Saturday 11 January 2014

Scunthorpe parkrun

I haven’t seen my Dad for a while, so I popped up to Scunthorpe (town known most famously for steel and being a bit rude) after work on Friday – cheap advance train tickets for the win. And seeing as I’m here, what better opportunity to take in Scunthorpe parkrun?

A beautiful parkrunday in the North

Scunthorpe parkrun started last year while I was complaining about being injured (though admittedly, that doesn’t pin it down much).  I was annoyed I couldn’t come and enjoy it at the time, so it’s been up near the top of my to-do list for a while.

Dad drove me up to ThePods (sorry about the terrible page) – a newish leisure complex so called because each unit looks a bit like a futuristic pop-up habitation module. Just add distant mountains, desert, and twin suns.

The Pods - leisure complex (photo from here)

The course is two laps, all on smooth fast paved path with the exception of a 50m trail section through some trees and a short segment on footpath by a road. It’s fairly flat with some gentle ups and downs but nothing I’d count as a hill. A few dead turns mean it won’t be a full PB course, but the top quality surface helps keep the pace up.

Course map shows a podless Scunthorpe (from here)

Dad gave me a lift and got me there nice and early. I decided to warm up for once – a few repetitions of high-knees/bum-kicks/sideways running/spin-ups. It was pretty cold, 3 degrees according to the car, but very clear and bright. Perfect conditions for a run.

There were three pacers announced on the start line – 22, 26, and 30 minutes. Each had a large label on their back. I fancied a bit of effort so planned set off behind the 22-minute pacer and to let him slowly drift away.

We have ignition - Scunthorpe parkrun is GO! (photo by my Dad)

With the fastest countdown ever (10 down to GO! in about 4 seconds) we were off! I felt good having warmed up well, and kept the 22-minute guy in sight. He had a little cluster around him but I wasn’t feeling 22-minute brave. He drifted away over the first couple of km and I found some new people to play with. First a kid who was boinging along like he was on springs. His biggest problem was dealing with weighing so little – every time he pushed off he sprang into the air! If he could use that energy to go forwards he’d whip the lot of us.

I left him behind during the third kilometre and found a new target, an older chap in a blue top who I had been slowly reeling in. I set my sights on him and put a bit of effort in. I eventually caught him with 500m to go and pushed past – I couldn’t make a gap though so he took me back with 250m left. I let him stay ahead by a couple of metres and vowed to take him in a sprint finish. I pushed hard and took him about 1m from the line!

Most glorious sprint finish, the battle for 62nd place has never been so tough (photo by my Dad)

I thought at first I’d run a “comeback PB” (Personal Best time since coming back from injury) – but further examination shows I hadn’t, it was my 4th fastest time. I’m still pleased with 23:38 – it felt good and controlled, and I had plenty left for an effort at the end. Most importantly, I didn’t feel a single twinge from either my left knee or my Achilles tendons – both of which have been a little bit niggly of late.

Unfortunately, adjusted for age group he beat me by a country mile...

All in all a good parkrunday, and made even better with my Dad spectating. In fact, it was a good parkrunday everywhere – the global attendance record was smashed to bits!

Back at my Dad's he made me a MASSIVE high-fat low-carb breakfast - thanks Dad!

Regarding general running of late – it’s coming along well. I’m following a self-made 6-week plan to gradually build up distance, and then towards the end of January I’m starting my 12-week plan from Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas. I’m very motivated right now, I just hope I can move through the plan without injury. Strength and conditioning work is going well, I’m really enjoying working with the Ben, Josh, and Dan at Athletic Edge. Their style is really working for me.

It takes this many tickets to get to Scunthorpe and back (when you cock it up the booking)

I’ve been staying in a flat for the last couple of months while some work is done on my house, so it’s been very hard to get into any kind of routine. We’re moving back in tomorrow (hurray! Finally!) so it’ll be easier to cycle and swim too – I’ve done virtually none of either since October. Increased variation in training should help me stay resilient to injury and accelerate improvements.

Of course, Mrs is putting me to shame by running the 45-mile Country to Capital ultra-marathon today.

