40 parkruns!

Yesterday I ran my 40th parkrun. I ran my very first parkrun in January 2011, so it’s taken me nearly four years to get this far and I’m clearly going to be into my fifth year of parkrunning before I earn my 50-club T-shirt. That’s okay; I’ve also volunteered 192 times, according to the system (actually more, as I volunteered several times before anyone mentioned that this activity could be noted on the old Volunteer Management System) and I’ll easily reach 200 volunteering weeks before 50 runs.

The last three months I’ve run at Lloyd seven times, which is more frequently than I’ve ever managed before. That’s due to more people stepping forward to volunteer, which is great to see. I’m also grateful to Jenny Booth (my right-hand woman at Lloyd parkrun) for sometimes taking my place as Run Director on a day when we have extra last-minute volunteers, so that I can run.

Recovering from the injury (posterior tibial tendon tear in a cycling accident) which stopped me running for six months over the winter has given me additional appreciation for the chance to run the 5K of the parkrun. It has also reminded me what it’s like when five kilometers is a long way to run. Given that I ran my first half marathon in 2009 and my first ultramarathon in 2012, it’s easy to forget this and good to be reminded just how amazing it is for beginners to complete a parkrun.

parkrunning this often also has helped me to the realisation that I honestly like volunteering at parkrun as much as I like running in it.

I love the chance to push myself in the run, trying to creep back up towards something like my pre-injury speed (I’ve managed to pass 65% age graded three times recently, but I’m still a long way from my previous best of 70.24%).

Equally, I love watching and encouraging everyone during the run, seeing all the different running styles, the individual efforts and personal triumphs which are much more visible when you volunteer.

The cameraderie is great in both roles, but again there’s a difference in the feel between running, passing and being passed by other runners, calling out encouragement on the hill and perhaps being pushed on by someone on your shoulder – who in turn may be using you to “pull” them along as they try to catch you – and the chatting and banter between the finish line crew during the run, with the chances to briefly congratulate each runner on the finish line or as you scan their barcode, or to encourage every runner as they pass while you’re marshalling. I really enjoy both experiences.

And a final note: the first time I ran a parkrun I was one of 7,511 runners at 51 events in the UK, with 7,643 runners at 55 events globally. when I ran this Saturday I was one of nearly 49,000 runners at 300 events across the uK and globally, parkrun is exceeding 500 events weekly with 75,000-80,000 or more runners. Being part of that is amazing!

Coulsdon Run

My running club, Striders of Croydon, puts on a series of marathon training runs from November through to the big spring marathons, gradually increasing in distance. Today was the run back from Coulsdon, having taken the train there. I remember being absolutely gutted to have to miss this run last year due to my tendon injury, so I was really looking forward to it this year.

This run is a huge contrast to the Beckenham run – the first of the series of runs, a fortnight ago. After a short road section we cross onto Farthing Downs and head southwards before veering around and heading northeast back towards Croydon, basically following the London Loop.

There are a few bits of road along the way’, but most of the time we were off road: Croydon really is greener than you think! We went through the site of Riddlesdown parkrun along the way and returned to familiar territory near Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve, taking one of the usual Sunday run routes in reverse from there back to the Lloyd Park and the clubhouse.

In addition to the much higher proportion of off-road running, this route is much better supplied with hills than the Beckenham run. The first hill comes just as you hit Farthing Downs (somehow I’d forgotten about that) and there’s a big and steep hill up by the quarry after about five miles. There’s a very steep scramble version to get up there, but half of our middle-pace group went for a longer but more runnable route.

The hills reminded me again that I really need to start some proper hill training. This is something I’ve been noticing on the occasions I’ve run Lloyd parkrun recently (including yesterday – thank you, all the volunteers) and during cross-country races. Additionally, the last two weeks I’ve moved up from the third to the second speed group on the Striders’ Wednesday evening runs and although generally keeping up pretty well (even if at or near the back of the group most of the time) I’ve definitely been trailing on the hills. It’s definitely time to get the glutes fired up and do some hill repeats.

I felt quite tired from about nine miles in, so I extended the run only back from the club house to home, giving 15 miles in total. Last week I ran 19.5 miles, two more than the previous week, and those were my longest runs since the accident last September, so a drop-down was probably a good idea. I’m not getting any pain in the inside of my left ankle during or after these runs, which is fantastic. In fact, I realised after yesterday’s parkrun that I’d just done the whole run, including slipping and sliding in downhill mud, without thinking about the ankle at all – amazing!

