Saturday, 19 May 2012

Just call me Fiona...

A new experience for me today. Not only do I have a blog to write, but I was asked to write the news report  from this week’s Eastbourne parkrun. So, donning my Fiona Bruce wig, my come hither eyes and my best sassy voice, I delivered the Eastbourne parkrun headlines. You can read all about it here.

As for the conventional blog – read on...

It was very warm this morning despite the cloud and the sun having an early morning pillow-fight. Cloud wanted the duvet on and the sun wanted it off. It seemed cloud had won as we were greeted by grey skies at the start, but, just as cloud fell back asleep and started snoring, sun peeled back the duvet and shone righteously upon us.

I arrived early to meet Event Director, Stuart Pelling, to receive instructions on how to upload a news report. Instructions were clearly inscribed on lined paper, which was neatly folded and handed over to me. I was slightly disappointed that there was no special ceremony, no trumpeting fusiliers, no royal dignitaries, no handshake photo shoot, not even a Boris Johnson! But, I suppose, in matters of parkrun security, one can’t be too careful when it comes to publicity. I was looking for Top Secret stamped over the paperwork, but I can only summise it had been written in special invisible ink. Apparently, if I hold it over a naked flame I might just be able….. oh bugger, ooooh, owwww, WATER!!!!

We were back on the usual course today, the ditch having dried out to just deep, slippy mud, rather than the fast-flowing river of last week – well, it was more like 2 inches of standing water, but you know how we blokes like to exaggerate things, eh?

I lined up with 68 other hopeful runners, not quite knowing what kind of performance I would be putting in today.

Stuart started us off with a puff on the whistle and off we thundered. After about 100 metres, I was conscious of a young boy who flew his little legs past me like Loony Tunes roadrunner. ‘Beep Beep’, I thought to myself, ‘he’s gone off too fast  - he’ll come back’. I stayed with him for about 1/2 kilometre and then he went! Wile E Coyote here never saw him again in the run.

Here is a photo of him, I and third placed lady, Anne, rounding the bushes not long into the race

I am not sure of his finishing position as I don't think he had a barcode, but I was completely dumbstruck and in awe of this young boy, who clearly has a huge talent (and passion) for running. As we handed in our tags at the end, he was stood by the finish table. I told him how brilliant he had run and how he had beat me by miles. He looked surprised. “Did I beat you, then?” he asked. “You slaughtered me” I replied. He smiled back a small grin of satisfaction and surprise at what he had achieved.  Whilst the fact he slaughtered me is true, and he beat me by absolute miles, I’m hardly the quickest person in the field and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that a one-legged monkey running backwards could beat an ageing 39 yr old short-arse! But what an inspiration he was and I was so chuffed at his performance.

As for me, no trips or slips, but plenty of swinging hips, as I settled into a nice rhythm. But, as usual, come halfway, I was feeling pretty exhausted and while my pace didn’t drop at all, it was hard work just putting one foot in front of the other as I ran at lactate threshold.

At 4km, there were five of us in quite close proximity – myself, a lady, two senior men and a veteran. I latched on to the back of them and chose to hang on to their tech-tee tails until 100m to go. That’s if I could hang on! As we emerged from the ditch, we all bunched up and it was clear that there was some cat and mouse as to who was going to go first. 

Bit by bit the pace increased, when, all of a sudden, one of the men went. The lady swiftly followed suit. I slipstreamed them both until we hit the grass and, boom, off I went. I sprinted clear, a habit I seem to have gotten into each week. My arms and legs flailed like an octopus in a whirlpool as I fixed my eyes on the finishing chute and ran my little socks off. I held them all at bay. The lady finished 3 seconds behind, with the three other chaps in hot pursuit. Even mid-pack plodders can enjoy the thrills and spills of a tactical affair and I was gobsmacked that I managed a 4:31 min/mile pace in the sprint to the line. If I can just get some talent and a lot more endurance speed, I could, perhaps, do a bit better at this running lark.

Here is my sprint finish with valiant pursuers in behind.

Utterly exhausted, I accepted my position tag and the congratulations of the marshall for my sprint finish and indulged in my customary collapse to the ground.

