So far, in relation to my half-marathon training, I’ve mainly focused on stock piling the rest days. My stealth training regime is going so well and being conducted in such secrecy that even I have not managed to spot any suspicious changes in behaviour suggestive of extra running sessions in preparation for my forthcoming hypothetical half marathon. I do have some legitimate reasons for my tardiness (dodgy hip, being away la de la blah etc), but it does not bode well. Today therefore, I returned to parkrun, parkrun tourism it is true, but parkrun all the same. It is a start.
Attendance at parkrun is pretty much preprogrammed now, I can’t imagine doing anything else on a Saturday morning, but if I had planned on slacking, and slipping under the radar by dint of being off my home patch this weekend, I had a rude awakening this week that made me realise I do actually need to do something other than browse running magazine articles from the safety and comfort of a sofa if the half-marathon distance is ever to be in reach.
‘But why so Lucy?’ I hear you cry. Well, let me explain…
I’m not sure if it was a set back exactly, but I certainly had a reality check this week. Visiting a friend with two young boys, she told them that I was planning to run a half marathon. They are at that sweet age of innocence, completely disinhibited and as yet unaware of the requirement to pretend approval or admiration – rather than state the uncomfortable obvious truth – if social etiquette requires it. This is either refreshing or demoralising depending on whether or not you are planning to take on the Yorkshire Half Marathon, – Sheffield, in a few months time. Their immediate response to this news was to, quite literally, roll around on their backs, clutching their sides, laughing with uncontrolled hysteria. One on his bed, the other on their bedroom floor, they cavorted like lion cubs, playing and laughing and writhing around. The very idea of me undertaking such a physical challenge had them exploding with not just giggles, but cackles of bottomless mirth, that are probably still echoing across the universe even now. My friend corrected them ‘no she really is, it isn’t a joke!‘ The younger one continued laughing (in his world this was clearly a double bluff, and one he could see straight through, he wasn’t to be fooled that easily!). The older sibling however stopped laughing, and sat up on his bed, staring at me directly in the face. Examining my expression for clues as to whether or not this might actually be true. As I returned his eye contact I could see his incredulity morph into horror. ‘Oh my god, she’s serious‘, he said not a word more. He didn’t have to, he clearly recognises such a feat to be not only impossible, but the very idea is insane. He is a well brought up young man, teetering in his early teens, he knows it isn’t nice to laugh and point at the insane, but he doesn’t have words to communicate any more about this. To him I at fifty years old, must seem beyond ancient, I am the physical manifestion of decrepitude. He blinks, and stays silent. This silence speaks volumes. His younger brother picked up on the mood, and also sat up suddenly, staring at me impassively. After a silence that stretched seemingly to eternity, he said ‘but that’s miles and miles‘ ‘13 miles,’ his brother chipped in eventually. They looked genuinely concerned. As has previously been established in this blog, I am very suggestible. I could feel my fragile confidence not so much wavering, as vaporising. Their concern was quite sweet to be honest, but also quietly (literally) mortifying. Oh dear, here’s hoping I can prove them wrong. I can feel a knot in my stomach though, what is it they say about ‘from the mouths of children?’ They have an insight, and honest integrity others do not. The truth can hurt…
The weather has been like the end of the world this week, flooding and pooling water creating impromptu lakes everywhere. I took to stalking the Bushy parkrun facebook page as I’d heard a rumour that it might even be cancelled if the mud was too bad (fears of churning up the iconic Chestnut Avenue) it is true, a thousand plus runners will leave a bit more than the odd footprint on saturated ground. Some wags on the Bushy parkrun facebook page have been teasing the run director about ensuring the weather fairies were benevolent. Prayer was mentioned, and the challenge this might present what with his dodgy knee and everything particularly referred to. As it happened, all was well, after an unpromising start, the skies stayed dry. Whether this was as a direct result of interceding prayers I have no idea.
So, I was heading back to Bushy, I decided to try and up my mileage a bit. It might be my first run in a week, but I can still make this half marathon deadline… maybe. I latched on my Tomtom, and headed out the door. Ironically, I found this initially had a demotivating effect. I couldn’t get a satellite positioning, and found myself thinking ‘well there’s no point in running just yet, it wont count’ which is ridiculous! Fortunately/ unfortunately, it did eventually lock on (or whatever it is it does to make sure stalkers can find me) and so I stumbled into a wobbly trot. It is true, if somewhat infantile, that wearing the Tomtom did make me run for most of the way to the start, albeit reluctantly and half-heartedly. I was quite pleased though to find it’s about 1.7 km from where I was staying to the start. This once again suggests that if I get into the habit of jogging to and from parkrun I will build my distance and stamina too (hopefully) without noticing too much. It was nippy out though, I wore my running coat, and didn’t even feel guilty. I’d had a panic because I was unable to locate, and therefore could not wear, my running buff. I feel naked without it. Ironically running without my buff feels like running in the buff. Do you see my point?
