Sunday, 30 June 2013

Brackenwood Festival Place 5k

Why are we paying to do a 5k race when we have a perfectly good 5k we can run for free every Saturday?  That was a question a few parkrun regulars were asking as we gathered in Festival Place for the start of this unusual race.  The reason we were prepared to pay was, I reckon the fact that it was a) local, b) reasonably priced and c) a bit of a laugh!

With a maximum of 200 runners, it was only two thirds of the size of Basingstoke parkrun and a larger, wider starting area meant that the start felt much less busy.  We started level with the edge of Pizza Express and ran straight through the double doors into Festival Place shopping centre!  We hared past Debenhams, Fat Race and Waterstones before making a u-turn outside M&S (and passing some lions) to come back past Next, H&M and BHS before leaving Festival Place via the bus station exit.  After that I was, quite frankly, lost.  I just followed the person ahead of me on what seemed to be a predominantly uphill slog.  We went under some roads, and I just followed the excellent directions of the marshals.  It was lovely to see marshals that I knew - and all the marshals were cheerful and encouraging.

It was surprisingly hot out there - for a race that started at 9am!  I was glad of the shade as we came into Eastrop Park (which I know having run 5 laps of it dressed as Santa Claus!  This race only called for one loop of the park and then back under another road and across the finish line near Nandos.  As I did a u-turn under the ring road the marshal there informed me I was 6th lady!  I knew 4 of the 5 ladies ahead of me, I knew exactly where the 5th lady was and knew I had no chance of catching her, but I had no idea where the 7th lady was, and I was not going to let her catch up with me!  I knew by now that I wasn't on for a PB, but I wanted to try to run it in under 24 minutes - I managed this with 4 seconds to spare!  And the 7th lady did not catch up with me!  In fact I was 45th overall.

The goodie bag is excellent!  It includes a voucher for half a chicken at Nandos - which probably means that I have pretty much got my entry fee back in free chicken.  A nice medal, with a lovely purple ribbon (I am easily pleased!), plenty of water and bananas at the finish all made for a rather nice morning out!

Definitely a race I will do again next year.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

I've changed my mind.

It doesn't happen often, so I thought I ought to record it here, but I have changed my mind on something.  Husbando may not believe it is true unless he sees it in print, or pixels, or whatever this is!

Ever since I first started going to parkrun I have been aware of the 'all children under the age of 11 must be accompanied by an adult' rule, but being a very relaxed, laid back mum of 5 children my idea of 'accompanied' is vastly different to the concept as visualised by the mum of many a lone child.  It isn't physically possible to keep all 5 children in my line of sight at any one time and allow them to do anything much more exciting than sitting on a park bench, so my children have grown up with slightly more freedom than a many a child in a smaller family will enjoy.  I make sure that they know where I am, what time they are expected back and what the limits are (in terms of how far they can go, which trees they can climb, etc. etc) and we get along pretty well most of the time.  I have independent, adventurous children who seem to thrive on a system of benign neglect.

When my then 8 year old started coming to parkrun with me we ran together for the first time, so that he didn't get lost, learnt how to deal with faster runners coming along behind him etc. and knew what to do at the finish funnel.  The next week I asked him if he wanted to run with me and he was quite adamant that he would much rather run by himself.  This was fine by me, as I like to treat parkrun as my fast run of the week, and my son likes to run a bit, stop and look at a snail on a leaf, chat to a dog, etc.  But he likes the whole parkrun concept, chatting to people he knows and being part of the parkrun family.

So, when a newsletter came out stating that 'accompanied' meant that our under 11s should be 'within reach' at all times I was not a happy bunny.  Neither was my by now 9 year old.  He didn't want to run with me at parkrun.  We compromised a bit.  I said that if we were at any other parkrun but our home run he would have to run with me, if we were at out home run I would run with him unless we could find someone else he wanted to run with.  This happens quite often - he will run and talk with any number of the regulars there quite happily.

