You know how people say Parkrun isn’t a race? (Of course it’s a race.*)
Well, on Saturday 6th May 2017 it was a race. (It’s always a race.*)
This was the third annual running of Cannon Hill Parkrun as the John Enright Memorial Parkrun, a ‘mob-match’, takedown, smackdown showdown between my club, Bournville Harriers (BvH), and our local friends and rivals, Kings Heath Running Club.
Last year, in 2016, this was the second-largest Parkrun ever, with the usual ranks of six- or seven-hundred people who normally run Cannon Hill swelled to over a thousand, with almost everyone from BvH and Kings Heath there. This year was no different, with a new Cannon Hill record 1025 runners.
The morning was cool (cold, actually, at first) and grey, but the atmosphere among the runners was the usual pre-Parkrun excitement, tinged with that little something extra. Both clubs had been exhorting as many members as possible to come and run. It was a big event in both clubs’ calendars. This wasn’t just the usual Parkrun, it really meant something.
For some, there was an even more poignant element to the day.
I never met John Enright – this was the third running of the memorial Parkrun, and I only joined BvH last year – but the strength of feeling at Bournville Harriers tells its own story. So for the club, for his memory, and for a donation to the British Heart Foundation via the medium of cake sales – yes, there was a bake-off too – let’s do what we do best. Let’s go racing.
(This was also a chance to remember other local runners: Darren Hale was well known locally, and passed away last year, and was being remembered by the Cannon Hill Striders.)
Friendly Local Rivals
At Bournville we know Kings Heath Running Club as “our friends and rivals”, and that’s very much how it seems. Yes, we were racing against them today, but I can tell you that the prior weekend, when I was running the Great Birmingham 10k, as well as the incredible support from Team Teal BvH supporters, there were plenty of cheers and shouts of support – “Go on, Bournville!” – from KHRC spectators as well.
Isn’t that great? Isn’t that what running is all about?
And much appreciated.
So racing with these guys was always going to be fun.
Getting Back to Form
For me personally, it was a chance to continue getting back to form. Six days after putting in a relatively decent time at the 10k, and after a few weeks of building back up to some decent training runs, I was hoping to go sub-20. I hadn’t done this for a while – in fact, only a couple of months ago I put in my slowest Parkrun time in eighteen months.
It was also a chance to go racing for the club again, which I love doing, and which was one of the reasons I first joined.
For Bournville Harriers, it was a chance to get our hands on the trophy again, as Kings Heath held it from last year’s event. A points system would be used to determine which of the two clubs would win. Each runner would have their finishing position subtracted from the total number of finishers to give a points score, then the points for each club’s runners would be totalled up. The club with the most points would win.
Maybe this is the same anywhere, but at Cannon Hill Parkrun the temptation is always to go off way too fast. Over the years I’ve begun to realise that this isn’t (just) a case of having a rush of blood to the head or not knowing my own pace, it’s actually somewhat necessary. Because the course is so busy, going out fast is the only way to ensure not being blocked in and slowed by the pack. With a thousand runners, today that would be even more important.
But with the extra club runners from each club, there would be some additional fast runners there too. So I lined up in my usual spot, a few rows back from the start, enough to let the really fast folk get away without being caught up by the masses behind.
06:25 minute-miling is the standard I’d need for sub-20, faster than I’ve run in a while. So I was (very) pleased to keep my pace consistent and under control, and I got the first mile – downhill first, then flat round the lake, then tough uphill back round to the start – in 06:24. Almost perfect.
Now, I managed this in my disastrous Parkrun a couple of months ago, but then faded fast because my fitness just wasn’t there. Today, however, I felt much stronger. I was able to push on at pace.
Downhill from the start (again), round the lake (again), and then out towards ‘the triangle’ where the route doubles back on itself along the paths, I got the second mile in 06:26.
Great. Consistent. And the kind of speed that I haven’t been able to hold for any meaningful distance for a while.
Mile three is the most testing. A slight incline back into the park from the triangle (well, in truth it’s a tiny incline, barely even noticeable, but believe me, after a couple of miles at flat-out 5k pace it’s exceedingly damn noticeable), then back on ourselves the other way round the lake and the MAC (Midlands Arts Centre). And then the uphill back towards the start, and finally the steep, nasty climb to the finish line.
I knew I’d fade, and I did.
But, just like last week at the Great Birmingham 10k, even when I felt I’d slowed too much, I looked down at my Garmin and found I was still running in the 06:40 range. Not fast, not quite sub-20 pace, but more evidence of fitness and strength coming back to me. I took heart and confidence from this. I got mile three in 06:38.
Still good, but sub-20 was going to be close.
As I grimaced my way up towards the finish, I kept checking my watch and could see how close it was going to be. But more fantastic BvH support on that final steep section kept me going strong, and I crossed the finish in 19:53. Seconds to spare.
Lungs bursting, grateful to have stopped, I staggered through the finish funnel, picked up my token (I was all the way down in position 88! With a sub-20!) and worked my way back to the waiting BvH throng who’d already finished. Backslaps and congratulations all round.
I was delighted, absolutely delighted, with sub-20. Yet another confidence boost, and more evidence that I’m getting back to form.
(Afterwards, frustratingly, for some reason Strava showed my time for this run as 19:58.
Grand theft auto! Robbed of five seconds!
Worse, the official Parkrun time – which I have never once known to be actually correct here – had me in at 19:59. But, as always, I know I started my watch as soon as the klaxon went off, and I know I stopped it bang on the finish line.
So. 19:53 it is.)
When everything was totalled up, Kings Heath had the most points. So, technically, they, y’know, won.
(I’m kidding, of course. Congratulations and well done all.)
Well, they are a larger club and were always going to have the edge on us in terms of numbers. They had almost double the runners we did, but despite this, to me, just like last week at the Great Birmingham 10k, the place was a sea of BvH teal.
And our runners’ average points were higher too, so, y’know… #justsaying 😉
Most importantly, between the two clubs we raised £1500 for the British Heart Foundation, there were group photos which will be on Bournville’s profiles for the next year or so, there was a fantastic team atmosphere, and everyone had a great time.
In the above, I’ve said a couple of times that “of course” Parkrun is “always” a race.
Hopefully obviously, I’m saying this somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
Yes, at the front of the pack, with people chasing times, paces and places, it’s like a race. It’s certainly good race pace and race-craft practice, and Parkrun do publish times and positions (although it’s known as ‘first finisher’ rather than ‘winner’, but still…)
For others it’s exactly what Parkrun can also be: a friendly, social, accessible, healthy Saturday morning out with friends; a chance to be admirably active, with a wonderfully encouraging atmosphere and ethos.
Please don’t ever, ever be put off Parkrun just because people at the front go off at Twat Out of Hell pace. There is quite simply – and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough – no such thing as “I’m too slow for Parkrun.” Even if you end up walking most of the way. Everyone is welcome, and everyone will be cheering you on to your own PBs and milestones.
You’re up, out and active on a Saturday morning, and that’s what it’s all about.