Inevitably, I got distracted en route though. Bushy park was gorgeous today, I saw a white deer, not sure if it was actually albino, but it was definitely distinctly different from any others I saw, like something out of a fairy tale. In fact, professor Google tells me that fallow deer do have a natural colour variance from white to brown, so maybe not as rare as all that. Magical all the same though… I’m still holding out for a unicorn sighting there one day. As I dawdled, I also fell into wondering whether in the future archaeologists will think we live in a time when excrement was worshipped? This is no more bizarre than believing in a dog poo fairy. There is NO DOG POO FAIRY, s/he does not exist.
This thought came from seeing a bag of dog poo, abandoned. If there is one thing worse than coming across random dog faeces, it is dog shit in a bag, suspended from a tree as if it were some sort of decorative bauble. Who are these dog walkers kidding? They never come back for them whatever they tell themselves at the moment of hanging up so prominently. If they aren’t going to clear up properly, I’d rather the deposit in question was left in situ to biodegrade, rather than displayed in all its glory at eye level. There they stay for months or years, swaying in whatever wind that blows, until the bag becomes tatty subjected to the elements, shredded by tree branches. Eventually, with awful inevitably it’s contents will spill downwards like a deeply unpleasant hatchling emerging from its egg, leaving the discarded pooh bag swinging shredded and vile in the shrubbery. It isn’t even just dog poo bags. What about all those disposable nappies in landfill, infant poo, wrapped in cotton wool, sealed in plastic and buried deep in the earth. If dug up at some later date it will look like these faeces have been lovingly preserved for future generations and to ensure their passage to the afterlife. We aren’t exactly offering our descendants the same rewards for exploration and excavation as the ancient Egyptians did are we?
The jog to the start, not only made me feel a bit smug, but also made me feel quite snug and warm. I was wearing my ‘proper’ running jacket, which was quite expensive, and so I didn’t want to just leave it at the start. Fortunately, it sort of packs down into its own pocket so you can wear it round your waist. Unfortunately, this then bounces up and down on you as you jog round, and is quite unflattering too (then again, so is my whole running outfit). Even so, I disrobed, and joined the thousand strong throng (which is quite hard to say out loud actually, strong thongs magically appear through the tongue twisting effects of it all). There was a great run briefing.
First timers were warmly welcomed, there was a shout out for some expected New Zealanders, who delightedly identified themselves; the usual call to parkrun tourists to identify themselves (I didn’t this time, as I now view Bushy as sort of my second home, as I’ve racked up a fair few runs here now). There were congratulations to people who had just achieved landmark Tees. A novelty call out for Happy Wedding Anniversary wishes from parkrun as a surprise to one lucky wife. Her husband had requested this as a romantic surprise, which it probably was, shame he didn’t actually tell them what her name was, so she was just Mrs ‘whoever’, no identify of her own at all, only an adjunct to him. Still, they do say it’s the thought that counts, and this was indeed a good thought. I like this aspect of Bushy a lot. This parkrun has somehow managed to maintain an intimate and friendly field, despite an enormous field week after week, it’s very impressive. I had a warm glow of inclusiveness as I clapped away as seemed appropriate.
The course was muddy, and very slippery in parts, I was pleased I’d had the foresight to put on my trail shoes. The bits on tracks are fine, but the grass had almost turned to fiendishly slidey mud in parts. I set off a bit confused. I somehow was a bit in the middle of things, and there were so many people there, I couldn’t really manoeuvre. Navigating the ant hills was quite comical, loads of us bobbing up and down on the uneven terrain like, well I don’t know what really. Panicking picnickers running away from a wasps’ nest in all directions in ungainly arm-flapping abandon perhaps?
I didn’t try too hard today, just felt pleased to be running at all after an unpromising week. I made a point of thanking all the marshals as I passed and got some cheery responses, which was fun. Plus, I do love that little ricochet effect of ‘thankyous‘ that sounded in my wake… My hip, which was better for not being run on was complaining a bit again. Small strides seem to help. I was beaten home today by a huge lumbering dog and his rugby player physiqued human companion, even though he’d stopped for a ‘motion’ en route. (The dog, not the human – as far as I could gather anyway) . There was also a speed walker very much ahead. I hope he was a speed walker, I wasn’t having a great running day, but I’d like to have kept pace at least with someone strolling along. He had a T-shirt on Richard Walks London so I think it was this guy, surely there aren’t two of them, leaving parkrunners for dust as they do that weirdly effective walking gait thing. I’ve just seen he describes himself on his facebook page as ‘New Zealand ultra-distance race-walker and multiple record holder’, so actually, that makes me feel loads better. I was within touching distance of a record holder, not in the wake of a walker at all! I wonder if he spotted me? I was certainly a sight I can tell you.