Today, however, the children were at a school fete.  I was on my own.  I thought I might just 'go for it' and see if I could get close to my PB.   My PB has stood since August 2011 and it is time I had a crack at beating it.  I moved closer to the front than I have for a wee while, not right to the very front you understand, I didn't want people thinking I was really making an effort!   I got off to a good start.  I was running at a faster pace than my PB pace, and it felt comfortable, not as though I was pushing myself to my limit.  I hit the 1k marker in a smidge over 4 minutes and carried on over the field enjoying the feeling of overtaking people for a change.

As I approached the top of a field I was aware of a child coughing near me.  Suddenly I saw the coughing boy stumble, fall and lie on the floor crying.  I stopped.  What else could I do?  I looked around to see if anyone else seemed to be concerned - they didn't.  I asked him if his mum or dad was nearby, he didn't know.  His dad was 'here' but he wasn't sure where.  He was sobbing and it was not easy to understand what he was saying.  If it had been my child (this one was also 9) I would have known if it was going to be OK for him to carry on, but this child was an unknown - I didn't know if he had asthma or something, so decided that the only option was to go back to the finishing area where I could leave him with the marshals.

We walked back.  I got some funny looks from other runners.  At the finish area the child saw his father and the two were reunited.  'Why did you stop him running?' asked the father.  I pointed out that I hadn't stopped him running, he'd fallen over and was crying and upset and all on his own.  The father was quite rude when I pointed out that children under 11 should be with a parent.  As I ran back to join the runners I shouted 'And thank you so much for looking after my child and giving up your run!'  Petty, I know, but there you go!

So, my 5k run became about 1k more than that!  I couldn't decide how to approach the run when I rejoined it - at the very back of the pack.  I jogged along, overtaking a few people, slowing down to chat with friends, stopping to talk to someone at the playground.  As I approached the end of the first complete lap I picked up my pace a bit, as the fast runners were completing their final lap and they spurred me on.  I was tickled to hear comments from runners (who know me well) about how well I was running and how I must be in the top 4 ladies to finish!  I wish!  I looked at my watch and realised that they thought I was on for a finish time of around 21 minutes, if this was my last lap, which would be over 2 minutes faster than my current PB!  I ran past the finish funnel and on to my final lap, still overtaking people all the way.  I ran the last half mile of my run faster than the first half mile so have decided that I probably should have a serious pop at my PB in the next few weeks.

The dad and child had gone by then.  Just as well, as I now had time to really let rip at dad for being so rude!  Parents running with their children is a good thing!  I wish my son liked running parkrun with me - he loves running with me during the week (he just likes to run alone/with parkrun friends at parkrun) and I love running and chatting with him about his day.  After today I am more prepared to sacrifice my Saturday parkrun for my child.

That said, had someone brought my sobbing child back to me I like to think I might have had the good grace to be grateful and not rude to that person!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A hidden gem.

I have driven up and down the A316 many, many times, but I had never noticed Crane Park Island before.  What an utter treat it was to discover this wonderful nature reserve virtually under the shadow of Twickenham Stadium and in the middle of South West London's urban sprawl.  This park is the site of a former gunpowder mill, but is now home to kingfishers, water voles and Crane parkrun!

Thanks to some help via the Facebook page I found my way to the park.  Thanks to the most unhelpful dog walker ever, I was merrily heading off in totally the wrong direction.  "Oh yes, this is the way they come from every Saturday, just after 9am!" she said as I wondered if I was going in the right direction, under a bridge on a very narrow path by the river.  Luckily I bumped into a runner I met at the Abingdon marathon, I knew he looked familiar, but I am useless with names and faces so was very relieved when he called out 'MrsBridgewater!' as I approached.  At the start I met another runner I knew from Frimley Lodge parkrun  - the running world is very small!

