Running with an Olympic Legend!

Last Friday I finished work, jumped on the train and made my way down to Sheffield for my sister-in-law’s birthday. After a fantastic evening filled with food, drink and catching up,  I set my alarm for an early morning adventure at Sheffield Hallam parkrun. Now I have actually done this parkrun before however last time I was sneaking out of my hotel on the morning of my brother’s wedding armed simply with a map and my barcode. This time I was a little better prepared and had the luxury of a lift and some company for my morning as my dad would be running also while my mum and brother watched on with a coffee.


As we walked into the park things looked much busier than my last encounter here. On my run in December 2014 there had been just 354 people taking part, on this Saturday there were over 700. There had been rumours circulating that local hero and Olympic Gold Medalist Jessica Ennis would be taking part in her first parkrun on this very morning and it appeared that this prospect had drawn out a lot of runners! I was a little starstruck when I lined up alongside Jess on the startline but I managed to get a cheeky selfie before the run instructions began and she was great.


As the countdown to the start began it became clear that this would be a congested start. The BBC had cameras on Jess as she lined up at the front and I think a lot of people were keen to get in the picture! After a few seconds we were away and it took me a while to find my stride. The initial section of the course involves a small loop before heading straight back up the path from which you have started. In these busy conditions it was a little tricky to maneuver through the crowds but eventually things opened up and we climbed the path through Endcliffe Park. The route follows a gentle slope up alongside a rive until eventually leaving the park. A sharp right turn then leads into a long steady downhill section on the pavement just outside the park itself. On my first lap it felt as though it took up to this point for my legs to really get going (possibly due to my poor warmup – I may have been slightly distracted by Jessica Ennis!) but the long downhill really gave me a chance to open up and get some pace going.


At the bottom of the hill it was another short loop inside the park before heading back up the slope again. This time around I found that I was overtaking runners and gaining on the runner in front. I started to settle into my rhythm a little and began to feel strong. As I hit the top of the hill I turned right and prepared to push down the hill towards the finish but things were just a little crowded. The pavement was only really wide enough for two people side by side so it made it a little tricky to pass. I was able to pick up the pace a little but definitely had more in the tank.


Coming into the finish again was very busy but the marshals were fantastic. The huge turnout made it a little awkward as the final mini-loop is very tight and it is a little difficult to get through the traffic to the finish funnel. The parkrun volunteers did a great job however of making this as clear as possible and, while it maybe cost me a few seconds, it was a great atmosphere and a lovely route.


After the run I got chatting to a few people from other parkruns. Notably, Paul Sinton-Hewitt was taking part and made the time to have a chat with me about parkrun. I told him of my experiences on the core team at Rouken Glen junior parkrun and of my trip to Bushy park on Christmas morning. He was brilliant and had plenty to say about running in Glasgow and of his experiences with the community. I also had a good chat with a guy from Woodhouse Moor parkrun who was working his way round the Yorkshire events.


All in all this was a great morning. My two Sheffield Hallam parkrun experiences have been fantastic and both stand out for different reasons. I wonder what will happen next time I am down…

Drumchapel / Tollcross parkrun


What a great morning at Tollcross parkrun yesterday. The original plan was a Team Runbetweeners visit to Drumchapel parkrun in the north of the city but that one unfortunately fell victim to the cold weather. Thanks to Brian for the early warning.

After some hastily rearranged travel plans we made our way towards the east end, scene of Jack’s wedding day run and one of numerous stops on our now infamous tour of the Clydes. Tollcross parkrun prides itself on two things – it’s hills and never having been cancelled.

Always keen to try something a bit different we were not sure if the new route would be a blessing or a curse for those trying Tollcross for the first time. The alternative course has less hills but more laps. It was very hard underfoot yesterday leading to the first challenge. Shoe selection. The lesson learned is that you can definitely have too many running shoes as I struggled to decide between road, racing and cross country shoes. Turning around for advice it was obvious that everyone else had trail shoes 🙂

After wishing everyone luck we were off. Hugging the cones around the middle field before dropping down and climbing sharply round the bank of trees. After that it’s back to the start line and repeat another three times. I set off crazily fast and was far too close to The Boy even although he was cruising. Slowing back a little I settled into a battle with two teenage boys who burned me on the downhills and who I caught on the uphills.

