7. The day parkrun came to town

Having not carried out any sort of recovery run on Sunday due to the hangover induced by the engagement party, I resolved to make something of the August Bank Holiday Monday. Two years prior, and the year before that, I took part in a Marathon Talk challenge entitled the Magic Mile. The aim? Simply run a mile as fast as you can. Marathon Talk ran the challenge in 2013 and 2014, but didn’t run it during 2015 (which I didn’t do anyway due to sesamoiditis), and this year they don’t seem to have mentioned it at all. Which is a shame, because the mile is still a fantastic distance to run, and the mile races they hold in the Diamond League events are always engaging – many of the elite runners over that distance are evenly matched, so its difficult to truly predict who will win. Now I’m not a sub-4 minute miler, otherwise I’d expect to be of a sub-elite standard, and the one sub-5 minute mile I ran (4:53.1, at the 2014 Great Birmingham Run) turned out to ruin my race plan. Ironically, that 4:53 felt much more comfortable than the previous two ‘Magic Mile’ challenges, and it always seems I really push myself to the limit when running a shorter distance. I knew it would be the same here, and if anything I hoped to at least pace it well. 

Not at all in keeping with bank holiday tradition, August 29 was a bit of a scorcher – at least 20C, which isn’t quite mercury rising, but still enough to work up a sweat in very little time. I set off down towards the end of Armytage Road Industrial Estate in Brighouse. It’s not pancake flat, but apart from a couple of kinks here and there, its near perfect. Except for the bit where it rises to head to British Car Auctions. I can’t cheat on the downhill! And the road isn’t quite a mile long – I’m required to corner a few times to avoid heading into the town centre, and I also need to ensure the corners are wide enough not to lose any momentum. I recorded a 6:09 in 2013, and a 5:43 in 2014. I’d be happy enough to at least clock a similar time to that.

All warmed up, I set myself in position and ran. The first quarter mile seemed to be on sub-5 minute pace according to my watch, but the pace clock began to slip towards 5:30 pace. I arrived at the first  corner, about three quarters round. Now I was around 5:50 pace. I tried to keep my cadence and felt as though I was just holding back for the finish. Off the final bend, now barely 0.1 miles to go. I put in a kick and sprinted hard. Disappearing behind the side of the lorry, the watch beeped and was immediately stopped. I looked at the result, and immediately pumped my fist in celebration:

The Magic Mile 2016 attempt, 29/08/2016

Now that isn’t my fastest mile ever, but having not done a mile since running the distance on a track at the back end of last year, its not my speciality and to crack a 5:35.9 off the bat, wow!

My good start to the week continued with nearly an hour worth of swimming. Most of this constituted my swimming lesson, but as I was there early, rather than staring into smartphone abyss, I got myself ready, warmed up, showered and got in the fast lane of the main pool, cracking out six full 25 metre lengths of front crawl. I preserved myself after that for the lesson, which was run by the usual stand-in – her name escapes me. Anyway, I’ve not always agreed with her style. We worked on backstroke again after a very short warm up, and after working on kick technique, it was onto arms. Now I thought she was asking us to raise our hands up, turn the wrist and push down into the water – as in, from the air. She kept pointing out I was doing this wrong, but I explained I knew how to do the action, and had misread this as an exercise. Once we cleared that up, the lesson was smooth sailing – as in, knowing exactly what to do. Right at the end came a bit of a surprise. The coach in question thinks that I, and one of my fellow learnees, ought to try out Stroke Skills, which is the next class up, in which the lesson takes place in a 25 metre pool. I’d be interested to know what Judy, my actual coach, thinks about that, but a valid point was made here. I’ve been doing the lessons over a year. I’m welcome to continue, but it might well be what’s needed now to take my swimming to another level. Whichever way to look at this, it’s a sign of how far I’ve come on this journey, and now I’ve got a genuine decision to make. Although, the hindrance at present are that none of the Stroke Skills lessons fit in with my working hours or with what my family already has planned. I don’t want my progress to plateau – so it seems I will have to try and find a way to get on board with this.

Saturday arrived, and it was time for the inaugural Brighouse parkrun. I mixed preparing for my run with getting my kids ready to go, making my wife a coffee to help her up, and finally we set off on the conveniently short walk to Wellholme Park. My local trail running training spot was now going to become the newest parkrun venue in the UK. My family made their way to the wall of the floral gardens, and I got in place as the mayor made a speech about plans for the park to assist the parkrun in future, and the race director announced details of the course. Apparently, people as far as Coventry and Gatwick had come up for this! The sight was amazing. I estimated there must easily have been over 300, maybe over 400 people here for this.

Brighouse parkrun is under way!