Senses soon regathered, I checked my watch which showed a 24:32 – (my slowest parkrun to date) some 23 seconds slower than last week and a minute away from my course and distance personal best. Not one to be motivated by time, this was no bother to me. I had thoroughly enjoyed the run and I knew, whatever time I achieved, I had given it 110%.

I’ll be marshalling next week so please all do a sun dance in anticipation.

Anyway, it’s time now to shuffle my papers and hand over to Ulrika Fish for the weather…

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

New contributor - Heidi Elliott

Name - Heidi Elliott
Home parkrun - Conkers
First parkrun - 18/06/2011
Total parkruns (so far) - 37
Volunteering (so far) - 3/4 but I also write the weekly run report
Other parkrun locations ran - 2: Brueton on Christmas Day and Walsall inaugural
My parkrun history -


I have always been involved in sport and active having done any sport going at school the studied Sports Science at Loughborough University. My main sport was water polo although I have played hockey, netball, rugby, swam competitively and gained a red belt at tae-kwon-do. I love sport and in my job as a primary school teacher I try to instill this love in the children I work with.

Running is the one thing I never really got. As a child I was more of a sprinter with my favourite distance being 200m ( a fair bit short of a parkrun!)

I blame my aunt for getting me into running. When she was diagnosed as terminally ill I decided to do Race for Life in her memory - my hubbie told me I had to do the 10k because 5 was too easy (he's now a parkrunner too and has changed his mind!).


Decision made I began training. With a month to go I saw an advert in the local authority freebie magazine and thought it sounded great. I signed up but then took a couple of weeks before I braved my first parkrun.

I was TERRIFIED but I was greeted by Cath who reassured me that I couldn't be any slower than her and she told me to make sure I turned at the canal as the previous week she's forgotten and ran quite a bit further than 5k! My first run was completed in 32.53 - better than the 40 minutes I was expecting - it was tough and I ran/walked but I was hooked...

A few weeks in and my hubbie joined me - he was hooked too. It then became a 'family' affair as the dogs came along too and are part of the Conkers parkrun family. Together we have spread the parkrun love to friends across the country.

My aim was a sub 30 by the end of the year and I finally cracked this on the 3rd December.

Anyway, I love parkrun. I especially love Conkers parkrun - we are small but growing and have a great community and family feeling. I love social networking so am sure I will love blogging about parkrun.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Preston's Perfect Parkrun

I've been parkrunning for a while and, although I've had some memorable runs in wonderful locations across England I've never been inspired to write a post about a specific parkrun. Until now.

Let's get this out of the way up-front: Preston parkrun is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. If I were married to a parkrun I'd be anxiously fiddling with my parkrun wedding ring and wondering if I had time to slip it into my pocket before Preston parkrun noticed.

The arch - Preston parkrun starts under here

Most of the run is in Avenham Park, with the back corner of the route just creeping into the side of neighbouring Miller Park. It's a three lap affair with a small spur routing you down to the finishing chute. Terrain is 100% paths with some gravel patches, but footing is sure throughout. This route would be fine in the rain, no need for wellington boots (I'm looking at you, Nonsuch) or big knobbly tyres (and you, Riddlesdown). I'm not sure it would be so good in the ice or snow though thanks to the steepest parkrun hill I've ever run up. I'd need a steep-o-meter to confirm, but I think it is even steeper than the pointy bit in Lloyd Park I ran a couple of weeks ago - in any case, you need to go up this one three times rather than twice at Lloyd Park, so I'm giving this one the prize.

Tree-lined pathway at the start of the lap, river Ribble to the right, café to the left

I got up nice and early at 04:15 (yuck!) - ate a good breakfast and cycled to Euston to get the 06:05 to Glasgow, due in at Preston at 08:36. We were a couple of minutes behind schedule, but that doesn't matter as the park is no more than 5-10 mins stroll from the station - perfect for long-distance tourists. The sun had been out all the way up on the train, and it was bright and warm for the briefing. It looked like there were around 100 people there (a good estimate, the results show there were precisely 100 people :). A show of hands suggested about a third were tourists, and a third were first timers - seeing as this was an inaugural event I'm not sure what that leaves the other third as… I'm guessing "not paying attention" :)

The hill is significantly steeper than it looks in this photo

The route winds around the park with every turn giving something new and interesting to look at. It's clear there has been considerable investment recently, the main fixtures like the bandstand and fountain have been, or re in the process of being, renovated. Many of the flower beds and grass areas have that new look to them, and the cafe looks brand new (another award, best toilets I've ever used at a parkrun location - nicer than in my own house!). There's a stunning area that looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale illustration - I wouldn't have been surprised if it had a lemonade lake and footbridge made of chocolate.

