“What’s the furthest you’ve ever travelled for a parkun?” A reasonably common question asked of parkrun tourists. For us the answer is probably Mount Edgcumbe, given we went away for the weekend specifically for parkrun. The answer is not Falkirk, because we were in town for a wedding and so only actually went 10 minutes down the road.
The first thing you notice when doing your first Scottish parkrun is the start time, as they start at 9:30. Extra sleeping time for some, but in our case extra time to kill in the hotel. We stretched things out long enough that we arrived at Callendar Park just before 9, and so took a slow amble towards the start. The next thing that we noticed was that it was very, very cold. There was even a van out gritting the paths. Good thing we’d joined the Most Events table the week before and so been able to purchase our Cow Cowls.
Hanging around near the start, one of the volunteers started chatting to us about the course. Really handily he ran there with a buggy, and so was able to give Ben some useful information. The main gist was that the course goes steadily up, then steadily down, then steeply up, then steadily down.
After a visit to the in-park toilets (yay) we started to de-layer, trying to work out what level of clothing would be appropriate. The de-layering was accompanied by adding additional layers to our long-suffering daughter, who wouldn’t exactly be warming up on the way round.
The run briefing included an interactive shout-out for the golden “No barcode, no time” rule. There was last-minute further de-layering, and then we all walked over to the start. From my now-customary position at the back of the field I had plenty of time to take in the surroundings.
The run starts on solid gravel path, heading past a lake that was covered in mist. It then curves round onto more of a trail surface – still solid though – as the uphill climb starts. The climb that goes on forever. Or, you know, a mile. Which is basically the same thing. Still, the surroundings were beautiful, with trees and at least one small stream on the way up.
At around the mile mark the course splits into a loop, as the course is a weirdly shaped lollipop. Having taken the chance to enjoy the scenery, the first runner started heading back just before I got to the split. Not an unusual phenomenon these days!
For me, the next short section was the most enjoyable, as the path mostly flattened out but the woodland surroundings continued. I briefly fell into pace with another runner, giving the opportunity for a quick chat. And then the downhill started.
I learned something important in Falkirk: running downhill when pregnant puts pressure in all sorts of weird places. It was pretty uncomfortable, so I took it fairly easy. Things got worse as the terrain changed back to tarmac as the paths were icy. Downhill + icy path + distorted centre of gravity = extreme caution.
Still, the downhill ended and the grit started, and there was a brief respite from obstacles. It was also a section of path that we’d walked on earlier on our way from the car park, so it was familiar. And I also knew what was next.
Heartbreak Hill is a defining feature of Falkirk parkrun, and was pretty much the only thing I’d heard about beforehand. Being of the speedy frame of mind I took the mature decision to not even attempt running, and just power-walk up the whole thing. Definitely the right choice. The hill eased off just before the marshal at the top, which was the perfect opportunity to start running again.
And so began the long downhill back to the start. The discomfort of heading downhill meant I had almost as much time to enjoy the scenery as I’d had on the way up. I couldn’t believe that no one had mentioned how nice the surroundings were. The trail path ended and it was back to the gravel to run alongside the no-longer-misty lake to the finish.
We chatted with a few of the volunteers and then headed back to the car to drive to the nearby Orchard Hotel for a well-earned post-parkrun breakfast.
A surprisingly beautiful parkrun in a lovely park, with a friendly welcome. Can’t really ask for much more than that!