For the last two and a half years I have been running most parkruns with the Fredster. It is lovely that he enjoys running but it does mean that I have put my own parkrun journey on the back burner. One of the many joys of parkrun is that you can use it to see where your fitness is on a weekly basis and, if you are too lazy to do speed work on your own, you can use it as a weekly speed session. But last Saturday the Fredster earned his 100 shirt and I decreed that he should have this week off.
There have been a few other parkruns I have done without him recently but I have always been a bit disappointed with my performance. My parkrun PB was set at my home run, Basingstoke, on 17th September 2011. Over three years ago - and since then my solo parkruns had been somewhat mediocre. I'd got close a couple of times, but normally ended up running around the 24 or 25 minute mark. I'd got within a minute of my PB when running at Fulham Palace parkrun just over a year ago (I ran 23.58 against a PB of 23.16) so when the chance came for a return visit I didn't hesitate - despite the fact that it was going to involve leaving the house at 5.30am.
My previous visit had been for a very special occasion. parkrun is a wonderful community that brings so many people together, and it was through parkrun that I met a lovely couple called Steve and Zoe. I met them first in Basingstoke and warmed to them instantly. Zoe's smile would light up the greyest of days. What I didn't know then was that Zoe was dying. You don't expect people younger than yourself to be dying do you? But such was her personality that she wasn't going to let this fact ruin what was left of her life. She set herself goals she wanted to achieve, one of them was to run 50 parkruns and receive her coveted 50 tshirt. That Saturday at the end of November last year was the day that her tshirt was going to be presented to her. parkrunners who knew Zoe turned up to support her and cheer her on as she completed what was to be her last parkrun. It was chilly warming, but full of love and friendship and there was much laughter in the beautiful cafe inside the Bishop's Palace after our run.
Roll forward just over 12 months, and I find myself walking from the tube station to the park in the coldest weather of the year so far. The thermometer read minus 2 and there was ice on the paths. My Garmin strap was broken, I didn't know a single person there and did I mention it was cold? I had 5 layers on and was still too cold. It was very different to the party atmosphere of my previous visit. I chatted to a few people, went for a warm up jog, almost falling on an icy patch and decided that a PB attempt would be a bit silly.
Fulham Palace parkrun is nearly 3 laps of the park, it is as flat as a pancake, although you do have to keep your wits about you as there are several sharp corners. I set off, with my Garmin in a pocket, and just ran. I fell into a pace and noted that I was about 10m behind a dad who was coaching his son around the course. I felt comfortable and, using my wrist watch and the fact that I knew how long the laps were, calculated that I was running 'about 8min/mile pace' - that felt about right for the effort I was putting in, and decided that I would just enjoy myself. As I ran down the bank of the Thames, I thought about Zoe and how proud she had been to wear her 50 club tshirt. I couldn't help but grin at the thought.
Passing the start line for the final time I decided that, if I could run 8 min/miles in the dying stages of a half marathon I could certainly run a bit faster for the final three quarters of a mile in a 5k. I passed the boy and his dad and pushed on for the finish, thanking the marshals (they must have been so cold) as I passed them for the last time and even lapping a fair few people. I threw myself across the finish line (which is painted onto the tarmac) and fumbled to stop my Garmin.
I was stunned to see the time - 22:43! The man who finished behind me came up and congratulated me on an excellent run, the father of the boy commented that I had run really well. He'd been aware of me on their tail, and said that he'd watched me as I'd sped up - I'd just noticeably lengthened my stride as I'd glided past them. After that at I couldn't get my extra layers back on fast enough and, after thanking the volunteers, I made my way into the Bishop's Palace to get warm and have a coffee.
Thank you to all the volunteers who stood in sub zero conditions just to allow us to run. And Zoe, this run was for you. You may no longer be with us in body, but your spirit lives on in many forms.