The places you end up supporting a non league football team. Blackpool, for instance. What a place. It reminds me of those video games I used to play before I started spending all my time running, where you roam a town filled with non-playable characters, simulated humans who slowly and purposelessly roam the streets with a vacant look in their eyes, occasionally bashing into each other or into walls. Blackpool is absolutely swamped with people doing nothing slowly. Everything was built a hundred years ago and is heaving with demonic children tripping over the complex mobility aids of the substantial elderly population in narrow corridors. The menu is sausages and donuts. Vegans can starve, Blackpool has not yet embraced the avocado. Even if they had, you wouldn’t find the room to sit down and eat it.
Blackpool does, however, have one saving grace and that is that you can get on a tram and get out of there and head to the lovely little town of Fleetwood, just a little bit further into the north. It is a peaceful place with a beautiful beach, a bracing sea breeze and of course, a parkrun. So this is what I did. I spent a night at Kelvin House – which I would highly recommend to any potential parkrunners both for clean, comfortable accommodation and location and in the morning after a glorious lie in until SEVEN AM I walked down to the promenade (less than five minutes) to find the parkrun. The start sign just behind the Marine Hall was immediately obvious, but there did not seem to be any people around until I neared and clocked them taking refuge from the breeze on a picnic bench. (NB. I believe this is where the toilets are but as I was staying so close by I didn’t use them). I was the first non-volunteer to arrive, but a few seconds later a nice man with a cow cowl who had apparently come all the way from Oxford for no other reason than to do this parkrun arrived. The usual dissection of every parkrun in the country ensued until it was time for me to very reluctantly remove my big winter coat, peel my Cow Cowl off my ears and do a bit of running.
There was no separate new runners’ briefing as out of 94 runners there was only one completely new person who seemed to know everyone by name anyway. Quite a lot of people were tourists from nearby parkruns (Blackpool, Manchester etc). This was only the 14th event at Fleetwood so I expect some people might be in the process of defecting. The route really is the easiest to follow in the history of parkruns: you run west for 2.5km, then turn round a marshalled cone and run 2.5km east. If you somehow took a wrong turn, you would end up in a bush or drifting out to the Isle of Man. Nonetheless the team took no chances and placed a few marshals at strategic gaps in the route.
This really is a beautiful route. Aside for the first 50m or so, which is alongside some beach huts, it’s all along a seafront path with reeds on one side and a stunning view of the sandy beach and the sea to the other. The tarmac is of the type with pebbles in and it’s not perfect but it could be a lot worse. There are no real potholes or trip hazards. I got off to a flying start with my first two kilometres both coming in under seven minutes. I really thought I could be on for a PB. It was also nice to have the out-and-back course so you can see your fellow parkrunners (and their dogs) but not get lapped by them. I was cheered to see Mr Oxford Tourist engaged in a fearsome battle for first place with another bloke, and man in a Vegan Runners vest near the front of the pack. If I could have spoken, I would have shouted something encouraging. Unfortunately, as I got to the bend at Rossall Point, I found I was suddenly running into that “gentle sea breeze” and I was basically running on the spot and gagging on my own breath. Half a kilometre later, I reached the turnaround marshal, who was standing at the top of a tiny slope (the only incline on the course). This slope felt like Mount Everest. There was then half a kilometre of respite with the wind behind me, but I realised that once I had rounded the bend I was once again running into the wind. This didn’t entirely make sense as the wind was apparently blowing in two directions at once, but that’s the North for you.
Much to my annoyance, I felt my speed and that new PB slipping between my fingers. By the time I got back to the finish line, narrowly beaten by a large dog and his owner during the sprint finish, I had to be content with 36:30. I suppose I shouldn’t find this disappointing, it’s still my fastest parkrun since the marathon but goddamnit I really felt I had it in me to go sub 35 and I couldn’t even go sub 36!! Surely my time must come soon? I was pleased to note that Mr Oxford Tourist had won the battle for first finisher, though. Someone has to do the Cow Cowl proud.
Point of interest: Fleetwood wins the record for fastest result processing ever. Results email received at 10:23am. Also for once my watch time and official time were identical.
Leyton Orient won 3-1 by the way.