We were very lucky with the weather – cool but dry throughout the run, if a bit damp underfoot. I remembered to rinse the mud off my shoes (Trailroc 235s today) as soon as I got back and they’re presently on their second stuffing of newspaper.

Many thanks to Paul for leading our group today – and well done Robin for catching up with us after the runners he was leading decided to drop back to the slower group.

Good weekend

It’s been a good weekend.

On Saturday it was Lloyd parkrun’s 4th Anniversary party. All went well and everyone appeared to be having a good time. The regular Lloyd parkrunners had clubbed together to get gifts for those of us on the core team, together with a huge card which many of them had signed. They are all amazing and the messages in the card were heartwarming. It’s a real honour to be the Event Director and I get out much more than I put in. Watching people’s development is extremely rewarding.

As usual I wore a witch’s costume. However this year I had to RUN wearing it and I’ll admit I ditched the long skirt in favour of full-length black running tights. The academic gown was rather heavy and warm to run in, particularly in the unseasonably mild weather, and the pointed hat wouldn’t stay on unless I held it, but it was great fun! However warm I was I realised that Colin, wearing a gorilla suit (with his running club vest over the top!), had to be much hotter.

Sunday was the first of my running club’s marathon training runs. Striders of Croydon puts on a series of these every year from November to the big spring marathons (London, Paris, Brighton etc.). This one was supposed to be about 10.6 miles, heading into Beckenham and back, via South Norwood Country Park, Cator Park and Kelsey Park. I ran to and from the club; including looping this made it into about a 17.5 mile run. It’s traditional in our club that periodically those at the front of each group loop back behind those at the back, so nobody gets left behind and no runner is at the back all the time.

It was a good run with pleasant company, although I did miss the woodland trail sections of Striders’ usual Sunday runs. Heading into Beckenham meant that it was rather flatter than most club runs. Thankfully the rain mostly held off until near the end and when drizzle strengthened into proper rain I was only a mile or so from home, so I arrived back soaking wet but not chilled.

I’d also decided it was time to start getting used to wearing a running backpack again so I took my Salomon pack with about 700 mL water in the bladder plus my windproof running trousers and jacket, my waterproof running jacket and the usual odds and ends I always carry when on long runs (emergency food, sticking plasters, a little tin of Vaseline, tissues, mobile phone etc.).

I didn’t actually drink any water until we got back to the club, and then only a few mouthfuls, and I didn’t eat at all. Retraining up the distances has been hard work and I’m still nowhere near back to my previous speed, but it’s nice to discover that at least some of the adaptations for long distance running have stayed with me. When I first started running distances further than half marathon, three years ago, there’s no way I’d have managed a seventeen-mile run without eating a handful of jelly beans or a few pieces of Kendal mint cake, and without drinking more than a few sips of water.

I considered running six miles or so today to start back towards back-to-back long runs but decided not to push things. My legs feel okay today so I’ll try for a run with a bit of speed work tomorrow.

Progress!

I finally feel like I’m making some real progress in my running.

During September, we had lots of volunteers and I ran at Lloyd parkrun three times. I’m pretty sure I’ve never managed so many parkruns in one month before. The last one I finally made a small improvement in my run time. The first Saturday in October I went down to Bushy Park for the Bushy parkrun Tenth Anniversary, which was amazing. I wasn’t pushing to run fast, and slowed down several times to take photos, but I still dipped under 24 minutes on the flat course, making me 502nd finisher – out of 1,705!

All 13 of the people who ran in the very first Bushy Park Time Trial were there, as were the first volunteers. Paul Sinton-Hewitt started the run and turned out to be one of the volunteers barcode scanning – by chance I was in his queue. A little way behind me in the same queue were two Cardiff parkrunners whom I last saw when I ran Warszawa-Praga parkrun! It was a fantastic morning and felt really privileged to be there and taking part in it.

Last Saturday I took part in the Surrey Cross-Country League and helped Striders of Croydon to fifth place out of 29 teams in the B division. I didn’t feel that my running was great, and I had to slow down for a while due to gut cramps, but my ankle didn’t hurt during the race, even on the uneven ground. We were supposed to complete a short loop and then a long loop but a marshalling error meant we were sent off on the long loop first.

