Parkrun #15 – Mile End

Just in case I’d forgotten, parkrun was straight on it this week to remind me of my parkrun achievements. It’s like I’d turned 21 and they were wishing me a Happy Birthday. Or simply ‘Catriona, did you know you are 21?’ Fortunately, parkrun does not lie; last weekend I completed my 21st parkrun of 2017, and my 15th different parkrun in total. Only five more (different) parkruns  to go and then I’ll become an official parkrun tourist!

For the big 2-1, I ventured to Mile End in east London, to run with my Utrecht flatmate of 2007/2008, Ailidh. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough off the mark to take advantage of Ailidh’s brief running career (she did a 10k in the summer!) which meant she stayed in her lovely, warm flat whilst I ran around the park literally in front of her abode. Oh to live that close to a parkrun! However, it turned out I have more friends in Mile End than I realised and at the last minute I managed to persuade my work friend Hamid to join the partay. I love introducing people to parkrun.

Though my day in Mile End was lovely, this parkrun route was not my favourite. I think it’s because the park isn’t really that big compared to other parks where I’ve run, which means the options for routes are quite limited and in this case, straight and uneventful. You essentially run a length of the park, then back on yourself, and repeat the route one more time to make up the 5k. Annoyingly, Hamid also managed to beat me by around 10 seconds, despite this being his first ever parkrun. I’m not sure that’s how it’s supposed to work?

That same week, I ventured out to a running club at King’s Cross called Run KXIt’s a free 5k run, led by a really cool guy called Martin Whitelock, and it starts just down the road from my office. In my head, I was going to go to this running club for two weeks in a row, before my parkrun finale at Bushy Park. In reality, I only went once. Why? Though I had a great sense of achievement after my one and only run (so far, at least), I was by far, the slowest person in the pack. There were maybe 15 of us that night, and we did a 6.6k run from Granary Square in King’s Cross, up to Primrose Hill and back again. Martin had to keep coming back to check I was ok. “You know where you are now, right?”, he kept asking me. Never have I felt quite so much the south Londoner. “Nope, still no idea!”. I remember getting to the finish point and everyone else was already halfway through the cool-down. I felt like maybe I’m not running-club material quite yet.

The experience highlighted to me all of the reasons why I am such a big fan of parkrun. The volunteers don’t pack up until every runner has completed the route. Others cheer you on because they themselves have been cheered on. You never come last, because you ran, and that means you’re way ahead of all of the people who didn’t run at all. It’s such a positive environment.

One more parkrun in 2017 to complete catmacbirthdayslam

Bushy Park, bring. it. on!

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Parkrun #14 – Newcastle

As Christmas beckons, keeping up the running momentum is proving to be difficult. It’s not the cold that bothers me – Scottish, innit – but it’s just so dark, so early. At the peak of my 2017 running career, I was running two 4ks a week after work in Brockwell Park, followed by a parkrun 5k at the weekend, in various locations. Now, it’s dark after work, all the parks are closed, or questionably lit, and the only option left for running location is the streets around my house. Sure, it’s doable; it’s just not enjoyable.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself, because I did have one final parkrun in October before British Summer Time ended. Though summer is not the word I’d use to describe that Saturday morning in Newcastle. I was visiting my uni friends Alison and Tom, and their two wee girls Sophia and Hannah. Though neither Tom or Alison are runners, I couldn’t let the opportunity of doing a parkrun in another British city pass me by, and tentatively asked Alison if she’d mind me slipping away for a couple of hours to run a 5k. Thankfully, she didn’t mind, in fact, quite the opposite as the entire Merritt-Smith family descended on Exhibition Park to watch me run.

I’ve had some pretty sunny parkruns in my days; this was not one of them. It might as well have been night time, it was so dark and overcast, and the wind was piercingly cold. As I hopped about at the runners briefing, I thought to myself, this is definitely the last time I’ll be wearing my very-much-designed-for-summer orange shorts in 2017; it was my official welcome to winter running. The Newcastle parkrun is a relatively flat route, which involves running a long loop around the park and then retracing your steps to finish where you started. As there were no laps involved, and this was my first time in Exhibition Park, I had no concept of how much I’d run or how much there was left to run, until I saw the mass of people congregating at the end. I remember the last stretch, running into the wind and literally feeling like I was barely moving. Despite the wind trying its very best to slow me down, I was able to get a time of 30:58. Not bad given the few runs I’d been able to do in the lead-up to the trip.

