An ordinary woman's fascination with an extraordinary sport ... and the extraordinary people who take part

Sunday, 20 November 2011

I am Not a Runner - Parkrun

Some months ago, Santababy introduced me to the world of Fetch, where there are a lot of ultra runners ... and also a lot of runners who think in much more "normal" distances.

There is a little group of Fetch beginners and we've sort of clubbed together to say nice things to one another / nag when appropriate. Two of us agreed we would both do Parkrun today - despite living 400 miles apart.  What I didn't realise at the time was that it would be a year to the day since I bought my first pair of running shoes - that's one way to celebrate an anniversary...

Having grizzled on a thread about not wanting to be 10 minutes behind everyone else (last I can handle, but not last by that much), a fellow Edinburgh Fetchie - who I've never met or had any dealings with before - offered to run it with me. How does this happen - that there is an online forum where people are quite happy to put themselves out for the benefit of a stranger they've never met?

Friday night was spent at a "Meet the Designer" event at one of my new favourite shops, drinking kir royale and buying presents (well, at least one of my purchases won't be going in my stocking...) which is possibly not the best preparation. Lack of food and a late night all contributed to being pretty late out of bed. That's okay, I know where I'm going.

I do but can I find it?? I've been to Cramond more times than I can count but today I absolutely cannot find the turn down to the river. Eventually I spot a car being driven by someone in a fluorescent top and make a u-turn to follow, gambling that they must be a runner. Phew, moments to spare..
Lyns and I have exchanged vague descriptions but I'm now convinced I won't be able to find her. She is in fact convinced that I've stood her up solely to make her run it when she's having a period with running .... But it seems there is only one shortish blonde with a Fetch buff as a head scarf, and only one overweight 40-something redhead...
No sooner have we met than the announcer is talking through the loudhailer. I don't hear what he says, other than a warning about somewhere being slippy and that there is a runner getting married this afternoon, who has brought his wedding party with him for the run. Cue all round cheers.

Then the whistle goes and I've barely got my fleece off. My arm pouch (car keys, ipod, money, barcode etc) is in my hand which is where it's going to have to stay for the duration. The Garmin isn't even turned on, never mind started and when I try and get it going, I obviously press the wrong button and the screen fills with garbage. Off!

It's a beautiful day - cold, sunlit and clear with not a breath of wind. The Forth looks like a millpond which must be unheard of.

Without the Garmin I have no idea of pace. However we're exactly where I expect to be - at the back - and I can see the whole field of runners spread out in front of us, with the front runners sprinting into the distance with every second. At the western end of Marine Drive, a runner comes the opposite way at speed and I jokingly ask Lyns to tell me he's not the leader.

"No, but we'll start seeing them by that building, at about the 1k mark".

What??? We haven't even got to1k yet and my legs hurt and I'm panting. Crap. I don't want to do this. I want to stop and go home.

It's actually past the cafe, and past the 1k point before they start coming back. My brain is trying to do the maths and failing. One of the first of the runners is someone I recognise - last seen delivering a cracking time at the Glen Ogle 33. Now this really isn't fair - how can people be fast sprinters AND fast ultra runners!!

Just before the left turn, an oncoming runner calls out to me - it's a colleague from work looking far too happy.

So that's 2k down. I run twice this distance several times a week, how can it be so hard? I can't even see the nearest runners and I'm seriously thinking about walking for a stretch. I've been counting my steps and breaths for what feels like hours and I'm not even half-way. I swear this isn't as far when I walk it.

Then again ... half-way. One of the marshals catches up with us as he's clearing the signs. "Home stretch now" he says, or something similar. I like that way of thinking and it reminds me of Fiona Rennie. However I'm also trying to ignore the fact that he seems to be walking at nearly the same pace I'm jogging at...

I should know better than to try and "run" and talk at the same time, but I do manage to contribute something to the conversation between the three of us. Like everyone in Edinburgh he has worked at RBS, like every runner in Edinburgh we have some mutual acquaintances ... and we're past 3k. "Are you enjoying it" he asks. Right now? No. But ask me later and you may just get a different answer.

The only other runners I see now are the ones who've long finished and are now running back along the front to Edinburgh. I still want to stop and walk but I'm ... blowed ... if I'm going to! Walk/run might possibly be faster but I absolutely want to run every step of this 5k, no matter how slowly. Pride will get you a long way...

I can see the finish line and it looks miles away. I can see a sign saying 4k and I don't believe it. How the hell do I know people who do this - at twice the speed or more - and keep it up for 40, 50 or 95 miles?

As we get to the trees, the marshall jokingly suggests a sprint finish. What do you mean? I am sprinting! I think he got the irony...

Amazingly the finish hasn't been packed away and we still get clapped home. How can an orange spray-painted line be such a welcome sight? Oh bliss - I can stop now.

Or maybe I shouldn't. My legs are hurting badly and I'm quite convinced that if I stop suddenly, there is going to be an awful lot of pain later and tomorrow. Keep walking, and anyway I have to collect a finish chip and then go and get my barcode scanned. Not that my brain or hands are functioning at all.

Lyns remembers to stop her Garmin. I don't want to ask - the only 5k I did before was Race for Life, it was 44 .19 and this has felt horribly slower - but I may as well get it over with and deal with the bad news now.

It might be about 41-42 minutes, she says. I want to hug her. That is amazing. My "pacer" is amazing.

My workmate is at the finish still and comes over to say hello. As do a couple who look familiar although for a moment I can't place them. Then I realise that they are the retired couple in the ground floor flat of my building. I never even realised that they were runners but apparently today was her 91st Parkrun!

Everyone disperses and I find myself talking to one of the wedding party, the father of the groom. He cheers me up by telling me that we weren't last as his cousin has just finished. However his cousin isn't on the official results so probably isn't registered (the only reason Lyns shows as last is because she deliberately stepped back at the finish to let me cross first - did I tell you she's amazing?).

The cafe is open and I sit for ten minutes in the winter sunshine with a much appreciated coffee. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be, or how I'd rather feel.

Later the official results are published.

#239 - First Timer! - has an official time of 41.08

That'll do me.

Until the next time, that is...


  1. Well done Julie! I was going to ask if you had been infected with the running bug yet - I am obviously too late to warn you that you can catch it just by "watching". :-) Silke

  2. Congrats Julie ... a great report and well done on completing your first parkrun.

  3. Well Done,a great run.
    You'll need to change your title though.
    "I Am A Runner"

  4. i get the blame for everything ;) Well done, i trust you'll be back

  5. Excellent and entertaining review of your first park run! :-D