Last Saturday I made a return to Southampton pattern after over 2 years and 3 months (833 days to be exact). I posted about it on Facebook but realise that for some of my FB friends that the return may have little significance. Ignore the italic paragraph below if you’ve heard it all before!
For those of you that don’t know my parkrun back story… Over 6 years ago, I founded the Southampton parkrun event and was its first Run Director. Alongside founding several other events, I volunteered at over 250 parkruns and ran at over 130 parkruns including 50 on the Common. As well as that, I worked for parkrun for almost a year as Head of Technology. parkrun became all-consuming and I gave it a massive amount of my time. It became too much and I had to reclaim my life and my weekends. At the time, I was running at events on a Saturday and often volunteering at Southampton junior parkrun, which I also founded, on a Sunday.
In recent weeks, I’ve been running on a Saturday morning as part of training for a 10K which I DNS. I was enjoying these runs and missed the challenge of an event. The thought of returning to parkrun as a runner crossed my mind several times and I decided that I’d attend on Saturday. I’d not realised that it was parkrun’s 15th Birthday until I re-followed their FB pages a couple of days before.
Although I’ve been running a little more than usual of late, I’m far from my PB potential and set a goal of finishing in a time under 28 minutes and set up my Garmin accordingly. I’d read that as the events have promoted wider participation that the average finish time has changed from about 23 minutes to 32 minutes. I used to start towards the back 1/3rd of the pack but a check of a recent couple of results pages made it clear that I’d need to be much closer to the top third to consider not being boxed in for the first 1/4 of the run.
Having not been for so long, I’d forgotten what time I used to leave home or the best place to park! I left home at 8:10am and headed for Cemetery Road. With over 1000 participants on average, I was expecting the parkrun to be close to full but thankfully there were plenty of spaces left.
As I walked towards the Flats, I got talking to a chap from Halifax who was attending the event for the first time.
On arrival to the start area, I spotted Trevor E who’s a regular attendee at my S&C sessions and we chatted whilst setting up the cones towards the finish funnel.
The first thing I noticed was that the funnel was much further away than it used to be. I didn’t twig why that would be.
As the area began to fill up with other runners, I spotted a few familiar faces amongst the 100s and 100s I didn’t know. A wave to some, a smile to others. I chatted with Sarah S who was one of the Run Directors at Southampton junior parkrun and then spotted ex-work colleague, Teri, with a friend she was going to run with.
The briefing got under way and the pack of runners swelled as the latecomers arrived and found their positions. I was sure I was a little too far back but there was no way I’d be able to move anywhere.
The countdown began and we were off. With such a large numbers of runners, it was a slow start and my average pace on my Garmin implies that a sub-33 finish was expected. In order to meet my target time, I’d need to pick up the pace which meant weaving between packs of runners, nipping onto the verge and occasionally sprinting when I spotted a small gap.
As we got to the Bellemoor Triangle, we turned right. Huh? The course has changed. I was confused as we headed up towards the crossroads at the Showgrounds. I was even more confused when we turned right and ran down towards the Cowherds. This wasn’t like any previous run of the event and I wondered if we’d have to run up the long uphill drag from the Bellemoor Triangle to the north of the Common.
Once we’d run through the Flats again, we again turned right across the centre of the Common and we reached the crossroads again, turned left and headed to the hill heading north towards the top of the Common. The good news was that once we reached the top, it was all downhill and flat to the finish. My pace was reasonable and a sub-27 minute finish was on the cards. If I could increase the pace towards the finish final, 23:30 could be a reality.
In the final 50m, I managed to pick off a few runners and as I crossed the line I looked at my watch to see 26:34. Very happy with that.
As I was walking through the funnel to collect my finish token, I spotted two of the regular S&C participants, Sarah and Oana. Once I collected my finish token, number 400, I headed towards the queues for barcode scanning. I saw Sarah and Oana again but decided to not stop and chat as I was a sweaty mess and didn’t want to impose on them particularly whilst dripping.
Having had my barcode scanned I headed home. Happy to have made my return to parkrun and aiming to return next week with the aim of working towards getting close to my 5 year old PB of 23:34 – 3 minutes faster than my effort. I think that 12 weeks of training may just be enough.. but we’ll see.