#31: Portobello

Thanks to Andy McKay for the above photo, you can check out his brilliant pictures at https://www.facebook.com/andymckayphoto/

The first draft of this blog was basically ‘OMG I’ve had the best day ever’ about 20 times.

It’s amazing what you can do, if you decide you want to.

For those wanting an update on my illicit toast habit, I can report that I have now come to a sticky end. This week, I went for another round at 10.45am only to find there was no bread left. I’d love to say I’ve learned my lesson, but this has only served to add another element of danger to the mix.

On Thursday I got a call from my dad. I speak to my parents pretty regularly, but it’s unusual for him to call me during the day midweek. ‘Can I have a quick word?’ – set my heart racing, oh god, what’s wrong I wondered, so I quickly found a part of the office where it was quiet. Turns out he wanted help writing a letter for a parking ticket.

These days when people who’ve not seen me in a while ask what I’m up to – I pretty much have to mention parkrun. Some of these people have never heard of parkrun before, and I then have to explain. I usually make a ham-fisted go at this, so I wanted to try and do it now properly.

Parkrun is a family of communities spread across the globe. These communities of people gather each Saturday morning in open air public spaces with the goal of covering a 5km course as quickly as they want, and for free.

I set off on this adventure a little under 9 months ago. It was cold, dark and I was heading to a bit of Glasgow I’d never heard of before. I hadn’t read the course description (which became a recurring theme) and had no idea I was heading straight for the most difficult parkrun course I think you’ll find anywhere. That run set the tone for the whole adventure to come; I was welcomed immediately into the community, treated as family, given a lift afterwards to the café. You’d wonder if this would be a one off, maybe I got lucky, but this was my experience again and again.

I vaguely remember when I first thought about doing this at the end of last year. I naturally thought of it as a running challenge. Focusing on one distance, and running it over and over again. Though I’ve obviously done all that running, that element almost immediately became one of the smaller parts of this project. I got to see some amazing parts of Scotland, and to be a part of it. I went to places that I would never have gone to otherwise. I met brilliant, inspiring people. I drank a lot of tea.

I won’t deny some of it has been tough. The additional travel has put a strain on me, and I’ve found myself getting ill a lot more than usual. Some weeks I’ve been tired, grumpy and not wanted to get out of bed at 5.30am on a Saturday.  All of that has always washed away when I get there. Often these days turned out to be the ones I’ll remember most fondly.

It’s hugely tempting at this stage to talk about my favourites. I definitely have a few that stand out to me, but this is not only hugely subjective, but also down to haphazard chance of who I bumped into that day. My personal favourites are almost all down to the people I met that day, and how warmly I was welcomed into the community. If that parkrun had an amazing course as well, and in fairness most of them here are just that, then that served as icing on the most brilliant of cakes.

For anyone thinking of doing this in the future, here are my personal tips:

  • Try to do a long distance one each month. Scotland is quite big, and so wherever you live you’ll have some far flung ones to do. Don’t leave these ones till last.
  • Try to resist doing the runs that are within easy reach too early. It’s good to have some nice close by runs as a fall back for when you don’t feel that crash hot.
  • Get involved. Most parkruns will have a designated café for post run refreshments. I’ve not always been able to do this due to hotels / travel commitments, but when I have it’s always been hugely rewarding.
  • In Montrose at the after run café, get one of the strawberry tarts.
  • Don’t worry if you want to take it easy every now and then. It’s a run, not a race.
  • Always cheer your fellow runners/walkers on at every opportunity.
  • If you’re new and don’t know anyone, approach a volunteer and you’ll soon have some new pals.
  • Don’t get on the wrong train. (oops).
  • Don’t get lost on the way to the parkrun. (oops).
  • Don’t forget your barcode, obvs.

As Saturday parkrunday drew closer, I was getting pretty excited. A lot of my clubmates from the brilliant Portobello RC were going to be coming along and cake had been mentioned. For me, Portobello parkrun almost always formed the middle section of a longer run. This is because it is just under 4 miles from my flat, and the route to get there is along the seafront. I can remember really clearly the first time I ran that route, turning a corner and having Arthur’s Seat in the distance on my right, and the sea below me to the left. It was incredible, I was immediately hooked, and since I was going to be joined on that jog by some clubmates today, I was looking forward to that almost as much as the run itself.

Clubmates duly found me on the route, not all of them having realised that the jog was going to be nearly 4 miles, and others pointing out that there is a much more direct route available. Why would you do that though, when the long route looks like this:


Into the park and there are people I know EVERYWHERE. There are loads of Portobello RC down, a friend has come all the way from Fife, and a book club member is doing her first ever parkrun. I am absolutely buzzing. The briefing gets underway, and as I get a nice little mention, I’m lifted into the air by the knees. Today is going to be fun!

