I have a history of being fairly spontaneous with my sporting objectives. Where as I'll deliberate for weeks over a new pair of trainers or some socks, I'll sign up for an 8 day 550 mile charity ride in California in the blink of an eye (which is what I did once in 2004, but that's another story).
For a while I've been thinking about an early morning ride to Brighton in time to get to Brighton & Hove parkrun. I thought it would make a nice training ride in the summer - its a route I know well, and the sun rising over the downs would be lovely. I wasn't expecting to do it in January, and I wasn't expecting to go to Eastbourne rather than Brighton, but when I found out a week ago that there was the inaugural Eastbourne parkrun event at the encouragingly named Shinewater Park I simply couldn't resist the opportunity for a good long training ride and short run afterwards. Decision made in an instant. I got a good early(ish) night last night, and woke up this morning just before my alarm. I sprang (poetic licence) out of bed at the wholly unnatural time of 03:57 (there's a 3:57 in the morning as well as the afternoon, who knew?), gathered my carefully prepared cycling kit, and went downstairs for a warming bowl of porridge, banana, sultanas, and squeezy golden syrup (the container is squeezy, not the syrup).
Timestamped 04:12AM - that feels a very long time ago right now!
I was planning to leave at around 04:30 and everything was on time so far.
The route was easy - a couple of local roads and then all the way down the A22. There are more picturesque, challenging, and exciting ways to get to Eastbourne I'm sure - but I was on a schedule, had to run to get to, and wouldn't be able to see the scenery anyway - so A22 it was.
An uneventful ride out of London followed. I realised I was riding past Riddlesdown Park at one point, the third of the New Year's Day parkrun triple events. It was nice to think that in a few hours there would be dozens of people making the same journey to their local parkrun. No Riddlesdown for me today, much further to go this time! When I decided on this ride I realised the lights I use for commuting would not cut it. I have a fairly good Cateye light that's probably 5 or 6 years old now. I have it set to fixed beam and velcro a Blackburn Flea flashing next to it. On the rear I have a standard Cateye 5 LED. No one is going to expect a cyclist on the A22 at 5 in the morning, so I needed to beef up my rear (as it were). Additionally, I assumed that parts of the A22 would be unlit, so unless I lit my own way I would be stumbling around in the dark. My front light was good at getting me seen, but not so useful for seeing by. Conveniently the relentlessly fantastic Wiggle Bike Shop were having one of their mega sales and I found a Moon X-Power 1500 for the bargain price of £120, a whopping 60% off the equally whopping non-sale price of £299.99. A crazy amount to spend on a bike light (though you can spend a LOT more) but just the tool for the job.
Stick it on a tiny tripod and you've got your very own mini War Of The Worlds
The light was amazing, far better than I'd dare hope - so good that the full power setting made me very concerned about blinding oncoming traffic, so I did most of the dark sections on the lower powered setting, and some on the setting below that. I'm very impressed by the unit - the build quality, packaging, and professional feel all serve to make you think you've got a "proper" piece of kit. If I'd have paid £299.99 for it I would have been happy, but at £120 I feel I secured a real bargain.
Doubled up on the rear, and a front you can spot enemy aircraft with (it's MUCH brighter than the picture suggests)
I enjoy time on my own sometimes, I am at ease with my own company, so I get a lot out of long rides on my own, mentally as well as physically. I've never ridden through the night on unlit roads before, so this was at times a very solitary experience - just me and my cone of light forging a path through the darkness. I really enjoyed it though - though I confess wouldn't have complained if it was a few degrees warmer. It was OK in London, but cooled down a good few degrees across the South Downs, and even more so for the last 15 miles.
I arrived at Shinewater Park at 08:20, a little ahead of my estimate.
90.64km in 3:43:54 including a couple of stops for nature and refuelling
I was the first parkrunner there, arriving at the same time as parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt (affectionally known as PSH). Paul founded parkrun a little over 7 years ago, growing it into the organisation it is today through passion, enthusiasm, and sheer hard work and determination. I've seen him at parkrun events two or three times before, and even used him to pace myself at Gunnersbury Park once (I hung on for 2km then he dropped me on the long energy sapping hill), but this is the first time I've officially introduced myself. He also knew who I was as we'd exchanged comments on Facebook before, we shook hands and had a brief chat. I was struck by his humility and unassuming nature. If you had taken an organisation from a dozen runners in Bushy park to now, with well over 16,000 running this weekend across in excess of 100 events in 7 countries (and plenty more in the pipeline) it would be easy to be big headed about it, but there isn't the slightest suggestion of that. This was further highlighted after the run when he introduced himself to a runner, and, commenting on his 100 shirt, said "Have you done many parkruns?", he said he had, nodding and smiling - not a trace of "Yes, I invented it it actually". I have a great deal of respect for that.
Being so early, I got asked to be in a few of the photos - so there's some pictures of me, the organisers and marshals, and PSH, Joanne (Mrs PSH), and their dogs. I felt like I'd gate crashed the photos a bit, but darn it I got up before 4am to be here, I was going to enjoy it! Runners started to assemble, and we milled about expectantly. Someone came up to me and with a "You look like you cycled here, you must be Norm" introduced herself as Abradypus (Louise Ayling), someone whose blog I found late last year and have exchanged some tweets with. She had achieved the mammoth total of 51 different parkruns last year, being out of the country for one Saturday she explained. I'm a bit in awe of that - a level of obsession that even I'd be proud of! She's calmed down on the quest for more courses now - but will remain a long long way ahead of me in the Most Events table for some time yet.
The dizzy heights of 10th place
I'm languishing at 105th
The run was a good one - it's the most disorienting course I've run so far, and feels a bit like you're running in circles at the start, but the variations in terrain and scenery are good and the 5km flew by. I went to the local eatery for a coffee with the parkrunners afterwards. I spent time talking to the chairman of Friends of Shinewater Park who explained some of the history of the park. It has been restored over the last 20 years, having previously been a rubbish dump! They have big plans for it, including capitalising on the diversity of natural habitats, considering a cafe on site (funding permitting). It's also on the site of a Bronze Age fort. I spent some more time talking to PSH, and Abradypus and a gentleman about training and marathon running, a few random people, and the event organisers. I've never made it to a coffee event after a parkrun, I normally have sometig else to do or get to - so this was a nice experience. I'm glad I hadn't booked a train back until 11am. General opinion was that I was a bit bonkers for having cycled down, but I don't mind that. I put in a 5km time of 23:46 and was very pleasantly surprised! My PB is 23:07 so to be within 40 seconds and already having already cycled so far was hugely motivating for me. What's more - within a few moments of finishing I felt absolutely fine again. I seriously considered riding back to London, but decided to stick with the plan and get the train. I have never felt so good after a three and a half hour ride in the freezing cold, never mind a ride that started before 5am and was followed by a very respectable (for me) 5km on/off road run. I'm on the train going back home as I write this, and I still feel absolutely amazing - no achyness, no feeling of processing a lactate buildup (sluggish, tired, weak) - I genuinely feel like I could put out another sub-24 minute 5km right now, or head out for another couple of hours on the bike. Is this what training does? As I've said previously, I've never managed 4 weeks of consistent training before, and whilst I suspect quitting the beers has definitely helped (I've lost at least 2kg since jan 1st), but I can honestly say I have never felt this good after such a session. If this is the result of just 4 weeks, I can only imagine what's to come with a few months under my belt. Consistency is king. I'm so motivated right now - I feel amazing!