Just a normal run at Burnham and Highbridge parkrun

by Lolly

This week has been one of those weeks. Nothing has been really really bad. But lots of little things going not quite right, combined with feeling more tired every day, have made things generally a struggle. The one big positive in my week was starting a Couch to 5k group at my work, which is the sort of thing I’ve wanted to do for so long. The buzz afterwards made me determined to get out running myself, but sure enough being tired and feeling a bit meh ended up winning again.

So far this year we’ve managed a fair bit of parkrun tourism, and while it’s been fantastic it’s not always that good for our energy levels or domestic productivity. This, combined with our kids having a party invite for Saturday lunchtime, meant we reluctantly postponed our planned trip to Henstridge Airfield in favour of a more normal Saturday morning. Whatever one of those is. Naturally, this meant I had no motivation to actually get up and run. After confirming I didn’t want to go to Longrun Meadow (not feeling the puddles today), Ben told me to get my running kit on and head to Burnham.

Burnham and Highbridge parkrun is my second most-run event (after Longrun), and perhaps unsurprisingly my second closest (no prizes). We went to the inaugural back in 2015 (don’t go to those), and got what at the time was my second fastest time (27:12). Since then I’ve returned for my first fully run parkrun after our son was born (following a spell of run/walking), early last year to prove to myself how fast I could go (sub-30, it turned out), and later last year for a normal run.

Driving over I was thinking about the blog post I intended to write this afternoon. With it just being a normal run, I wouldn’t need to write about the run itself, and so instead could finally write my 2019 goals post, with my one key goal for the year and several sub-goals. With my indecision first thing, I was cutting the timing a bit tight and so the car park was already full, and I ended up parked way down a side road. As I got out the car I saw a text from one of my friend’s who’s in the Couch to 5k group, saying she’d just completed run 2. Talk about a much needed boost!

As I walked over towards the park, I could see that the runners were already gathered at the start and that the run brief in progress. However, the PA system was so good I could hear the run brief while waiting to cross the road. I heard that there were pacers, which meant when I reached the mass of runners I made sure to get further forward than the 30 bib. Because I swear 30 minute pacers are the hardest things to get past in all of parkrun.

If only we’d noticed we could turn off there to finish…
Credit Mark Benton, from Flickr

The loud and clear PA system and countdown meant I started my watch bang on time. Being familiar with the course, I knew the start would be congested due to the narrower paths. But I also knew not to worry too much about this. I wasn’t able to weave around people as much as on my previous visit, as the grass to the side of the path was sodden, but I could still make up a bit of ground. I caught the 29 minute pacer near the play park. Thankfully he didn’t have too many followers, and so I got past relatively easily.

I started to wonder what I was doing, trying to make up so much pace when I haven’t been training lately. But then I remembered the text I’d received, and thought that if they’d managed to get themselves out to run then I should be able to put some effort in as well. I dialled in and as I reached the riverside path was fully focused on tracking down the 28 minute pacer. This is where goals start to snowball. I got the idea that maybe I could get a Burnham PB. But then I realised that 27:12 isn’t all that far off 26:49, my PSBPB (post-second baby personal best), and so maybe I could go for that instead?

The self-critical part of me was, of course, gleefully pointing out that I still had 2 miles in which to collapse, or at least drop off the pace entirely. But then something strange happened. I saw the 28 minute pacer… and then about 10 people ahead of him I saw the 26 minute pacer. Clearly one of them was in the wrong place. As I slowly caught up to the 28 bib I did some rough calculations from my watch, and determined that we were closer to 26. With that in mind, I made sure to overtake the 26 bib as well, and then gave myself the single goal of staying ahead of him the rest of the run. Which is funny, because of course if I achieved this goal I would have no idea how close or far behind me he was.

Always wear something that allows you to find yourself in photos.
Credit Mark Benton, from Flickr

The esplanade section of the course is always a highlight. Sadly the tide was out, but the views were still good, the path was still solid and wide, and there was still the camaraderie of runners going in different directions. I even got to say hi to Al, one of our parkrun friends, when I saw him run past the opposite way. I realised while looping round and heading back down the other way that I was being a lot quieter than my usual cheering self. But I decided that actually sometimes it’s ok just to run for yourself instead of with the community.

As we headed back into the park I, somehow, still hadn’t completely collapsed. I felt pretty good considering how hard I was working myself. There were a few nervous watch checks as I tried to ignore the photographer, rounded the lake, and tried desperately to remember how far it was to the finish line. Approaching the line, the people in front of me came to a halt to allow plenty of space in the funnel. They were pretty understanding about my shout to keep moving…

Really must learn to take natural selfies one day

Stopping my watch, collecting my token (position 100!), and walking all the way round to the scanning area was a bit of a daze. Had that really happened? I’m not properly in shape. I haven’t been training. There’s no way that can be right. I headed back to my car, and on the way home started to cry a little as the wave of emotion hit me. You see..

My Burnham and Highbridge parkrun PB was 27:12. And I beat that.

My post-second baby PB was 26:49. And I beat that.

But this, this was special. You see, 3 years, 3 months and 9 days ago I ran a time that has been etched into my brain ever since. 25:54. 3 years, 3 months and 9 days this has stood as a reminder of what I can do, but also a taunt of how I am not as good as I once was.

Until today.

Because today didn’t need the clarifying as a course PB, or even as a PSBPB. Today I completed a parkrun in 25 minutes and 45 seconds, and I still can’t quite believe it.

Sure, it’s somewhat ruined my 2019 goals blog post, what with having completed my main goal for the year already. But the really nice thing is that I’m pretty sure it won’t be another 3 years, 3 months and 9 days until my next PB.

No words needed

Ben’s training diary: w/c 7 January 2019

by Ben

Last week, I discussed wanting to increase my mileage up to 40-50 km per week by the end of January. Typically then, this week I developed a cold. But, such is winter with two young children!

The week was disrupted somewhat as I was working away from home Tuesday – Wednesday – Thursday, but as I’ve done before, I managed to work my way around it, and arranged to join the City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club for their Wednesday night club run.

Wednesday: 10 km with CoSARC

In fact, that Wednesday night run ended up being my first of the week. I’d intended to run on the Tuesday night, when I arrived at my Salisbury hotel, but I ended up getting in so late that I basically just ate and went to bed.

I arrived at the Five Rivers Leisure Centre with plenty of time to spare, and was impressed with the organisation – everyone had to sign in, and note down which group they were running with. There was a box to later tick to say you’d returned. This wasn’t something I’d come across before, but definitely seems like a very good idea.

I’d looked up beforehand, and decided to run with their group 6, doing roughly 6.5 miles (just over 10 km) at 9 min/mile. The joy of running with a group in a strange place is being able to simply run, rather than spend the entire time checking where you are, where you have to turn next, and generally just getting a bit stressed. Of course, it was somewhat typical that the first thing we did was run straight from the leisure centre to my hotel; one bit of road that I did know!

