Saturday was my first Parkrun; for those who have never done one, it is a series of 5k races run at (give or take) 164 separate venues all around the country (and in 7 other countries round the world). There is no entry fee; all you have to do is sign up on the website, and print off your own barcode. The organisers time everybody and send you an email letting you know how you got on within a few hours of the race. Each Saturday 80,000 people take part, 3,000 of them for the first time. The phenomenon even has its own weekly radio show.
I was running at Finsbury Park in a race led off by ultra-runner Michael Wardian, who between 2007 and 2009 held the world record for running a marathon while pushing a baby in a buggy (in case you’re wondering, his time was 2hrs 42, which would be pretty decent even without the buggy).
I ran with a man called Adam. He told me how he’d started running: in Switzerland, on garden leave for a few months, he needed something to pass the time, and started up running less than a year ago. Having caught the bug, he is now in England, and has his sights set on a half marathon in the autumn.
The route itself took us twice round the eastern side of the park, up and down a gentle hill, and past the running track and the lake. Even before we had started, I could feel the calf tear which has weighed on my running all through the summer. I tried to compensate for it by keeping my feet low and my tread gentle on the ground.
Adam had one of those fantastic watches which you can use to give you a clear time for each kilometre, and from early on I could tell that we were running at only around 25-26 minute pace. I thought of running a little faster, but I preferred to finish without injury rather than risk a worse tear.
The day was bright, and all around I could sense the gentle cascade of the wind blowing through so many leaves.
I kept up with Adam to the last 300 metres, confident by then that he would break his own PB of 26 minutes (which he did) and kicked on for about the last minute, running it in about the same sort of pace that I had run the 800 metres on Monday. If anyone had been watching I’m sure they would have teased my “Hollywood finish”. In truth, when my legs are as week as they have been, I can’t run properly for more than a few hundred metres.
The race leaves me to reflect on why I run. I have plenty of friends who are capable of maintaining a competitive speed for far longer than I can. They make decent road runners. I know of others, even if I don’t count them in my immediate acquaintance, who see running as a chance to explore wild places, previously unknown to them. I lack the stamina or the opportunity (being London-based) to run like them.
What I enjoy best are those few seconds at the end where my body “clicks”, and I race at anything like my top speed.