Hartlepool parkrun

There is, allegedly, more to life than running, and for the first time since the pandemic I packed my bags for a weekend away supporting my atrocious football team, Leyton Orient, in that underrated Northern beach resort, Hartlepool. I also managed to drag Rob along for his first live Orient Experience. Although I love running, I will admit that it was nice to have a weekend off – no worrying about preserving my feet, eating the right thing, going to bed early or making a public spectacle of myself with a dismal athletic performance (Orient could do that for me for once). Of course, parkrun doesn’t count and it would be sacrilegious to go all the way to Hartlepool and NOT do parkrun.

Hartlepool is an odd place. It suffers from a very strange layout, with the commercial areas separated from the residential areas by a plethora of industrial estates and a whopping great railway line in the middle preventing anyone from getting where they need to be in a timely fashion. The town planners clearly never played Sim City. Hartlepool has no corner shops or small supermarkets. What it does have is the largest Mecca Bingo and ASDA I have ever seen and a multitude of terrifying establishments with neon lights, blaring music and absolutely zero customers. More importantly to me, it also has a beautiful beach and a seafront parkrun.

Hartlepool parkrun now starts in Seaton Carew, a slightly nicer suburb of Hartlepool, and runs 3km north along the seafront to the town, then turns and returns back the way it came, finishing about a kilometre from the start near a cafe and playground. This is the furthest apart start and finish I’ve ever seen and something to bear in mind if you’re leaving bags – one of the volunteers kindly offered to take ours from the start to the finish but there’s no official bag drop. Toilets are a few minute’s walk away in the bus station. We were also joined by Claire, our friend from Newcastle, and Claire’s Mum.

Now my “concentrating on the half marathon” excuse has worn thin, I had no choice but to actually put some effort into this parkrun. I knew Hartlepool was a fast course with the right conditions, but this weekend did not have the right conditions, due to, you’ve guessed it, strong winds. At least the wind was with us for the longer “out” section and only against us for the last two kilometres. And it wasn’t raining, or sunny, though I needed my sunglasses anyway to keep wind and flying sand out of my eyes.

With the wind behind me on the outward section, I was absolutely flying along, hitting a pace of 6:10 for the first km without completely killing myself. I decided just to run as fast as I possibly could and “bank” time for the return, which I knew from Brighton and the walk there was going to be slower than a herd of stoned snails on a Sunday morning. Even though I was anticipating it, it still felt like running headfirst into a concrete wall when I turned. The wind seemed to be choking me and making my arms and legs part ways with my body. It was as bad as Brighton, maybe worse, but I did have the advantage of not just having run ten miles and not having 5k left to run. I pressed on as hard as I could but those low 6s soon became low 7s. Claire, who had been hovering just behind me on the way out, overtook me and I was glad she had as she acted as a small windbreak for a little while, until with about 500 metres to go she suddenly pulled up and started walking. I tried to encourage her to keep going but then realised she had turned a bit green with the exertion and decided it might be best to give her a rest. Had my time been a bit slower I would have done the nice thing and slowed with her but when I am on for a PB I am afraid I’m not stopping unless someone actually dies (or I fall over).

The finish funnel was gloriously off the main path and out of the wind and I bolted down as fast as my legs would carry me, clocking a time of 33:14 – thirteen seconds off my previous PB. Claire had managed to keep hold of the contents of her stomach and finished just behind me, her fastest time since breaking her foot last year, so everyone finished happy and Rob got a rather flimsy Tequila of Shame despite finishing in 14th place in 21 minutes something.

I did wonder if this was an unfair PB because I’d had the wind behind me for longer than it was in front of me but having asked Google it seems that you gain half as much time from the wind behind you as you lose from running into it, therefore I would have needed to do two thirds of the run with the wind behind me for my time to count as wind assisted. This gives me hope that this PB will not be as long standing as, for instance, my half marathon PB or Orient’s non-winning streak (which was extended that afternoon).

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