Ever notice how children have all the best clothes? If anyone out there reading this works for the design department at a sportswear brand, I would love a pair of running shorts with, say, dinosaurs on. How about some running socks with space rockets on?
Since completing the 31 Scottish parkruns that were available in September, the same few questions keep coming up. Are you going to keep up with any new parkruns? What are you going to do now?
To answer the first question, definitely yes. The difference now is that I kind of did what I wanted to do, and now feel like the pressure is off a bit. I obviously wanted to complete both of the new runs at Troon and Plean before the end of this year, since the challenge here was always to do ‘all the Scottish parkruns in one year’ and it would be a bit annoying to have done all the leg work only to be tripped up at the last minute. There’s a lot of talk in the parkrun tourist community on the subject of inaugurals – should we avoid them to give them breathing room, or embrace and support them. Personally, I’m going to be aiming to leave them alone to bed in for a few weeks before I pop my head in.
On the second question, my immediate answer was an emphatic cry of ‘CROSS COUNTRY!’ So far, I’ve done a few of the relay short course events, a few of the Borders series (which have been brilliant) and one of the East District events at Alloa where, while attempting to steady myself, I managed to punch myself in the face. Owing to the excellent tutelage under the cross country captains at London Heathside, I now find it unthinkable to wear anything more than a vest and shorts to any cross country fixture. No gloves, no base layers, no hats, no exceptions. I had taken this same approach at Alloa, which made for a great photo with the snow in the background.
With so many races going on over the winter months, it left little room to get over to complete any new parkrun courses that would inevitably come up. Next year, my current thought is actually quite boring. I want to pick a race, and actually train for it properly. It’s something I’ve never actually done, despite running numerous races of all sorts of distances. I usually just run, do some general training and then enter events that sound fun. I’ve never actually followed a proper training programme before… it’s a novel thought, but maybe I should try taking running seriously for once.
I was explaining the phenomenon of the office Christmas do to my mother this week. Since she works for a large supermarket chain, she doesn’t get this rather dubious treat to look forward to. Essentially what happens is that a venue is booked, where you and your colleagues are bundled in to enjoy some fairly inadequate catering together. As much as you spend a lot of time with your colleagues, due to the unwritten rule of not talking about work, you quickly find that you actually don’t know all that much about them. Invariably this oversight is plastered over with rather more alcohol than is necessary. If you’re lucky, there will also be some scandalous goings on, which will make for good chat on Monday. If you’re even luckier, it won’t be about you.
The fun bit is that there is only really one sensible choice of when to have your office Christmas do. If you have it any other day than a Friday, you’re basically inviting disaster. You want it to be close enough to Christmas that people are able to unwind a bit, but not so close to Christmas that a lot of people will have already put on their out of office. This means that the Friday at the end of the second week of December is unofficially ‘office Christmas party night’, and if you’re at a loose end that evening and happen to live near a big city, I invite you to walk into town and witness absolute carnage. I was out having my team Christmas lunch on Friday, so not only was I able to partake in the fun, I was also not going to be at my freshest come Saturday morning.
5.30am on Saturday duly arrived much like my own fist at Alloa some weeks earlier. Cold, unexpected, and looking at things rationally, wholly unnecessary. Thankfully for me, I’d had the foresight to put everything I needed out the night before, so that I could slip out of bed, and into a lot of layers of running stuff. I had also miraculously had the foresight to stop at the late night bakery on the way home which meant I had something to eat for breakfast. Unfortunately though, this is where the good deeds from the day before ran out.
I had decided that today for the first time ever I would run to Waverley station. The thinking here was that I would be able to leave slightly later, and also that it would help to keep me warm. Leaving the flat, I realised that I had just under 20 minutes to cover the 1.5 miles, collect a ticket and find the platform. This was not exactly the plan, and meant that the casual saunter up the road had to become a lot less casual. Onto the train and the keeping warm part of the plan had been modified to getting a bit sweaty for the train ride. Thankfully the trains aren’t very busy at 7am.