On Sunday I extended the 90-minute club run with some extra running in Lloyd Park, ending up with 14 or 14.5 miles under my belt (I’m not sure of the exact distance because I accidentally stopped my Garmin for one part of the run). It was particularly pleasing to find that, for the first time since the accident, I could enjoy the long downhill sections without getting ankle/foot pain. I also felt like I was running a lot more freely. Based on the pattern of the pain I had been getting and it becoming suddenly sharper then disappearing, I think it likely that a bit of adhesion/scar tissue has broken down. I will be extremely pleased if I can keep improving.

We’ve got lots of volunteers lined up for this Saturday (not surprising with the Croydon 10K on Sunday), so hopefully I’m going to run, which should take me to 37 parkruns (of course, I’ve also volunteered on 185 occasions).

Stepping Stones

The last few months my progress has felt very much “two steps forward, one step back.” I’d progressed to running the full hour with my running club, Striders of Croydon, on Wednesday evenings and was wanting to reach 90 minutes on the club’s Sunday run. I started by adding 10-15 minutes onto the hour run on the Sunday and possibly did too much, with the ankle twinging at the end of the run. Gave it a couple of weeks of gentle running and was just about to start increasing the distance again when, walking around the house on the Friday morning, I caught my left big toe in my right trouser cuff and pulled it sideways, hard.

The next day I had lots of volunteers and the chance to run my parkrun for a change, so I did. By Saturday afternoon the strained toe was informing me that had been a really bad idea; as for running 90 minutes the next day – forget it! A couple of weeks of rest and I started back gently again…

Apart from the stuttering progress in increasing my running distance, I’ve really been struggling on the hills the last few months and haven’t been improving at all at parkrun, seeming to be stuck at 24.57 to 24.59 (more than 2.5 minutes behind my pre-accident PB). The last week in August I was in Edinburgh for a conference and was based very close to Arthur’s Seat so I took the opportunity to go running up the hill every other morning. There’s something about having a specific goal in mind which can really improve motivation. The first morning I went up the “front” of the hill and had to walk a lot of the last third, going up stone steps and the final rocky scramble, before stopping on the top to enjoy the view for a few minutes, scrambling back down off the craggy top then running down the wide grassy slope on the far side of the hill and back down the road. The second morning I trotted round and up the road and then, heart pounding, ran to the top of the grassy section without stopping, before the final rocky section to the summit and my reward: clear long-distance views in all directions. The third morning I extended the run, turning left rather than right when I came back down the grassy slope and running the rest of the way round the hill to return to my starting point. By this time my quads and glutes, which had really been complaining after the first outing, were beginning to settle down and I’ve certainly felt that the hills have been a bit easier since I returned home.

While I was in Scotland on the Saturday I enjoyed running Tollcross parkrun with one of my nieces. It’s  definitely an undulating course, with three uphill sections on each lap. I wasn’t pushing and was content to come in just under the 25 minutes again. At least I’m being consistent!

Last week I finally ran the 90-minute Sunday club run – the fist time I’ve managed that since the accident and it felt really, really good. This Sunday I was able to do the 90-minutes run again, so I’m finally making some progress on the distance.

Additionally, I took part in a cross-country relay race for the club on Saturday afternoon and the ankle held out for that as well. As for improving my parkrun time? I’ll just have to wait and see.

Not quite the marathon…

On Sunday I participated in the Vitality British 10km London Run, having been lucky enough to be offered a free place by SOS Children’s Villages.

I hadn’t been in a mass participation race since the 2011 Royal Parks Half-Marathon and I’d forgotten what it was like – the crowds of runners looking to drop their bags, the queues for the toilets (not too bad, actually). Surrounded by thousands of runners walking down The Mall, St James’s Street and finally Piccadilly, what struck me was this: every Saturday, about THREE TIMES this number of people participate in a parkrun in the UK. It’s just that, spread over the 250+ venues, the crowds are not nearly so obvious.

The start was anticlimactic. We stood, shuffled forwards a bit, then stood again. The start gantry was just about visible way down the road. Then there was a roar from the crowd and runners became visible approaching us on the other side of the street. The leaders flashed past, followed by a motley crew of runners at varying speeds. Meanwhile the part of the crowd containing me shuffled and stopped and shuffled. About 20 minutes later we crossed a bridge, walked, jogged and finally ran through the start.

