantly part of the community. It’s brilliant knowing it’s so close, and I know I’ll be back to do this one again.
Scores! 19th place, 21.53
Next week… EDINBURGH….