That night at dinner, Alison asked Sophia what her favourite part of the day had been. ‘Watching her run’, said Sophia, pointing at me. Note, she is three years old. She also asked me why I wasn’t wearing my orange shorts any more. I know, Sophia, if only I could wear my orange shorts all of the time. I’ve done parkrun with a number of friends but I think this was my first time having people watch me run. At one point, I looked up and saw a group of people waving. ‘Aw, that’s nice that those people are waving at their friend’, I thought, before realising that ‘those people’ were my friends, and they were waving at me. As I sprinted to the end, Alison and Sophia were there cheering me on, and Sophia immediately came running over to me, looking generally quite fascinated by me and the fact that I’d just spent the last thirty minutes running round a park. ‘I want to run!’, she exclaimed. I will happily take you running little one, but it might be a wee while longer until you can join the parkrun craze!

Parkrun #13 – Roosevelt Island, Washington D.C.

“So we’re essentially going to D.C. to do a parkrun,” I told my friends, as I explained my planned itinerary for my US Open grand slam adventure. Contrary to what you might expect, the parkrun phenomenon has not yet reached New York City, despite its growth more generally in both the US and Canada. This meant Sister Mac and I had to think more creatively about how to fit in a parkrun stateside. Because obviously we had to fit in a parkrun stateside!

Fortunately, when it comes to parkrun, Anna is even more of a keen bean than I am and unlike most of my parkrun ventures, I had to do zero research. D.C. seemed like like the most logical solution: only a 3.5 hour train journey from New York; the capital of the US so, you know, historically a big deal;  and perhaps most crucially, a part of the US that I’d never been to before. I was on board.

Roosevelt Island parkrun is one of two parkruns in Washington DC. Interestingly, to get there, we had to venture into neighbouring state, Virginia. Note, we did not travel far; DC is just tiny! I’d anticipated that I’d struggle on this run because of the heat but fortunately for me, the majority of the route is in shade. You essentially run along a large section of boardwalk, through a forest, do a small loop, and then return the way you came. I enjoyed the route so much that I actually took out my phone and started filming whilst running – maybe this is why my time was so terrible! 5.2k (classic not-actually 5k distance on Strava) in 33:22.

Compared to parkruns in the UK, the attendance was small at this event, with around 80 participants. A lot of people seemed to be ex-pats on holiday like us, and I was particularly amused to meet a girl (orange t-shirt below) who had done the runners’ briefing at the Burgess Park parkrun in London that I’d attended only a few weeks before. Shout-out to fellow Andy-fan Rachel who also joined us for her first ever parkrun, having arrived in DC for a summer placement only the weekend before. It’s meetings like these which make the world seem very, very small.

That’s it for the international parkruns of 2017! I’ve got three months left of this challenge and I’m currently at 18 parkruns for the year in total – so smug. I have no set plans for October and November yet (suggestions welcome!) but I am planning an en-masse group outing to the original parkrun in Bushy Park on 2 December so if you’ve read this far, and you’re keen, let me know! #loveparkrun

 

Parkrun August

I think August will be my running peak. Not that I know what lies ahead in the remaining months of 2017, but I’ve got a feeling that my life is not going to allow me to participate in parkrun on four consecutive Saturdays again this year. At the time of writing, I have run 12 different parkrun routes around the globe, three of which I ran in the last month. I also volunteered at parkrun for the first time this month (much fun), bought some extravagant new purple running trainers (very bright) and got one of my best times to date on the last run of the month. Sort of. Needless to say, it’s been a month of running!

So, where did August take me?

Parkrun #10 – Cramond, Edinburgh
At the beginning of the month, I returned to the Scottish capital/best city of all time for a long weekend. As my fondest readers should know by now, I’m a big fan of doing a parkrun on holiday, and this seemed like a good opportunity to up my Scottish parkrun repertoire. Unfortunately, neither of the parkrun routes in Edinburgh are in the city centre, essentially because they don’t make Edinburgh City Council any money. This means that the existing routes have been set up in locations on the outskirts of the city, which are just a little bit more tricky to get to if you are a city-centre resident. The parkrun route at Cramond beach is also controversially but understandably along the beachfront so parks are very much not involved. But who doesn’t want to run beside the seaside?