At the start I put my favourite Gore running jacket in a stranger's back pack.  As you do.  The start is some distance from the finish so the lovely volunteers act as sherpas between the two points.  After the run briefing I tried to decide where to stand in the mass of runners.  I plonked myself towards the back of the middle, if that makes sense.  This was not a great place to start, the path is fairly narrow, and I got a bit blocked in for the first couple of hundred metres.  I was running naked  - i.e. without my Garmin.  Not through choice, but because it was away for repair.  Running without my Garmin at my own parkrun, where I could use other runners I know to gauge my pace, is one thing, running without it with a totally unknown group of people is a different matter!  I was also recovering from a nasty tummy bug, so had not idea how this was going to turn out.

The course is mainly on paths through the park (both compact gravel and tarmac) and is made up of one a three quarter laps.  You leave the park briefly three times - to run along the pavement of two roads.  This seems to be quite a novelty in parkrun terms.  I plodded along, not really sure of my pace, but loving the park!  Loads of bird song, and no traffic noise in the depths of the park - and sculptures, I want to go back and walk around so I can have a proper look.  There are no km markers, and that, along with no Garmin, meant I really did have no idea how I was getting on.  I chatted with a few people as I ran, determined to enjoy myself.  The finish hadn't been set up when I passed it the first time, so I didn't even know where I was aiming for!  I asked one runner I passed how long it was to the finish.  "You just go up that hill, round a couple of corners then up a bit and it is on your left."  Which was exactly what I had to do, but what I really needed to know was roughly how many metres!    You don't get much visual warning either - as it is just around a bend, but for the last few metres you can see the coffee van ahead, which must spur a lot of runners on a bit!

The coffee van being 'right there' at the end meant that a lot of runners stayed to drink coffee, chat and cheer on those who finished after them.  The coffee was very good too!  I met up with runners I knew 'virtually' from the FetchEveryone website, had a bit of a chat, drank my HUGE cup of coffee in the sunshine, before dashing back into London so that I could use the shower in my hotel room before I had to check out!  I've done a lot of inaugural parkruns recently, and they always have a bit of a party atmosphere, same faces, different venue, but turning up to an established parkrun on my own is a different animal.  I get quite nervous about it to be honest, so a huge thank you to everyone who made me feel so welcome.  I'll be back, and may bring small children with me!

In other news
Garmin must be praised for their excellent customer service!  Posted my watch to them on Wednesday, and a replacement was sent to me so that it arrived on Saturday.  This is for a watch that is out of guarantee - but only by a week!  That has saved me a few pennies!

As I was in London I decided to pay a visit to Sweatshop's self styled 'ultimate destination' for runners. I can only say that I was distinctly underwhelmed.  I have shopped at the Sweatshop concession in Harrods for years (and get lovely Harrods points when I do so), but I expected the flagship store to be bigger, better and have a huge range of lovely things for me to buy.  They didn't.  In fact there had been a greater choice in Harrods.  The service was good and friendly, but it lacked the 'wow factor' I'd been led to expect.

And finally...
We didn't know where to stay on Saturday night.  So we went to to  to have a look around.  We discovered their 'top secret hotels' - basically you book a certain star rating of hotel in a specified area, but you don't find out where you are going until after you book.  We ended up at W London - somewhere we would never have considered, but which we absolutely loved.  It feels as though we were living in a bond movie, very stylish and luxurious!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Kent Roadrunner Marathon

It all started a few months ago, Ian Berry of TZruns mentioned that he was organising a second 'Kent Roadrunner Marathon' and had I thought about signing up.  "Yeah right," I thought, "I really want to run 17 laps !"  I told Ian that I'd run his marathon if he let me have bib number 69.  I'd never heard  of people demanding their own numbers and getting them, so thought I was on fairly safe ground.  How wrong was I?  Ian said yes, and I was signed up.  I wasn't even sure where the race was taking place until someone told me it was 'near Bluewater!'
I travelled down to Gravesend yesterday afternoon, with a brief detour to Bluewater to pick up things I'd forgotten to pack (hair brush, FitFlops), and checked in to a Premier Inn.  As I checked in I asked what time breakfast would be served, 8am!  Far too late for me when the race was due to start at 9am.  Dinner was eaten with friends (who were celebrating their wedding anniversary).  It was a huge amount of food, and after catching up with friends and meeting new people, I toddled off to bed at about 10.30pm.  

