We often do parkrun as a family these days on Saturday mornings. A while back, the running club announced that, since the nearest parkrun would not be running on November 3rd (due to preparations for the bonfire night fireworks display in the evening), they were planning an outing to Southend-on-sea in Essex to run the parkrun there as an alternative. The club would pay for transport. We just had to turn up, run, and then we’d all go out for brunch together afterwards. It sounded like great fun and we put our names down straight away.
Saturday November 3rd started early. Too early for me, as I’m not a morning person and even though I had set my alarm clock (for 5.50am) I didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed until 6.10, which left me 20 minutes to get ready to get out the door! Oops! Luckily I had had the foresight to leave all my running kit, down to trainers, headphones, barcode, the lot, out ready the night before so I could just dive into and out of the shower, throw my kit on, grab a glass of juice and a banana and hit the road to the running club. Due to an unforeseen classmate birthday party on the part of one of the children, we ended up with me and one son going on the coach with everyone else and husband and other son following on by car. The coach set off in plenty of time, allowing for traffic and other possible delays and ended up getting there around 8.15am, just a bit early for a 9 o’clock start!
When we arrived, the coach dropped us off just outside the park and we all walked through together to find the start, and the toilets which were mentioned in the course description. It turned out we were lucky to have arrived so early. The toilets were over half a mile away at the other end of the park (and ironically we had driven past them in the coach on the way to our drop-off point). When you’ve got to go, though, you’ve got to go so a gentle jog across the park was necessary for personal comfort and made a good warm-up, I suppose!
My husband phoned while I was making my way back to the start to say he and our other son had arrived safely and that the first-timers’ briefing was just about to start. The parkrun organisers had been warned that we were coming, but I’m not sure they really knew what they were letting themselves in for with roughly 60 slightly sleep-deprived slightly mad runners from Dartford turning up en masse! The course was explained, three laps and then turn left for the finish, watch out for the gravel section, and say hello to the marshal at the chilly point by the sea wall.
Then we made our way to the start. The footpath at the start there is narrow and, in an attempt to avoid too much congestion, the start employs rudimentary timing pens with notices to indicate approximate finishing times (under 20 minutes, 20-22 minutes, 22-24 minutes, and so on up to 30-35 and then 35+ minutes). I was running with my 9 year old, who is slightly quicker than me, hoping for a PB and a time under 27 minutes. My parkrun times have been stuck in the 27-minute range for ages. I had run two slightly faster last May (26:56 and 26:52 respectively) but hadn’t been able to get back under 27 minutes again before my knee tendinitis struck in June. Having run 26:30 around the neighbourhood recently, I was hoping for a parkrun time of something similar, not least so that I could have validation of a sub-27 5k time again! We positioned ourselves in the 26-28 minute start section, and then were taken by surprise when the people in front of us suddenly started as we’d heard no bell, hooter, siren, even a shout, but nevertheless off we went.
Even with the sectioned start, the pace was painfully slow to begin with and we were stuck behind groups of people running together much more slowly than I wanted to. In the end, I motioned to my son to follow me up the grass verge alongside the path, avoiding a litter bin as we went, and passed a large number of people before the path took a turn left and widened and suddenly we had the room to run at our own pace. That extra space also meant I could see a fellow member of the running club with her own son up ahead of us. I don’t know her well, but I do know her typical parkrun time is about 30 seconds or so faster than mine so I reckoned if I could keep her in my sight I might stand a chance of a good time.
The route continued ahead and then turned left to run along the sea wall. It was quite a novelty to run beside the sea and I was trying to both concentrate on running and enjoy the view of the sun glinting on the water. Soon it was time to turn left again and, after a small loop, the gravel section we had been warned about, head back towards the start to complete the first lap. My unsuspecting pacer was still not far ahead of me and my run felt good. Into lap two. Past the starting markers again, left at the corner, up to the sea wall, and then about halfway into that lap, I noticed the lady I was following’s son move to the side and crouch down to sort out a loose shoelace. She stopped with him, and my son and I passed them. Oh no, that was my pacer gone and I was going to have to keep going by myself. OK, I still felt strong and the second lap was finished faster than the first. My son asked me “can we get a PB?” and I replied “I think we might”. We ran on into the third lap. I was starting to tire now but glances at my watch and rapid mental arithmetic were telling me I had a real chance of getting something well down in the 26-minute range if I could keep something close to the pace we were running at.
The third lap was tough. I was getting tired and I no longer had my set person to chase. I called encouragement to other friends and fellow running club members as we lapped them – one has had health issues lately and I knew it was a tough run for her, another was pushing her niece in a running buggy – and I knew another who was injured was acting as photographer for us so would be encouraging me when I got there. Not far from the finish, the woman I had been chasing before finally caught up and passed me and I knew I had to stay with her as best I could. We were almost at the point where the third complete lap finished and there was a sign directing runners to the left towards the finish. My son sped up and I really tried to go with him. My legs were tired, my breathing was laboured, and I reminded myself that if you’re going to run faster than you’ve ever run that distance before it’s going to hurt. If I wanted that PB, I had to give it my all. There was the left turn, and then there was the finish and it was closer than I thought. “Can I run ahead?” called my son. He’s not old enough to do parkrun by himself but most of them don’t mind under-elevens doing a sprint finish as long as their responsible adult is close behind. I called to him to go for it and then did my best to keep with him. He managed to get ahead of the man in front of us and crossed the line two seconds before me. I stopped my watch and couldn’t believe it. I knew my official parkrun time would be a bit slower as it taken me so long to actually start after the timekeeper would have started their watch, but my watch was telling me I had covered the distance in 25:41!
I took my barcode, found a scanner, and then went and celebrated with friends. The flat fast route meant a lot of us had achieved PBs. My husband and younger son finished not long afterwards, with another PB for the littl’un. Once we were all finished, we walked across the park to a local restaurant for a well-earned brunch. After the meal, my husband drove our younger son home in time for his friend’s party while our older son came back on the coach with me an hour or so later. I don’t know whether it was the early start, the warm sunshine coming through the windows, the tiring run, or the glasses of beer that had been drunk at lunchtime celebrating good runs but a number of the men nodded off on the coach home, much to the amusement of their friends and partners!! We got back mid-afternoon. All in all, a fantastic morning out with friends, and a great run for all of us, I think.
When the result email came through, I had knocked a full minute off my parkrun PB. My previous best, which had stood since 26/5/2018 was 26:52. My new PB was exactly one minute faster at 25:52. I had said at running club on Tuesday that, by the end of the year, I really wanted to see a parkrun time that started with a 25, even if it ended with a 59, but I really wasn’t sure I’d achieve that. But there it is, 25:52. I’m so pleased with myself!