For many years I was a regular attender of the Whitby Goth Weekend, which is an opportunity for goths to convene by the seaside with a huge suitcase full of footwear, drink too much beer, meet people from far away that they only previously knew on the internet and pay little or no attention to the main event that we’d paid a serious amount of money to attend. It transpires that there is an equivalent event for runners! Except it’s not by the sea, and it’s in bloody January, and the footwear in the suitcase is running shoes instead of platform boots.
And so it was that I found myself in the Ibis Budget somewhere in the arse end of Birmingham on Friday afternoon, after a delightful journey where the people sat next to me in the quiet coach considerately indulged in a picnic of prawns and listened to Funny Videos on their phones with no headphones. What a shit hotel! There was an actual vomit stain on the carpet near the door to my room, but fortunately none in my room… because there was no carpet, just that cold plastic flooring you might expect to find in the toilets at work. The toilet was smaller than a plane toilet, the shower was actually in the room next to the bed, there was no shampoo, hairdryer or kettle (Linda was horrified by the kettle bit and said I should put in an official complaint and surely that must be illegal) and there was a sign on the wall informing me that the heating would shut off automatically if the temperature should exceed 21c.
Given the temperature restriction, it was perhaps a good thing that I had my daily RED activity to do – a ten minute work out via the Jillian Michaels app. I had to do the burpees very gingerly to avoid kicking the bed in such a confined space, and I didn’t have dumbbells in my suitcase so I had to use my boots, but Jillian didn’t complain.
Next it was off to Wetherspoons where I met a bunch of people from the Single Pringles Facebook group. This is a group for single runners where a lot of people post inspiring quotes, sexist jokes and sweaty cleavage selfies (you can probably guess which of these interest me the most). There have been a few Pringle romances, though the majority seem to end in a big drama when it turns out that the male Pringle has been hedging his bets and dipping his Pringle into multiple salsa pots. I have not had any romance from this group because most of the men are tossers and most of the women are devout heterosexuals, but I have made a lot of amazing online friends and it was really nice to meet them in person at long last, although kind of weird to see people that you normally see in a static selfie coming to life and moving around and talking.
I left around 10pm after only having one alcoholic drink because much to other people’s disgust, being in a fit stage for parkrun was more important to me than getting ratarsed. As I left someone was buying shots and starting a game of Spin The Bottle. I told the others to meet me in the lobby at 7:30am to walk to parkrun. Precisely one Pringle managed to do this.
Cannon Hill parkrun! What a whopper! There were 919 participants on this rainy January morning, making it the biggest parkrun I had ever attended. Their usual attendance is 500-600, so even when it’s quiet, it’s busy. It is a really well cared for park with lots going on – mini golf, a little train, swan-shaped paddle boats in the lake, a nice cafe and lots of well landscaped gardens. Sadly, the toilets by the start were not as well cared for, but after my night in the Ibis I was getting used to roughing it. As I warmed up with a few half hearted laps around the bandstand a trickle of worse-for-wear Pringles started to filter in, some of whom were brandishing sick notes and declaring that they would just power walk today. Eventually, after a new runners briefing that no one could hear a word of, the 919 lined up and off we went…
… very slowly
It turns out that running in a pack of 919 isn’t a good way to achieve your full potential. For the first kilometre I was completely bound to the speed of the people around me, as the course headed along a narrow path by the lake. The only way to make forward progress would be to swim round or to push everyone else out of my way into the lake, neither of which are conducive to the spirit of parkrun. The organisers have actually tweaked the route recently so the laps are different and no one laps you (as it would actually have been impossible for them to get through) but even so, the park was absolutely heaving. The route is a lap and a half of the lake, followed by an out and back section. There is a small hill near the end of the lap but otherwise it is a flat course, all on tarmac. The out and back was a nightmare because people were trying to overtake by getting on the wrong side of the path and running into your face and it seemed never ending. I assumed it would be better once I reached the “back” and only had slower runners as oncoming traffic, but no, they were still coming thick and fast. I passed a few green looking Pringles on the home stretch.
The route finishes with a completely unnecessary steep hill making this a net uphill course (the start being at the bottom of the hill and the finish at the top). In the words of one of the regulars “we are getting a bit overcrowded here so we thought this might put a few people off”.
My finish time was 35:58 – in 797th place!! – and I was quite pleased with that (so close to being another dreaded 36:xx) but at the same time it was a bit annoying because I know I would have been faster if there had been fewer people there. I must make a effort to seek out some smaller parkruns soon.
After a hot cup of tea and a shower it was off to the Running Show which was just as crowded as the parkrun! We found a nice warm corner to collapse in and listened to talks about training plans/why Vassos Alexander loves trail running/some bloke who won the Chicago Marathon twenty years ago. Various people came and went. Linda ran a lap of the NEC, it was over five kilometres! I bought a running top with Mr Bump on it. Then we left and went back to the glorious Ibis.
Later that evening I abandoned the Pringles and went to meet Rob (who’d been in London injuring himself in the mud) and fellow parkrun tourist Helen and her husband to spend a lot of time drinking exotic beers and talking about parkruns. This somehow ended up with a trip to the gay village where I was the only person who appreciated the music in the pub and none of us appreciated the volume or lack of decent beers. I staggered back to the hotel at some ungodly hour and couldn’t work the door to my room and had to get a long suffering hotel person to let me in. I tried to join a Pringle Party but I was too late and everyone had already gone to bed or were out getting kebabs. I did not want a kebab.
On Sunday apparently all the Pringles were dead and I wasn’t feeling fantastic myself so it was decided that a not particularly far or fast walk down the canal to get breakfast was sufficient to count as a RED activity so long as we logged it on Strava. It was actually a very nice walk with a ruined church, a Lego giraffe and a staircase that went absolutely nowhere. It was an even nicer breakfast.
We made it back to the Running Show by 2pm and Rob promptly bought everything in the room. No Pringles to be seen anywhere. The train home accidentally delivered us to a pub in Euston Station. I slept for over nine hours last night and still felt exhausted when I woke up. I was supposed to run 19km today but I can’t even be bothered to walk to the shop for Linda McCartney sausages so I have turned my training plan for this week upside down and will do my long run on Thursday instead.
I might go back to bed now. Running Shows are more exhausting than running.