Standing in the crowd, it had appeared that I was near the back, but now as we ran back up Piccadilly it was evident that thousands were still waiting to start.

I was there to run, not to race; no PB chasing. I settled into a steady run – or at least as steady as possible in the circumstances, constantly picking and weaving my way between slower runners. Up Piccadilly, St James’s Street, Pall Mall… along Victoria Embankment to upper Thames street and some odd bits in tunnels under the road and looping around, then back down the Embankment to and half way over Westminster Bridge.

I exchanged a few high-fives while crossing back over Westminster Bridge, although many people sadly ignored my outstretched hand. A final stretch down and back up Victoria Street, round Parliament Square and half way up Whitehall to the finish.

We were very fortunate with the weather. Rain was forecast for the Sunday morning, but the first light shower didn’t arrive until about 9.20 am and the temperature was warm enough that it did no harm – very different from the inaugural Greater Manchester Marathon in 2012 (four degrees centigrade before wind chill, gale force winds, heavy rain, and hail). A few other showers developed during the race, which were pleasantly cooling.

The water stations were well marked and it was warm enough that I accepted a bottle at the 3K mark, drinking a couple of mouthfuls but pouring most of it over my head and down my back – not enough cooling showers!

My ankle was fine for about four miles then twinged a bit so I slowed down until it quit twinging, gave it a few minutes then speeded up again.

Queues to get back into the baggage area appeared massive and unmoving, until I discovered that the bulk was a queue for the “Help for Heroes” tents and the rest of us could squeeze past that bottleneck. Bag, medal and a pair of bright red, white and blue shoelaces in one hand, water bottle in the other and I headed off to get the train back home.

Not exactly a proper substitute for my cancelled run in the London Marathon, but at least I’ve done ONE race this summer!

parkruns and progress

Yesterday I ran 4.5 miles in 40 minutes. A whole 4.5 miles! I only need to multiply that by eleven times or so to return to 50-milers…

Both the slow pace across the ground and the slow pace of progress in increasing mileage are frustrating, but I’m being sensible (amazingly sensible for a runner). I keep reminding myself that after six months of no running I have to expect to be slow, and that to give my injured tendon the best chance of adapting back to full use, as well as to avoid overstressing foot muscles which have done very little work while I was wearing the ankle brace, I must not increase the distance too rapidly.

However, there’s great progress in that I can honestly say that the foot didn’t ache during or after the run and is not aching today either, which is fantastic. I’ll be sticking to three runs a week for a while longer but hopefully I’ll soon be able to run with my running club again.

This last month has also seen a running first for me: I ran a parkrun on an amazing four consecutive Saturdays – unheard of for me and taking me to a grand total of 25 parkruns spread over more than three years – although I have volunteered on more than 160 occasions over the same period. The first two were at Lloyd parkrun, my home event; both weeks we had lots of volunteers so, as Volunteer Coordinator, I took myself off the volunteer roster and pulled on my running shoes. It was hard work and very good really for me to be reminded that when you’re just starting running, three miles is a LONG WAY – a perspective that it is too easy to forget when you’re running ultras. I also got fantastic encouragement from the other runners.

The next week I was away at a conference and skipped the first few papers on the Saturday morning because Eastleigh parkrun was just a few miles away and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I enjoyed running the course and chatting to people before and after (and eating cake – Eastleigh parkrun is famous for dressing up (they were wearing tutus for International Dance Day) and for trying to maintain “calorie neutral” status by eating cake after the run). I did have one heart-stopping moment when I miss-stepped and slightly turned my left ankle on the downhill section on the second lap, but it didn’t hurt and I was even able to go for a sprint finish.

The following Saturday we had cancelled Lloyd parkrun to make it easier for the European Disc Golf Championships being held in the park. We have a variety of parkruns in the local area so I suggested to our runners that we split up into “Lloyd parkrun on Tour” in a variety of locations; I took the opportunity to run at Banstead Woods. The bluebells I am told were past their best, but were still carpeting the ground quite brightly. I finished in 25.00, which was pleasing.

It’s still early days but I’m now feeling more hopeful that I’ll be back to long trail runs later in the year – if not quite ultras.