At around 9 am on New Year’s Day, we had no plans to parkrun. Long ago, we’d been talking about doing a double, but neither of us were in any state of running fitness to complete 10k in one day. We had discussed the possibility of going down to Killerton for Lolly to repeat at 9:30, but we never really got our stuff together in time for it.
At around 9:05; I mentioned the possibility that maybe we could both run at Shepton Mallet – a buggy each. Shepton Mallet parkrun is about a 55-minute drive from us and was starting at 10:30. Making the decision, more or less out of the blue, to go just 85 minutes beforehand probably wouldn’t be too unreasonable for most parkrun tourists. But when you have to pack not only yourselves and your running gear, but also two small children, two buggies, changing gear for the youngest of the two, and all the other ancillary rubbish that goes with small children, it really was a crazy decision.
But then, that’s probably what we do best.
Somehow, we managed to get ready in pretty much 15 minutes, thanks mostly to the fact that our 4-year-old daughter decided she would put clothes on – if that decision had gone the other way, we might still now be trying to wheedle with her.
As we got closer to Shepton Mallet… it started to rain. Just another thing to make the experience a little bit more stressful! We arrived to pretty light rain, in which I had to try and remember how the rain-covers for each of the two buggies worked (differently, of course!) By the time I had got both children into their buggies, the eldest had decided that she would like to go home now, thank you. Well, of course she did!
We hadn’t really done much research on the course: we knew it was three-laps, allowed buggies, and was mostly tarmac. We rushed down to the start, and more or less only just got in place at the back of the crowd in time to begin…
… Which turned out to be less than ideal. The course started by winding its way along a narrow path, including a corkscrew-esque uphill hairpin bend. Throughout most of the course, it is run on narrow tarmac paths with grass either side. Running with a buggy, this was a bit of a nightmare when starting from the back – I got out onto the grass early to pass a few people, but it was seriously slippy. If I have one recommendation for this parkrun, it is to make sure you start according to pace!
Still, after continuing up the hill a bit further, we went along a short (10 metres maybe?) muddy, tree-root riddled section, and then were on a nice wide path. Or at least, it seemed nice and wide, until someone yelled: “lead runners coming!” So, the bit where I said I hadn’t done much research on the course? Yeah, hadn’t realised that there was a really long out-and-back. So now, while trying to pass people, I’m also having to try and stay out of the way of the quicker runners coming back the other way.
Out-and-back stint navigated, we dropped back down the hill, quite sharply, and ran next to the pond for a few metres. It’s probably pretty scenic most of the time, but by now it as pretty much torrential rain. My daughter kept trying to talk to me through the rain-cover, but I frankly couldn’t hear a thing, so I just kept saying “Yeah” from time to time, and crossed my fingers that I wasn’t agreeing to anything too expensive. Not that I could actually cross my fingers, as they were numb with the wet and cold.
Another climb followed, up towards the car park we’d arrived from, before the course dropped back down to the start/finish area, past a little shelter full of huddled, cheering spectators. And repeat. And repeat.
As usual, I was able to make better headway through the field as it spread out, but the out-and-back section was even trickier second time around, as I was trying to pass people, while being wary of runners coming the other way (some of whom were trying to pass each other) and also paying attention to those lead runners who were by now lapping me. So just the potential for three abreast each way. On a path wide enough for… well, three.
Having started as the fourth of five buggies (Lolly being the fifth), I somehow made it through the finish as the first buggy, though it involved something of a quick final half a lap! I was slightly surprised halfway through the second lap to hear a cheer of “Go on Ben.” After checking a couple of times that I wasn’t wearing anything with my name on it, I paid more attention and realised that it was Joanne, who I know from Twitter, and I’d met before at her home event of Kingsway.
The finish funnel was pretty narrow – I’m not sure that a double buggy would have fit down it at all, and I had to slow quite dramatically and basically walk over the finish line – but this might have been forced on them by the wet conditions making the grass so muddy. Despite the weather, the support from the marshals and other supporters around the course was superb. After finishing, we hung around just ahead of the finish funnel to wait for Lolly – though I did get told off by a passer-by for asking my daughter if she “could see Mummy yet” – less of the “yet” apparently!
Due to the weather, no one was hanging around for a chat, and we proved no exception: after getting a photo by the pond, we got back to the car as quickly as we could.
I always find parkrun on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day to be a little bit special. The atmosphere is different to a normal parkrun – there seems to be an even greater sense of community than usual. (And there is usually quite a lot anyway.) I think it probably comes from the fact that we all feel a little loony for being out running when most other people (even more than usual) are doing anything but.
Now… where’s next?