Category Archives: Races

Tooting Common parkrun

This is why I’d absolutely love to live in a big city.

I was in London for the Royal Parks Half, spending the weekend staying in South Wimbledon, so a quick bit of research told me that my nearest parkrun was just two stops away on the tube on Tooting Common, followed by a 15-minute walk.

I could get there quicker than I could from my house to my local event back home. It was a no-brainer!

What appealed to me about this was the numbers that turn out each and every Saturday morning, regularly topping well over 600. My home parkrun is doing very well to attract 200 runners on a good day so the prospect of rubbing shoulders with in excess of three times that amount really excited me. I thrive on mass participation events and, in parkrun terms at least, this ticked that box.

Mindful of the 9am start (9:30 at home, remember) I left my hotel in good time to allow myself to find the location at my leisure but even then I was there too early and actually arrived before the core team started setting up for the morning.

That allowed me to explore the Common a little, spotting little yoga groups and exercise classes dotted around. Again, I love this sort of thing. It’s not something you’d find at home but in a big city, or London at least, it seems to be a regular sight.

For a while there was only a sprinkling of runners milling around then the hordes descended in droves. It was wonderful to see. I have run half marathons and 10ks at home with fewer participants than this!

I  found the first timers briefing and did my best to listen intently but, given the numbers, it was difficult to hear. I was going to start towards the back anyway so I’d just follow everyone else.

Pretty soon we were off. The course is basically three pancake flat loops of a triangle with a little offset at the start and finish to make up the outstanding .1 of a mile.

Given my unfamiliarity with the area, and the fact I was so far back, I wasn’t quite sure where the actual start line was so I just took my guide from those in front of me … I just started running when they did, and started my Garmin when they did etc.

At the briefing we had been advised that because the path was narrow in places that it’d be difficult to start quickly or to get any sort of speed going for a while and so it proved.

This suited me perfectly. With the half marathon the next day I was just wanting a shake out run, as well as to experience a ‘big’ parkrun. I got both.

I was boxed in right from the off, and also had runners right on my heels too. I enjoyed it.

I used the first lap to take in my surroundings and the conditions underfoot. Mostly on tarmac, there was a small section on a trail like surface which took a bit of concentration to keep my footing. I was glad it was a bright, sunny morning because I could imagine on a wet day this could prove tricky in places.

Usually I’m not a big fan of laps but I didn’t mind them this time.

I think that was because I constantly had runners around me. I picked some off, some picked me off but it kept it competitive and interesting. Very often at home during the second part of the course I could be running on my own. There’d be no-one in sight in front or behind me even though I know they’re there.

I kept a steady, consistent pace during the first two laps but eased off a little over the third lap. I hadn’t run hardly at all since Glasgow and with Sunday in mind I didn’t want to push things too much. To be fair, I didn’t slow considerably, it was more akin to a mile long cool down run really.

The finishing funnel was a sight to behold. Any other parkruns I’ve been to have a fairly short funnel as appropriate to the numbers that have attended which meant this one was suitably long and winding. It probably took me a couple of minutes to walk the length of it to get my barcode scanned. Impressive!

It was fantastic to experience a parkrun as big as this. I very much intend to return when I’m next in London.

Relive my run

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Great Scottish Run 2018

One of the self imposed ‘rules’ of my challenge to run 18 half marathons this year was that I had to include at least one race in each part of the British Isles.

Northern Ireland was already covered (obviously), and my travels so far had also taken me to England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland. That just left Scotland.

Thankfully, the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow was ideally scheduled to allow me to complete the set before I finished my challenge back in London where it all started next month.

This was #17 and my fourth in September. I travelled to Glasgow alone, as usual, a couple of days in advance of the race. I like to do this to give me a chance to explore somewhere new rather than just arrive, run and leave again. It also allows me to rest plenty beforehand and soak up the atmosphere. Not that any of that makes one iota of a difference to how I’ll run! I’m not some highly tuned athlete that needs to acclimatise in order to produce an optimum performance. I am what I am, I do what I do.

I’m from Northern Ireland. I’m used to it being cold but, my goodness, Glasgow was something else! I don’t think I ever warmed up from the minute I arrived to the moment I left. That could be purely coincidental, there has been a bug doing the rounds and I haven’t felt well since returning.

When I say I was alone in Glasgow, I wasn’t really. My club runs an annual trip to this race so there were around 14-15 of us in the city, most of whom stayed in the same hotel as me.

But I kept myself to myself largely, through choice. For some reason I felt sad for a lot of my time in Glasgow. Sad and lonely, despite having familiar faces on call if I needed. That thing about feeling alone in packed room very much rang true for me.

Anyway, about the race. It forms part of a weekend of running in Glasgow so on Saturday I walked the very short distance from my hotel to George Square to watch the family/kids races.

I really enjoyed this, and found it both inspirational and emotional in equal measure. Seeing some of the young kids who had overcome severe adversity in their short lives display such determination to cross the finishing line really pulled on the heart strings.

Onto Sunday. Being so close to the start I was able to go out and watch the 10k waves get underway before returning to the hotel to get ready for my own race.

That done, and several trips to the loo later, I was good to go. I made my way to the pens and almost immediately bumped into Michael, one of my running buddies from Diabetes UK and whom I spent a long time with in Swansea back in the summer. It was great to see him again and catch up, he’s faster than me so I knew I wouldn’t see him during the race!

If you know the Great Scottish Run you’ll know it starts with an almighty climb up St. Vincent Street. It looked quite daunting and it wasn’t for the faint hearted but it was good that it came right at the beginning when fresher legs are better equipped to deal with it.

