My first mistake was the schoolgirl error of missing a few days’ running and then trying to cram all my weekly mileage into 24 hours. It doesn’t work. A short, fast session followed by a long, slow run the next morning is just about doable, the other way round does not work at all. I woke up this morning with my legs feeling like blocks of lead and a serious urge to snooze the alarm clock and skip parkrun altogether.
My second mistake was opting for Highbury Fields (though, to be fair, with Finsbury Park cancelled, Hackney Marshes being without toilets and the London Overground being closed, there weren’t a lot of options left). I don’t want to say anything bad about a parkrun because they’re all friendly, free events and you can’t cater for everyone’s tastes, etc, but it really didn’t float my boat at all. The main problem (and the thing that had put me off going until now) is that it is FIVE AND A HALF LAPS. Having done thirty-ish laps of the running track yesterday, I thought that it maybe wouldn’t be so bad. But it is not so much the laps as the getting lapped. I was lapped pretty much on the dot of 1km, before I’d really had a chance to get going, and from then on it was a constant stream of being passed by the same people again and again, and by people who didn’t even look like they were moving very fast.
The other things I did not like were:
- I couldn’t find the toilets! The course page says they are near the leisure centre but all I could find at the marked location was a children’s playground with a sign warning unaccompanied adults to keep out. By the time I’d found where the runners congregated it was too late to ask so I just ran with an unpleasantly full bladder that didn’t get emptied until I was back home.
- Although the course is concrete, it’s very uneven with a load of potholes, cambre, massive puddles, mud, bumps, etc.
- The field is on a small hill but it’s the wrong sort of hill (too long, not steep enough and too wonky) and did not pass my hill quality checks at all. It also caused a coughing fit every single time I went up.
- Not sure if this was my Garmin having a moment but I thought the course was too long. I made it 5km not long after the end of the 5th lap, but there was still another trip up the wonky hill – that is, a SIXTH trip up the wonky hill – and a cut across the grass left.
- Also I have realised that I get unreasonably annoyed by courses that do not have the same amount of Down as Up. I feel conned by them!
- The finish was across some grass which had turned into wet, slippery mud. So for the last hundred metres, not only could I not sprint, I could not run! I could not even walk very fast because I didn’t want to fall over.
So in summary, between the concrete legs, the cough, the full bladder, the laps, the lapping, the mud, the potholes and the wonky hill, I had a shocker of a parkrun. My mojo went somewhere around the second lap, and as you know, when the mojo goes, the effort goes, the speed goes, the lapping increases and then the mojo spirals downwards and sends you into a state of Run Woe. By my third lap, people were starting to finish, and by the fourth, nearly everyone had. If I hadn’t needed the run credit for my free t-shirt and tourist cow-print cowl, I might have just called it a day, but I carried on to waddle home in a time of 39:22, a full four minutes slower than my last parkrun five days ago.
I feel bad about being so negative about my experience at Highbury Fields so I will end on a few positives. Firstly, it’s the closest you’ll get to a Central London parkrun and is very convenient for public transport and easy to find – it’s a good choice for people on holiday in London. There’s not a lot of large parks that far into London and the well known ones are too busy for a parkrun. They’ve done the best they can with what’s available. Secondly, as a friend pointed out, the multiple lap format can be good if you’re not at the back, as you get to see all the other parkrunners as you will either overtake or be overtaken by them at some point. I imagine it is also good if you are new or injured, as it would be simple to do a couple of laps and drop out (though of course you wouldn’t get a time or credit for that). Lastly and most importantly, the after-run refreshments take place in a pub – a Wetherspoons no less. So this would be the parkrun of choice if you are an alcoholic on holiday in London. But it just wasn’t for me!
Next stop on the parkrun tourism journey: Dulwich parkrun on 6th January. No, I won’t be taking park in a New Year’s Day parkrun. I have a hangover scheduled.