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!

 

 

Parkrun #4 – Inverness

“The weather is usually on our side for the run,” a woman said out loud to no one in particular, as we huddled together under the tree, waiting to be summoned to the starting line. I was at Parkrun in my home city of Inverness for the first time and it was pouring with rain. I was in shorts and a hoody, shivering, wondering if maybe I could just sit in the car while my sister did the run. Of course, she was warming up, running around the pond as if there was no rain, the hardy Scot that she is.

I feel like a lot has happened in my running career since my Dulwich Parkrun post. The falling-down-the-stairs incident that I mentioned in my last post resulted in me learning the word coccyx and being in pain walking and bending, never mind running. As a result, I was frustratingly out of training for about two weeks. Somewhere in that time, the clocks changed and the nights suddenly became longer, meaning that when I was able to run again, I could finally run somewhere after work that wasn’t the streets around my house. Winning!


I’ve been back to the Dulwich Parkrun a few times now, I guess it’s fair to say it is my route of choice. I’ve even found myself taking the bus there midweek to practise. “You do know there are other parks much closer to us, right?”, asked flatmate Sophie, bemused that I had ventured to a park so far that it requires a bus-ride both ways. Yep, I know, but I’m going through a phase at the moment where I only want to run Parkrun routes, partly because I know the route is 5k exactly. Added to that, there’s something satisfying about doing the exact same route and improving your time on it. And then there’s Dulwich Park itself: it’s a lovely place to run! More recently, I’ve ventured to Tooting midweek because it’s marginally easier to get to and they also have a Parkrun route. Tooting’s a funny park though – it’s very bitty and not the most scenic.

Back to Inverness and shielding from the rain. For a few seconds, I wondered if my brain was playing tricks on me. When I looked left, I could see the rain lashing down. When I looked to my right, the sun was reflecting off the pond, from its perch in the blue sky. Welcome to Scotland, where the weather varies depending on the direction you’re looking in. I removed my now drenched hoody and moved out in the direction of the sunshine, ready to start the run.  The Inverness Parkrun is currently taking place in Whin Park, while its regular location, Bught Park, recovers from the weather and human trampling its had over the past few years. Similar to Dulwich, the current Inverness route has you running several laps: two small loops and three large loops. Around the pond, along the mud track beside the river, past the hippos, out one end of the park and straight back in, before repeating the route again. Mentally, this is the kind of route I like: you do one lap, you immediately feel a sense of satisfaction, and you know exactly what you need to do before you can finish.

So how am I doing time-wise these days? It varies. I’d read in the Inverness Parkrun blog that runners never get PBs doing the Inverness route because of the terrain and weather conditions. Though I didn’t stop on my run, my time reflected this idea: 34.06. However, one week previously, I’d run the Dulwich Parkrun in 31.25. That same week I’d run midweek in Dulwich in 32:27, but then in Tooting earlier this week, my time was 34:09. So, what can we take away from this? I am fastest in Dulwich! Ha, you can see why I keep going back. I’d actually walked part of the way on that 31.25 run which suggests I am sometimes still faster walking than running. However, the good news is that I didn’t stop on either of the Tooting or Inverness runs this week which means that mentally, my belief that I can do 5k without stopping is growing. What’s my aim? Sub-30. I don’t think this is going to happen for a while yet but I definitely think it’s attainable. Will blog to let you know.

By the way, the woman was right. The rain stopped, we did the Parkrun in sunshine, and then the rain started again. Always trust the locals!

Parkrun #3 – Dulwich Park, London

Somehow it’s March already and having been travelling and sick the past two Saturdays, I was buzzing for my next Park Run. Keen to find a route that was hill-free (sorry Brockwell, not sure I’ll ever be back) I decided to take the short bus journey east to Dulwich to see if I could find a route that was going to help me live out my March aim: to run a 5k non-stop.

I know it goes without saying, but the more you do Park Run, the greater your chances are of running in favourable weather conditions. In contrast to when I could hardly feel my fingers as I ran through the “snow” at Brockwell last month, yesterday morning was a beautiful, sunny, spring morning in Dulwich – the sort of morning where it’s a joy to be outside and you’re thinking, “I should get up every morning and run a 5k”.

