Alexandra Palace 10km

Not just one RunThrough race this week but two! Given that my visit to Ally Pally parkrun a couple of years ago was a total horror I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to sign up for a 10k race at the same venue. I can only assume I did it when the balance of my mind was disturbed at the height of the pandemic. Perhaps I thought it would never go ahead anyway and just liked the look of the virtual medal. I don’t know. Anyway, the race number turned in the post so clearly I was committed to it, so off I went.

I don’t know which of the RunThrough staff is responsible for designing this course but whoever it is obviously hiding a sadistic and cruel soul below their cheerful and encouraging exterior. It makes the parkrun course look like Dulwich and pulls every possible cruel trick out of the bag. It’s a three lap course but with two added tails which mean you climb either the whole hill or most of it five times. There’s none of this “easy straight start on the flat” business here, it’s round a corner, up a steep hill, over the curb and on to the trail path straight out of the traps. I haven’t run up a hill since the last Velopark race (there are no hills in Bow, unless you count the Green Bridge, which I don’t think you can because it is the Green Bridge and not the Green Hill) and it seems my legs seized up completely at the mere sight of it. The first kilometre made my calves feel like overstretched elastic bands and I made an executive decision to walk all the steep ups and try to make up the time on the downs and less steep ups (but not the flats, as there were no flats).

The flaw in this plan is that absolutely no surface in this park is suitable for running on, except about half a kilometre of gentle uphill on the middle path. The rest of it is all cambered, full of pot holes and cracks, wonkily paved, overtaken with pushchairs or in one case a rather unexpected car which nearly put me out of my misery by squashing me flat. After my close encounter with the pavement the other week I was very conscious of where I was putting my feet and trying not to fall over, even though falling over would have been a better excuse for stopping than simply “too unfit” and “course is too hard”. I began to realise that some of my friends’ reasons for non-participation might not have been entirely truthful: “My foot is a bit sore so I volunteered instead” (said person’s foot was mysteriously not sore enough to stop her running five miles there) “I forgot to enter” “I went to the pub and was too hungover to do 10k” etc.

I was at least warned about the worst thing about this course – when you come along the easiest part (the gentle uphill with smooth tarmac) the last time, the finish line is in sight and you think you are nearly done. But you’re not! You have to do that godforsaken tail again! Which means going up the steepest part of the hill and along, almost to the top, before turning around and coming down again and almost being directed off towards Muswell Hill by a uninterested looking marshal who appeared to have lost the will to live several months ago.

My finish time was 1:20 on the dot which is officially my slowest 10k since 2018, which was when I ran my first 10k since the Brighton Marathon. When I was even fatter than I am now, both my legs were full of cracks and it was about thirty degrees. And I don’t even think that was a bad time in the circumstances. It really is an utter motherfucker of a course. I think I will definitely forget to enter and have a sore foot and a hangover next time. Or spend a week running round Springfield Park in preparation.

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