Despite its dreamy location beside the water, my sister had pre-advertised the Cramond route as being boring. Admittedly, the route is quite straight-forward: you run east along the beach front, and then run back on yourself to finish. However, the route met my essential criteria – flat – and due to the nature of the route, it was possible to get into a steady rhythm when running. Time? 31:52.

Highlight of the route? Kilometre markers along the route that indicated which kilometre you had reached on your run. I guess that’s the benefit of a non-lap route. Shout-out to my great Brussels pal Carole Teale for joining me on the run and crucially, driving us to Cramond!

Parkrun #11 – Burgess Park, London
Living in London, you’re never without choices and when it comes to parkrun in south London, I’m not even sure I’m going to get through them all this year; there are so many options. On the final weekend of the World Athletics Championships, I met up with old flatmate Bex and her husband Dan at Burgess Park in Camberwell for their local parkrun. “Ok, see you in half an hour!”, I called out to Bex as her and Dan sprinted out from the starting line. Parkrun itself is not the most sociable; especially when essentially all of your friends are faster than you! (not that I’d be talking to you even if we were running at the same speed).

The Burgess Park is another almost-entirely flat route. No laps on this route either, but slightly more interesting than running in a straight line at Cramond. The highlight of the route for me was running around the lake; the lowlight was that last home straight of over 1k – it went on forever! I always sprint at the end of my parkruns and I was frustrated on this route that I didn’t know exactly where the route would end and so left it too late to do a long sprint. The same thing happened at Cramond except this time, I thought I knew where the finish point was and so sprinted, but then realised I still had some distance to run so had to slow right back down again to finish! Anyway, you live and learn, but these non-lap routes can be tricky. Time? 31:12.


Parkrun Volunteering – Tooting, London
Knowing that I was going to run parkrun with my friend Robyn on the last weekend of the month, and having already achieved and surpassed the ‘one-different-parkrun-a-month’ goal for August, I decided the third weekend of August was the perfect opportunity for me to volunteer. Often I find that I’m free to do parkrun so infrequently that when I am available, I just want to run. August was the exception.

Getting involved was straight forward. I looked up the volunteering roster for the upcoming week on the Tooting parkrun website, saw the roles which still needed filling, e-mailed the Tooting parkrun e-mail address and asked if I could get involved. I received a response, thanking me for volunteering within half an hour. On the day, I had to be there by 08:40 to receive instructions and meet the other volunteers. My role was barcode scanning so myself and two others bopped about chatting for 20 minutes or so, before the fastest runners came in and the scanning began. It was so nice to chat to fellow parkrun fans! Usually when I go to parkrun, I do the race, chat to whoever I’ve come with, and then leave. Volunteering made it more than a run for myself; I felt like I was part of something bigger. It was also really nice to be thanked by runners as I scanned their barcodes – there’s a really great sense of appreciation which has made me, in turn, appreciate the volunteers at parkrun even more. It’s not difficult to say thank you!

Parkrun #12 – Southwark, London
Speaking of volunteers, I probably met my favourite volunteer at Southwark parkrun this past weekend in the shape of a 10-year old boy who was giving out hi-fives to all runners after every lap. I liked him so much, I commissioned him to take the photo below!

My parkrun collective of friends is always growing and I was delighted when Robyn moved to Streatham, down the road from me, and seemed to almost instantly become a parkrun convert. This was partially due to the influence of her flatmate, Joe, who, as his t-shirt suggests below, is even more of a parkrun fan than me. We’d planned in our parkrun date weeks in advance, but it seems to be becoming a built-in part of Robyn’s life schedule nowadays – that’s what happens with parkrun, you can’t get enough of it!

Though Southwark is another flat route (of course), and is another three-lapper (it’s like I seek them out), we all finished the run exclaiming how much we had enjoyed the route. It’s a bit like Dulwich in that it’s just a really lovely park to run around. It’s very leafy, there are shaded parts, the volunteers were very smiley – we loved it! Time? Well, here’s the thing. As always, I recorded my run on Strava and when I finished, it said I’d run 5.3k. Huh? My time came through as 30:34, so it’s still my best run of late, since that 4.8k run at Peckham Rye, but why did my Strava say 5.3k?!? All I’m asking for in life is to get sub-30 and for all Strava/running devices to say 5k. It shouldn’t be this hard!

