This week’s running – 1st to 7th January 2018

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Happy New Year at Stratford-upon-Avon parkrun – photo by Stratford-upon Avon parkrun

Let’s kick off 2018 with a few tales of newly visited parkrun events – my 24th and 25th (and also making for three new events in three days).

Stratford-upon-Avon New Year’s Day parkrun

For those not familiar, running two parkruns on New Year’s Day is very much a thing. That’s right – the opportunity to run at two different events and score two additional runs towards your total! I’m not sure of the origins, but I suspect it was borne of events being able to choose a start time of their own liking, creating the possibility for runners to visit more than one in a single morning. New Year’s Day is capped at two runs, though it is possible in some parts of the UK to visit three events, whereas Christmas Day is capped at just one run.

Sometime in December before any of my nearest events had committed to New Year’s Day, my closest two-run combo was Stratford-upon-Avon parkrun at 09:00, followed by Leamington parkrun at 10:30. Despite Brueton and Cannon Hill events subsequently also being possible at 09:00 and 10:30, my mind was already set on some tourism, so the decision was made!

Getting up earlier than otherwise necessary on New Year’s Day was not fun, especially as I was still carrying the previous day’s 10 mile race in my legs; at least the early rise prepared me for getting back into a routine for work! Driving to the Stratford-upon-Avon Recreation Ground was an absolute doddle, made even easier by the incredibly quiet roads. I parked up, paid my £1 and began my warm-up, bumping into Arrow Valley parkrun regular, Dean Clapham; the Arrow Valley organisers were there on tour for the morning, taking many of their loyal congregation with them. Taking place over three laps, I couldn’t think of a flatter course, though sending us over short stretches of grass and with narrow paths at times, I struggled to comprehend where its fast reputation comes from.

I may come across as a weirdo for saying this, but I do particularly enjoy hearing the pre-run briefing at events where I’m a visitor. There’s something about the familiar meeting the unfamiliar that piques my curiosity. It was incredibly welcoming – the norm, I’m not sure, or with added razzmatazz to cheer in the New Year?

Sent on our way, it was incredibly congested as everybody found his or her place in the field. Even if I wanted to go faster, my race-fatigued legs slammed on the brakes and I found myself restricted to a pace just outside of a 20 minute 5k.

The adjacent River Avon had recently flooded due to melting snow from nearby Rugby flowing downstream, causing a bit of a mucky mess in the middle third of each lap.

Reaching the final km, I realised a sub-20 finish was back on the agenda if I could muster some finishing strength. My legs had finally warmed up and gave me access to some pace and stride length. Only problem? The masses of lapped runners I had to cut through… Most were obliging enough and kept to the side of the course as instructed during the briefing, but that still left a large number wearing headphones that were completely oblivious to their surroundings; I witnessed one marshal give up after four or five requests of one chap in headphones ahead of me!

I latched on to a few runners in front that began their kick for the line. We were right on target to sneak under 20 minutes by a second or two, but then came the quagmire of the finishing straight on grass! For 50m or so, I tried and failed to gain power and traction – I felt like a Looney Tunes cartoon character running on the spot! Disappointingly, the slippery stretch meant I missed out by just 4 seconds for 20:03.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Onwards to Leamington parkrun for 10:30!

Leamington New Year’s Day parkrun

Logistics companies speak of the “final mile” of any delivery being the most complex. Postcodes don’t lead to where they should, buildings have names instead of numbers, and you get the idea. Driving to Leamington parkrun was no different and my satnav sent me down several incorrect routes before I’d finally reached my destination. Parking up just outside of the venue, I met a friendly local-regular and jogged the few hundred metres to the meeting point with him. Craig belonged to Sphinx AC of Coventry and this was his only parkrun of the morning, blaming New Year’s Eve festivities on the lack of a double run. He kindly talked me through the course and terrain, which was fearsome for its steep opening mile and faster closing 2 mile descent, all taking place off-road. Thankfully, I’d done enough research and packed a pair of trail shoes to switch into!

A year ago and recently, I got into discussions about parkrun and inclusivity. The gist of the conversations went along the lines of parkrun talking a good game in terms of inclusivity, but how much had been practically done to challenge the white, middle-class, middle-age male stereotype of running? Well, I was positively taken aback at Leamington parkrun to be greeted by a trans-run director with an assistant performing sign language!

Due to a fallen tree and a field that could take no more trampling, an alternative route was utilised and we were walked over to a revised start area that required passing through gaps in a hedge in single file. This exercise alone took a considerable amount of time, delaying the start well past its 10:30 original. I snaked my way to get closer to the front few rows, finally standing next to a regular who shared that the course record was in the low 16:00s – remarkable on such terrain. On the starter’s orders, we were off.

Leamington parkrun takes runners around the outer perimeter of the local golf course, and this alternative route was no different, but would make up for the distance shortfall with a minor switchback in the final km. Expectedly, my legs were well and truly trashed from events prior, with more punishment laid upon them from the uneven and muddy course. As promised, the climb in the first mile hit, and it was the worst kind of climb where it’s steepest at the beginning before tapering off.

Once things flattened out, we were then introduced to the fallen tree and warned to duck our heads. Being vertically challenged, I merely ran straight on!

The course began descending and a few brave runners hurtled down past me; I sat tight and coasted downhill for some recovery until a marshal sent me towards the most southern point on the course for the switcback.

