Last week marked the start of the 100th parkrun, not in Reykjavik, but in London’s Gunnersbury Park. After all the travelling last weekend, the draw of a local parkrun and the chance of an ‘athoner for company proved irresistible, and I headed off to Gunnersbury to meet fairweather runner.
As we approached the distinctive parkrun huddle, I saw the familiar face of Ron Hill, talking to Rebecca Hall (currently lying in Bronze medal position on the table of doom), so we wandered over to talk to them.
The parkrun is a single lap, made up of two loops. They share a border, but you run down it on the left hand route and up it on the right hand loop, so there is actually very little repetition.
The beginning, middle and end are on grass, and the rest is a hair-raising combination of tarmac and pothole. Guerilla gardeners could have an absolute field-day.
It has no hills as such, but as you run down the right hand edges of each loop, you will feel like a running goddess and as you run up the left hand edges of each loop, you will feel as though someone has drained all the energy from your legs.
I set off fast, intending to see whether I could get close to the pb I set at Oak Hill in August. That was 90 secs faster than my previous pb, and I haven’t got near it since.
As the first energy-draining rise came to an end, I realised that we were only 2km in and began to wonder how on earth I was going to get round. The answer came in the form of Sarah, a junior running her second parkrun. I caught up with her somewhere between 2km and the halfway point (thank you halfway marshall for calling out our times) and I stuck to her like glue for the rest of the run.
Every time I felt like easing off, I told myself I would just stick with Sarah until the next tree, or the next corner, or the next marshal, or the next duck, and before I knew it we’d crossed the 4km marker, turned the final corner, left the potholes behind and moved onto the grassy finishing straight.
And you know what? It worked. I shaved another 23 seconds off my pb, which now stands at 27:03, thanks in no small part to Sarah’s wonderful pacemaking abilities.
Then it was more chat as we watched the rest of the field come in, a discussion about the ethics of running with a dog attached to you by a harness (warning: this topic comes under the heading “light the blue touch paper and retire”), a cup of tea at the cafe and the chance to chat to Arlene, the race director.
Arlene is one of a special breed of runners: the parkrun volunteer. And, what a volunteer. When Gunnersbury opened last week, she had 49 parkruns under her belt, but as part of the core volunteer team, it could be a couple of months before she has the opportunity to run her 50th. That, I feel, deserves a special