The mayor cut the tape, and we were off, for three laps around pretty much the whole of the park. I set off pretty brisk and clocked 3:30 for the first kilometre. I wasn’t sure if I was too quick here – my breathing was already audible – but I did find myself before long in fourth place at the end of the first lap. My kids were still vociferously cheering me on! The four of us continued to run round the park together. The lead changed, and I was up into third. We all weaved in and out of the slower runners and over the wide bridge for the second time. As you come off this bridge there was a little dip. Well, here is where I put in a surge and I was ahead as we moved into lap three. I’m winning my hometown parkrun! Nice as that thought was though, I did sense I was already on the limit. I gritted my teeth and didn’t look back. Over the wide bridge, turning right. As the next corner approached, I was suddenly overtaken on the inside by someone who evidently had their tactics, and their finish, spot on. I didn’t have a kick left in me, so just gamely clung onto to the man’s coattails, and came over the line in second place. Not bad! We were soon handed our chips and getting papped as being in the top three or four. Barcodes scanned, it was back off to the family, where I tried to discuss my race, hampered only by the kids’ eagerness to get to the play area or to run into the floral gardens.

There should be no disappointment in a parkrun – its not a race after all – and it was just as good as my Shroggs Park performance prior to London, in which I came first. If anything, it was good to finish second in front of my kids – they need to understand first isn’t everything! The size of this field made it much more competitive, and I surprised myself with my off-road pace. My official time was 18:08, though I started my watch only upon crossing the start line, and stopped immediately upon crossing the finish line. The watch said I’d run 5km exactly in 18:06, which I’ll take as a new PB by one second! That’s the third improvement in three parkruns.

Honestly though, it makes me proud as a lifelong citizen of Brighouse (and a runner from Brighouse) to finally have the running initiative the town deserves. The organisation was spot on, the volunteers were brilliant, and everyone who turned up finished the run. Well done !

At the finish as part of the top 4 (03/09/2016)

I finished up the week running a half marathon route roughly based on the Liversedge Half Marathon, only starting from Thornhill Bank Lane, which is a rough 6.5 miles into the actual race. I had no intention of going quick as I did during parkrun, but after an easy going, uphill first mile, I picked up the pace and before I knew it, I’d clocked a fifth mile in 6:59. I did stop a few times for photos mind, so I was perhaps keeping myself fresh. In any event, there was a tussle going on, and not necessarily between body and mind. Sunshine and rain, dry and wet, constantly engaging one another. I got soaked at one point and dried out about five minutes later. The horrendous photo of me below sums up my situation!

“Weather, make up your mind!”

Having run down through Roberttown in quick time, I arrived at Liversedge in 58:40 for 8 miles. I stopped at this point just to get a quick breather – the parkrun had caught up with me now, and so the next 5.1 were going to be about hard graft. Mile 9 went for 8:19, but I snuck through mile 10 and 11 in 7:55 and 7:53 respectively. The gaiter came off my head like Eliud Kipchoge’s hat. This was business. Hitting the 14% downhill drop on Birkby Lane, I headed down into Bailiff Bridge on a 7:19. I couldn’t keep the pace up initially, but found a second wind. I was breathing heavily now, but constantly reminding myself I had this. The end of my run approached, and mile 13 went equally for 7:19. The distance was exact, and I finished in 1:38:07. What had been intended as an easy long run actually featured some running at my usual marathon pace, the odd daft dash and eventually some valuable miles on tired legs. All in all, a highly useful training session indeed, one I hope will be of benefit come October 29th. But for now, all I wanted was to rest.

The next week will see my twin daughters begin at school. I will begin life as a 32 year old, and next Sunday, I will have to decide where I will run 18 or 19 miles. The birthday isn’t so momentous. The next chapter of my kids’ lives, much more so. The long run is very much the start of the business end of this training program. Life can prepare you for milestones. It can prepare you for aging. But only you can prepare yourself for the challenge ahead. In this case, the miles, the hills, the toil, doesn’t just occur or fall into one’s lap. It’s going to be perhaps the toughest four to five weeks overall that I’ve ever put into training for a marathon. The devil inside me says I’ll actually enjoy this. Yet the effort put in to achieve my fast shorter distance pace, and the effort put in to carry out a long run on tired legs, tells me its a hard road ahead. Things are going well, but its not going to be any easier to stay there, as each passing year will dictate. Maybe I’m not quite done with chasing times yet.

But after the horrorshow of last week, I injected some spontaneity and almost grabbed myself a parkrun first place in the process. And now that parkrun has finally arrived in my home town, so long as the park doesn’t fall foul of foul weather (the park is a flood plain), there’s huge motivation now simply to get out of the door and run a few laps of my local park, with a few hundred people. In Brighouse!

Cheers to Thomas Harrison Lord for the parkrun photos. More images over at: https://www.flickr.com/groups/brighouse-parkrun/

Brighouse parkrun page