On Saturday the 18th of May 2019 I achieved my parkrun PB. For me, 20:06 is a great time, yet I was disappointed. As arbitrary as it seems, I was desperate to beat 20-minutes. I don’t know why we place such stock in certain milestones, but we do. And I was so close to that 20-minute target.
I approached the milestone cautiously. Slowly building over the months, I interspersed half marathon training with gradually quicker parkruns. Determined not to rush anything, I waited for peak fitness and perfect conditions. After coming close a few weeks before, the ideal day finally rolled around, and I met it with uncharacteristic grit.
It started well, with the first kilometre dismissed in a speedy 3:57. Kilometre number two was one second slower and number three flashed past in a repeat of the first. I was ahead of my target and going strong.
Now, I have to say that Worthing parkrun is great. A fast, flat, out and back along the seafront. The promenade is wide and there’s plenty of room for the 300+ runners and walkers who regularly turn up, whatever the weather.
What’s less great is the wind. Invariably there will be some. Sometimes it’s light. Other times it’s like running through a wind tunnel. With glue on the floor. Up a big hill! It’s fair to say that my parkrun PB day wasn’t like that at all. But there was a light breeze blowing back down the home straight. And that was enough to take the wind out of my sails.
I don’t need to spell out what happened over the final 2K. Suffice it to say, I was left somewhere between elated and disappointed. Diselated? Elatappointed? Whatever portmanteau I cobbled together, it seemed insufficient – at first. With time and a little distance, I swapped my muddled emotions for determination. After all, I’d come so close, and I knew I could do better.
With a recent half marathon PB in my pocket, I was free to put all my eggs in the parkrun PB basket. Sub-20 wouldn’t elude me much longer. I was ready and steady, I just needed someone to shout Go! And that happened every Saturday morning at 9am. How could I fail?
Looking back over my Strava timeline, it seems that heat was the main issue. We often enjoy a flurry of hot weather throughout late May and early June, and 2019 was no exception. On Strava, my description of the Worthing 10K on the 2nd June simply reads “F**king hot!”
From there on, my running is patchy and parkrun times increasingly slow. I don’t remember, but I probably picked up a niggle that prevented me putting in enough miles. Whatever the reason, my parkruns didn’t dip below 21 minutes for the rest of the year.
Then, late March 2020 with times still lingering around 22 minutes, parkrun ground to an abrupt halt, along with almost everything else. And it remained that way for over 18 months.
On Saturday 24th July 2021, people lined up all around England, eager for the long-awaited return of parkrun.
I joined the excitable throng in Worthing, ready to test legs with my speediest run in 18 months. You see, despite racking up the miles, I rarely tested myself throughout the pandemic. I enjoyed plodding (along with over-eating and over-drinking), and rightly so. But plodding doesn’t lead to blistering speed, and I knew I’d be some way from parkrun PB territory.
However, the return of parkrun meant a return to faster runs. I can’t help myself – there’s something about other people that makes me up my game. Pack mentality or ego fragility? One way or other I can’t help but quicken my pace when I’m in a race (I know, parkrun isn’t a race, but you’ve got to respect the rhyme).
Often to my detriment, I set off too fast and flounder at the end. This time however, it wasn’t the case. Mindless dithering saw me start from the back, having to fight through a bottleneck made worse by the garish noise-fest that is the travelling funfair. In many ways, it was the ideal return to “racing”, as I had no choice but to build slowly, leaving something in the tank for a semi-sprint finish.
As I crossed the finish line in a respectable 23:30, a thought struck me: I’m really not very good at sprint finishes.
As that thought subsided and I caught my breath, I had another thought: the return of parkrun could be the beginning of a new push for sub-20.
Why not? After all, I’m only three minutes and 31 seconds off that elusive milestone. That’s not too much. Is it?
On your marks
So, that’s the plan. I haven’t set any timelines, but I have a clear goal – sub-20 minutes for a parkrun PB.
It won’t be easy – my last effort was over two years ago and I’m at an age where two years can make a big difference. I also have a chunk of Pandemic Blubber weighing me down. But neither of these are insurmountable. I can lose the weight and I can ignore my age.
I also have a blog, where I can record progress and make myself accountable. After all, if I share it on the internet, I have to do it.
At an undetermined date, when I reach peak fitness and the conditions are just right, I’ll summon some more of that uncharacteristic grit and push for sub-20.
Until then, I just need to shake off a few pounds and put aside my plodding mentality.
Sounds easy, right?