At home (parkrun) with the Yellings

Week 2 of my 56 week training plan has gone to… er, plan. All workouts completed except for one swim which I missed through poor organisation which I replaced with a short Fartlek-style session on Friday to loosen my legs ready for Saturday’s parkrun.

On Sunday, I was official starter for the Lordshill 10 Mile Road Race. It was a surprise but it was also lovely to be asked. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure why I was chosen but I really enjoyed the role.

The highlight of the running-related week was undoubtedly meeting Tom Williams, parkrun’s UK Country Manager, during the Southampton leg of his UK tour meeting event teams and prospects. At the Southampton meeting, there were 31 of us including teams from Brockenhurst, Eastleigh, Havant, Southampton, Netley Abbey and Poole. Tom, and fellow MarathonTalk podcaster/presenter, Martin Yelling, had some great anecdotes and the meeting was excellent.

Martin announced that he’d be joining us at Southampton parkrun on Saturday along with his wife, Olympic Marathon runner, Liz Yelling and their daughter, Ruby (aka Roo). I’ve met Martin once before at Eastleigh parkrun but not met Liz before.

This brings me to Saturday’s parkrun. Each weekend that I’m available for parkrun (2 in 3 weekends) I have some guilt that I’m not visiting each of ‘my’ events. Clearly that’s not possible without cloning so the guilt then focuses on deciding to run rather than volunteer. However, I do spent several hours during the week dealing with emails, preparing the volunteer rota for Netley Abbey, hanging out on the event Facebook pages and, more than occasionally writing news reports. I also Run Direct at Netley Abbey once every 5 weeks and keep an all seeing eye over the other events. Maybe the guilt should subside a little.

Given the fact I’d decided to run, I chose Southampton mainly because I wanted a fast run but also due to Martin, Liz and Southampton parkrun first-timer (Olympian and GB record-holder) Iwan Thomas being there. Southampton Common offers a fast course and is likely to be the venue where I’ll regain a parkrun PB (unless I visit Poole).

Having arrived, said a few ‘hellos’, I chatted with Martin and Liz (a thoroughly nice couple who run and volunteer regularly at Poole parkrun. Both regularly grace the front cover of running magazines and its not difficult to see why!), it was time to say a brief hello to Iwan before the start. He let me know he had received his parkrun barcode…

…There’s a bit of back story here but I don’t have time to share it other than to say the we’re strictly enforcing the ‘no barcode, no result’ policy common across all parkruns. Why do we do this?

We don’t ask parkrun participants to do much but offer a lot for free in return. All parkruns are run at a local level by volunteers who give up their own free time to help out. The key role of Run Director requires 3-4 hours on, and leading up to the Saturday event, of which runners only really see the 5 minute pre-run briefing.

One of the more time consuming tasks is that of results processing which involves downloading the data from the assorted gadgetry (barcode scanners and timers), uploading the data, processing it and then submitting the results to HQ. On a good day, this can typically take 5-10 minutes but if there are any discrepancies in the data (mismatched times and positions for example), the process can take much longer.

Having to enter manual barcodes slows the whole process down and means the Run Director has to spend more of their time on parkrun than is necessary. Given the time they’ve already given up, this is rather unfair and we, as parkrunners, should be making their lives easier rather than harder. We therefore ask you to bring your barcode with you. You wouldn’t be able to compete in a race without your race number (or having registered and paid your entry fee). We don’t stop you participating but won’t give you a result.

Manually entering a barcode number (or searching for a parkrunner) typically takes 20-30 seconds. Although this may not be much for one barcode, if 10 or more runners forget their barcode, this can (and has) doubled the time to process the results.

And so to my parkrun…

I started a little too far back within the 220 runners attending and had to do some weaving to find my pace. Before I hit the Flats, Martin Yelling floated past pushing Roo, Martin made pushing a 3 1/2 year look far easier than it actually is.

As I got to the Bellemoor entrance, the field was spreading out and it was time to prepare for the hill, er hill, that goes around the northern end of the Common. I’ve run the course several times but the length of the incline seems longer each time. It’s deceiving as you get an incline, a plateau, then another incline. This pattern continues about twice more than expected with the last incline being steeper than the previous ones.

Fortunately, after the first mile, there’s a downhill stretch back to the Bellemoor and then a flat section back through The Flats. I’d tried to keep things strong on the climb but was looking forward to a little respite.

Lots of encouragement as I passed the finish area to start the last ‘lap’ was much appreciated. By now I was beginning to feel a little fatigued and I wondered whether I’d finish (in reality, I do this at every parkrun, dreaming up excuses for why I didn’t finish). I’d said to Kirsty, a fellow LRR, that I wanted to finish in 24 minutes and not finishing would have been an embarrassment after such an announcement.

As I entered the gravel path that leads towards the paddling pool, the mental battle continued. As I passed Irene who was marshalling at the far side of the paddling pool and headed north along the path that runs almost parallel with the Avenue, I almost stopped. Feeling defeated and told myself not to stop, zipped up my man-suit and slowed (without stopping!) to conserve some energy. At this point, dreams of a 24 minute finish went out of the window and sub 25 looked likely (probably 24:35).

I made it to the top of the incline knowing it was downhill or flat from there.

Before long I was on the flats and with about 300 metres to go, I could hear Kirsty say ‘there’s James’ and start shouting encouragement.

With what seemed like a long way to go, Kirsty stsrted a countdown from 10 and I sped for the line. I crossed it one second past 24 minutes in 24:01. Not bad considering I’d almost lost it at 4km. I’m not sure how I found the energy to cover the distance to the finish so quickly, but it just goes to show what a goal and encouragement to reach that goal can do.

Had it not been for the encouragement from some of the marshals, it would have been an ‘ok’ performance. Instead, it was a course PB at Southampton and my second fastest 5km, 8 seconds away from my PB set over a year ago. Happy with that.

Unfortunately, I was unable to visit the cafe for post-run chat and beverages as I had to look after the boys earlier than expected. Given the athletics royalty in attendance, this was pretty disappointing.

Overall, however, a great parkrun morning.

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