Yesterday was surprisingly warm, and I was dreading a hot day today, but the sky was cloudy and the temperature was chilly as I arrived at the Cyclopark and parked my car close to the pavilion building before paying for parking, collecting my race number, timing chip and 16 wrist bands. The wrist bands were to save our poor addled brains having to remember how many laps we had run - a good plan as most runners come equipped with just 2 thumbs and 8 fingers so that counting beyond 10 would involve removing shoes and socks!  The system is quite simple, you start with 16, take one off every time you complete a lap and pass the start line, thus running your very last lap without a wrist band.  Simple really.  

We assembled for the start, there were announcements for birthdays, 100th marathons and then we were off.  The first 9 miles were fabulous, if a little too fast, but then I developed a shooting pain in my right foot.  I thought it was a blister, so took of my shoe and had a look, but nothing there... It was agony to put my foot down, still, at least it slowed me down to a more manageable speed.  I was ok-ish until about 17.5 miles.  Then it all got too much, it hurt a lot, and the idea of running round and round the track again and again lost its appeal!  Passing the finish line was pure torture - the temptation to stop was huge.  I walked through the water station each time I passed it, I detoured to the loo 5 times, I stopped for a chat with a friend who was marshalling.  "Is it OK if I stop?" I asked, she told me to do another lap and see how I felt, walking if necessary.  So that's what I did. 

Whilst I can't say I'm a convert to laps, they do have some interesting features.  You get lapped, and you lap others.  I was lapped by the first man at 4 miles into the race and the first woman after 6 miles.  It was good to see these speedy runners whizzing past, normally they are so far ahead that mere mortals like me don't get to see them.  Lapping other people was an unusual experience for me - and I lapped some people several times. It was a very friendly atmosphere, lots of banter between runners who knew each other well or had only just met.  My frequent loo stops confused people as I'd suddenly be behind them again and working to catch up!   17 laps also ensures that you become very familiar with every twist, turn and undulation!  A slope that you barely register on lap one becomes a mountain during the final few laps.  

I'd set out today aiming for 4hrs 20mins.  By 17 miles in I didn't care how long it took, I was just going to finish this thing.  I couldn't do the necessary maths to work out how I was doing.  At the beginning of the penultimate lap I worked out that if I could do each of the remaining laps in about 15 minutes I could still get my PB.  So I walked to the water station, had a couple of cups of water and set off at a gentle trot!  I was so thrilled to get rid of my last wrist band that I threw it to some friends in the crowd. Shedding that bit of weight obviously worked and I picked up the pace.  Suddenly I was running at sub 9min/mile pace.  I caught up with a runner who'd left me behind ages ago and we ran together for a bit, before I ploughed on leaving him behind.  I got to the top of the last steepish hill and walked for about 100m, I couldn't run... but my pace still stayed below 9min/mile pace.  I started running again as I turned the corner to the uphill slope to the finish, I kept pushing on, the last quarter mile shows a pace just over 8min/mile.  I've never been happier to see a finish line.  The gun time was 4:16:17, my watch showed 4:16:00 but whatever it was it was a 6+ minute PB after the toughest run I have ever had.  

The medal we were given is HUGE, ostentatious and heavy on a fabulous custom ribbon! I staggered back to the car with it round my neck, it really felt as though someone had moved my car... I'd parked close to the pavilion, but this walk to the car was taking ages!  Then a return walk to the pavilion with wallet to buy lunch and to pay for a massage.  It was lovely to sit around and chat with people I'd met during the run.  

After lunch I said my goodbyes and thanks to the lovely race marshals and to Ian and made my way home.  I did have to pull into a layby for a snooze at one point, but got home safely in the end.  I'm looking forward to seeing the race photos - the photographers were so friendly and encouraging!  As for tonight - an early night beckons!