This week I reached the momentous milestone of 100 different parkrun venues. This is known as a “Cowell” to hardcore parkrun tourists (after Mr Cowell, the first person to achieve the milestone – not Simon Cowell btw) but I prefer to just call it my 100th different venue so people who aren’t parkrun tourists have a clue what I am going on about. parkrun is supposed to be inclusive after all!
I wanted to celebrate the milestone with a trip to a spectacular venue and one that wasn’t too hard for others to get to, so I chose the new-ish Church Mead in leafy Amersham, in the top left hand side of where London meets the countryside. My choice seemed to meet with some incredulity, perhaps this is due to the fact that I do spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of seafront parkruns and admiring the beautiful smooth tarmac of Heslington. They have probably forgotten that there are other things about parkruns I love: one, hills; two, absolute buggers of courses which give rise to entertaining blog posts.
And so it was that I managed to persuade a dozen or so hardy souls to congregate upon Church Mead on an unseasonably cold May morning, huddling at the start line with all of the enthusiasm of patients waiting for a dentist. “So do we go up that side or down it?” I frantically asked a regular, eyeing Mount Everest before me, like it made a difference which particular path we would have to use. The answer is, that after a relatively innocuous first 500 metres or so winding round the start area and along the bottom of the field on a quite good trail path. Then the climb begins, the path gets wonkier and has a couple of steps in the middle, just in case you were in any danger of getting some pace together. Some hills are long, some hills are steep, this one is both long and steep, and even when it ends it doesn’t really end but just turns into a gradual incline instead. And then the woods begin, where there is mud and tree roots and all sorts of unsuitable trip hazards. I decided the best way to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to run up the hill was not to even try to run up it and just to walk as fast as I could. Then I didn’t want to fall over in the mud, so I walked that bit too. In fact at one point I came to a complete standstill, scratching my head and wondering which direction would be safest to move in. (It was around this time that I was lapped by the first finisher who was hopping through the mud like a gazelle, his feet barely grazing the ground. Show off.) Finally we arrived at a downhill, which was still a bit muddy and slippy, but not as bad and I finally started running again. The hill gets steeper and the path gets better the further down you go, in fact the last of it is tarmac, albeit a bit thin and rutted. I thought I was being really careful and running down the hill very slowly but my Garmin says otherwise. I think I just fly down hills like an out of control beach ball and there is nothing I can do about it.
The second lap was much like the first but I encountered a couple of my friends, or should I say ex-friends, who were busy cursing me to hell for bringing them there. I was surprised to see them or in fact anyone because I assumed everyone had left me behind while I was walking but it seemed I was not the only one finding it somewhat toilsome.
When we got to the finish I was so happy to have made it round without falling over that I forgot to take a token.
Despite anything you might have heard me say on the course, I really enjoyed this course. I can’t say I’d want to do one like this every week but to do something that really challenges you for a short distance and puts all notion of “getting a good time” out the picture is a welcome break. My time was 44:12, which is my second slowest ever excluding walking (only Stratford Park was slower, mainly due to mud, although it is quite hilly too) and at 140m, it clocked the most elevation of any parkrun I’ve ever done. My last two flat 5ks were 34:30 and 35:25 so the course added about 9 mins to my time – and it seemed to be the same proportionally for everyone else too. So not one you want to visit for a PB.