It was a nice run – I really don’t know the area well enough to be able to comment much on where we went, but I did notice when we ran through the park that hosts Salisbury parkrun, which we did way back in 2016. I ran mostly alone for the first half of our run, just listening to various conversations, before having a good natter for the second half of the run. Our pace was a smidgen faster than advertised, averaging 5:30 per kilometre (8:50 per mile) for 10.6 km.

Thank you very much to all involved with CoSARC for letting me run with you.

Thursday: General aerobic

When I got back on Thursday, I was more or less straight back out of the door for this run. It was a bit chilly, but I needed the miles. Nothing exciting, just a 7 km run around Taunton at a relatively steady pace; 5:30 per kilometre average again, with no single kilometre faster than 5:21 or slower than 5:40.

Bright winter clothing – though I really want to get something more reflective for winter road running.
Saturday: Thornbury parkrun

I wrote a full report in another blog post, so as usual, I’ll just discuss my actual run. This was a tough course with a buggy. I took it relatively easy for the first lap, but was constantly easing my way through the field, having started at the back. There were obviously points where I was able to make better progress (downhill, on tarmac) and places where I made less (uphill, on grass, narrow bits). and so the pace bounced up and down a little bit throughout the run. I pretty much ran negative splits throughout though; especially if you consider the grade-adjusted pace: 5:35, 5:24, 5:06, 5:01, 4:56. A time of 26:25 with the buggy is nothing to be scoffed at; it’s quicker than I did Weymouth, Barnstaple, Plymvalley, Shepton Mallet or Exeter Riverside. And obviously quicker than Mount Edgcumbe!

Weekly summary

My cold, which started to come through on Friday evening, nearly stopped us going to Thornbury parkrun: I’m bad enough in the mornings, and waking up with the start of a cold didn’t help. But I made the decision that if I was going to get a cold, I might as well run while i could, as it wasn’t going to make things much worse. I’m glad we did, especially as I then wasn’t able to run on Sunday due to being too thick with cold, and just plain wiped out. So for the week overall, I did 22.7 km, which was well under the 38.8 that I’d hit last week. Still, it was three decent runs, and I’m now up to five weeks of more regular running. Hopefully I can shake off the worst of this cold over the next couple of days, and get some more mileage in this week, but in all honesty, I’m not going to force things.

parkrun tourism: Thornbury parkrun

by Ben

We’re on something of a parkrun streak at the moment: before this weekend we had done parkrun on each of the last six parkrundays (including Christmas and New Year). The last time I had done six parkrundays in a row was… February to April 2017. I could bore you with more stats, but suffice to say that parkrunning regularly hasn’t really been a thing for a while. With this in mind, I proposed to Lolly that we take a week off this weekend – at least, from touring. Then this happened.

Farewell, sleep.

Thornbury was one of many parkruns on our to do list that is predominantly on grass, and thus something of a lottery with the buggies in the winter (it also suffers from being up the M5, and therefore on the ‘avoid due to awful summer traffic’ list too). Thankfully, it stayed pretty dry this week, so we didn’t have any last minute panics. It was actually our NENYD (by driving time), and so we had a relatively friendly 7:30 departure time.

We used the recommended Castle Court car park, which was a doddle to find with the postcode provided on the website. The car park has both long- and short-stay areas, which are free for 12 or 2 hours respectively. I recommend the 12 hour option – breakfast in The Swan is worth it. [Oops, spoiler.] We did notice a potential problem in the car park though – the arrow pointing to the parkrun went through a narrow kissing gate. Which is… less than ideal with a buggy. Thankfully we managed to get alternative directions around to the park (back to the high street, a couple of hundred yards along, and then cut down a lane into the park). Phew.

Our first observations of the park were that it was, well, undulating. And generally… uneven. This might sound like I’ve basically said the same thing twice, but when you run with a buggy you soon learn the only thing worse than running up a hill is running along a hill, when your buggy wants to turn (or roll) sideways down the slope.

After a toilet break (ample toilets are located right by the start/finish) we were greeted by the chap who’d given us directions, and then it was time for the run briefing. During the briefing, the RD paused when he heard murmurs after saying there were no buggies or dogs. He followed the eyes of the crowd toward us. He paused a little longer. “It’s not really a buggy friendly course, but we’ll see how you get along.” I’m sure Lolly was about as enthused as I was.

The parkrun commences

After the usual inaudible start (seriously parkrun event teams, buy megaphones), we were off. The first, oh, 100 metres(?) was on tarmac before a sharp left onto the grass around a football pitch. Thankfully this was pretty flat and well looked after, and with the ground firm enough at the moment, it was still decent running. (I feel like I’m describing a racecourse; “the going was good to firm”). We then went along past Thornbury Town’s main pitch before things got a little bit more rugged. Passing through into the next field was a little bumpy with the buggy: comparing Open Street Map’s satellite images with those from Google suggest that this might be a relatively recent conversion to playing fields.

Everything changes.

Going around another two football pitches (presumably youth pitches, as they are a little smaller) gets you most of the way back to the start, but only for half the lap. The route doesn’t quite kiss before looping around another field. This is the part where things start to get a little lumpy. (I should preface this by clarifying that a lot of what I might describe as “lumpy”, “hilly”, “a climb” etc might not be considered much of anything without a buggy, but with a buggy, these things get magnified.) Part of what makes this course feel so tough with a buggy is the number of 90° corners on grass – each time you lose pretty much any momentum you’ve built up, and simply getting the sufficient grip on the grass to wrest the buggy around (even in the relatively dry conditions) can be tricky. I found this especially the case on the way out of the third field, when we had a right-angle bend, up the hill. with a slight bump up onto the path.

Once on that path though, you’d done the toughest part of the lap. There was a little climbing left, but at least it was on a tarmac path, and then we went all the way around the top field, which was mostly downhill, enjoyed a little dip back on the path and crossed the start line. Rinse and repeat three times, and you’re done.

Go around that field, then that field, and then that field, and finally that field. Then do it again. And again.

I’ll be honest – it’s not the most inspiring course I’ve ever run, especially when I’m visiting a week after doing Woolacombe Dunes. But parkrun isn’t about the course: if I’m totally honest, as predominately a trail runner these days, the majority of parkrun courses are a bit bland to me. What I think is far more important is the atmosphere. And while I related earlier that the RD had said it wasn’t a buggy friendly course, I can only half agree with him. The physical course is pretty unfriendly for buggies. In fact, as I went around one corner, I got so worried that my (pretty old now) buggy was going to fall apart that I started making plans for how I would finish if I had to abandon the buggy. (I mean, it wasn’t a complex plan to be fair – I would simply remove child from the buggy and walk with him to the finish.)

But the people; the marshals and fellow runners; they were extremely friendly. It might be partly because it’s a course that buggies are rarely seen at, but so many runners and volunteers took the time to cheer me on during the run, or step over at the end to congratulate me. I know it was the same for Lolly – she got a huge cheer when she finished, and received no end of encouragement throughout the run.

