I parkrun in all the most glamorous locations. Paris, Devon, Milton Keynes. The latter was the doing of my friend Sam, who organises the Veteran Runners UK group – she set it up on a whim (I think because everyone was getting fed up with Single Pringles and wanted a less sleazy place to bore each other with running nonsense?) and over the last couple of years it has grown to a thriving Facebook group with over 3,000 members. Milton Keynes seemed like a good place for the members to have a meet-up, logistically speaking. I’ve only ever been to MK for the football before and I have to say it was a lot nicer than I imagined – though that might be because I didn’t actually venture into the town centre. Anywhere is nice if you just stick to the countryside bits.
After a rather late night in the pub where people who’d never met before drank gin in goldfish bowl sized glasses and exchanged stories about bodily functions in the way only runners do, Rob and I got up at 5am to jump in a lake full of swan poo and weeds. This was actually a lot nicer than it sounds and also an officially sanctioned NOWCA venue with a man in a little canoe following you around to make sure you do not drown or get pecked to death by an angry swan. The sunrise over the lake was spectacular, starting with magenta and tangerine coloured skies with the silhouettes of swans, then the sun gradually rising above the trees and turning everything orange and blue like an Instagram Perpetua filter.
The water was 16c, which seemed very cold compared with the places I have swum recently, and the water was quite shallow and full of weeds. I kept scooping big handfuls out and at one point I got them all over my face and had to stop swimming to free myself from my new green wig. It was not the most pleasant thing I have ever experienced.
After an hour of swimming I got out of the water and felt a bit dizzy, mainly due to the cold water on my eardrums (earplugs next time) and possibly exacerbated by the fact that I’d only had a Nakd bar for breakfast after declining to turn myself into road kill on the A4146 for the sake of a flapjack. Milton Keynes’s transport infrastructure is not geared towards pedestrians. There was not a lot of time to worry about this, however, as it was time to walk round the corner and reconvene with the other Veterans, who couldn’t understand why I was shivering and refusing to refuse my hoodie when it was 18c and sunny.
So, on to the parkrun course. Milton Keynes is a very busy single lapper which takes in several territories. It starts in a little park called Newlands. The start is extremely crowded and uphill on a funny gravelly surface and unsurprisingly it is very slow – the only way to make a decent break for it is to go round on the grass. I could not be bothered to do this. At the top of the little hill the course flattens out and proceeds along a canal for some time. This part of the course was completely chock-a-block and my main concern was not treading on anyone’s feet. At the end of the canal section there is a pedestrian path under a bridge which is wider and where the runners finally start to thin out a bit in preparation for the famous zigzags – an alternative to a staircase up a very steep hill. I was worried that the congestion would stop me getting the full benefit of this as a lot of people were slowing to a walk, but fortunately a faster runner with a buggy decided to barge up the zig zags at full pelt, so I followed in her wake. Very impressed with the way she effortlessly pushed it up by the way, it was hard enough just pushing myself.
After the zig zags the run was much less congested but my pace didn’t improve at all – I don’t think an hour of swimming on an empty stomach is the best way to prepare for a parkrun, on the whole. Anyway, running around the (now totally sunlit) lake was very nice and I tried not to be disappointed with my extremely unimpressive result of 37:33.
(Some photos stolen with thanks from Sam and Shan’s Husband)