It was good to cross paths so often with the rest of the team who seemed to be enjoying it (of sorts). The Boy made a burst for home with about a lap and a half to go and the youngsters left me for dust around the same time.


Two runners hit the 100 mark yesterday and the legendary John Softley was doing his 300th. This meant the post race snacks were even better than normal with a couple of customised cakes on offer. Thanks for that. A great event and we’re looking forward to heading to Drumchapel again in the near future. To complete a day of running we headed out for a 10 mile cool down followed by the Bellahouston Harriers Christmas Night out.

Glasgow parkrun smash up

An early start yesterday morning for our first running challenge in a while. 5am alarms as The Boy and I headed out to attempt all four Glasgow parkruns in one go. This one has been on the list for a while but various commitments mean it has taken longer to get to than planned. Thankfully despite the early start we got a great day for it setting off as others were making their merry way home from a livelier Friday night out than either of us.



Sunrise over the Clyde – en route to Victoria Park

parkrun has obviously featured heavily in the press this week so it was good to get out yesterday and show a bit of solidarity with the parkrun community. For those who don’t know what parkrun is all about – in a nutshell it is a free, weekly timed 5km run / jog / walk organised by volunteers in parks all across the world. Free being the important word this week as one of the events in England fights attempts to bring in a charge for the use of their local park.


Anyway back to the plan which was to use the bikes to get between each of Glasgow’s four parkruns and run each route culminating at our local parkrun (Pollok) in time for the 9-30am start. In relation to some of our other challenges this one seemed reasonably straightforward. Perhaps even a more pedestrian and enjoyable morning lay ahead particularly since my best attempts to persuade The Boy that we should be running between each Park were thwarted – he wasn’t up for the full 31 miles and in hindsight I’m glad he reigned me in for once 🙂


Planning done we were facing about 22 miles of cycling and 12.4 miles of running. In terms of our own training and fitness at the moment this would be ok for both, perhaps maybe a bit too comfortable for us so we had to make it a bit more of a challenge – Royal Flush! If you’ve never heard of a royal flush in running circles it’s a term  coined by the guys at Marathon Talk (running podcast). Royal Flushing is when you try to do each interval (mile / km / 5km) in succession quicker than the last. This certainly added a layer to the challenge.



Stop 1 – Victoria Park

So after a 7 mile pre-dawn ride from the south side to stop number 1 we set off reasonably slowly just before 6am in the largely abandoned Victoria Park with the sun popping up above the horizon. Some (MarathonTalkers) may call this type of start sandbagging – a form of cheating where you deliberately go off too slow to make later miles easier. I like to think of it as experienced tactical move given what was to come 🙂 Anyway on to parkrun #1.


A relative newcomer to the Glasgow parkrun circuit Victoria was for a long time my local route and where I hold my current pb. It has become a much larger event in the last couple of years which is testament to the organisers and volunteers. This route comprises 3 laps of the park including the pond (with some bad ass swans who positioned themselves menacingly across the path on lap two) and fossil grove. A recent addition has been a Sunday Junior parkrun at Victoria, a first for Glasgow.


After what seemed like an eternity locking up the bikes, adjusting kit, updating the twitter feed (#glasgowparkrunsmashup – I’m assuming this was trending worldwide as our legion of fans set the alarm clocks to monitor the challenge) and watching The Boy try to set up his fancy gopro/selfie stick combo it was good to be running as we settled into a nice groove and reasonable pace. The Boy only went the wrong way once during the second lap – it’s like getting lost on a running track 🙂 – and we crossed the line in 25:33. 1/4 done.



Transition to Stage 2 and Arriving at Springburn Park


We spent far too long mucking about at the end of run 1 (more on this later) and getting lost on the cycle over to Sprinburn Park which was much more of a climb than I had remembered. The sun was now high in the sky though and the early frost on the paths was thawing out removing lingering doubts that some of the events may actually be cancelled.


The Boy and I have only been to Springburn parkrun a couple of times. A little smaller than the others it is no less of an event with enthusiastic and welcoming organisers. I think The Boy still holds the course record too. Two and a half laps with some undulation there is a really nice woodland section in this one. It was around about now that we realised we’d made the mistake of starting with the fastest parkrun in the city followed by the second fastest – and we were meant to be getting quicker. The Royal Flush was in danger and we realised for the first time that we hadn’t quite set aside the time that would be required for a leisurely tour of Glasgow’s parkruns.