For me, that was the overwhelming takeaway from this run, the camaraderie. (Also, I avoided being lapped by about 6 seconds.) After the run, a group of us gathered together to try and recreate the 50 t-shirt photo.

(We’re far right. You basically can’t see me because of Lolly. Ironically.)

Afterwards, the kids had a play in the playground, before I took both the buggies back to the car and then met Lolly and the kids at The Swan for breakfast. It was reasonably priced, and more to the point – HUGE!

The most important part of parkrun tourism: sampling breakfasts around the south west.

Ben’s training diary: w/c 31 December 2018

by Ben

Training diary might be something of an exaggeration – on both counts. My ‘plan’ at the moment is to spend most of January just getting back into a pattern and rhythm with running, building my mileage back to a decent base. Only once since my marathon back in July have I run anything approaching a decent weekly mileage. In reality, primarily due to illness, I’ve simply not run during that time.

My aims for January are to build up to a 40-50 km weekly mileage consistently, ideally with a long run in the region of 16 km. Although I’m not planning on focusing on my speed, I would expect my 5 km times to come down towards 20 minutes naturally just through improvement to my general fitness.

Tuesday: parkrun double

Lolly blogged here about our parkrun double, so here I will focus more on my personal effort. I planned ahead to push during the first of the two; Penrose. The course is a mostly flat out-and-back, and I figured I could set a relatively representation time on it. I got caught up in congestion early on during the run, but cleared it to set 4:31 for the first kilometre. The second kilometre was the most consistent in terms of pace, and was nicely quicker too; a 4:14. A small climb at the turnaround point slowed me down a little in the third, but I was cracking along quicker than I’d expected irrespective; 4:24. The second half was a slog; I’d predicted to my brother before the run that I might be around 23 minutes; it was pretty clear that I’d be sub-22. In the end, I held on for a 21:21, which clearly significantly exceeded my expectations.

Four Timpsons at Penrose.

On the other hand, I was a little worried that I had destroyed myself for the second run. I jogged back along the course to run in with my sister, who was running her first ever parkrun, and this nicely acted as a cool down for me.

After a 20 minute drive, we arrived in Heartlands with around half an hour to spare. I had every intention to take it easy and jog around in something like 24 minutes. It’s fair to say that those plans fled out the window pretty early, when I hared off along with the front pack. I really enjoyed the course, which was fun as it twisted and turned through the gardens. My pace throughout the run was more consistent than earlier; registering 4:12, 4:16, 4:12, 4:16 before a drop to 4:31 for the final kilometre. Not a surprise really! Still, I was pretty chuffed with another sub-22 finish; 21:44. In fact, Strava suggests that my pace was quicker at Heartlands than Penrose, but the distance discrepancies resulted in a slower time. If I put those two times together (and it’s clearly not this simple) I’d be delighted with a time of 43:05 for a 10k!

Thursday: General aerobic

Weirdly, this was my biggest success of the week: getting out for “just a run”. If I want to get back to decent weekly mileage, then I need to be able to just go out and run, particularly for these first few weeks. I’d originally hoped to be able to get out and run somewhere more interesting – maybe the Camel Trail near Wadebridge where I was working. Unfortunately, work took longer than I’d hoped, and by the time I really had a chance to run, it would have been too dark, so I just headed home for a plod around Taunton. Nothing much to report, but I did gently speed up as I went along, and averaged 5:25 per kilometre for just over six kilometres.

Saturday: Woolacombe Dunes parkrun

With some childcare at home (thanks in-laws!) we were able to get out and about. We targeted Woolacombe Dunes, as it looked like one that we wouldn’t be able to run with the buggies (confirmed). It was a tough course – I’d put it as the toughest parkrun course that I’ve done, harder than any of Lanhydrock, Parke or Mount Edgcumbe. Again Lolly has blogged about this one, so I won’t go into too much detail on the course, and rather focus on my run. After a 1.6 km warm-up (ahem, it’s a slow transition from imperial to metric), I was just about able to change my shoes in time for the start.

The beach didn’t feel that bad to run on, but it noticeably slowed me down.

A downhill start played into my hands, and after the first kilometre I was still running with the leaders after posting a 3:54 opening kilometre. The sand dunes were hard work, followed by the beach itself, which slowed me to 4:44 and 4:41 for the next two kilometres. It go slower yet as we climbed back up the dunes to get off the beach, and then continued to climb back towards the start/finish. This was compounded by another descent, which was fun, but of course added to the climb! 5:41 and 5:37 for the final two kilometres reflected both the hills and my fitness by this stage of the week! A time of 24:55 doesn’t look like anything special on paper, but I’m happy that I couldn’t have gone much faster on the day.

Sunday: Minehead RC M2BL Leg 2 Recce Run

Snappy title, eh? Each year Minehead RC put on a club relay. I ran it last year, and blogged about it. In the couple of months leading up to the relay, there are a number of club-organised (or semi-organised) recce runs. Although I’m not running leg 2 myself, it’s nice to get out with others, particularly to see routes I haven’t done before, so I was happy to get along to this run. (It would probably be good to recce my own route at some stage though…)

Yeah, we probably had to run up that!

My legs were pretty broken after four hard effort parkruns in the last week and a bit (dating back to Trelissick parkrun last Saturday) and it was a pretty hilly route. My legs weren’t helped by the fact that I opted to run most of the route at the front with Matt, pushing myself more than necessary! It was a lovely off-road route with some good company, and better still for being further than I’d expected, giving me a nice 13 km distance.

Weekly summary

This week generally exceeded my expectations. I ran the parkruns harder and faster than I thought I would, and I accumulated a much higher total mileage. In fact, if I ran this every week, I’d more or less hit my 2,000 km target for the year. Over the next couple of weeks I intend to stick to much the same. Ease the overall mileage up a little bit, but mostly just keep getting out there and running. I’m working away from home for a couple of nights, which adds its own challenge, but if I can get two midweek runs in, then I’ll be in a good place come the weekend.

parkrun tourism: Woolacombe Dunes parkrun

by Lolly

Our ‘to do’ list of South West parkruns contains some events that were around long before we got our barcodes. There are some events that we want to get to soon, but haven’t had the right practical opportunity. And there are some where the timing works perfectly. Like when a beach parkrun starts a few weeks before you have parents visiting.

Woolacombe Dunes parkrun is, unsurprisingly, in Woolacombe, Devon, and takes place on the sand dunes. The terrain meant we needed to leave the kids at home, and so while we would probably have preferred to parkrun a little closer to home after our trip to Cornwall, the timing of having my parents available to look after the kids was too good to miss. And so we found ourselves leaving the house at 7am to head for the coast.

Once we were in Woolacombe itself, the directions on the course page easily took us to the long car park, which is free in the off-season (November-March). We did misread the facilities information, and so after checking with the RD had to head back into the village for toilets (just a couple of minutes away). On attempt 2 we still easily found a parking space, in a car park that’s slightly above average for its outlook.