I intended taking it slowly but with the adrenaline flowing it was difficult to do so. Knowing that I’d gone up it too quickly I made the conscious decision to make my second mile a very easy one just to allow my legs time to recover, so I dropped right down into a gentle jog.

Mile three brought me back up to speed but, for some reason, my fourth mile was even slower than the second. I’m not really sure why but this trend continued for a while – fast mile, slow mile – until, just after the halfway point, I settled into a bit of consistency. Not that I was struggling or anything like that, it was just how it went.

I felt I was running ok actually. Going into the race I had taken all pressure off myself as regards pace or time so perhaps being more relaxed was paying dividends.

I wasn’t going to set a personal best or anything like that (the inconsistent start put paid to that) but I was doing alright. I was enjoying myself going through the Glasgow parks and taking in some of the sights of the city.

Perhaps what I liked most about this one was the varied entertainment on route. There were pipers, lots and lots of pipers, as you’d maybe expect. There were also bands, dj’s, circus performers and, would you believe?, belly dancers! It was fantastic.

The local support out on the route was something else I really enjoyed. I can’t remember what they were saying or shouting but I did smile a lot.

Approaching the finish I felt content with my run, not my best time but nowhere near my worst either. An enjoyable run, all told.

I did feel a bit emotional at the end and took myself off to a quiet corner just past the finish line to have a moment. Obviously I was spotted because within moments this woman came rushing over to check if I was ok. I thanked her and reassured her I was fine.

I only felt the emotion because I knew I had only one race left to complete the 18. If I felt like this now I can only dread to think what I’ll feel like after my last one!

Relive my run

Belfast Half Marathon

A year ago I ran the Belfast Half Marathon and didn’t really enjoy it. I hated it in fact but,  because I’m running 18 half marathon’s this year, it would have been foolish not to include it on my schedule.

It was almost as local as it could get for me, getting there would be hassle free and, financially, it wouldn’t entail having to book flights, hotels or any other expenses. A bit of a no-brainer really.

I suppose, too, including it would give me a chance to lance the boil from twelve months ago, an opportunity to make my peace with the race, to put things right.

Travelling to the city with Bronagh and Iverene, the day started well enough with a pleasant journey and no problems getting parked.

Then, and I’m possibly veering into TMI territory now, as soon as we started walking towards Ormeau Park and the race ‘village’ my stomach suddenly began to play up. This wasn’t good. I really needed to find facilities somewhere but this was south Belfast on a Sunday morning, nowhere was open and the portaloos near the start seemed miles and miles and miles away and then some.

Entering the park things were getting really desperate. I was surrounded by trees and bushes and I really did seriously consider making a quick dash to quite literally become one with nature but, trying to maintain my dignity, I resisted as best I could.

Instead, I decided, I would sprint for the portaloos and just hope I’d be able to make it in time. Thankfully, I did but as soon as I joined the queue everything suddenly settled. Typical. Do you know how you could feel so very ill, get an emergency appointment with your GP but once you’re in the waiting room feel on top of the world? That.

I still made sure I did what I had to do (still TMI?) in case it quite literally came back to bite me on the arse during the race.

Anyway, onto the race. That’s why you’re here after all!

In my last few races I started off with a plan of holding back in the hope that the energy saved at the beginning would help me during the latter stages. That tactic hasn’t really worked so, this time, I decided just to run how I felt for as long as I could in the hope of building up a head of steam and that the time banked would make up for the inevitable slowing down later on.

I know that is something many coaches and experts warn against but I do think it’s the best plan for me.

I’ve tended to find that I start slow, stay slow and then get even slower. That, in turn, messes with my head. For me running is a big mental battle so I hoped that recording better times over the early parts would encourage me to keep going for longer and therefore clock an improved time at the finish.

Almost the first four miles of the race are focused on Ormeau Park. It’s slightly frustrating because it feels like it takes ages to actually get out into the city. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant run around a leafy part of Belfast but all you really want to do is get going.

I was quite pleased with these opening miles, finding my pace remarkably consistent throughout and faster than my last three races. This is what I wanted.

Now, as the route finally took us away from the park and into east Belfast, it was time to see if my pre-race plan would work.

And, do you know what?, it did! Miles five, six and seven were almost the same for pace as the first four and if I did slow it was only by around 10-15 seconds or thereabouts.

This was great. I wasn’t going to get carried away, but I was feeling good and had settled well into the race.

What hadn’t settled, unfortunately, was my stomach. Spying a bank of toilets I made a quick pit stop (hey, I said pit!) at around mile eight, partly precautionary because I didn’t know if there’d be any in the city centre. I knew at this point I was in personal best territory but I also knew if I was to get there I’d need to be in a good place for the last few miles so now was the best time to prepare myself.

Ultimately that stop was to cost me. I missed out on a PB by just under a minute, that same minute or so I spent in the loo! Yes, I was disappointed, but I was also pleased with my run so it balanced out. Plumbing issues aside everything went like clockwork.

Miles 10/11 were faster than in my more recent races which was good. I pushed hard for the last couple of miles in an attempt to chase that PB but, despite, my best efforts I just couldn’t make it. On the flip side, I was just over 20 minutes faster than last year! That’s a huge improvement in anyone’s book and something I’ve got to be happy about.

That’s number 16 done and dusted! SIXTEEN! Just two more left, the Great Scottish Run this weekend and the Royal Parks Half in the middle of October. I’m nearly there!

Relive my run