I signed up way back in 2009 I think, but it took far too long before I ran my first (I so wish I'd done that sooner) - in fact, I was in the US on business and my Mrs got bored and went and signed up and ran one. Well after that I had no excuse.
My first run was Wimbledon Common, my home run, on April 24th 2011. Then, I was up north visiting my Dad. I'd just picked up a new car and fancied a drive. A trip over to Hull seemed like a good idea, so I thought I'd take in Hull parkrun. And lo, my parkrun tourism career was born. I decided a good challenge for 2011was to be on the "most events" board - you need a minimum of 10 different courses to get on the list. Just about crept in by completing Richmond Park on New Year's Eve (including a flat out sprint in the last 50m with a lady I'd been battling for 3km - one of my most memorable races!).
So what next? There's been a lot of discussion lately about parkrunning on New Year's Day, kicked off by Danny Norman and the Marathon Talk team (Tom Williams and Martin Yelling) on The parkrun Show. The challenge was the triple run of Bushy Park starting at 9am, Nonsuch Park starting at 10am, and Riddlesdown Park starting at 11am. The conversation crossed over to Facebook, and became a frequent topic of discussion in my house. 3 park runs; 3 hours. You're on.
I thought a nice addition would be to make it more "spirito di parkrun" by cycling between the stages. Me and Mrs set off for a reconnaissance mission last Tuesday. Cycled to Bushy Park from home, then rode from there to Nonsuch Park (36 minutes) and on to Riddlesdown (another 36 minutes). The traffic was absolutely terrible, and we weren't really going for it - so I reckoned you could tick them both off in 30 minutes on much quieter roads, leaving the other 30 for the 5km run plus shoe change, bike unlock, etc.
The day would really be 5x 30mins effort. Run, cycle, run, cycle, run. The ride to Bushy Park to start, and home form Riddlesdown are not time bound, and so don't count.
Full of Porridge and a bit nervous (today definitely felt like race-day) we set off for a gentle ride to Bushy Park (11.8km, 34 minutes, 270 calories), locked the bikes near the finishing chute to minimise extra walking, and set off for the start.
parkrun #1, Bushy Park, 23:57
An accidental event PB for Bushy Park to kick off the day. We started on the dot of 9am thankfully, and I tried to take a solid stable pace. Set off a little fast and consciously slowed down during the second km to a steady pace. I let myself get overtaken and didn't try to catch anyone's heels - today was not a day for the red mist to descend. I lost the Mrs within the first 50m, a casualty of my overzealous start!
I finished, got bipped, and followed my transition drill. Jumper on, change shoes, helmet on, a quick gel, unlock bike, lock in bag, bag on back, gloves on, set off. Rode quickly, but not flat out, to Nonsuch Park. The route was quiet and fast, uneventful apart from an annoying headwind that kicked in after crossing the A3. I got to the Park at 9:54 and quickly transitioned again, and jogged down to the start. After a race briefing (enough already, let's get started!) we set off at a couple of minutes after 10.
parkrun #2, Nonsuch Park, 25:45
A slower run here - mainly due to the muddiness of the course. I last ran Nonsuch on their first event back in September, it was a lot drier back then. I tried to make good time, but was feeling it in my legs. Maybe the sprint finish at Richmond yesterday hadn't been such a great idea!
I finally finished, had another quick transition, and set off to Riddlesdown. By my watch I was leaving at gone 10:30 - it was going to be a mission. The route to Riddlesdown is hillier than that from Bushy and I could really feel it in my legs. I tried to save something for the end but was very aware of the ticking clock.
When we tried out the route we went to the wrong bit of the park. I revised the right route last night, and so that was the only unknown bit. I hadn't catered for it being 5km longer and having a 14% incline at the end! Eventually I arrived at Riddlesdown Park, it was 11:18...
parkrun #3, Riddlesdown Park, 31:12
I threw my bike down, dumped all my stuff on it, and asked some nice volunteers in a tent where the start was. Riddlesdown Park is the only one of the three I haven't done before. They pointed over a field and said the event was starting late - I may be in with a chance! As I summoned all my strength to run to the start I passed groups of people, all shouted encouragement - and in the distance I could see a stream of runners heading over another field - I'd missed the start! I ran on over anyway, being directed by marshals, ran right through the start gate, and onto the course - I'd made it, I was on my third parkrun. OK, so there was nothing in front of me but an empty field and a tiny marshal in the distance, but I was off! By my reckoning I missed the start by about 5 minutes, so I set about trying to catch the pack.
If I thought Nonsuch was muddy, I'd seen nothing yet - this course was unbelievable! Really challenging under-foot, and good fun though. I caught the tail enders after about 2km, and by the finish had worked my way to 143rd out of 176 runners. I estimate my actual time was about 26 minutes, but given my tardiness at the start I can only claim a 31:12.
Today's parkrun quintathlon took 2:46:31, I covered 46.45km (15km running, the rest cycle transfers), and I burned a monumental 2,403 calories that I will very much enjoy replacing with left-over Christmas foods and a juicy roast pork belly for dinner.
Me and the Mrs took refuge at a nearby pub for a (non-alcoholic) drink, mars bar, chips, and parkrun cake...! We trundled home (19.4km, 50 minutes, 433 calories) in the heaving rain, and got in at just gone 2pm, absolutely soaked to the skin.
So what the hell has all this got to do with Ironman and my goals for 2012?
Running is mentally and physically my weakest discipline of the three. Historically I have been injury-prone, found it hard to progress, and generally not enjoyed it. The parkrun events have helped me to love running, strive to improve, and the freely available in-depth stats appeal to my OCD side (I log absolutely everything!). It's amazingly inclusive, pays no attention to your absolute ability, but encourages you to push your own boundaries challenge your preconceptions. Since I started I've knocked 2 minutes off my 5km PB, now 23:08, and I don't think my Ironman run would be possible without the positivity I get from parkrun.
I'm a parkrun fanboy, and I love it!