So that was August. Next parkrun stop is Washington DC in two weeks, and me attempting to keep the momentum up in the north American heat. Bring it on!

Parkrun #8 and #9 – Peckham Rye and Finsbury Park, London

July, much like August, but let’s stick with July for now, was another smug month of running. I book-ended the month with parkruns in opposite ends of London; temporarily found myself getting up to run at 6.30am, pre-work, in order to allow myself uninterrupted post-work Wimbledon watching (this, of course, has now ended); and, after several weeks of running regularly, achieved the sub-30 PB time I’d been working towards – but then forgot to take a photo. Fail.

Fortunately, I’ve become that person who records every run they do on Strava. If it’s not on Strava, it definitely didn’t happen.

Now Strava told me 5km. It also told me 29:22. If it had just been me running that day, I would have taken great satisfaction in this PB. However, that day in Peckham Rye – a delightful, varied, relatively flat 3-laps of a route featuring Japanese garden – I was running with uni friends Gribben and Crowther and Crowther’s girlfriend Eleanor. As we walked towards brunch, sweaty but satisfied after the run, we were browsing through our respective Strava stats like the trendy, runners-in-their-early-30s that we are. Gribben then made the shocking announcement that his Fitbit equivalent, renowned for being the more accurate device, had actually only recorded a 4.8km distance. Every Parkrun route is supposed to be 5km. Whether or not Gribben’s stats meant that I’d run the same distance as him, my new PB was now tainted. Sure, I still bragged about it on Instagram, my pace was certainly a PB, but this wasn’t the PB that, for me, meant that I’d achieved my goal. Now, I’d have to do it again.

The problem is, life gets in the way. Especially in Wimbledon season. Following this Peckham “PB” I then didn’t run for the next three weeks, for one reason or the other, and it was only because I’d made a social running date with Dani to do the parkrun at Finsbury Park, that I forced myself to start running again. I mean, sure, I’d have started running again in August, but this was late July, I’d already done a parkrun in July (just), and I was about to go on holiday to Scotland. Did I really need to do another parkrun?

I almost didn’t make it. The morning of, I arrived at Brixton station, thinking I’d just zip up on the Victoria line to Finsbury Park. However, that weekend, to my horror, work was being done on the Victoria line between Brixton and Victoria, and Brixton underground station was closed. After a few text exchanges with Dani – “I don’t think I’m going to make it”/”We can just go for brunch instead” – I remembered there was an overground train that went from Brixton to Victoria, and embarked on a faff of a journey that I would end up doing more times than I’d care to remember that day. The good news is, as you may have already guessed, I made it. Not without a frantic panic run from Finsbury Park station though!

The Finsbury Park parkrun route is two laps, roughly around the circumference of the park. There are two very contrasting inclines – one that lasts for at least 1km but is very gradual, and another which is very short but very steep. As I approached the steep gradient for the second time, one of the volunteers, a lovely grey-haired woman, called out “That’s a great, steady speed you’re doing there, keep it going up the hill!”. I remember being very short of breath, wondering how much longer I could keep going for and the words of that volunteer motivating me to grit my teeth and carry on, as slow as it may require. And once again, thanks to that extra push at the end, I completed another 5km without stopping. Sure, my final time was 33:46 – a far cry from my Peckham “PB” – but it’s still 5km without a break; my fitness levels must be doing alright!

Parkrun #7 – Parc Montsouris, Paris

Back in January, I’d never run a 5k and I’d never done a parkrun. I chose to do both for the first time whilst on holiday in Melbourne, Australia. I mean, you have to start your professional running career in style, no? 6 months later, I found myself with the chance to embark on another international landmark: parkrun number 10, à Paris!

I’d discovered there were two parkruns in Paris: one in Bois de Boulogne, which is located beside my friends at Roland-Garros in the west of Paris, and one in the picturesque Parc Montsouris, in the south of the city. I half-heartedly asked around about which park route was flatter but in the end, I settled purely on someone saying Montsouris was ‘one of their favourite parks in Paris’. I mean, if it’s beautiful, then I can deal with any hills there might be, right?

