Last Saturday, Lis and I became Parkrun tourists again and visited Walsall’s event for the first time. Lis was running in the Race For Life at Arboretum Park the next day so it served as a good reccy to find out how to get there, where to park and so on.
The journey wasn’t too difficult, with most of our time spent on a quiet M6 due to the time in the morning. Once in Walsall, finding the park was simple and there was plenty of free parking available on-site.
I wanted to further experiment with my extended warm-up so I intended to run one entire lap around the park before starting. I made it as far as maybe 300m before I decided I needed to pee so I had to dive into a bush to relieve myself. Not being familiar with the park, I didn’t know where the nearest toilets were or even if there were some at all. I will never take the toilets at Cannon Hill for granted again and it’s a blessing they are right next to the meeting point. I finished my warm-up and a few more Parkrunners arrived at the start area.
Walsall Parkrun is quite a young event and only recently celebrated its first anniversary. Their peak attendance so far has been around 150 and was particularly low that day at 105. The pre-run briefing began and they were a friendly bunch, applauding new-comers to Parkrun and even applauded me as a visiting Parkrunner. They explained the course layout as 3 laps of the park, with an early hill and descent, along with a section on grass. I later found out this was a temporary route and once the Arboretum refurbishment was finished, they would be returning to a flatter, two lap course.
We made our way over to the start line and what was very odd was the lack of people fighting for contention. At Cardiff Parkrun, you have to stake out your spot 5 minutes before the start to get a good position and Cannon Hill can also be quite congested in the first few rows. There were maybe 5 or 6 people at the front and then a gap two rows deep before you got to me. I looked around and shrugged and took a few steps forward to join the front-runners. Before long, the run started and we were off!
Everybody took off very quickly with a good 15 or so runners ahead of me. The course sent us into a sharp right turn into the hill; one runner nearly slipped on some mud that had accumulated on the path from the recent damp weather, but regained his balance just in time. The hill was destructive so early on in the run, raising my heart rate and causing havoc with my pacing.
We entered a long flat section that allowed me to overtake 1 or 2 runners before hurtling down hill to make up for lost time. At the bottom of the hill was a marshalled section that involved running up some make-shift steps that were actually roots of a tree and then on to grass. This really sapped energy from my legs that had just become accustomed to running fast on concrete and tarmac.
Before long, I was back on a proper path and was now heading back towards the start line for the next lap. I wasn’t happy with my first lap split of 7:05 minutes which was drastically off pace.
During the second lap, I ended up having a mini battle with a young lad and eventually won, further helping my average time come down. I continued to overtake a few more times and claim places with a feeling that I could make it into the top 10 finishers. I could see two guys, maybe 100 metres ahead, and I locked on to them going into the third lap.
The third was run at an even faster pace, no doubt helped by being fully warmed up. The two guys in front were still roughly 100m away but I couldn’t find anything in me to close the gap. I decided to just continue at my pace in the hope that they would lose speed towards the closing stages of the race.
After the grass section, I went all out towards chasing down the guys in front of me but they still had too much of a lead for me to make a difference. I concentrated on my own run and emptied the tank heading towards the finish for a time of 20:25.
After scanning my barcode and finisher’s token, I dropped to my knees to regain composure. I was happy with my time on an otherwise difficult course. It did measure short according to my GPS watch at 2.98 miles, so another 200m or so were missing, which probably would have brought my time up to 20:50 or there about.
Before leaving, I stopped to have a chat with the run director, a pleasant chap by the name of Richard. I wanted to let him know that I enjoyed myself and would be bringing reinforcements with me in the near future. The organisers take a lot of care over the event and it shows by the number of run reports, photos and so on that get published. Everybody that earns a t-shirt has a little write-up about them too.
In a weird, masochistic kind of way, I did actually enjoy the Walsall Parkrun course. The hills proved challenging and has been something missing from my recent training, something that will no doubt haunt me at a later date. The three lap layout was largely congestion free, although I had started to lap people that had just started their second lap whilst I was on my third; this could be demoralising for middle and back of the pack runners.
My Nike+ data and a map of the course can be found here.