Sometime before moving to London, F told me he’d discovered these 5K races called “parkruns” that happen around London and the UK. Here’s the deal: “parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in.”
Pretty awesome, huh? (For a great piece on the essence of parkruns (treat them however you want to), read this.)
I knew that there was a parkrun in Finsbury Park, which is just over a mile down Parkland Walk from where we live. But something — shyness, perhaps — kept me from signing up until multiple people in the past week raved to me about the parkruns; I learned that there’s also one in Alexandra Park. (The buzz came in part because I just found a running club, London Heathside, and attended a couple of their workouts for the first time this week. I’ve already sent in my registration to join the club. Though the owner of our excellent neighborhood bike shop, Hadron Cycles, also told me how great the parkruns are as he fitted me to my new road bike.) All that plus the (finally) springy weather encouraged me to sign up to do my first parkrun this weekend.
So I got my barcodes printed off, dragged myself out of bed at 7:30am on Saturday morning, fueled and caffeinated, and jogged easily to Finsbury Park. The cool thing about the parkruns is that you can totally race them if you want, but you can also just treat them as a nice weekend run. There’s no pressure, because they’re free! Given that I had a pretty intense workout week — my first proper track/speed workout since October, a Friday evening ride with F on our new road bikes — with sore quads and glutes to show for it, I was aiming to run under 25:00 for the 5K.
Okay, maybe a bit faster than that… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I arrived around 8:45am at Finsbury Park and saw some people starting to gather near the cafe. I asked a nice-looking guy if he’d run these before and what the deal was. He has run a bunch but was volunteering today, and explained the course (a tad less than two times around the park) and system (you get a number as you finish, then get that plus your barcode scanned to obtain your result). I stood around the cafe watching people arrive. I even chatted with a couple nice women: A, who has done a bunch of parkruns and is training for her second triathlon, and E, who was also a parkrun first-timer.
Soon it was time to make our way to the start. After a quick explanation of the course and system by the head organizer (all of the parkruns are organized/executed by volunteers; runners are encouraged to volunteer three times a year or so to keep everything working smoothly), we were off!
A downhill start makes it easy to get carried away and go out way too fast, so I settled into a quick-but-not-too-uncomfortable pace, knowing that we’d soon have a long, gradual uphill (on which I passed people, as I enjoy doing, by maintaining a steady pace). Down again and around a corner to a short-but-steep uphill, curving on the paths near the track, then we were halfway finished. Just over 11:00 on my watch: this won’t be a PR, I thought, but I could be somewhere in the 22:00-range — just maintain.
I picked up the pace a bit down that long descent, passing the only two women I could see in front of me, then kept telling myself to take short, quick steps on the uphill. The older woman with whom I’d flip-flopped places a couple times passed me again and I let her go, resolving to try and stay ahead of the other woman. My legs were certainly feeling it by this point, as we entered the last descent before tackling the steep hill for the second time.
After reeling in a couple guys on the uphill, I tried to stay steady and not kick too soon since I wasn’t completely sure where the finish was. It came up sooner than I thought, so my kick didn’t end up being huge, but I finished in 22:16 (that’s 7:11/mile or 4:27/km pace) and was the 2nd woman out of 52. Not bad for a sore, tired body!
My first parkrun was a blast; I can see why so many people love them, as it’s a totally low-key atmosphere that attracts both serious(ly fast) runners and general fitness enthusiasts looking for motivation to run. I will definitely try to fit them in bi-monthly, if not weekly.