Off we go! Down the short hill which curves slightly right down to the level of the pond. I get a quick glimpse of the swans and cygnets (they’re getting big!). The bend tightens slightly as we curve round the pond, then a sharp left round the bench to join the burn. Under the bridge things tighten up briefly, but thanks to use of informal time pens at the start, things have long since spread out. The next long section follows the burn on a slight camber as we shimmy along next to the burn. It’s around this point I started to wheeze a little, wondering if I’d gotten a bit excited early on. I probably did, but let’s go go go! A small wiggle in the path as we bound over the roots of the trees above us and it’s time to hang a sharp right hander, over a tiny bridge and back up the other side of the burn. On we go, now the path feeling more open and the sun shining down on us. Back at the bridge and on this side we have to duck right, left and under, then left and up a short ramp onto the next section. Along a little short section, before a sharp right, then left, wave to my friend’s mum and baby, and up we go back to where we started. We’ve a weeping willow masquerading as a beaded curtain, a short slope and then a sharp right hand bend throws us back onto lap 2. Mile #1 done in 6.47

Onto lap two, and the big question now is can I keep this going. I start to wonder if the 4 mile warm up has anything to do with this; this is a lot of the reason my current PB at Portobello isn’t lower than it is. Down we go toward the pond, and the short climb back to the start line is taking me a small while to recover from. Onto the curve and I’m trying to focus on form etc, but I’m sure these are fleeting good bits in a sea of average. Under the bridge and along the burn and I really shouldn’t have looked up my current PB earlier. Under the trees, thank the marshal and over the bridge – half way – and back we go! I hear a big cheer of my name from the other side of the water and I’ve got a massive grin on my face. Shimmy under the bridge, back to the pond and up the hill and that’s mile #2 down in 6.49.

One lap left, and not much in the tank. I promise myself at this point that if I let myself ease off slightly in the first half of this lap, then I’ll make up for it in the last half. Robbing Peter to pay Paul I think the expression is. This starts pretty well as we go down the hill toward the pond on the start of the lap. Round the pond, left at the bench and under the bridge. We’ve started catching up the tail runners, which means I can now start giving some cheers out. I see a girl who’s doing her 50th run today, and remember what a huge achievement that was for me. Over the bridge, and all I’ve got is a rubber cheque to pay Paul. I’ve not been looking at my watch, and I’m just crossing everything now that my pace hasn’t dropped off too much. I see my book group friend who’s doing great, nearly trip myself over turning to say hi and off we go to finish this thing off. Under the bridge, up the other side and we’re back over the final bridge. The end in sight, I now get my head down to finish the job, though mainly it’s a practical consideration to get under the weeping willow. There’s the finish, push push push and it’s done. I’m hardly over the line for a few minutes before I’m furnished with cake, and not long after that a bottle of bubbly comes my way. I did a thing! I did a thing!

So what next?

Portobello for me was parkrun #82. This leaves me 18 more runs to go until I hit my 100, which would of course be fantastic. I remember how proud I was the day I earned my 50 t-shirt. The thing is though, if my experience has taught me anything, it’s how amazing the volunteers are, and how heavily I have relied on them over the last 9 months. I am ashamed to say that my volunteer total stands at a dismal 3. I’ve decided then that my next project is to address this and put something back into the amazing community that has supported me. Yes, I want the coveted 100 t-shirt, but the 25 volunteer t-shirt is what I’m going for. I’ll be keeping an eye on my twitter feed for those midweek appeals, and who knows where I may end up.

I can’t end this post without saying thank you. Thank you to every single volunteer who has stood out in everything the Scottish weather could throw at you. Thank you to the event directors. Thank you to my wife. I can’t imagine that many people would put up with a husband who disappears off on a selfish project every single weekend, but you’ve supported me when I was tired, irritable, grumpy, irrational and downright stupid. Wifey has also been my proof reader, meaning this blog has been a great deal more legible. Thank you to the team at parkrun HQ, and to Paul Sinton-Hewitt for starting this incredible thing. Thank you to my friends and clubmates at Portobello RC for listening to me wittering on again and again about parkrun, and for the huge support this week at our home run. Thank you to all of you for reading this baffling stream of utter nonsense.

****Scores, Special Finale Edition!****

Portobello parkrun: 39th place, 21:26 (PB)

Total miles travelled to attend parkrun so far in 2017: 4,500 miles (approximately*)

(I estimate 29% by car, 71% by public transport)

parkrun miles run (total) 93M = 155km

Total time spent parkrunning 11hrs, 30minutes and 8 seconds.

Average time per parkrun 22.16

Average pace over the runs 7.11/M approx

Best time run 20.56 (Strathclyde) – also the highest up the placings as a % of total runners = 6.2%

Most relaxed run 24.20 (Livingston)


*based on gmaps shortest distance for a car journey


5 thoughts on “#31: Portobello

  1. Congratulations Ollie on completing your challenge.

    I discovered your blog late but have enjoyed going through your previous posts and reading your thoughts of the various parkruns. It’s particularly interesting to compare your thoughts to mine for the parkruns we have both done.

    Thanks for writing and sharing and all the best with your volunteering goals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations! Enjoyed the write-ups. But… What if a new parkrun starts in Scotland before the end of 2017. Would you not have to do it? Just asking… #Troon2/12/17

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooo! I’d been wondering when that one would start – I’d heard it was starting back in June, then issues re the defibrillator meant a set back. I hear there’s another starting as well even sooner…!

      I’ll definitely be keeping up with new ones – can’t wait! Cheers for reading!


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