I am now a multinational parkrun tourist!
Last weekend I was in Berlin to see my favourite band, mesh. You will recall that this is the same band that I followed to Bradford, so at least they’ve upped their game on the glamorous locations. Berlin is home to the new-ish parkrun of Hasenheide, in the south west of the city. I’m told “Hasenheide” translates as “Bunny Heath”, as it used to be a hunting ground for rabbits. Nowadays the only rabbits you will see in the park are in a little children’s zoo. The wildlife has been replaced with a lot of homeless people sleeping on benches, the ubiquitous graffiti and for the authentic Berlin experience, some very tall walls with barbed wire on top. It has a LOT of trees (more dense, in fact, than the Bois de Boulogne) I stayed at the Hotel Ludwig van Beethoven on Hasenheide which is so close to the park you can see it from the windows, and it was just a ten minute walk to the start line. The park does feel a bit dodgy, reminiscent of Gladstone even, but no one gave me any bother.
The parkrunners congregate at a closed cafe bar in the centre of the park which is allegedly by a “natural theatre” and “fairy tale playground” (I saw neither). A week previously 517 runners in town for the Berlin Marathon had swamped poor little Hasenheide and all the marshals were still looking a bit shell-shocked. It was a slightly odd crowd of 94 that had congregated this week: a mixture of regulars (who seemed to be a 50/50 split between Germans and English speaking people), a few Australians (they get everywhere), a few marathon-inspired newbies and a few random tourists who looked like they’d got on the wrong bus and somehow ended up in Berlin. I was the only Cow Cowl and there definitely wasn’t the “holiday camp” feel that I’d experienced at Bois de Boulogne. I assume I was the only person there to see mesh as well. The Germans that I chatted to seemed to think it was most amusing that I’d come from London to Berlin to see a band from England. If they went to gigs in London they’d understand.
I was slightly scared by the warning during the briefing that mischievous locals like to turn the yellow arrows around sending parkrunners in the wrong direction, but fortunately on this occasion no one had bothered and anyway there were a good few locals going slightly faster than me that I kept within view. It’s a fairly simple course. You run (on tarmac) from the centre of the park to the path that goes all the way round the park, do a lap and a half of the park (with a little deviation on the second lap… more on that later), then turn off down another path back to the centre where you started. The course is such that it is nearly impossible to get lapped – you just have to be able to get to 1.8km before the fastest runner gets to 4.8km. The perimeter path is fine gravel rather than tarmac at first, and at this time of year it was quite hazardous due to pine cones and acorns. I saw one runner stack it on a pile of acorns, but she got to her feet before I could catch her to ask if she was ok. Germans are hardcore. I would have sat on the floor moaning for a full minute (see: Victoria Dock). At some point the path changes to tarmac though I am not sure where because of said acorn issue.
90% of Hasenheide parkrun is completely flat but the other 10% is monumentally steep. There is “the dip” which is, as you’d expect, a plunge into a valley (possibly where a river used to be?) and straight back up the other side. Then on lap two, the Hill Marshal directs you off the main path and up The Hill. The Hill is not actually a hill but a massive pile of WW2 rubble. It is pretty steep (maximum gradient 15%) with nine metres of up over a quarter of a kilometre. I think only doing the hill once is actually a really good feature of this parkrun – I really felt I could give it my all knowing it would be easy running once I got to the top. I overtook two people on the way up and nearly caught another so I was really pleased that all those arduous hilly runs I did over the summer seem to have paid off. According to Strava the kilometre with the hill in (number 4) was my fastest in terms of gradient adjusted pace.
My finish time was 38:02 which was pretty much exactly what I’d expected (in fact I was only two seconds away from my prediction in the “predict your parkrun time” competition). I had correctly anticipated I would have sore feet from too much sightseeing, overestimated how much the hills would slow me and under estimated the acorn effect.
Next week I will be stopping all this globetrotting nonsense and parkrunning in sunny Essex.