Attending Aberdeen parkrun used to be a key part of my Saturday morning running when I lived in Aberdeen, with a couple of miles run to the start for a warm up and a couple of miles back afterwards usually making a nice 10 mile start to my weekend. Now that I live a good 15 miles away it is far less convenient and an early morning trip up is usually only been made once or twice a year. When my friend Naomi invited me for dinner last Friday, with use of her spare room and a trip to Aberdeen parkrun in the morning, I was delighted to see that my calendar was actually free and looked forward to a return visit.
Although I was shocked to see that my last visit was actually in May 2014, I was not altogether surprised. As a dyed in the wool ultrarunner, parkruns, 5km races and anything 10k and under generally scares the crap out of me and I avoid them like the plague unless I have a temporary change of heart and fancy a change. Afterwards, I remember why I consider anything of marathon distance and shorter to be too much work and avoid them again for months on end. I wouldn’t say I’m stuck in my ways, but…if I’m going to feel *that* bad at the end of a run, I like it to be because I’ve been running for 25 hours, not 25 minutes.
However, it had clearly been long enough for me to forget the pain of an all-out 5km sprint, so going to Aberdeen parkrun on a Saturday morning in January sounded like a super idea. For those who aren’t familiar; the course is an out-and back along the beach promenade, and is mainly flat apart from a gentle 200m incline at the start and a couple of cruel dips where the esplanade lowers to allow vehicular access to the beach. A run at Aberdeen beach, parkrun or not, can either be an utterly stunning, life-affirming experience, or a hellish battle of the mind and legs as you fight against cruel sea winds and biblical precipitation.
Luckily on the 23rd of January we were blessed with views similar to the former of the above two example, albeit with a chilling wind. After a two mile jog of a warm up I was ready to go alongside nearly 300 happy parkrunners and shot off when the hooter went, wondering what I’d got myself into.
Since I’ve been working on building up speed this month, I wanted to give the 3.1 miles my absolute all and get a good benchmark for the start of the year. My 5k PB is 24:18 which was set in May 2014 one week after I had ran the 53 mile Highland Fling for the second time. Being able to run that fast after a 53 mile race made no sense to me at the time and still doesn’t; but it’s just one of these things I just shall not question. I wasn’t expecting to get anywhere near my PB, but I wanted a solid, steady effort. My trick at parkrun in the past has been to post a massive positive split with a good minute in difference between my first and third split, so I wanted to show I’d learned at least something in the last few years and commit to a strong pace at the start and maintain it.
My interval sessions have been conducted at 8 minute miles since the start of the year, so I was pleased when my watch beeped for the first mile showing an 8:03. That was my challenge then – to bash out another two of those. It felt reasonably comfortable with the exception of the first 1.5 miles being into a light wind which meant I was constantly pushing harder than I’d have liked, but I know the reward would come on the return leg.
The second mile beeped with 8:04 and I was really pleased, but now the familiar burning feeling of death was creeping into my legs and lungs. Naomi passed me at the start of the third mile and maintained a tantalising 20 meter lead; chasing her pulled me forward as I adopted the crazed, wild eyed, tongue-lolling expression of someone in the last kilometer of a 5km run.
After the recent storms we’ve had up here, there was a lot of thick sand from the beach up on the esplanade which was a real energy sapper. I tried to pick out smart ways to cross the massive piles and avoid the deepest sections, but it was pretty much unavoidable. There was a photographer sneakily positioned somewhere towards the end of the Promenade who was capturing the grimaces right before the final turn and the last 400m sprint to the finish line; it’s reassuring to know I looked as good as I felt here.
After crossing the line and the customary 20 seconds of will I/won’t I throw up my breakfast feelings, I got my barcode scanned and checked my watch. Much to my delight I saw the third mile clocked at 8:04 to make three almost identical splits, and I’d finished in 25:03. For someone as allergic to running fast as I have been recently, I’m very pleased with that result for the first measured effort of the year and look forward to a return visit to Aberdeen parkrun next month to hopefully see continued progress. Last year I failed to even try to make any improvement in my road distance personal bests, so in 2016 I’d like to see considerable improvement across them all!
Are you a parkrun addict?
What are your speed goals for this year?