I was in reflective mood again today, I did notice the most amazing skies going round. The park was extraordinarily beautiful, I felt lucky to be experiencing it. Approaching the finish line, I thought I saw someone I knew clapping me home, I picked up speed in anticipation, and slapped on my cheeriest smile and most gazelle like bouncy stride. Neither saved me, but on the plus side, it wasn’t him at all. Maybe the parkrunner in question is still injured after that freak, who-could-possibly-have-anticipated-it tumble he took the other day? This is someone who has clearly never watched the opening credits of Casualty. Alone in his flat, he decided to use a folding chair to stand on to reach up to a top shelf (what was the worst that could happen). It did not end well, a near death experience apparently, when he had time to imagine he would be taking his last breath, he shouted out instinctively. As he stared death in the face, it is unclear whether he found himself getting a glimpse of a bright light, or the flames of hell in the moment. He did survive, and now has a brilliantly impressive bruise. Shame it isn’t mankini weather, such war wounds should be on display. It looks like a shark bite, no really, it does. I was actually slightly jealous. I mean my dodgy hip has nothing visible by way of stimulating the sympathy impulse in others, more like repulsion, as I’d have to move a roll of fat out of the way to expose it. I shan’t be doing that. His bruise was epic, and no doubt will get bigger and bolder and bluer over the next week or so. Spreading like an oil spill outwards until the entire available surface area is covered in a great slick of blackened, blooded skin.
On entering the finish funnel, the great boon of having worn my jacket round my waist, was that I was able to put it on straight away and stay warm. However, within a few seconds, a cheery funnel marshal teased me for wearing it. ‘You must be hot, what are you doing running in that?‘ he queried. I over-explained that I’d only put it back on after I’d finished. Defensive, moi? My cheetah buddy clearly has spies everywhere. Even here, hundreds of miles away from our home run at Sheffield, she has found a way to call out the mantra ‘walk away from the fleece‘. She can’t seriously have outsourced this activity, can she? It seems extraordinary, impossible even, but then again….
Still debating this, I made it out of the funnel. There was a good turn out today. Despite the inclement weather threat, it stayed dry overhead, if wet underfoot, and the sky was beautiful. We nearly had a triple funnel moment, but due to cunning marshalling this emergency procedure was averted. I was a bit disappointed, it would have been quite something to behold. I gathered later that apparently, for those statisticians out there, this was the fourth EVER biggest attendance at Bushy. I’m surprised, because I reckon numbers will have been down because of the cold, and wet, and general grimness of the morning at about the time you’d need to set off to participate. However, it did seem crowded I suppose, and I got quite boxed in. Mind you, I didn’t try at all hard to escape those limiting factors in order to stretch out for my run. Slow and steady wins the race, they say, sometimes. Anyway, as we all know, it isn’t a race it’s a run. Here are the stats, just because really, I think its wondrous that Bushy parkrun publishes this sort of detail, plus you get a sense of how fast those fingers are moving on the clicker coming through. Ooh, the pressure on the timers, I’d find that way too stressful to volunteer for myself! The final total was 1214 participants – the biggest parkrun attendance in the UK today, hooray – I helped make it so! Amazing really isn’t it? All those people coming together from nowhere, and then vanishing afterwards, for a shared experience of running in a park on a Saturday morning. How can anyone not love park run. The continuum of times was spectacular too, fastest home 16.31 and final finisher 1.08.41.
Exiting the tunnel (which was very busy this week – New Year’s Resolutions in action perhaps) a little crowd was chanting my name which was rather paranoia inducing ‘Lu-cy, Lu-cy, Lu-cy!’ Of course it wasn’t for me, it was for some other imposter Lucy, very alarming though, I felt I was under surveillance everywhere today! The way they cheered my namesake home was however, quite something to witness! It should’ve been me!
Walking away, it was fun to cheer the final finishers home. There were a few coming back well post the one hour mark today, but that is awesome to behold. Two women in particular caught my eye as they neared the last 600 metres or so to the finish line. They had slowed to a walk, but were grinning broadly, and holding hands, determined to finish together. It was brilliant. They were a distinctive pair, and I really wish I was going to be at Bushy next week as I bet they’ll be back. I clapped what I hope was encouragement and shouted ‘the end is in sight, I promise, it will be worth it when you finish’, they smiled back. I reckon their endorphins had kicked in early! I love parkrun, what’s not to like – oh, apart from the being expected to run bit, obviously…
Just the little matter of the jog home – it gave me a running total of just under 10km in terms of distance, in terms of time per mile, well, that’s not the point is it, arguably, the slower you go, the more you prolong the pleasure of parkrun, no point in rushing round, you’d miss out on all the fun – parkrun parkfun indeed!