It’s entirely possible Ben stood on the car to take this photo…

We quickly located the start (mere metres from the end of the car park), and then returned to the car to get the right layers sorted. Ben went off for a warm up (sensible, given the temperature) and I chatted to a lovely lady from Cardiff who’s getting closer to the Most Events table. There was a call for the First Timers’ briefing, and what felt like everybody (over 50% were first timers at the event) huddled round. Except, of course, Ben and the other people warming up!

The first timers’ briefing was delivered with a PA system (big tick) and was sensibly split to cover the course elements first, so that us tourists could disappear and leave the actual newbies in peace. The microphone was then handed over to the RD for the actual run brief, before we all went over to the start. Some time around this, I saw Ben sprint past towards the car. It turned out that after his warm up he’d decided to ditch his Parkclaws in favour of his Speedcross. I own far fewer pairs of trail shoes, so it’s much easier for me!

Unusually, I actually heard both the countdown to the start and the start itself. The first section is downhill on a cross between rocky trail path and bad road. This didn’t last long, before we turned right onto the sand dunes. To start with it felt like any other trail path – compressed mud with a fair few rocks – but soon some sand started creeping into the mix. Over the dunes it became less trail and more beach, with a few steeper descents.

It’s fair to say, I’m still pretty rubbish at running downhill, but I coped reasonably well to start with. And then there was a fairly steep downhill. With a bend in it. Entirely on loose, sinking sand. I lost my footing a little, and with it my nerve. I actually stopped to the side to let a few people past, and when it became clear that walking would just make me sink took a deep breath before running down to the beach.

The beach is spectacular. The section lasts from around three quarters of a mile in until around 2 miles in. This was the first time I ever stopped during a parkrun to take a photo. I slightly regretted it when it took me ages to get my phone back in my pocket, and when I found out Ben had also taken a photo. But it was amazing. The tide was fairly low when we ran, so there was a nice wide area and also plenty of damp sand to make it as compact as possible.

This is Ben’s photo, as witnessed by the small number of people ahead.

I probably could have run faster through this section, but I ended up running with (I assume) a father and son, and enjoyed the company. It was also far too much fun to over-exert myself. After a mile of flat (albeit on not the easiest surface), the uphill to re-join the dunes was pretty intense. Particularly with the soft sand surface. Yes, I walked it. The terrain changed back to being more compacted, and we started a steady incline back up the hill. Or so I thought.

Being down on a beach and looking all the way up to where your run started is pretty intimidating. Being up on a dune, looking all the way up to where your run started, and realising the next section is downhill is a little demoralising. But we did indeed spend a third of a mile descending, as the path through the dunes went a little closer to the beach.

Then the uphill arrived. Steep uphill to start with, part of which led us to re-join the path we’d taken down to the beach. More annoying than my lack of fitness to tackle the hill was the fact that I had to stop to re-tie a shoelace. Again. The gradient got a whole lot friendlier as we turned back onto the track at the top. I did have a momentary blank as to which way to go, as there was no marshal or arrow here, but the runners around me pointed out the people off to our left.

Ben ran down from the finish area, and ran me in the last section. Which was pretty helpful, as it made me actually run rather than crawl. The kid I’d run with on the beach put on a massive sprint finish and sped past me at the end. Which is unsurprising given how children run. Scanning was right near the end of the finish funnel, which made it easy to find.

We chatted to a few people, including the RD, before heading back to our cars and round to the Beachcomber Cafe for second breakfast. Once it opened (at 10), the place was absolutely packed with happy parkrunners.

View from by the cafe. I look well rested, as usual.

At the time of writing, the course description says that buggies are allowed, however I personally don’t think that the course is buggy friendly, particularly with the downhill sinking sand. It probably goes without saying, but this is definitely a trail shoes course.

Woolacombe Dunes is a pretty special parkrun. It has to be right up there with the most stunning locations we’ve visited, if not at the top. The long stretch on the beach makes it truly fantastic, and I’m always a fan of anywhere you can listen to waves the whole time. I imagine in the summer months they will get a fair few holidaymakers, and what better way to spend part of your holiday than running such a scenic parkrun.

parkrun tourism: Penrose and Heartlands New Year Double

by Lolly

New Year’s Day is a special day in parkrun world. Not only can you run a parkrun on a non-Saturday, but you can actually run (and register times at) two different parkrun events on the same day. Neighbouring events set their start times to allow runners to ‘do the double’. We’ve done it once before, running Ashton Court and Pomphrey Hill in 2016, but since then have only managed one parkrun on New Year’s Day. This year we were determined to get somewhere new, and seeing the option of Penrose and Heartlands on the list was a dream come true.

We ran the original course at Penrose back in 2015, and they changed their course not long after. We had good intentions to go an run the new course but the timing never quite worked out, and once there was another event local to Ben’s parents our odds really decreased. Which is why we were excited at the opportunity to run two new events AND return to Penrose in the space of a few days.

Having run Trelissick on the Saturday, we enjoyed a couple of days being holiday tourists in the area before getting an early night on New Year’s Eve. As is well documented on this blog, I am almost always tired, for the similarly well documented reason of having small children. And so it should come as no surprise that our son picked that night to be wide awake for as long as possible. Not like I was planning to run the furthest I’d run in months, or anything.

Penrose parkrun

The Penrose Estate is an area of woodland, coastline and parkland maintained by the National Trust. Penrose parkrun starts right on the edge of the estate, next to a big car park in Helston. Which is handy because a) there’s parking and b) Ben’s parents live in Helston. We allowed plenty of time, as we weren’t sure how quickly the car park would fill up, and so actually had a time to look at the start of the course and confirm it was indeed tarmac path.

For a parkrun away from home, we had a lot of company. We’d parked next to Helen from Pomphrey Hill (who we’d met on the Saturday), and were also joined by Ben’s family. The run briefing was held in the field between the car park and the run start, and contained the usual mix of information and celebration. Unsurprisingly there were lots of tourists, but happily there were a few first timers as well, including Ben’s sister. They also mentioned that someone was going to try for the course record.

Runners chatting
Waiting for the briefing

It was a bit of a squeeze getting to the start on the path, and so I opted for socialising with other tourists instead of trying to barge through into an approximate position. As is becoming customary, I didn’t notice the start and just started my watch when I saw people moving. It was slow-going to start with, and with the number of people close together it was hard to make a move through. Then I noticed on my watch I was doing 11:15 min/mile and realised I really had to get a move on.

At this point, I really regretted my choice of road shoes. While the surface was good throughout the run, sections had a mud covering, and the point I was trying to mass-overtake also had lots of mud round the edges that I’d have happily sped through in my Parkclaws. But I did eventually make progress, helped immensely by trying to stick with a tall guy from Exeter.

