Two days, two 5k runs, two very different agendas, two great outcomes.
The first of these runs wasn’t planned. I enjoyed a rare night out on Friday, although with the Chester Marathon being only a week away I made the sensible decision to drive and stay off the alcohol.
That meant not having to pick Izzy up until about half nine the following morning, so I hit upon an idea. Chasewater now has its own parkrun and it’s only a five or ten minute drive from home.
If we started promptly – and I ran quickly – I could do the run, jump straight back into the car and whiz across town just in time to fulfil my role as Daddy taxi. Challenge accepted.
Trouble was, even when booze-free there’s something about being ‘out’ that convinces my body (and brain, presumably) that the demon drink did pass my lips and I therefore had an inexplicably sore head on Saturday morning.
Skip parkun? Not a chance! It’s so rare I get to run one these days I had to make the start line. Fuelled by two coffees and a bowl of porridge I kitted up, dug out my barcode and put on the Peregrine ISOs, having been impressed with them the other week when I did a trail half around the same location.
Chasewater has been mentioned on the blog several times, but just as a reminder it’s a reservoir and country park with a mix of tarmac and trail paths taking you around the perimeter in a very handy 5k circular route.
It’s a bit uppy-downy in parts, but generally flat and the pathways stand up pretty well even in bad weather, which is just as well given how wet it has been of late. Encounters with wildlife are common, usually deer (the Race Director warned us it was rutting season!) and free-roaming cows. Always a good idea to double check if what’s been deposited on the path is just mud, or…
The parkrun is still relatively new (Saturday was run number 14) and typically has around 250 participants. I must have clocked up hundreds of miles around Chasewater over the years, but only once have I attacked its trails in anger during an Easter 10k race in 2018.
In short, I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself. I said in my last post that my outright pace has felt a bit off lately – that could, however, be a symptom of marathon training and me consciously trying to slow things down.
I lined up fairly close to the front and we were off bang on 9am. I found some space before things narrowed and the pathway became virtually single file. Lots of puddles, so for me it was a case of straight through rather than start dodging them or taking to the grass for fear of turning an ankle.
About a third of a mile in we switched onto an access road, shortly followed by a wide bridle path that runs parallel to the water. With some space to play with, I started picking my way through the field, making up around a dozen places before the first short hill.
Mile one was 6:49 – it would be a tall order to keep that going over 5k, but at least I now had a decent shot at a quick time.
We continued following the shoreline, before cutting back inland towards Chasewater’s steam railway and the first hill. I was tailing a couple of other runners and enjoyed kicking up a gear to take them on the climb (especially given one was a noisy breather, lots of audible grunts and gasps..!).
Back over the railway line and onto another access road that leads to the local rugby club where no doubt lots of fans were enjoying some early morning beers while watching the World Cup. Mile two beeped out – 6:42. Another quick one, but the legs were definitely starting to get heavy.
For the final stretch we ran along the top of the reservoir’s concrete dam, usually a spot for some stunning views thanks to the pathway being elevated, but everything was just grey and drizzly today.
Another two runners were ahead of me and within striking distance. I snuck past one with about a quarter of a mile to go, but the other just held me off to the line. Little did I know at the time, but that final overtake got me into the top ten (p9 in fact, plus first in my age group). And with a final mile split of 6:44 I was amazed at how consistent my pace had been.
Elated at my finishing position I hadn’t even looked at the time until the runner who had finished behind me asked what we’d done – 20:42 was showing on my Garmin.
I knew it must be close to my PB, however checking it would have to wait as I needed to hit the road and collect Izzy (which I just about managed on time, challenge completed). Just knowing I’d gone sub-21 was enough to leave me grinning as that was totally unexpected on a trail course.
As it turned out, it was a PB – by a mere four seconds! But that previous time was set in July last year at Walsall Arboretum, a virtually flat course ran entirely on tarmac. This felt like a much bigger achievement and moreover it’s come at just the right time to give me a nice confidence boost before Chester.
Now obviously going full tilt at parkrun isn’t conducive to tapering for a marathon. I promise it’s a one-off. Sunday’s run would be the complete opposite, from personal best to near personal worst in fact, although with good reason.
Enter coach Daddy. I asked Izzy if she wanted to try her hand at another 5k after running her first in May at Hawkesbury Upton with many fellow Buzzers. She was keen and even the forecast of heavy rain didn’t put her off (and I quote “I like running in the rain anyway because it keeps me cool”).
The Walsall Rotary Club Fun Run is a small event with 5k and 10k courses. I knew some of the route from my own training activities (Walsall is about eight miles from home so I often end up there during a long run) but wasn’t prepared for how waterlogged the trails and towpaths were going to be.
Less than half a mile in everything stopped because runners were queueing to try and squeeze through the driest line of a flooded section – and even that was pretty much completely underwater. Lots of dads refer to their daughters as ‘princess’ so I took the royalty thing one step further, scooped her up onto my shoulder and carried her through the puddle!
Cries of laughter and even a round of applause followed from those still waiting in line and I shouted back saying “don’t get any ideas, I’m not available for hire”.
We squelched on, now following the bank of the Rushall Canal. More mud, more puddles and I started getting flashbacks to miserable days running school cross country events, especially as the rain got heavier.
The marshals were really supportive and cheered us on despite the weather. We were back of pack, but not quite last, and even with the conditions underfoot forcing us to walk briefly in parts we still got through the first mile in about 14 minutes.
Fortunately the rest of the route was almost all on roads. A quick drink and jelly baby stop and we got moving again. Izzy started struggling a bit up a gentle hill, but was spurred on when the 10k course merged and the lead runners came tearing past.
Several of them called out to her – go on little one, brilliant running and so on – and fortunately I knew the area well enough to promise a downhill stretch within a few hundred metres.
The two races split again as the 5k runners took the shorter route back to Walsall Arboretum and the finish area. Not many people had braved the weather to spectate, but those who did gave us a warm reception.
I was coaxing her to try and break 40 minutes and although we came up about 40 seconds short I can’t fault her for still running all the way to the line and not complaining about the rain and the cold even once.
High fives and another medal for her burgeoning collection followed, before a dash for the car and a much needed change of clothes!
One of these days she’ll get the chance to run a 5k in decent weather and without having to traverse muddy pathways, but for now suffice to say I’m very proud and enjoyed the back of pack camaraderie.
Bar a couple of short shakedown runs that’s me now done until Chester on Sunday. I certainly won’t be front of pack on this occasion, I also hope to avoid the back of pack too, instead somewhere in the middle (and not too far away from the four hour finishers) would be just about right.
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