I’ve found it hard to get back into the swing of training after the cancelled triathlon. I had the rest of this month earmarked for relaxation and self congratulation but now I find myself with another six weeks of triathlon training with no spare time, no budget for open water swimming and an increasingly fraying relationship with The Contraption. I had my worst 10k race in ages at Hyde Park on a horrible wet day, a time of 1:17 something that I can’t even put down to Weather, injury or a difficult course – just the fact that my heart wasn’t in it and my legs had followed suit.
A fun weekend away was therefore just what I needed, so I packed my suitcase and headed for Belfast where those lovely RunThrough people were branching out a bit and putting on a race at Hillsborough Castle.
But first it was time for parkrun! Belfast is home to one of the two UK parkruns that start with a Q so our choice was obvious. Queens parkrun is located at the university’s sports facility on the south of the city. I did worry that maybe I’d put alphabetting over actually choosing a nice scenic parkrun and that I’d end up with fifteen laps round a hockey pitch, but this is definitely not the case. Other than the start and finish, it just feels like a regular park. I think the fields actually contain sports pitches of some variety, but it wasn’t very obvious.
parkrunners congregate in the very comfortable, modern sports centre which has sofas, tea making facilities, vending machines, toilets and – if you ask the receptionist very nicely – showers. If you have ever shivered under a tree and/or hovered above a health-hazard WC before a parkrun, you will be jealous of the people of Queens who can simply wait in the warm until the off.
The start/finish is rather oddly situated in the car park, but heads straight on to a meandering hard packed small gravel type path that takes you into an open space with a few trees and other random park like stuff. From here, there’s two circular laps with a couple of slightly awkward doglegs tagged on. The course is undulating, and some of the slopes are quite steep, but none of them are very long and needless to say I found it very satisfactory. Although it wasn’t tarmac, the surface was quite good except for the second dogleg which is on a grassy trail. After you have done two laps, you head back to the car park the way you came, and the view is far more interesting in this direction as you can see the Belfast hills in the background.
I took the run fairly easy (I was on holiday, after all) and was happy with my time of 36:53 on what I would call a medium difficulty sort of course.
One thing we all noted about Queens parkrun was that everyone there was SPECTACULARLY friendly. Everyone at every parkrun is always friendly, but they went one step further. Literally every single fast runner who lapped me gave me a thumbs up or “well done”, the volunteers seemed genuinely interested in us and several people complimented me on my snail tattoo. The icing on the cake was when one of the regulars offered to drive us into central Belfast on his way home (even though it wasn’t really on his way). Such lovely people with such lovely accents.
Oh, and I think the course looks a bit like a letter Q too (if you ignore the out and back bit).
After some tourist antics in Belfast that I won’t bore you with we returned to Hillsborough and the little house that Cate had rented and kindly allowed fifty million of us to pile into. We had dinner in a local pub and I was amused to see a very familiar looking RunThrough arrow stationed on a wall opposite. Poor little arrow out on its own at night so far from home!
The next morning miraculously there was no drama even with five runners sharing a bathroom and we all trotted off to Hillsborough Castle where even more familiar RunThrough paraphernalia was in situ. The other four were all doing the half marathon, but I had taken the wimp’s option of the 10k, partly because I didn’t want to be doing a half when it was hot (it wasn’t hot) and partly because I didn’t want to be training for a half marathon a week after my triathlon (there was no triathlon). I thought I’d have the joy of being the first back for once and being there to cheer my friends in, but of course Rob had to scupper my plans by running the half marathon (which started half an hour earlier) in an unreasonably fast 1.29, meaning he came sailing past me with a pack of fierce looking Belfast club runners about halfway through my 10k and was up at the massage tent getting repaired by the time I’d crossed the line.
But anyway. The course! You can’t get much more scenic and varied than this. It started in the castle grounds, which are full of beautiful flowers, lakes, swans, twists and turns, ups and downs (one very steep down which scared the wits out of me), then through a forest (more ups and downs) and then on to a rural road through the hills, which, you’ve guessed it, was full of ups and downs. This bit reminded me of the hilly section of the Brighton Half/Marathon, especially with the faster runners coming back the other way.
I will blame the scenery and hills for the fact that I only just scraped in under 1:20 – obviously I was too busy enjoying the location to concentrate on exceeding snail pace – but I was quite pleased that I hadn’t walked any of the steep hilly bits.
The rest of the day was spent toasting Rob’s ridiculous PB and, er, my worst 10k time of the year. Fortunately we didn’t get quite as drunk as we did in Seaford.
I hope RunThrough keep branching out and having races in exotic jetsetting locations (particularly ones with nearby parkruns). Italy would be nice. Hint, hint.