I was pretty pleased to hear the 1 mile beep on my watch before the first runner passed me going back the other way. There was a gap before the next few runners, but then people started coming past thick-and-fast, which was a great addition to the atmosphere. I even remembered to acknowledge my brother-in-law and husband. The path is surrounded by trees on either side, and after a while you catch glimpses of Loe Pool off to the left, which is a pretty distraction.

Either through excitement or exhaustion, I’d forgotten to double knot my shoelaces, and I could feel my left lace loosening. Stopping to re-tie my laces was so frustrating when I’d got good momentum, and I was a bit concerned if I’d get it back. Immediately after restarting, I crossed the bridge and went up the hill to the turnaround point – a fairly significant up when a) the run has been flat and b) you’ve just restarted. This is the first course I’ve run that is an actual out-and-back, as in we turned around a post rather than having a lollipop loop.

What goes up must go down, and I sped back down the hill, powered mostly by a fanatical obsession with re-joining the runners I’d been with. I was so focused I almost missed my sister-in-law running the other way. Oops. The rest of the run back was a bit weird, as there had been so few landmarks on the way to count back down. And I was pushing myself quite hard. So I was quite glad for the 3 mile beep, the cheering spectators, and the inevitable being out-sprinted by tall people.

The barcode scanners were just behind the funnel, which made them easy to find. I also noticed various signs dotted around reminding people not to leave with tokens. After saying hi to family, I went to the car to sort bits out while Ben went back along the course to run in with his sister. She finished her first parkrun with a burst of speed (welcome to the community!), and my mother-in-law took a family group photo to celebrate.

Family group
1st, 141st, 3rd and 112th parkruns successfully completed. Remind me not to stand next to Callum in photos.

Having said goodbye to most of the family, Ben, Lani and I got in the car and joined the train of vehicles heading to Heartlands.

Heartlands parkrun

The drive from Penrose parkrun to Heartlands parkrun was less than 25 minutes, and took in some amazing mining scenery. Heartlands is a visitor attraction area in Pool, Redruth. I hadn’t really looked into it before we arrived, and so hadn’t been sure what to expect. We found it easily, obviously helped by following a line of cars, but also the SatNav postcode provided on the course page was spot on. There’s a huge pay and display car park, but surprisingly there’s free on road parking right outside the car park, which is where we stopped.

We walked over towards the start area, and Ben checked with Lani that she had her barcode wristband on. She did, but the guy walking in front of us patted his pocket and promptly headed back to his car. As per usual, we asked someone in hi-viz where the toilets were – happily very close by and with not too long a queue. Then we had time to appreciate the area while walking back to the start. A mix of crisp, modern buildings and paving, with historic mine workings. Amazing.

As we all gathered round, someone stood up and announced that the course was going to be reversed, and described the new route. I didn’t really take it in – partly the description was very specific and made lots of references to the previous route, and partly the people around me got lost too and started talking so I couldn’t hear. There were then a couple of minutes chatting (and taking photos) with other tourists before the actual run brief.

How cool is this to run past?!

We moved to the start for the briefing, which meant I was mostly being nagged by Lani that she couldn’t see anything and wanted to go nearer the front. The vantage point we got at the side did at least mean I noticed the start fairly quickly. The first tiny bit is essentially moving from the wide start onto the main lap path. It’s solid paving, although there’s gravel out to the side as you join the lap that lots of us went on to end up in the right position.

The lap starts with a nice straight down past some buildings, at the end of which we came to an abrupt halt to queue to get round a tight corner. The course page currently says no buggies or dogs, and while I think this is changing (there were 2 of each on the day) the tight corner here may be part of the reason. Once through the corner, I was surprised as we switched to more trail path, verging on grass, for a couple of small inclines up to an old mine chimney. Again, I considered if Parkclaws would have been the right choice.

The downhill that followed was very popular with my running buddy, who sped down it every lap. The scenery then changes again as you enter the gardens, and wind round all the paths. This area was well marshalled, and also had cones indicating which way to go round various sections (although apparently some of the faster runners didn’t notice this first lap). Heading out the gardens, there’s a bridge back to the first area.

Running past the start, we paused to leave Lani’s jumper with Ben’s, and also have a drink from the bottle we’d left there. The second part of the lap continues through a play park. I’ve been to lots of parkruns where the route goes past or near a play park, but this actually went on the path through the middle. And it looked a pretty amazing play park. By this stage we were being lapped fairly frequently, and I have to say everyone was fantastic with the encouragement they gave Lani on the way past.

Ready to jumper drop

After the play park you head round the edge of a grass area (still on solid park), with a long straight section to complete the lap. We decided this could be another ‘super speedy straight’, which is what we call the one at Longrun Meadow, and Lani suitably obliged by overtaking lots of people around us. We were then lapped by Ben, and Lani made a few people smile by announcing she wanted to catch him back up.

And so onto lap 2, which was much the same but with less congestion, more being lapped, and more walking breaks. We were doing really well for pace, and so I was conscious to make sure we kept it fun and didn’t push too hard. As we headed towards the park half of the lap, I noticed some fast runners cutting up through the middle of the park at the lap point towards the finish. Always good to see how things are going to go.

Finishing lap 2, Ben gave us a cheer and made a comment about having gone completely wrong but still done 5k. Heading past the mine and through the gardens for the third and final time, we clearly weren’t being lapped any more, but were near to quite a few people and so kept a good atmosphere. Passing the start to head to the second half of the lap, Ben handed us a water bottle and said we had to do the loop of that side of the park before heading to the finish.

Lani was starting to get tired as we neared the end of our third lap, but I knew we didn’t have far left to go. I saw the sign pointing that lap 4 had to cut back across the park instead of heading to the mine works, and checked my watch for pace. We’d only done 2.65 miles. I frantically waved Ben over in confusion, and he confirmed that his earlier message had been for after the end of our lap. It turns out that the course is 3 laps of both mine/gardens and park/field, 1 lap of just park/field, and then a kick into the finish.

Ben stayed with us for the last loop through the play park. I’m glad he did, as it seems everyone else around us had got confused and finished already. When we left the play park, we were momentarily confused about directions as the marshals had started to head off already. We saw them further down the path, and they said the tail walker had been through already. Ben explained about the extra loop, and I got a little worried.

Up from the start, round to the right and all the way round the outside 3 times, then cut across, loop round the bottom section, then cut across and round to finish.

At the start of the straight we could see the tail walker up ahead, which was reassuring to know where they were. Lani was starting to struggle, so we had to take a few more walk breaks at this stage, which didn’t help my nerves. Rounding the corner to cut back across to the finish, we saw the runners in front of the tail walker turn to head straight to the finish, instead of doing their loop back through the park. And then we saw the tail walker do the same. I sent Ben ahead with one clear instruction: do not let the tail walker cross the line before us.

They stopped, and we crossed the line with the satisfaction of knowing we’d actually run the full route, and Lani’s shiny new PB was genuine. I made a comment as we crossed the line that most people around us had finished without the last loop. The tail walker, it turned out, checked with one of the core team and then actually completed the last loop.

