Monday 29 June 2015

parkrun tourism and why I want to win one

***   I'd like to start this blog post by preempting the pedants amongst the readers.  I am aware that parkrun is a run and not a race.  If I accidentally call it a race, I do so meaning a race against oneself or a race against friends.  It is, after all, these friendships and the rivalries forged from them that drive many of us to self improvement.  That is the spirt of #RoadToSub20   ***

The apartment and ferry were booked, we were to drive down towards Bordeaux to a small town called Saint-Quentin-de-Baron where we would have our first holiday as a family, the wife, the child and I.  Naturally I'd packed my trainers and some suitably luminous T-shirts with the plan to slip out early on the occasional morning to log some scenic miles.  "Will you do parkrun in France?" she asked.  The thought hadn't even occurred to me to check if France was a participating country.  As it turns out, it is.

Les Dougnes is the first parkrun in France and as luck would have it only an hours drive from where we were staying.  It was settled, I would get my weekly parkrun fix.  With a little further investigation, as one does, it became apparent that Les Dougnes parkrun had been started just two weeks prior to our family break, another happy coincidence, at this rate people will start to think that I planned our holiday around this 5k run (For the record, and if anyone will believe me, I didn't).

A quick glance at the previous results showed that there were 12 participants on the inaugural run and just a single runner on the second outing.  Initially it was the thought of being part of a fledgling event in a country that had not had the pleasure of the parkrun spirit that got me excited.  But when I saw the times I got a pang of intrigue.  The first place finisher on the first week did so in a time of 20'42", that same athlete was then the sole runner on the second week with a time of 35'57".  My progress recently has seen me post times edging towards 20 minutes and so my mind turned to going for the win.  There were several factors to consider, what would the terrain be like?  Was this mystery athlete on form on his first outing or just coasting?  Would he even be there?  Upon reflection these were all out of my control so I decided to prep well and see what happened on the day.

This desire to win got me thinking, I've always been fairly competitive but why did I want to get the first place finishers token so much?  It wasn't the thrill of going toe to toe with another runner, we all love a good burn up on the finishing straight but there were too many unknown factors for that to be the answer.  I boiled it down to this - I'm into the stats of my running (I'm sure readers of this blog know this already), and coming first would be an absolute.  I often check my performances on Power of 10 and Run Britain to see where I came, top 50% of the field, top 20% top 10%, and have revelled in improving over the unnamed masses over the last year.  But regardless of the competition, to come first would be a tick in a box of achievements.  Please don't think of me as naive, I'm aware that there will always be faster runners out there, lots of them, but for my own game of collecting stats, winning was something I wanted to do.

A quartet of runners.

There was yet another happy coincidence, fellow Hilly Field parkrunner and Kent ACer David Devlin and his wife were in France and due to Les Dournes too.  How about that for a stroke of luck.

Les Dougnes is easy to find, it's right next to the massive electrical sub-station just as it says on their web page.  What I'd failed to read on the webpage was that park runs across the channel start at 8:30am!  I thought I'd left plenty of time so rocked up at a leisurely 8:30ish only to see Dave gesticulating for me to hurry up.  "Come on, they were gonna start but I saw you pull up in the car park so I got them to wait for you'.  Realising the error in my ways I got myself ready and dashed over to the starting point where I meet Anita who was run directing and her partner Alex (The mystery athlete).  A quick introduction, a well rehearsed run briefing and we were off.

On our way - The group is made up of 75% Hilly Fields parkrunners
The course is a 3 lapper, with mildly undulating terrain consisting of 90% sun drenched gravel track and 10% woodland trail.  Even ay 8:30 it was HOT! Anita and Alex were excellent hosts, they'd even brought tea and coffee with them so that after the run we could head to the shaded woodland area there there were picnic benches.  Anita told us that she's not promoted this run in any way yet wanting to iron out any kinks before too many people get wind of it.  Also seems like a good idea to me to start it out in the sticks where it can grow organically rather than Bordeaux where it would very much be under the spotlight.  I have every confidence that this run will grow as Anita intends it too and if the welcome we received is anything to go by then I'm sure is will easily become one of the friendliest parkruns out there.

And to the results... I did indeed win my first parkrun.  Don't believe me?  Here's a pic of the first place finishers token.

Still don't believe me? Check out the Results page.

Alex may not have been aware of the race he was in that day but he really helped me enjoy the experience by pushing me all the way.  I'm also pleased to report that Alex's course record remains intact, did I mention it was very hot?  Maybe next time eh?

Fantastic day, great people, milestone achieved.  All in all a memorable holiday experience.


Please don't forget you can sponsor me to run the Berlin Marathon in September at my Just Giving Page.