I started to see runners in the opposite direction and reasoned the turnaround point couldn’t have much further away. Drawing ever closer again to the initial climb, I started to fear that I’d missed something in the briefing! Thankfully, only perhaps 50m from the base of the hill, we were sent back on ourselves for the finish. I received a quick cheer from Craig, who wasn’t far behind me at all, and for the second time that morning I attempted to lay on a sprint on mud…

I finished in 21:54 and even if fresh, I don’t think I could have taken much more than another 90 seconds off such a time – that’s how brutal the course is!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Both of us completely caked in mud, Craig and I jogged the distance back to our cars and wished each other well in our pursuits for 2018.

9 miles from work – with detour

Unusually, my legs felt pretty decent even with all that I had put them through, so I continued with my plan of 9 miles from the office in a bid to get back into some sort of routine. With tapering for races that didn’t happen and the Christmas break, I’d gone almost three weeks with having to make things up as I went along rather than follow my P&L plan.

This run from work also provided an opportunity to scope out a detour I had planned. Anybody that’s ever run along the canal towpath via the St James Road tunnel will know how busy it can be at peak times or when simply badly timed. There’re plans to widen the footpath through the tunnel, but the works will take some three months – with pleasure comes some pain, right? I wanted to test out my detour that would take me through Brindley Place on to Broad Street, beneath Fiveways on to Calthorpe Road, before finally rejoining the canal towpath via The Vale. I did get momentarily lost in The Vale (it all looks the same in the dark!), but managed to get back on track without much fuss.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with fartlek

Having recovered enough from the parkruns at the beginning of the week, I settled on covering the distance for home with some stretches of fartlek thrown in to encourage my legs to turn over faster. The strong winds of late provided a double-whammy of discomfort in the form of increased effort levels and the added wind chill to rob precious body heat.

The novelty of fartlek was most welcome and allowed me to pick and choose my battles with speed wisely. The second half even felt enjoyable once I’d fully warmed up!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Due to frost covering various parts of the course, the alternative three lap configuration was rolled out. I’d only ever marshalled the course on the previous two occasions it’d been utilised, so I was curious to experience it for myself, especially with over 700 runners in attendance from the annual New Year’s resolution boost…

I’ve always preferred the clockwise loop of the Cannon Hill Park, citing that I personally feel like I receive a bigger boost/slow down less with the shallower climb towards the bandstand to follow it up with a steeper descent, rather than the other way around as it currently is in a normal week. The first two laps had me feeling like I’d been propelled, partly from the physical course difference, but also from the psychological difference. In spite of running largely on my own, the pace felt steady and akin to a half marathon effort, which boded well ahead of the upcoming Brass Monkey Half Marathon. And then the third lap hit…

Passing the bandstand for the final time, I found myself in and amongst the peak second lap runners, with many ignoring marshals’ requests to keep right on the course to allow overtaking runners to pass, with those wearing headphones being the worst offenders. I weaved my way through the masses, surging and slowing to time my movements as precisely as possible as and when gaps appeared. It was mentally exhausting for me and I imagine must have been hair raising for those I overtook. The worst pinch point appeared next to the Mac, where a large puddle and a family of three covering the entirety of the remaining width of the path meant I had nowhere to go. I expected to slow down, but Dave Carruthers, mere seconds in front of me in a stroke of quick thinking, took evasive manoeuvres to run up and along the banked brickwork of the Mac building! I followed his line and increased my speed to maintain momentum to navigate the obstacle course of a run without issue.

I finished in 19:47, which was actually 2 seconds faster than my own recorded time of 19:49 – it’s normally the other way around.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Lis volunteered on Saturday, which gets my kudos. I spent much of January and February last year marshalling, so I know how difficult the winter can be as you’re out on the course for potentially a long time in the cold, especially as the average and maximum finishing times have increased over the years; keeping marshals out on the course for just the minimum amount of time, and no longer, should be the precedent. Sadly, an unusual series of events lead to a failure that could have easily been prevented. The penultimate person(s) on the run gave up at some point in the second or third lap, exiting the course. This is normally fine because the tail walker would simply then move up to the next person on the course, except on this occasion, the tail walker went straight back to the finish instead; many of the remaining marshals were still out on the course waiting for the tail walker that would never come by. Some 15 minutes later, it was only passing runners that had already finished that finally alerted the marshals that the run was over!

12 miles with strides

In the winter, like many folks that work in offices, I do not get enough exposure to sunlight. I go to work in the dark, stay inside for the entirety of the working day, then go home in the dark. The weekend really is my only opportunity to get some vitamin D into my system, so imagine my delight when Sunday morning presented me with enough sunlight to temporarily blind me when running into its rays! If only the wind would piss off…

I kept the strides going, not wanting to lose the momentum and neurological connection ahead of race day. One strange observation I made was the huge pile of feathers next to The Dingle towpath exit at Selly Oak – it looked like a goose had been savaged, but there was no body or blood!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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One thought on “This week’s running – 1st to 7th January 2018

  1. I feel very sorry for the marshals at Stratford and CHP, with headphone-wearing runners (I’m fine with headphones if on quielty or in one ear only, but it’s so frustrating for everyone if they can’t hear at all) and the tail run issue. Gah! Good running, though and well done on your presumably still icy 12 on Sunday.

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