Looking on Strava, there are an awful lot of people who ran 4.4k that day, probably lots with PBs they may never be able to beat. Changing routes is a hard thing to do, and it’s important to remember the context that Heartlands parkrun is less than a year old, and that the attendance on New Year’s Day beat their record by over 100. So they had a lot going on. The route itself is great, and would just needs a sign at the end of the lap saying “Lap 1, 2, 3 ↑ Lap 4, 5 →” and another by the play park saying “Lap 1, 2, 3, 4 ↑ Lap 5 →”. Sure, there are alternatives like moving the small loop to the start (Ben’s accidental route of going through the gardens 4 times would be too congested), but signage is all that’s needed really.

There’s a cafe on site, but we were all a bit too tired and wanted to get back for family lunch, so we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to Ben’s parents. It’s a real shame that having run through the play park 4 times we didn’t get to try it out, but the area is now on my ‘must visit’ list for the next time we’re down that way.

This is definitely a parkrun I’d recommend. The varied route is something really special, and there’s something for everyone. Massive thank you to the team for doing a great job on results. I know there were a fair few issues with funnel duckers and double dippers, and so I was really impressed when the results came out to see Lani and I had identical, accurate finish times. That’s not something experienced teams always manage.

Overall we had a fantastically positive start to our year, and spent a fair chunk of the drive home from Cornwall discussing which events we want to visit next, and even a little speculation about where we might head for the double next year…

parkrun tourism: Trelissick parkrun

by Ben

When the New Year’s Day double of Penrose and Heartlands appeared, it became almost inevitable that we would spend New Year’s at my parents’ in Cornwall. When we realised that we could also do Trelissick parkrun if I took the Monday (New Year’s Eve) off work, it became a nailed-on certainty. We had done Penrose before, but that was on the old cliff-climbing course, while Trelissick and Heartlands would be completely new to us. But more about the NYD double in another post.

Our logistics were not without their issues. As I was working on Thursday and Friday, and parkrun is on parkrunday (sorry, Saturday), this meant we’d need an evening drive down. Unfortunately, due to various issues (us not getting our stuff together) we left home at 19:40, having not eaten any dinner. We arrived at my parent’s house at 22:10, still having not eaten any dinner. Nor even snacked. A bowl of pasta with chicken nuggets and cheese at 22:40 eventually counted as dinner. This was not an optimal fuelling strategy, to quote a couple of the guys that I race against in the Somerset Series.

For a change, we were able to leave the children behind and head out alone. In general, we like to bring the children along, even if we have babysitters, so that they can be involved in the parkrun atmosphere, but after the night’s antics, we let them rest at home. (Wow – how many commas did I manage in that sentence?!) It was, for us, a short drive to a tourist parkrun: about 25 minutes.

Run briefing gathering.

The parkrun is hosted by a National Trust property, Trelissick Gardens, though the run itself doesn’t enter the gardens. As a result, there are copious amounts of parking, free for NT members or £3 for non-members. Runners gather by the cafe and toilets for the run briefing, before a walk through the gardens to the start. While we were waiting, we noticed a couple with cow cowls and an apricot declaring ‘Yeovil Montacute’, and so got chatting to the lovely Dave and Deb Stanfield. During the run briefing, Ola then got chatting to another tourist, this time from Pomphrey Hill parkrun – Helen Spilsbury. It was great to meet all three, and it was far from the only time over the parkrun holiday!

Anyway; paragraph 5, the run.

I hadn’t really researched the course. I had heard that there was a hilly field, and so in my head, the whole thing was on undulating grassy fields. It turned out the undulating was spot on, but not so much the grassy fields – for the most part, anyway. We started next to the River Fal by the King Harry Ferry – and a huge ship moored up out of the way. It was a downhill start on a woodland/coastal style path – compacted mud with a fair smattering of rocks and tree roots. It turned out that this was actually the terrain for the majority of the route.

The fast downhill start set the trend for the first kilometre and a quarter: though it gently undulated, we gradually dropped down to basically sea-level. I hadn’t really noticed from the running itself (though I should have realised that it felt too easy), but I did twig that the river had got a lot closer! Unsurprisingly, the first kilometre was my fastest. We crossed a bridge and had a short (like 20m? horizontal) climb followed by more path.

The view from the start. Bang average.

Just short of the two-kilometre mark, we reached the field that I’d heard about. And yeah – it had a climb. First, we more or less doubled back on ourselves, running the other side of the hedge from where we’d just come, and then took a sharp right up the hill. It wasn’t awful. Roughly 30 metres vertical gain at about 20% gradient at the worst. That said, it was relatively dry – I imagine that it’s pretty awful in the wet, slippy mud. The beauty of the loop around the field though was that what had gone up had to come back down. The descent was less steep, making it more runnable for most (personally, I’d clearly prefer it the other way around, but I firmly believe that parkrun courses should be as accessible as possible). It was still a fun-enough descent, and saw me hit my quickest pace of the run; a not-too-silly 3:14/km.

Back onto the path, and after the short run back to the bridge, there was no avoiding that it was going to be something of an uphill slog to the finish. I tagged along with a young lad (JM11-14) through this section, but eventually I had the legs on him and eased ahead. Between him, and another couple of runners, I managed to keep myself honest towards the end, when I really just wanted to take it easy and plod back. The hill kicks on steeper at the end, and a “120m to go” sign was a mixed blessing! The finish is further up the hill beyond the start line, making it technically an uphill course. That final stretch from the sign was one of the best finishes that I’ve experienced at parkrun. The nature of the course means that the spectators line the river-side of the path, creating a little cheering funnel up to the finish. Sadly, for those finished later than about 30 minutes, most of the spectators had left with their families, resulting in a far quieter finish for those runners.

I headed back down the hill after finishing to cheer Lolly in – I think she appreciated the shout of “Push, push up the hill.” [Editor’s note: she didn’t.] We both hung around for a while to cheer people in, before grabbing our hoodies, socialising a bit more, and heading back to the toilets and car, to rescue my parents from our children. Or should that be our children from my parents?! Just our short walk through the Gardens had shown how pretty they were, and we returned with the whole family in tow on New Year’s Eve. With the added advantage of being not in smelly running gear! It was really nice, and I’d recommend allowing time for a visit to the Gardens if you’re in the area.

More average scenery.

Trelissick was a stunning parkrun – possibly in my top-three. I’d love to come back and run it when I’m at my peak, but that mostly depends on no more parkruns starting up in west Cornwall before we next visit my parents! The attendance at Trelissick didn’t quite set a new record, but was only 13 short – it seems that we weren’t the only ones who realised that a trip to Cornwall over New Year’s was a good way to tick some of the further parkruns off the list! (To my parents, if you’re reading: I do love you really!)

