Monday, 15 September 2014

Swindon parkrun

This weekend I went to visit my friend Rose in her new home in a village on the outskirts of Swindon. While we were there, my husband  and I decided it would be a nice idea to do the Swindon parkrun. We set off to the venue at Lydiard Park without much of an idea what it would be like and with an added wildcard in the form of our two children aged 6 and 4 years who we hoped we might encourage to run at least part of the way.

I should probably mention that due to a packing oversight, our plans were nearly scuppered. I had failed to put my shorts in the overnight bag. I don't know if gratitude or embarrassment dominated  my emotions when my friend's lovely husband let me borrow a pair of his and they fit perfectly!

The park was beautiful and it was obvious that the parkrun itself was much bigger than we were used to. Over four hundred runners congregated at the start.

The route consisted of two laps and the plan was that my husband would race off as fast as he could leaving me to cajole the children into taking part with whatever bribes I had at my disposal. We would cover as much ground as possible and when my husband finished in as close to 25minutes as he could manage, he would come back for the kids whilst I ran for all I was worth in the hope of at least finishing somewhere around the 40 minute mark. We had looked at  previous results for this parkrun and it seemed that there were a number of participants who took a similar amount of time to complete it. I would not be alone.

The children were very keen to run at first but waiting around for the race to start got them a bit agitated. Then when daddy took his place in the crowd with the other 25 minute pace runners leaving us at the back, they were grumpy and agitated. No amount of encouragement or persuasion could get them back on side.

Reluctantly they came with me as the crowd edged forwards to cross the start line. It was wonderful watching all those people with a common purpose running off into the distant, giving their best. I longed to be amongst them but I was being held firmly back by two little monsters dragging their feet and continuing to moan that they wanted daddy.

I had to accept that they were not going to be obliging. They were not going to run and that was that. I settled for a slow walk. They would happily run off the path to explore but I could not get them to channel that energy into a faster walk in the direction I wanted them to go.

I did consider giving up and turning back and waiting for my husband to finish his race in one of the play areas but we'd started, so we plodded onwards. There was always the slim chance that they'd decide it might be fun to run.

Far from a having a change of heart that incorporated more speed, my little boy dug his heels in, started to cry and said I'm not growed up enuff  for runnin'. At this point, I picked the poor little soul up and carried him on my back. My daughter had the occasional burst of speed in between moaning and my son whooped with delight and waved his little legs around as I struggled to run with him on my back to keep up with her. I was beginning to wish that the borrowed shorts had not fitted and I'd had to back out.

The marshals were lovely. I think they must have felt my pain and were very encouraging.

Before long, we were being lapped by the elite athletes chasing their sub 20 minute finish times. The paths were very narrrow so I now had the added difficulty of trying to keep my daughter tucked into the lefthand side whilst the herds of lean, determined runners thundered past us. It was inspiring to see them racing by but nerve wracking too. I feared that my daughter might stray from her position of safety into the path of one of these unstoppables. The momentum of even a glancing collision would have been enough to send her flying in a tangle of long blonde hair and longer skinny legs. Thankfully, this did not happen and the pace of the runners lapping us was becoming noticeably more sedate as time went by.

I don't know how much distance we had covered when my husband on his second lap caught up with us on our first (he suggested about 2 kilometres). I urged him to continue to the finish but he could see how much I was struggling under the weight of our son and he admitted to having a twinge of pain in his leg that he didn't want to risk aggravating as he was due to take part in a triathlon the following weekend. He took over babysitting duty and gave me the freedom to run.

If his estimate of distance was correct, he only had about 1 kilometre to go before the finish. Having been on target for a 25/26 minute time, he finally made it across the line in 35 minutes. Meanwhile, I was running like a woman with a mission.

Photograph by Martyn Joyce

To begin with, I had the company of the runners on their second lap hoping to achieve times not much faster than my own personal best. I felt quite comfortable running with them but then we reached the parting of the ways. As they all took the left turn to the final push before home, I took the right and started my second lap. Rather than feeling disheartened (or tempted to to slip home unnoticed with the left turners) I had the hugely motivating sight ahead of me of the back runners - two ladies I had noticed earlier both wearing bright red T shirts and following a minute walk/ minute run plan. I knew I could catch them up and I did. I overtook them and locked my sights on the next person ahead of me.

I have been working on my downhill technique - letting myself go with gravity doing the hardwork rather than waving my arms and trying to pull the brakes on to feel in control. Coming up was a downhill stretch followed by an ascent. I overtook the next group of people on the downhill which felt quite liberating and easily passed the people who were walking up the hill.

I think some of these people must have wondered where on earth I had come from. I was certainly shaking things up at the back. I did nod and say good morning as I passed but I really wanted to tell them how much I admired them, how fantastically they were doing. These people were not great runners, yet here they were taking on this 3 mile course at their own pace and achieving their own personal goals. It is SO hard to say well done without sounding patronising.

It felt like no time before I was back at the fork to turn left for home. I didn't quite manage to catch up with a tiny little lad who had been riding on his dad's shoulders when he first came into my field of vision and was now running like the wind towards the finish line under his own steam. It was wonderful to see him go and it reminded me of my own two little ones who were now no doubt having a great time in the play area with memories of their own half hearted efforts fading into oblivion.

I finished in position 430 out of 449 in a time of 42:01. Hopefully, the next time I visit my friend Rose, I'll get another try, without the handicap of a first lap with two stubbornly reluctant children.

I love being part of the parkrun community and would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Photograph by Rose 

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