Saturday, 27 December 2014

Putting it into context.

I have a list of things I dislike.  It is quite a long list and, to avoid causing offence to too many people, I won't mention all my pet hates here.  I'll try to keep them relevant to today's run!  I dislike, in no particular order, running on grass, running in mud, through puddles and with wet feet.  I hate driving into or around or through Reading.  I have nothing against the people of Reading - but the roads are just too confusing - give me straight forward London driving any day.  And I really, really hate being late.

So today didn't start well when I woke up to discover that Husbando had gone out and taken the car.  I sent him a tex, reminding him that I needed to leave at 7.30am, and made myself a cup of tea - not realising that the text was not delivered until I went to pick up  my phone again.  Argh!  Panic!   Husbando hove into view at ten to eight.  TEN TO EIGHT!  Google maps said it would take me 55 minutes to drive to Thames Valley Park, and I have a history of getting lost in one way systems in Reading.  Adding to that I'd have to find parking and the start of Reading parkrun.  I was a little bit stressed by this state of affairs.

Luckily the traffic was good and I only took one wrong turn in Reading, and Google maps lied a bit (or I drove too fast - who can say?) and I had arrived and parked by 8.35am, phew!  Reading parkrun's course info page told me that 'regular road running shore should certainly suffice in most weathers' but I decided, on advice of other parkrun tourists, to wear my trail shoes.  This was the right choice - although in retrospect mud claws would have been a better choice… not that I own any because, as has already been stated, I don't like running on mud!

Having picked my way between muddy patches to the start area, I bumped into friends I know via the parkrun show and lovely Gary - with whom I have run a couple of marathons in the past.  Soon we were on the start line and raring to go.

And then… squelchy, squishy, slippery, slidey mud.  And lots of it!  I didn't know what my feet were doing half the time.  I revised my hoped for finish time and concentrated on staying upright!  The views along the Thames were lovely - but I couldn't look up and see them as I was terrified of ending up flat on my face in the mud.  And kicking myself for not bringing an entire change of clothing with me just in case of such an eventuality!  Part of each lap was on gravel paths - sheer heaven after the mud, and a chance to claw back a few seconds, but with paths came puddles and there were choices to be made.  Pick one's way gingerly around the puddle, through the mud, losing time or plough straight through the middle.  I went for the latter option.  Once your feet are wet they can't get much wetter (but it was bitterly cold and a bit of a shock to the tootsies!)  The last 600m are back across grass, just when I wanted to put on a bit of a sprint I found I was struggling like Bambi on ice (but far less graceful).  I overtook someone, then realised I could not work out where the finish funnel was - there were loads of people but I couldn't spot the tape, so I let him overtake me again (having established he knew where he was heading) and managed to get across the line in 24.59.

I was disappointed with my time.  It had been hard work and I always want to take advantage of my child free parkruns to run as hard as I can.  I chalked it up to experience, met up with friends and went for coffee.  We left our very muddy trainers outside the doorway to the David Lloyd gym and had a very nice coffee and a natter.  Putting ice cold, wet trainers back on is somewhat unpleasant, but it didn mean that the pleasure I felt at changing into warm and dry socks and trainers when I got back to the car was immense!

Back at home, looking at the results page, I realised that I was 4th lady to finish - I've only bettered that at Pymmes parkrun (very small field) and first in my age category.  So maybe it wasn't such a bad run after all.  And, at the end of the day, I was out there doing something I love, with people who share my passion.  There are thousands of people who couldn't run if they wanted to. Thousands of people who go for days and days without any meaningful interaction with other people.   I get to do this every single week.

And today I came home to madeleines made by my 10 year old son...

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A merry parkrun Christmas.

In the words of one of my favourite performers "I am hardly religious, I'd rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu, to be honest."  And I am not a huge fan of Christmas.  It generates a huge amount of stress just a couple of days after the end of a long and stress filled term at school so I tend to feel a growing resentment towards the whole shebang.  Why, I ask anyone who has the misfortune to be in my vicinity, should I be expected to spend a small fortune on presents after the stress of trying to decide what would constitute a suitable gift for someone who already has everything that they could possibly need?  Believe me, when you get to trying to buy an original gift for your 5th child it takes more imagination than I can muster after a 16 week term when I still have a pile of marking and planning hanging over my head.

So, this Christmas I resolved to keep things a little more low key, a little less excessive, with a little more focus on what really matters.  I am not convinced that we succeeded.  There was still a huge pile of presents under the tree, but I had only purchased things that the children actually needed - so the youngest girl got a new coat, middle child got jeans and a hoody, that type of thing.

Some Christmas traditions couldn't be ignored.  One relatively new tradition is parkrun.  And on a beautiful, crisp morning like today it was no hardship to go for a run with 327 other people.  For me it is a lovely way to break up the morning - a pause between stocking presents and tree presents, and a very social interlude at that.  I got to run with one of my best friends this morning.  I've never run with her before although she is responsible for me starting to run.  My husband and two of my boys ran with me and my older daughter volunteered as a time keeper.   Afterwards we had cakes and crisps and prosecco and sloe gin as we chatted with friends before heading off home to continue our day.

But I was reminded of an edition of Woman's Hour I half listened to last week about people who are lonely at Christmas, and the latest episode of the parkrun show.  I thought about those people for whom parkrun might be their only contact with other people over the holiday period.  And then I thought about the man who walks with his dog in the park every Saturday and never interacts with anyone unless it is to moan about us.  He was there again this morning, I wished him a merry Christmas as  passed him - in much the same day that I always say good morning to him, and got exactly the same response - which was no reply!  I love my parkrun family.  I love the welcome I get when I visit new parkruns from people I have met via the parkrun Facebook pages.    I can't imagine a better way to start a day that is, for me, all about connecting with people we love.

I hope that, whatever you did today, you had the day that suited you.  I guess for me parkrun gives me the sense of community that other people get from being part of a religious/church community.  I meet up with people once a week to pursue a shared interest and mark successes and failures along the way.  And that is a good thing.  So thank you parkrun, and merry Christmas to you all.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

This one was for you...

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.