Next, three days later, the New Year’s Day double

parkrun tourism: Gloucester City parkrun

by Lolly

Some people plan their parkrun tourism weeks or even months in advance. Some just wake up and decide where to go. The latter isn’t really practical for us, with our location and family, and even on the rare occasions we do plan it often needs to change. This weekend was looking particularly unpromising, with yellow warnings for rain and wind across Somerset, and not much better forecast in the helpful parts of Devon. Early Friday evening, the most likely option was me heading to a local repeat. Then we saw on Facebook that Danny from the With Me Now podcast was going to Gloucester City, and it seemed as good a reason as any to actually go somewhere.

Gloucester City parkrun, unsurprisingly located in the middle of Gloucester, is one of those events that really should have been higher on our target list. At only 1 hour 20 minutes away (in winter – it’s all M5 so summer would be awful) and buggy-friendly it hit the necessary ticks. And away from Somerset’s rain warning as well (we’ll ignore the ice warning for Gloucestershire). That just left the simple task of leaving the house by 7:15.

At 6:45 it looked like we weren’t going to go, as having actually persuaded ourselves to get out of bed, our daughter decided to stand her ground and refuse to go. With top-class negotiating skills, we got last-minute agreement to go. Speed prepping of people and stuff got us on the road by 7:25. Listening to the Moana and Frozen soundtracks on the way was a pretty small price to pay!

A combination of an accurate postcode and decent directions on the course page meant we had a pretty straight forward time finding where we were going. The parking is at Go Outdoors, opposite the park, and very sensibly there’s a sign to show which bit of the car park to use for parkrun. After layering up the kids (it was approximately 2 degrees) and getting the buggies set up, we crossed the road and headed into the park.

Spot the bandstand

Gloucester City parkrun is fairly typical of most park parkruns, in that it’s a few laps around the edge, with bits added to make the distance right. The start was pretty close to where we’d entered the park, but the meeting point was at the bandstand. Or, you know, the usual theory of ‘head for the mass of hi-viz’. I was grateful to learn from one of the volunteers that there were toilets in the middle of the park (not the best but I’ve seen far worse). The timing meant that, for possibly the first time ever, I missed the first timers’ briefing but Ben was actually there. Miracles do happen.

The main run briefing was done from the bandstand. With a microphone so big tick there for actually being able to hear it. All the basics covered, everyone started heading to the start. But first, the big decision of starting layers. Last minute I opted for no hoodie but added sleeves. Definitely the right decision, even if it didn’t feel it on the walk over. At the start we counted 5 buggies (including our 2), which is pretty impressive given there were 89 runners.

And so finally, on paragraph 7, we were off. Ben got ahead of me almost instantly, as always, but with the early congestion the gap didn’t get too big. That and I was feeling pretty good and so made a decent start. The short lap at the start involved cutting a corner at one end of the park, following round the edge, and then cutting across the middle of the park to re-join the opposite edge. This is where I get confused describing courses, as the ‘lap’ back to the start was further along the path, but the point we re-joined was pretty much the lap point for all future reference. And now you’re confused too, I do realise.

Too fast for the camera

By the end of the small lap, everyone had started to spread out a little, which could only be a good thing with my rusty steering skills. I was also starting to realise that what felt like pretty good pace was, in fact, pretty good pace. Back by the start I checked my watch and found I was on for a 30 minute parkrun. With a buggy. For the main 3 laps we followed the path all the way around the edge, instead of cutting the corner, and I found myself behind a couple of runners who were clearly aiming for 30 minutes themselves. Unfortunately I got a bit too close and they kindly let me through.

Where the short lap had split off, we carried on round the edge of the park, and the path got slightly wider, with a different surface. There were two slightly hairy moments when I dodged a recovering runner (who I think had just got back up from falling over) and then a dog walker, but thankfully I didn’t hit anyone or take any detours. The next challenge was a right-angled turn, naturally just as the first runners lapped me. Having somehow not wiped anyone out, I followed the path round, up a bump, and back into the main bit of park to start all over again.

Lap 2 was much the same, but I started to fall back a little from the 30 minute runners (as they were named in my head). There was also more being lapped (but amazingly still no knocking people over), and a fair amount of trying to explain to my daughter that I couldn’t really hear the questions she was asking.

My first thought at the start of lap 3 was how few runners had lapped me. The factors at play here were clearly a) me running fractionally faster, b) the smaller field size, and c) the out-and-back section to the finish at the end of the third lap. I was blissfully unaware of c, until my daughter asked if a runner she could see was doing the bit at the end. Which he was. In fairness, I was struggling at this stage. The pace on my watch was making it pretty clear that I could technically still get sub-30 if I pushed, but I knew that it just wasn’t going to happen.

On finishing the lap, the final stretch takes a path that goes right across the middle of the park, and then takes a sharp turn back along another path to the finish. That turn is on a marked grass section, but I clearly looked like crap and so the marshals took advantage of the quiet paths and let me stick to the tarmac, turning just after the usual point. Mad desperation to at least do as well as I could kicked in, and I somehow managed to speed up before the line.

My Strava map, because I realise my description may not be entirely clear…

My time was 30:20, and I’m insanely proud of that. It’s my buggy PB by over a minute, with a substantially bigger child than before. And to have actually been in with a shot at going sub-30 with the buggy is way beyond anything I thought I would achieve this year. Particularly in windy conditions, which made it much harder work.

Multi-lap park courses get bad-mouthed a lot, but I absolutely loved this one. The atmosphere was fantastic, with cheery supportive marshals all over the place, and a real community feel. After scanning in, we didn’t hang around at the park for too long as it started to rain. Instead we headed back to the car to put the buggies away, and then walked over to the GL1 leisure centre cafe.

It’s been far too long since we chatted with a core team in the cafe after a parkrun, and it was a great bunch of people to talk to. With topics including new years day doubles, barcode scanning, and how Bushy manage with so many people, it was great to just sit and chat. And, in Ben’s case, get asked to write the run report. As we were finally instructed to leave by our long-suffering daughter, we did take the opportunity to ask Danny for a selfie. I’m slightly jealous at how easily he got all 5 of us in the frame, given I struggle to fit 4 in.

Looking tall as ever

Gloucester City parkrun turned out to be exactly what my week needed. Sure, it helped that I exceeded all my expectations in terms of pace. But the main things I’ll remember are the clever route, the absolutely fantastic volunteers, and the community feeling. And possibly the freezing cold wind…

Motivation to Run

by Lolly

Last week I was fortunate enough to hear an after-dinner speech by the amazing Dame Kelly Holmes, at a work event no less. I have never heard anyone so inspiring, particularly with her ability to make herself seem normal and make everyone feel they have something to achieve. And, of course, I was a little bit excited to hear someone other than me talk about parkrun to some of my colleagues.

Did I mention yet that I met Kelly Holmes?

I headed back to my hotel feeling completely motivated. This was it. This time I am going to put the work in and finally beat my long standing parkrun PB (the saga of my long standing PB is a whole post in itself). My head was buzzing, and I found myself making notes of training ideas and blog posts to write. At midnight. This is not normal behaviour for someone who prizes sleep so much.

