These days Parkrun, the worldwide series of weekly, free, timed 5k events, needs little introduction. I’ve read plenty about Parkrun and know a number of people who take part regularly, yet despite my local event beginning in the autumn of 2013, I’d never yet made my debut…until today.
Last winter I felt that Parkrun just didn’t fit with my training schedule so had originally planned on trying it out over the summer, but with my injury problems at that time, any plans to go along went right out the window. When I began running again in late October/early November, my focus was on re-building my fitness, but my attention was again drawn to the event over the festive period, so when Steve (taking a rare Saturday off work) suggested that we try it out today, I was quick to agree.
If you’re unfamiliar with the process, registering for Parkrun is simple. Just fill out a straightforward online form to be issued with your personal barcode. Take this barcode along with you and at the end of the race you are issued with a numbered finishing token. Your barcode and this token are scanned then this information is matched up with the details taken by the timer to give you your result (which is emailed to you later that day and viewable on the event website. You can also sign up to get a text alert with your time). And that’s it. No need to wear a number or timing chip, just turn up to any Parkrun event and run. I laminated my barcode (which is about credit card sized) and stuck it in the back pocket of my running tights, however dedicated Parkrunners may choose to buy a more permanent card or wristband with their barcode details.
I knew that part of the Perth Parkrun course would be on grass, which I have heard referred to as a “mud bath” so I decided I would be best in trail shoes, old running tights and old socks, none of which I minded getting filthy. To be perfectly honest, one of the reasons I hadn’t been along to Parkrun before was doubts about the mud as I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it, but with older kit on I wasn’t too bothered, just so long as I didn’t slip in it and come back looking like a swamp creature!
We arrived at Bell’s Sports Centre in good time to nip to the toilet and chat to a few running friends. There was a “first-timers” race briefing but I was standing too far away and didn’t hear much of it. This didn’t bother me as I knew how the finish worked and had a reasonable idea of the course. I did hear some warnings about being careful on the slippy paths, but since it was so cold (and had been wet over the previous couple of days) I knew that it would be icy anyway so was prepared to take it easy.
Then without any ceremony, I simply heard the word “go!”. I started my Garmin (I was trying out the new one I got in the summer for the first time) and set off.
I quickly realised that the main paths were pretty much nothing but ice and could feel my feet slipping with every step. I actually opted to run on the grass to the side of the path at some points and kept my pace down so I had a bit more control if I was slipping. I would have liked to be running a bit faster, but keeping safe was much more important. The route set off heading north away from Bell’s towards the riverside path, followed the path for a bit then turned left onto the grass for the return (the route is is shaped like a pan and handle). Once on the grass, my footing actually felt much more stable so I was able to speed up and pass a number of people. Despite my reservations, I LOVED splashing through the ice and mud (it definitely makes a difference when you’re not bothered about getting your clothes/shoes dirty!) so was disappointed when I had to slow down again on rejoining the icy path. I was able to safely speed up again for a sprint finish, though, and caught up with the runner in front of me right on the line. Steve was already finished, of course, so I could hear him shouting encouragement to me (or at least I assume it was encouragement, I had music playing in one ear so I can’t be sure!).
The finish was a very narrow funnel, designed to keep runners in finishing order until their barcodes are scanned. I was handed my token (a bit like those loyalty card key-fobs), fished out my barcode and had them scanned by a volunteer. I did manage to stop my Garmin at the line, so next I had to figure out how to save my run – luckily it was straightforward.
I rejoined Steve and chatted to some others for a few minutes whilst checking my Garmin time – 26:58. Despite feeling that I was running under pace, this is the fastest I’ve run 5k in a while, which can be attributed to some of the drills I have been doing. Clearly they are making a difference.
My official time was recorded as 27:06, but we had been told there was a minor issue with the timing and to go by our Garmins. I don’t mind there being a difference and am still happy with my time, which is saved as my Parkrun PB, particularly since I actually came 2nd in my age category! The other stats were: 79th/147 runners, 19th female. I’ll happily take that for my debut and now I have a time to beat!
And yes, I do intend to beat it. We had run today thinking it would be a one-off now that our marathon training is starting (and Steve usually works on a Saturday morning) but since I enjoyed it so much, we have altered my training plan to incorporate Parkrun on a Saturday morning. It will be a couple of weeks before I can go again, but I’m already looking forward to it.
At least my shoes will have plenty of time to dry out…
If you’re considering giving your local Parkrun a go, then I would definitely recommend it. There was a fantastic atmosphere this morning and lots of brilliant volunteers (something I will do at some point) as well as a real mix of abilities. Lots of children were running too so I would say this is definitely an inclusive and friendly event for everyone. Maybe I’ll see you there some time.
Do you take part in Parkrun or have you been a volunteer?
Do you enjoy muddy runs?