My wife (white hat) at the 25-mile point - clearly bonkers

Anyway, I’m very excited about the Rotterdam Marathon, particularly now Mrs has entered too.

Game on!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I welcomed the New Year form an unusual place - the bar of a Toby Carvery in Middlesborough. Why was I in Middlesborough? parkrun, of course (did you really have to ask?).

The Christmas holiday period is always fun in parkrunland. The wonderful Event Directors, ably assisted by their armies of volunteers, not content with giving up their time for free on Saturday mornings for fifty-two weeks per year like to put on extra events for us lucky parkrunners on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

A couple of years ago in the parkrun wild-west there weren't any rules as to how many extra events could be put on, it was up to the individual events to decide. All parkruns start at 9am (in England and Wales at least), but on these special days some events started later. This opened up new opportunities, and the plucky parkrunner could find two events near each other at convenient starting times and run them both.

New Year's Day 2012 was the peak of this opportunity, with a couple of "triples" possible. I ran Bushy Park with a 9am start, Nonsuch Park with a 10am start, and Riddlesdown Park at 11am, franticly cycling between. Riddlesdown was a bit further from Nonsuch than I'd bargained for - thankfully they knew a lot of runners were driving coming over so delayed the start for 15 minutes. Cycling, I was even later - I started at gone 11:20, running with the last of my energy down the start trying to catch sight of the tail runners. For a while the 31:12 was my personal worst time - still not bad considering the clock started five or six minutes before I'd even got there. It was a fantastic New Year's Day, and the experience was more than a little responsible for my now deeply rooted love of parkrun.

Now, with the global phenomenon of parkrun and new runs starting up almost every week it's been necessary to have a few more rules and regulations. This includes when extra events are permitted (now just Christmas Day and New Year's Day at this time of year), and how many events "count" - a maximum of two per day. If you can find a triple to do, the third won't count towards your totals (you can still log it as a "freedom run" though, should you wish to).

My first trip to the North East zone since Darlington South inaugural on 15th Dec 2012

So this is why I was in Middlesborough - to take advantage of a New Year's Day double on two courses I haven't visited before. This is the kind of behaviour that brought "über-tourist" into the parkrun lexicon. There are people more parkrun-bonkers than me, of course, and I had the pleasure of the company of some of the bonkersest (that's a word, OK?) in Middlesborough.

On New Year's Eve Mrs and I met up with Louise (@abradypus and 8th on the UK Most Events table), Vanessa (@neferpuss and 10th), Ian (16th, on 80 events the same as me, but I rank higher as I've attended more inaugural events), and Nicola (@RoundshawOnTour and 32nd) on the train to the North East. Fizzy wine was consumed, as were BabyBel. Two of my favourite things.

We got to the Premier Inn, Middlesborough Central South, about 10pm. Über-tourist Rosemary joined us in the Toby Carvary next door. Convenience was the name of the game, so after a few more drinks and some "3, 2, 1, Happy New Year"-ing it was time for bed.

The delight that is Stewart Park parkrun

Slight headache pushed to one side by Premier Inn fry-up and coffee the temperature of the centre of the Sun and we set off to parkrun #1, Stewart Park. It was pretty damn cold out, but the park was beautiful. I ran round with Mrs in 28:46. A nice even pace as we had a lot further to go today.

A quick mince pie at the finish and a group of five of us set off to jog the 4km to Albert Park. I'm not sure if anyone else ran across, but I didn't see anyone. A few who were making the journey by car gave us friendly pip-pip and a wave.

For Albert Park I decided to see how much I had left, I wanted to get under 25 minutes. I huffed and puffed my way round to come in at 24:28 - I'll take that, thank you very much. A final jog back to the hotel for a shower, and it was off on the 12:50 back to London.

Albert Park, watch out for the icy wind by the Lower Lake!

This 6-week period is about building mileage and being in a good place to kick off a 12-week marathon training plan ahead of Rotterdam in April. It's going pretty well, I think. Happy New Year all round.

Oh, and if you haven't tried parkrun, give it a go - it's great.