Into Troon and it’s a very short walk down to the beach where I hazily remember from the website that the start is. It’s about quarter to nine, so I have loads of time so I take a walk up the beach watching the stunning sunrise.
Time quickly came that it was time to start warming up, but no sign yet of the event being set up, or anyone congregating around where I thought the start line was. Still, the view was beautiful in all directions, and I was pretty content running up the beach in the wrong direction for a while, before heading back down the way. I saw some curlews, a few pied wagtails and I think a few jackdaws around. Back to where I started and I now started to see a few runners heading around the bay in the direction of the tell-tale sign of high-vis jackets. I reached the start line with about 5 minutes to spare, having been about 400 metres away from it for most of the past hour. I felt like a Russian doll as I took off layer after layer and stuffed them all into my bag ready to go. During the briefing I notice a couple from Inverness I’d seen whilst volunteering at Vogrie parkrun a few weeks earlier, so I bowl over and say hello.
Today we would be doing an alternative version of the course due to some icy conditions. The course would be three short loops, down along the seafront and back. I’m pretty happy with that, since it means I can break the course down into manageable chunks. 6 x 800m – I know that session… let’s do this.
GO! Off we go up the promenade, the sky is huge, we’re moving up the cycle path and I’m quickly into a rhythm. I’ve not been doing as much speed work recently, so my plan, if I have one, is to try and stay fairly comfortable for the first two loops, then see how things are going. We pass one of those bus shelter things you see only seem to see on seafronts before a play park on the left and we’re turning slightly to the right. As I’m turning the corner one of my steps slips the tiniest fraction and I’m focused on the ground, scouring for the best route I can take. As we turn the corner and onto the straight, I’ve taken the cycle lane as looking the most grippy, however it’s on a slight camber, and after a short while I move back onto the flat which I can see people ahead on aren’t having any problems with. I see the front runners coming back down toward me now, and a few seconds later I’m spinning round a cone as quick as I can, doing my best not to get distracted by the marshal’s dog. Back up the way, and with runners coming back toward me it’s great to give some encouragement. The sky seems to be getting even bigger somehow, and I now have a huge grin on my face. Back around the bend and heading toward the end of first lap I’m concentrating quite hard to make sure I stay upright. Past the bus shelter and that’s mile #1 done in 7.05. Respectable!
A quick spin round the cone to start lap two, thanks to the marshals and I’m off back up the way to do it all again. I’m feeling pretty good, and slowly managing to reel some people in. I still look annoyingly happy, which I put down to the course being broken up into bitesize pieces and me not really thinking much beyond the next chunk I’m doing. I’m starting to push a little bit, and as I round the corner onto the straight of the promenade I’m feeling pretty comfortably uncomfortable. Round the cone again and back up the way. I really like that this is a fairly small event, and as I run each leg I now see the same faces coming back at me. Round the bend at the play park and that’s mile #2 done in 7.02. Pretty happy with that.
A quick spin round the cone and this is it, lap three, time to make it count. I think when I first started running I thought that at some stage it would get easy, or at least easier. The truth is that never comes, but what does happen is that you have runs where you work really hard, but feel totally in control of it. As we go out onto lap three, I’m starting to feel the pinch, but I know I can push on. Round the corner at the play park and past the south beach kiosk and now I can see the leaders coming back to push for home. I’ve exchanged a cheer with the guy in second place on every single pass and this time is no different. Last spin around the cone and out of the blocks for the last time. I manage to reel in one last person and start to now wind it up so that hopefully I can put some distance between us. This is not for any sort of reason of pride; it’s so that they can’t hear the horrible amount of wheezing that’s coming soon. I’ve not even reached the corner and that’s mile #3 done in 6.53.
Round that last bend, and though I’m now breathing hard there’s just no stopping my legs getting faster and faster. In the normal run of things in a 5k at this point your body is screaming ‘make it stop’, but there are rare occasions like today where that voice is relishing every brutal minute of it. The line swings into view and a final push for home as I remember how much I loved this brilliantly silly project.
Scores! 8th place, 23.32