The route is made up of these beautiful winding pathways

I walked a lap of the route afterwards to take these photos - apologies for the quality, the camera on my old iPhone 3GS is a little the worse for wear. As I completed my lap it started to rain - the sun had come out specially for Preston parkrunday.

Straight out of a fairy tale!

I have been doing a lot of parkrun tourism lately, and this is the first time I've got up and commuted by train specifically for a parkrun. I'm going to try not to do it too often - it's expensive, takes a large chunk of your Saturday, and gets in the way of training - but I'm so pleased I made the effort today.

Route out goes across the top, the Earl of Derby surveying all from his plinth

Thank you PSH and parkrun, thank you event director Michael, and thank you marshals - you all made my parkrunday wonderful.

All parkrun'd out - finishing chute and brand new café

Becoming a Run Director

One morning at Greenwich parkrun, somebody mentioned that there was a test run for a new parkrun in Danson Park in Bexley. Greenwich is already a well-established event so I thought it would be interesting to see how a new parkrun gets off the ground.

At the test event I helped out with laying out the course signage and did some marshalling, directing and cheering on the runners. A couple of days later Mel, the Event Director, sent out the volunteers rota for the next 6 weeks. I was a little bit pleased but mostly stunned to see my name as Run Director for two dates. I had hoped there would be opportunities to get more involved but after a short parkrun career of running six times and volunteering twice, I did not feel especially well-qualified. I wrote back to Mel and said I was up for the challenge but wondered if the invitation was intended for a more deserving Paul. And so it was – Paul Dallison was the real choice for Run Director.

But the seed was planted and when a couple of months later the line ‘If anyone is interested in training as Run Director, let us know’ was added to the weekly volunteers email I replied right away. Three weeks later and I was scheduled in to observe one week and then do it the next. Fittingly my mentor was none other than Paul Dallison.

The observation day went off fine. Although this was only event 11 for Bexley there were already some experienced volunteers so the course setup was done very smoothly. The main things for me to learn were setting up the timer and bar code readers, doing the pre-run briefing and then uploading the results using the parkrun laptop.

My big day was 21 April, the day before the London marathon.  Around 8.20am as we were just beginning setup a tall thin guy in black running kit came up to me and introduced himself as Danny. He’d come and talk to me after his warm-up he said. As I continued with setting out the funnel it occurred to me that this had to be none other than Danny Norman, host of the parkrun show podcast. I knew that he attended a different parkrun every week, and just my luck he had chosen my first time as Run Director to come to Bexley. He was very laid back and his only request was for a mention for the SPARKLE survey on the influence of parkrun on lifestyle and exercise. So at the start of the run I gave him the now traditional big introduction as parkrun royalty, spin doctor and social media guru, and completely forgot to mention the survey. Hopefully I covered up my omission by explaining it was a strategic decision to tell people about it at registration and as they were chatting after the run!

My next mistake as Run Director came as we were packing things away. Six bar codes had not scanned so the registration volunteer had written the names down carefully on the pad provided. This was then locked away with all the other gear. As Paul Dallison and I were walking to the Stables restaurant to grab a coffee and upload the results I remembered this. We shrugged and agreed that this was a parkrun and people would be patient.  Paul gave me a guided tour of the laptop, we uploaded the results and that was job done.

Later that afternoon I was out meeting an old friend from university who was running in the marathon and I picked up a mail from Mel saying that there were a number of queries about the results. Later I saw that one of the runners had written to parkrun CEO Paul Sinton-Hewitt to explain his disappointment at not seeing his result.  After my stint volunteering with Oxfam at the marathon I took a trip over to the lockup at Danson Park to collect that important bit of paper, and quickly amended the results.

So now I am part of the Bexley team of Run Directors and will take a turn every month. If you get chance to do it for your parkrun, I’d recommend it – especially if you have already tried a few of the other volunteer roles.