#39: Kirkwall

Earlier this year I was explaining my exploits to someone. How I had ticked off every parkrun in Scotland last year, then the continuing appeal to keep up. You’re a box ticker she’d said. It’s the best description of me I’ve so far heard. I think of myself as quietly determined. The issue is that I’m not quite in control of the stubborn part of my brain. It’s sort of like if you were to set a clock to the wrong time, and then you glued the controls shut.

For Kirkwall, I had a plan. I’d thought about it months before, and lined everything up. By doing certain parkruns in the preceding months, when I arrived at Kirkwall I would be doing parkrun #100, unique event #50 and on top of that it would be the last on the list of Scottish parkruns. I can’t tell you how much I loved the symmetry of all of that, it was just too perfect.

But then, parkrun had other plans, and just days before I arrived in Kirkwall I heard from a few friends almost at the same time that Girvan Prom would be starting on the same day I was doing Kirkwall. Damn! Couldn’t they have just waited one more week? I guess it would still have been a hollow victory. Two out of three isn’t bad though eh?

In the run up to heading to Orkney, the weather for the weekend had been looking pretty ominous. A beautiful week on Shetland couldn’t last, and the lightning symbols for Saturday morning were refusing to budge. I had started to be concerned that this might impact the flight, but thankfully in the end up the bad weather was pushed back a little bit. The flight from Shetland to Orkney is so short that you don’t get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. You still get enough time to admire the Harris Tweed seat head rests though, which is a lovely touch.

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During my stay in Orkney this time around, we were treated to the site of a group of locals being driven around the town on the back of a truck. Said locals were drinking heavily, banging on the side of the truck and cheering raucously, it looked to be quite a lot of fun. The following day we saw the same truck, again filled with a high spirited troupe, only this time it was the ladies’ turn. It was at this point we guessed this was a stag / hen do. I started to wonder if there are rules to this one. Does the truck keep doing laps until someone needs a pee? Do you get kudos if you manage more laps? I’d think I’d missed out on something, but at my stag do my best ‘man’ Laura gave me a pair of gold coloured fake boobs to wear.

The morning arrived and the skies looked grim, our luck was in though, it wasn’t raining!  We went down to breakfast, and unbeknownst to us there was a large party of people in the B&B all at breakfast. This meant that when we arrived in the dining room, all eyes were on us, since they all figured it would be someone they knew. We quietly joined a table and sat in awkward silence for a while before breaking the ice. Seemed like the right thing to do.

Stepping outside we were nearly blown clear off our feet by the wind. Still, it wasn’t raining and there was no lightning yet… maybe we might get away with it.

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In a rare break from form, I had actually read the course description for Kirkwall. Having visited it before, I had been wondering how it would be a one loop circuit, given that the Peedie Sea is well, exactly as described. Arriving for the first timers’ briefing it was then explained that the website wasn’t correct, and the course was more like an out and back 3 loop course. That’s the last time I read a course description. Who doesn’t love a surprise anyway.

Off we go, heading out along the Peedie Sea which, due to the wind, appears to be boiling over. We go along to the outside of the park and hang a left and straight into the wind. I’m hanging back a little at this point since even though our B&B is approximately 2 minutes’ walk from the start line, I’ve still not managed to leave myself time to warm up. Actually, I did, I just got carried away talking. The path is quite narrow and we soon see runners coming back at us as we come to a marshal, a cone, and turn round to head back where we came from. Turning round the wind drops silent and off we go around the park. We go through a small group of trees as the path wiggles slightly, emerging out the other side it almost feels bright. I can see the wind strobing across the long grass as we reach a marshal at top corner of the park and we take a sharp right heading back in toward the cauldron. The wind has found us again as we take a left to follow the water’s edge and head toward another marshal with another cone. Round we go and another break from the wind as we head back the way we came. Mile #1: 6.50

Runners are streaming now down from the grasslands, but we dart left to follow the water’s edge back to where we started from. Past the start line and back into that headwind as we take a left it feels like it stops us in our tracks. I see the turn coming and hang on till we get to turn out of the wind and head back to the woods. All goes quiet for a brief moment as we head through the trees, all of us knowing that it won’t last. We dart right toward the boiling water and back into that wind. I’ve had a bit of a chance to recover, so I push on at the left turn probably a bit over confidently, but mainly to get this section against the wind done. Mile #2: 7.10

Things are now starting to get quite congested. The paths are fairly narrow, and with runners going out and back on these stretches 3 times a few times, this is a course that would reach capacity very quickly. This is however a small community, and since everyone is incredibly well behaved it all works like clockwork. I go round the water, past the start line and I’m heading out into the wind for the last time. I thank the marshal, about turn and I’m out of the wind and heading up to the forest of Kirkwall for the last time. The breeze has taken its toll on a few runners up ahead as I move past a runner as we go through the trees. A right turn at the top, through the grass and down to the water for the last time. On the last lap, we’re spared the last out and back and instead take a right turn at the water and follow it round directly to the finish. The wind is now coming from all directions at once, which thankfully is masking the sound of my wheezing. Every cloud and all that. As I haul myself over the line, I look to the wreckage around me. For those thinking that a flat course will be easier, be careful what you wish for.

Scores! 7th place. 22.02

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