Looking at my training plan, I was down to run a ‘tune up race’ on Saturday, but as always I figured a parkrun (which is definitely NOT a race!) at race effort would be a suitable compromise. I had my eye on a sub 20 time, so started scouting around the Basingstoke area to find a flat, fast parkrun, ideally one we hadn’t visited before. I came across Reading which seemed to fit the bill, so Jodie, Lucy and I got in the car early to Thames Valley Park.
The last time I visited TVP was for a training course at the Microsoft campus some 6 years ago, and parking on the main road seemed very strange! But of course, TVP is mostly deserted on Saturday mornings save for a couple of hundred parkrunners. We almost parked in the canoe club car park, but thankfully we checked the website and heeded the warning not to park there.
As we were early we milled around and took a look at the area. One thing was for certain, this was definitely NOT a Tarmac course (which I was ribbed about by the other two…) which scuppered my sub 20 plans. This was confirmed in the excellent first timers briefing we attended as they covered the course in detail, and the usual parkrun instructions were delivered.
It was pretty nippy. About 5 degrees and a hint of wind meant when I took my hoody off it was COLD! But thankfully we were shortly gathered around for the run briefing along with the (personally estimated) 180 runners. During the run brief we celebrated a nice chaps 100th run and volunteer day! He had an amazing cap with ‘100’ tethered to it which was a nice touch.
During the brief, they put out a call for an additional barcode scanner for a ‘speedy’ runner. When no-one put their hands up I sheepishly said ‘I’m going for about 21 minutes, is that fast enough?’ They said yes and I got a good round of applause! I felt a bit uncomfortable, as I don’t really consider myself a ‘speedy runner’ and also feel a bit like I’m being arrogant by considering myself so… And I’m really not) Because of this I not only set myself a pedestal to fall from, but a target to go for as I knew 20 was not going to happen.
This earned me a lot of kudos from people both at the start line and at the finish while barcode scanning. People asked if I made my target, congratulated me, and thanked me for volunteering which was really lovely.
We lined up at the start and without too much fanfare, we were off. The course is a panhandle course, with two laps of the pan. That is, you run out 1km along the bank of the Thames on grassland, followed by two laps on stony (and today, muddy and wet) track around a nature reserve, before running back down the Thames to the finish, which was at the start.
As I made my way down the panhandle I was overtaken by a bunch of people who went off too quickly, but I was just finding my feet on slightly uneven, slippery grass. By the time I made it to the 1k mark I had settled into my rhythm before turning onto the footpath – which was wet mud caked and I nearly slipped over! The slippery section lasted about 400 meters before turning back on the loop toward the Thames.
As we reached the turn, marshal Chris was there shouting out our times as we ran past! I don’t know how he does it, but he was bang on for mine when I looked at my watch, and it’s a job he does every week! This is the only marshal point on the course (which may seem to be a little light) but it is strategically positioned to not be too far from any point on the course.
On the second lap I lapped some runners, but I tried my best to encourage them on my way round. Hopefully I didn’t sound patronising as that was not how it was intended. We then turned back onto the towpath for the 700m sprint for home… And it seemed to DRAG, mainly because I was blowing pretty hard! Looking at my watch I knew I’d come close to my PB, but unfortunately I missed it by a couple of seconds (dammit!) and took token 14 before commencing barcode duty.
I managed to cock up the barcode scanning first time, scanning the barcodes in the wrong order, but other than that the process went fine, and it was great to be able to speak to the runners afterwards, basking in their own post run achievements. I even scanned the barcode of former jockey Richard Dunwoody, who had a good run himself!
It was nice chatting with the other volunteers after the run, but unfortunately we couldn’t stick around for coffee.
Lucy managed a terrific PB, and I would have done too if I had my trail shoes. But rest assured we will be back to settle the score, in better conditions.
Thank you Reading Parkrun for your tremendous hospitality!