So Montsouris is deceivingly all about the hills. The parkrun route is three laps of the perimeter of the park, 50% of which is running up a hill. Oh lovely, just what I like on a 25-degree heat morning! I’m not going to lie, I definitely stopped on this route. Who wants to run uphill? However, just as 50% was uphill, there was a glorious 50%-per-lap of downhill running. And I am aaaaall about downhill running. No effort whatsoever! This wasn’t my fastest time – 32:07 – but not bad considering the heat, the hills, and me being full of the cold!

This was the smallest parkrun route I’d been to yet, with only 28 runners participating, a reflection, perhaps, of how new parkrun is to France: the first route was only set up in 2015. The majority of people there seemed to be ex-pats of sorts, either on holiday like me, or inhabitants in the city, who knew about parkrun from their home country initially and had then sought it out whilst abroad. There were loads of people running in the park though so it’s not a lack of fitness that’s preventing the locals from getting involved. Maybe it just takes a while for the word to get out? I do wonder though if the language plays a role in any way. Parkrun is not a difficult string-of-words, but it is still English. Parc courir, anyone?

Regardless of the numbers, it’s very cool to travel to other countries and see the concept of parkrun working in exactly the same format as it does in your local park down the road. Admittedly, it is a pretty simple concept so it’s easy to see why it’s replicated so well across the globe. My next and final international parkrun of the year is hopefully going to be in Washington DC. No, you’re right, there isn’t a grand slam there! Unfortunately, there isn’t a parkrun in New York, would you believe, so sister Mac and I are going purposely out of our way to live the international parkrun dream. Come on NYC, get involved!

Parkrun #5 and #6 – Wimbledon and Tooting, London

It’s been a while, blog. And that’s why I’m going to make it up to you by documenting not one, but two parkruns in this post. What a treat!

 

 

The challenge I set myself at the beginning of the year was to run at least one different parkrun every month. April saw me return home to Inverness for a weekend, where it would be rude not to do my first Scottish parkrun. This was followed by my birthday weekend back in London. As part of my celebrations, I had invited my friends (of the running variety) to join me for a tennis-themed (location only) parkrun in Wimbledon. In the end, April was the month where I’ve seen the most improvement as a result of me doing the Dulwich, Inverness and Wimbledon parkruns on consecutive weekends. It’s no wonder I got my fastest time yet in Wimbledon – 31:05, baby! And yes, if you’re counting, the two new parkruns in April meant I was going above and beyond my challenge. Oh, how smug I was in April.

 

 

Unfortunately, May has been less fruitful. Two weeks travelling for work, and a week overcoming a virus, has meant that any fitness gains I made in April were lost in May. However, I knew that in order to keep up with my challenge, I had to do a run today as it’s the last Saturday in May. The good thing about parkrun is that you can always walk if running gets the better of you. I don’t like to stop but if it’s a choice between finishing the parkrun, and not finishing it, I’ll happily surrender! I really struggle to run in the heat, and with it being around 22 degrees at 9am this morning, I knew it was inevitable that I’d have to stop. In the end, my time was 35:00. It’s not terrible but it’s also nowhere near my best. Still, as long as I stay healthy and train during the week, I should be able to improve on that next weekend. And that’s what it’s all about for me: challenging myself to improve.

 

 

So what are the routes like? Both flat, obviously. Otherwise I wouldn’t be running them. One of the main criticisms I’ve heard of parkrun routes concerns sections of the routes being narrow trails, meaning that if there are many runners, it can be hard to run at your desired speed. This is a challenge of both the Wimbledon and Tooting parkrun routes. However, it only tends to affect the beginning of the race when everyone is bunched together. As people establish pace at their own speeds, the route becomes less busy. What particularly struck me at Tooting parkrun, and to an extent at Wimbledon, was that the volunteers who were rallying the runners to keep going, were located in different locations around the course. I think this is so important because it makes a huge difference to your motivation levels if there is someone telling you to keep going, you’re doing really well, throughout your run. What really motivated me at Wimbledon as well was that on the second and final lap, towards the finish point of the race, there was someone calling out the time. I heard 30 minutes and knew if I sprinted to the end, I would be able to get a PB. And that’s exactly what I did. Thanks a million, Wimbledon!

So, what’s next? I’m so glad you asked. In case you’re not quite up to speed on your tennis calendar, Roland Garros starts on Monday and I’m eurostarring across to Paris at the end of the second week to watch the semi-finals. Conveniently, France has caught on to the parkrun craze, so hopefully I can be back at my best in two weeks time for my second international parkrun of the year. Bring it on!