The Boy was mucking about with his young folk technology at the start of this one with his selfie stick / go pro combo so I headed off on my own. I kept glancing back to see him catching me but there was no sight during the first two laps and I was panicking that he’d done a Jack and got himself lost. Thinking about doing extra laps this early in the challenge wasn’t a great thought. So it was a welcome relief to see him sprinting up behind me as we neared the final two turns into the home straight.


This one was definitely quicker in the legs as we warmed up into the challenge. 22:32 on the watch. 2/4 done. The sandbagging had gone badly wrong at this stage.


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Event Number 3 – Tollcross parkrun


The downhill transition on the bike to Tollcross was a welcome break for the legs but by this point we realised we’d be cutting it dangerously fine to get to the fourth and final event in time for 9-30am (this is when parkruns traditionally start in Scotland and we wanted to complete the challenge with the masses). We definitely picked up the pace on the bike arriving at Tollcross at about 8-25am just as the run director and volunteers were arriving to lay out the course for their own event at 9-30am.


Bike lock up and transition now down to a fine art we were moving before long this time around. Tollcross gives a different experience again complimenting the other routes in the city and is definitely worth a visit. I’d rate it as the trickiest and slowest course. This one is a two lapper with two steep climbs on each lap. The Royal Flush on legs that were getting more and more tired was a concern so The Boy took the lead on pacing.


Although we’ve both volunteered running this one you realise how much you take the volunteers for granted and they gave great support as we ran about like a couple of loon balls who’d turned up to the party an hour early. All over the country people are giving up their time to give the rest of us a run.


Anyway after the usual struggle due to the elevation on this one we ended up in need of a bit of a sprint finish (on the grass) to dip across the line in 22:26 preserving the Royal Flush attempt by 6 seconds. 3/4 done.


Sadly the cake table (the main reason you want to be visiting Tollcross parkrun) was just getting set up as we packed the bags and jumped on the bikes for the final transition. We had about 7 miles to cross the city back to the southside and it was approaching 8-55am. It was touch and go but some off road cycling and weaving in and out of the traffic got us into Pollok and locking up the bikes with a couple of minutes to spare. It was great to catch up with some of the Mondaynighters on the start line at Pollok.


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Pollok parkrun – Arriving in the Middle of the Briefing


For those who don’t know Pollok is the original and largest Glasgow parkrun which takes place in Pollok Park. Navigating your way close to the front of the field is important if you are after a quick pace given the number of runners participating so we just had enough time to slot in reasonably near the front of the pack. We spotted a few Bellahouston Harriers and I could see Jack was torn between race mode which would have meant getting off the go pro and backpack and stripping down to the vest and racing shorts but the cycling and three previous 5k efforts alongside the early start had definitely taken their toll on the legs.


Thankfully it was pacer week and after about 600 metres The Boy and I tucked just in behind the 22 minute pacer. I think we were both feeling it during the first 1.5k and by this stage I was considering sacking the Royal Flush idea and just dropping back and finishing the challenge but the legs loosened off as we approached the first of the two climbs in Pollok (again a two lap course) and we closed the small gap on the pacer and the large group chasing pbs. Dropping down off the hill and onto the second lap we stretched out the legs a little before moving up the field to ensure the Royal Flush element was met.


We finished less than a minute longer my overall Pollok pb so I am wondering whether a more rigorous warm up is required in future weeks. 21:23. 4/4 done and challenge complete.


So too was the Royal Flush – surely worth a mention on next week’s Marathon Talk? – and despite a bit of sandbagging at the start it was a decent effort considering the duration of the challenge and the naivety of doing the easiest routes earlier in the morning.


A fun challenge despite the fact that everyone else seemed to think it was a bit bonkers – always a measure of a good run for us I think. To top it all off we gatecrashed a hen weekend kicking off their celebrations with a bit of parkrun tourism before heading into the cafe to refuel.



Challenge Complete!


Basking in the glory of our achievements it was great to look around the cafe and see so many faces we knew from races / parkrun / the Harriers and our Monday night group. To us this is what parkrun is really all about – bringing people of all abilities together to promote both physical and mental wellbeing. Long many it continue and long may it be free.


Thanks as always to the volunteers who make it all possible.


Kenny and Jack


ps – as a small side note all the rides were negative split pace too. Double Royal Flush 🙂