50 today! No, not 50 years old, I just look it. It was my 50th parkrun!
The venue I chose for this momentous occasion was Northala Fields, which is somewhere nestled in the outskirts of North West London. I chose this one because a) it always sounds quite nice when people talk about it on Facebook b) Rob was officiating at some grown-ups’ race nearby later on and needed to take on a local parkrun. Ken also joined us for the expedition, and we were met by Rosie and Entire Family again. At the run briefing the Run Director asked if anyone had any milestones today and against my better judgement I put my hand up and got ushered towards a bench where I had to stand actually on the bench (which I did not like because I do not like heights) and have my photo taken. The photo has not yet surfaced online. I wish I had kept my hand down!
Northala Fields is a flat single lap course on mixed surfaces (tarmac, gravel, compact trail and trip hazard broken pavement) that takes in three fields. The first is the famous field of mounds, constructed from the rubble of the old Wembley Stadium. Disappointingly, you only run around the mounds and not actually up them, but before the run we took the opportunity to run up and take selfies and create chaotic GPS maps. It is actually further than it looks to the top and I had to take a shortcut down the steep side of the mound or risk missing the start. This could have ended very badly. The actual parkrun skirts round the mounds, up and down a very small incline and alongside a very busy road. It starts off as tarmac, but then changes to gravel. The New Runners Briefing Man described the course as 90% tarmac, but he has a funny definition of tarmac.
The second field is a moundless less interesting meadowy sort of field, which connects via a little bridge to field number three, which is the biggest. The path here is a sort of sandy trailly sort of thing, like at Hackney Marshes. It’s by no means horrendous, you won’t need to get your trail shoes out or come home caked in mud, but I do find these surfaces take away my bounce, not that I have a lot of bounce to begin with and put paid to any silly notions of a PB I might get into my head.
The course is another narrow one, and as is traditional for January, it was a busy week and I did find it rather crowded. A definite disadvantage to getting faster is that you have to share your space with other runners. I liked it better when I took over 40 minutes and there was no one around to get in my way. One man elbow barged me at about 2.5km – it clearly wasn’t deliberate and he did apologise but he got me right on my sore arm (the one that I landed on when I tripped over a yawning chasm in Tottenham Marshes ten days ago) and I yelped quite loudly and indignantly. It’s not as if he couldn’t see me! My Garmin pace chart is quite amusing at this point – there is a slow down as I am barged aside, followed by a rapid speed up where I do everything possible to chase down Mr Bargey, overtake him and make sure he never overtakes me again.
The other thing of note about the third field is that there is a weird bit where you actually leave the park entirely and run along a piece of (not very good at all) pavement. I am surprised they are allowed to have a course that does this. There obviously aren’t a lot of pedestrians in Northolt. The field seems to have more than three sides and it is a bit disorienting because you lose track of which way you came from and can see runners lining every side of the field and can’t work out if they are ahead of you or behind you. (Probably ahead, going on past experience). From then on, it’s back the way you came. The end feels a bit odd because you actually pass very close to the finish at 4-and-a-bit km but you still have a whole loop of the mounds to do, but the remaining runners start to mingle with people walking to the car park and/or doing a cool down jog and I had a momentary panic that I had gone the wrong way and was very glad to see the finish funnel appear, and Rosie and Rob (who had only finished eight minutes before me… I’m catching up on them) waiting patiently while Rosie’s children climbed on a artistically carved bench and made each other cry. Ken was not far behind me and I was very pleased to see that I had ultimately beaten Mr Bargey by at least a minute.
My finish time was 35:39 and I was very pleased with this because:
a) all that lousy sand and gravel and barging of sore arms meant this was never going to be a fast course for me.
b) it was finally a time that didn’t start with 36
c) I had predicted 35:38 in the ParkrunnerPB Facebook group competition meaning I was just one second off. Usually my prediction is least two minutes too fast. I have an inflated view of my own running abilities.
After this we all scuttled off in various directions but reconvened later in a vegan pub in Hackney to toast my 50th with ridiculous cocktails with entire chillis in them. This made Sunday’s RED Activity a walk by necessity. I was far too hungover to do anything more strenuous.