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So how was the route? Perfect. Three laps around the park = 5k exactly; James’ Strava app told him so. Sure, there are a couple of gentle inclines but nothing that prevents you from running the entire 5k at a consistent pace. So did I? Yes! I felt like the first lap went on forever and with two laps to go, I’d already been lapped by a number of runners, striving ahead on their last lap. But this was my race, not theirs, and I focussed on what I’d set out to do. I was so chuffed when I was able to sprint through the tunnel at the end and collect my token: I’d done it!

Unfortunately, my time came through as 37:04, which is 2.5 minutes slower than my Brockwell time. “How is that possible?”, I thought. I’d stopped twice on the Brockwell run because of the hills, yet my time was quicker than on the Dulwich run where I hadn’t stopped at all. “Different course, wind, weather, how congested it is at the start, how your body feels on any given day”, replied my sister, my Park Run guru. I guess the true test is to do the same Park Run route again. Assuming my body recovers from me slipping and falling down the stairs in my flat last night, my plan is to put this to the test next week.

Park Run addict? I might be heading in that direction…

 

Parkrun #2 – Brockwell Park, London

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Deciding to do a Park Run every month was easy when I knew my first run was going to be in the warm climate of summer-in-Melbourne. Maintaining any kind of running routine when I returned to hovering-above-zero London temperatures and what feels like permanent darkness has suggested the next couple of months might be a bit more challenging. I can confirm I am officially not a fan of running in the cold!

Still, Michael Johnson is helping me out and I completed my second Park Run this morning at Brockwell Park, my local Park Run located about 20 minutes walk from my flat in Brixton. And guess what? I got a PB! I couldn’t quite believe it when the results came in: I achieved a time of 34:33. That’s more than 10 minutes off the time of my last run. My friend Susie joined for the adventure – for some reason getting up at 07:45 on a snowy Saturday morning appealed to her – and we both felt incredibly chuffed with ourselves at the end. However, despite the drastic improvement on time, I stopped twice on this run (those Brockwell hills are no fun) so my March aim is a non-stop-run. Let’s do this!

Parkrun #1 – Studley Park, Melbourne

“This is one of the more difficult Park Runs in Melbourne”, a fellow runner explained to me as she went on to describe the hilly, zig-zag trail which would make up my first ever Park Run route. Typical, I thought, trust me to choose a challenging route for my first ever 5K, in 20 degree Melbourne morning heat, no less!

Ok, Cat, we’re confused, you’re not a runner?

You are right, I am not. But I am a huge fan of Park Run. What’s not to love about a community coming together every Saturday morning to run, jog, walk together, simply to encourage healthy living? I’ve been chatting about how much I love this concept since like 2014. It was about time I actually got involved.

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Deciding on a whim just after Christmas that in 2017 I would do a Park Run slam, as well as the tennis slam, I then proceeded to buy some fun sports clothes. You have to look good to feel good, no?! (she says having gone on a morning run without having had a shower/without any make-up on; I am actually a new person). I had heard about the ‘Sofa to 5K’ apps you could get on your phone so downloaded an app, introduced myself to my trainer Michael Johnson (“Does he phone you when you want to go for a run?”, my air bnb host asked me, believing that somehow I have connections to the legends of athletics) and began my nightly runs around the block in south London’s baltic temperatures. Considerably less fun than running around a park in Melbourne, I can confirm!

The ‘Sofa to 5K’ concept is an eight-week programme, designed to gradually build up your stamina and fitness levels to enable you to run a 5K. I had three weeks to complete the programme and needless to say, my fitness levels did not allow me to complete the run without stopping. However, I did run about 3K without a break which I considered to be a personal achievement. Did I mention it started at 8am? It’s weird how time becomes a different concept when you’re on holiday – I’m almost certain I will struggle a lot more with a 9am Park Run start when I return to London.

When you register with Park Run, you get a unique barcode which is scanned after every run to give you your time. My time today, and hence my PB was 45:57. My sister, a legit runner, has a PB of 20:48. So: I know what I want to have achieved come December 2017!

Cheers Park Run Australia, see your British counterpart in Feb!