And then, as it does, reality hit. Two full-on days, on the back of a particularly busy few months, left me exhausted. And I don’t mean slightly tired. I mean having to stop at services to nap on the drive home. I mean stopping work in the middle of the next day to have another nap. I mean keeping fingers crossed the whole of the day after that the toddler will want plenty of calm activities (he didn’t, he’s a toddler after all).

But still, the positive light of Saturday morning was beckoning. Following a week volunteering we’d missed 2 parkrundays in a row, so we gave ourselves a couple of options. Plan A was for us to visit Torbay Velodrome parkrun, which would have been a new event to us. Plan B was for us to all head to somewhere local-ish like Killerton or Yeovil Montacute for me to do a repeat and get my p-index to 3 (again, a whole other blog post in that story), given Ben was thick with cold.

I woke up at 7:30 on Saturday. It was 7:45 before our little one got loud enough for me to realise what day it was. Ben was still sound asleep, and I hadn’t heard any noise from our daughter yet. So Plan C was formed. If I could get myself and our son ready in 15 minutes, I could get to Minehead and run it with the buggy (which was an extra option for increasing my p-index). Clearly, I was still a bit tired to think this was possible, as it took me approximately 10 minutes to persuade our son to leave his dummy in the cot. By which time our daughter was awake too.

So I resigned myself to Plan D – have a restful morning at home. I relayed this information to Ben at about 8:10 (he was still in bed, but it’s really hard to stay asleep once both kids are up). And about 10 minutes later he appeared downstairs and told me to get dressed and go to Longrun Meadow.

Plan E, it turned out, was exactly what I needed. Just running. Yes, touring would have been nice. But familiar faces, being able to focus on running without working out where to go, and the amazing puddles of home allowed me to run. I was never going to get an outstanding time, but actually it beat my expectations of where I would be. And I got to wear my shiny new 100 top for the first time (probably another post there too, actually). And did I mention there were puddles?!?

Lolly wears the 100 parkrun top, accessorised with trademark hairband barcode, and muddy Christmas leggings

So this was a step in the right direction. My first run that wasn’t a tourism parkrun or junior parkrun since the end of September. Now I just needed to get a run that wasn’t at parkrun at all. Of course, Sunday was a slump day. Everyone tired. Feeling a bit meh. It’s hard to start a new routine in those conditions.

And then onto today. Wow. I had an hour slot in the afternoon where I was actually free, and so I was determined to use it for an exercise DVD or something. My day fell apart with some very sad news, but I became more determined that I would get my time. Then I discovered I needed to head into town during that hour.

This is where running wins.

This is where running was a very practical option to get into town and back in the required time, while still getting my exercise in. Extending the 3/4 trip each way to 2 miles in, 1.1 back (I do love 5k at the moment).

But as soon as I set off, I knew I was running for so much more than that. I wasn’t running to help my body, I was running to help my head. The cruelest thing about feeling tired and down is that the thing that can help most is the hardest to do. What I needed was space and time to process my thoughts. I needed the consistent sound of my feet hitting the pavement. I needed the freedom.

Somewhere amongst goals, comparisons and training targets, I’d forgotten the real reason I run. Yes, some of those goals will always be a driver to improve (until I hit them of course), but the important thing is to get out there and enjoy the run. Because as tired as running can make me, life without running is way more tiring.

Brent Knoll: race report

by Ben

I have previously taken part in the Brent Knoll Race in 2016, 2015 (when apparently I didn’t blog about it) and 2014. Last year I was injured, but went along anyway to take some photos and go to the Somerset Series presentation afterwards.

Due to illness, I’ve barely run since the Snowdonia Trail Marathon in mid-July, although I did manage to get around the Ash Excellent Eight in August. My monthly stats make some poor reading: I peaked at 131 miles in May, then was around 90 in each of June and July. Then… 29, 36, 18, 9. It’s not a great trend.

It’s been pretty rough: running is one of my main methods of stress relief, so without it, I’ve struggled. Particularly at a time when I’ve been feeling quite low anyway, because of being ill for such a long period. But: I generally seem to be much stronger now, so hopefully I’m through whatever it was, and can get back on with life.

Enough rambling about that – let me ramble about the race. Or at least the most direct pre-race. This is the final race of the Somerset Series. In order to qualify for the series, you have to complete eight of the participating races. I’d done seven. So, I resolved that I was doing this race, whether I could run, walk or crawl it. (Okay, slightly exaggeration possibly.) Given the aforementioned lack of mileage, it was clearly not going to be easy. For those not familiar with the race, it’s worth giving my 2014 report a read: it details it more than I’ll go into again. But I’ll let the Strava elevation plot give you an idea:

So… we got a bump coming up…

The basic race plan was to take it relatively easy, and just finish. So, obviously, I completely overcooked the first mile, cracking along at (quick-for-me-now) 7:16. I maintained much the same pace for the next half a mile. I then refer you to the above plot. I didn’t even try and run/jog/power-walk the hill. It was a trudge.

Trudging. (Credit: Neale Jarrett)

Let me tell you, I was loving it every bit as much as it looked. This is pretty much my favourite race. But it’s an awful one to attempt when unfit. And boy, am I unfit. Still, the first climb was managed without excessive drama (just excessive sulking). My pace dropped off completely from those around me after that exertion though; I started dropping back slowly through the field along the relative flat between climbs. The second climb acted as a leveller, with us all walking, before I dropped back further as we circumnavigated (well, nearly) the summit.

Finally! The descents! Those who know me will know that there is little in life I love more than a trail descent. I took this first one a little bit steady, as I was a bit unsure of how I’d manage, given my lack of recent running. I still managed to pass a few people on the way down, and make up for a fair bit of my previous rubbishness. Of course, once we were back on the flat, they all streamed back past me, but whatever.

On the second descent, I really let myself go, and perhaps for the only stage of the race, had a genuine smile on my face. Of course, once we were back on the flat, they all streamed back past me, but whatever! The rest of the race, about a mile-and-a-half, was just a slog to finish.

Lazy technique. (Credit: Daniel Anderson)

I was glad to finish, and not bothered at all about trying to put in a sprint finish. It was done, I’d completed my eighth race, and qualified for the series. Now it just remained to be seen if I had done enough to finish in the top ten? I’d been (based on points average) eighth coming into this race, but it all depended on how other people had improved compared to me.

While the race wasn’t a great experience for me, it was really good to get out and see the racing community. Being the end of season race, most of the familiar faces were there, and it was nice just to be immersed back into that. As well as that, both of my clubs, Running Forever and Minehead had good contingents at the race, so it was a nice, social occasion. Most importantly though (!) my attendance had paid off, and I finished ninth in the Series – another glass for the shelf!

Club swag!

So… what’s next? I honestly don’t know. I’d like to set down a foundation over the next few weeks, even if it’s just a couple of runs a week. After that, hopefully I can work on getting back up to pace. But first, I’ve got a cold to shift. [EYE ROLL]