Happy Double Parkrun Day
New Year’s Day is a time for contemplation. For reflecting on the previous year, and deciding what you want to achieve and prioritise in the coming one. For setting goals and making plans for how to achieve them. And maybe for eating a lot and recovering from the excesses of Hogmany. For runners, however, it’s also a special day for another reason: it’s one of only two days in the year when there is the possibility of doing two Parkruns.
All across Scotland, Parkrun occurs every Saturday morning at 09:30am. This consistency, as with Les Mills classes, means that you know what time to turn up and a lot of what to expect (other than course variations) when indulging in some Parkrun tourism. The disadvantage, though, is that you can’t do more than one Parkrun each Saturday. The bonus Christmas Day and New Years Day Parkruns though don’t have this scheduling limitation. They’re already (most years) on a different day than usual, and the timing is flexible too. Not every Parkrun team puts on these bonus Parkruns, but the ones who do generally co-ordinate with nearby Parkruns that are also scheduling events so that participants have the option of doing a Parkrun Double – with some starting at 09:00am and some at 11:00am. What better way to start the New Year than with Double Parkrun?
Although Montrose is my regular Parkrun, like many people I spend Christmas and New Year visiting relatives. This meant I was in Kirkcaldy and planning my second trip to Kirkcaldy Parkrun, which is very conveniently about a 3 minute gentle-paced jog away from my in-laws. Last year however, Kirkcaldy Parkrun was at the civilised time of 10:30am: presumably to ensure participants wouldn’t be too sleep-deprived after their Hogmany celebrations and also, as there was no opportunity for a double that year, to hopefully get a bigger turnout with visitors coming in from as far afield as Edinburgh and St Andrews. This year though, Dunfermline and Loch Leven both decided to put on Parkruns too, opting for the 11:00am slot. Kirkcaldy, as the longest-running of the three, took the 09:00am slot.
I went to bed over an hour before the bells on Hogmany as I had been a bit sleep deprived and had a bit of a cold. I wanted to make sure I was well rested before doing two 5k runs in one day. Of course, I woke up before 6:00am, which at least meant I had time to do a bit of stretching after breakfast. As I didn’t need to attend the first timer’s briefing this year, I didn’t leave the house until 15 minutes before the start, turning up at 08:48am. I managed to jog past Joanne without spotting her, but luckily she recognised me as I jogged past and called me over. We had a quick chat, and she mentioned her husband and a couple of his friends were doing Dunfermline Parkrun too. This was great news, and they kindly agreed to give me a lift there, meaning I didn’t have to work out where I was going and also had company for the trip.
The park seemed pretty busy, even more so than last New Year when it was the only option in Fife, and most people seemed in high spirits. A few milestone runs were announced, in addition to the usual safety notices. There was a solitary pacer, for 30 minutes, which was useful for many people but not that useful for me working out where to position myself. I chose a spot much closer to the front than last year, but still found the first fifty metres or so a little congested. Maybe because it was so busy, I didn’t hear the 3-2-1 countdown, and so was a second or two late in starting my Garmin.
After the usual jostling for position and wending my way through runners who were going slower than I had intended, I pretty quickly found myself in a position where we had comfortably spread out. Most of the folk around me were running at a similar pace to me, or just slightly slower. I gradually overtook some more people, but I was also getting overtaken. Knowing the course layout this time (my report on last year’s visit has much more detail about the course if you’re interested) I had thought I would overtake several people on the hill in the first lap, but in the end the number I overtook was only in single figures, and a couple of runners overtook me. This included a canicross participant, and I was a little jealous as I would love to have had a dog pulling me up the hill. She looked pretty relaxed though, and I never managed to quite catch up to her again. The first mile buzzed at 7:37 and I knew that wasn’t fast enough to beat last years time of 23:05 which, at the time, had been a 5k PB by a whole one second. Luckily we were now on the downhill section and I made a lot of time back here.
The second lap involved the additional duck pond loop, and at this point you get to see some of the front runners leaving the pond as you are starting your trip around it. They all make it look effortless, and have much more efficient running styles than me, with a far greater stride length. Hip mobility is definitely something I need to work on this year as my stride length has actually decreased a little which is unlikely to be a good thing. The trip round the duck pond was less congested than last year as there was no flooding this time around. A guy overtook me and said “Well done” on the way past. Nice words of encouragement, but I’d rather not have been overtaken. I didn’t feel strong enough to up the pace though, what with a lingering cold and the awareness that I had another Parkrun to do after this one.
Second time up the hill and my pace was remarkably consistent with the first time. This meant I went past more people than the first trip up the hill, including a guy I recognised from catching him on the hill last year. I said “I remember you from last New Year”, and went past him. Unfortunately he did the same thing as last year: sailing past me on the final downhill with his long strides, and comfortably beating me to the finish. I did sprint to the finish, a whole 9 seconds faster on the segment than last year according to Strava. I was happy to see that I had managed to finish around 30 seconds faster than last year, but was a little disappointed not to have broken 22:30. Despite there being a lot of runners, barcode scanning was quick and efficient, and I soon found my new car-sharing friends for the trip to Dunfermline.
It’s nice to engage in Parkrun tourism, but even better when you actually know a few people there. I was lucky to know a couple of people who are heavily involved with Parkrun and seemed to know every other person, so I got to chat to some interesting people. One guy in his early 60s had just taken up running about 18 months ago and was sure he had another PB from the morning. He’s lost a couple of stone since taking up running, and is feeling great. With times that are sub 24:30, he must also have a pretty great WAVA grade. We also spoke to a guy who has been working his way through the Parkrun alphabet. This involves attending Parkruns beginning with every letter of the alphabet. It’s not possible to complete the full alphabet in the UK as there are a couple of letters (e.g. X) that are missing, but he has covered all possibilities within the UK including a trip to Jersey.
As I said in my last report on Kirkcaldy Parkrun, as long as you don’t mind a couple of short hill sections then it’s definitely worth visiting. The park is beautiful, the volunteers and runners are friendly, and it’s a decent size of event without being too overcrowded.
With Kirkcaldy Parkrun over, we, along with many other people, made our way to Dunfermline, getting there in plenty of time to get a space in the car park, use the facilities, and do a recce of the route.
Dunfermline Parkrun has a reputation for being a tough course. This is largely due to the fact that there is a short, steep hill which you hit with little to no warning after a nice gentler descent towards the bottom of Pittencrief Park. It’s only around 200 metres of ascent, but unlike Kirkcaldy it doesn’t ease you gently into it with a gradually increasing gradient. This one involves a sharp left-hand turn, after which you are immediately climbing at a 5% gradient, quickly steepening to around 10%. After our recce lap (which was almost one mile) I realised my hopes of doing both Parkruns sub 23 were unrealistic. My calf muscles were tight, despite stretching out after the first run, and I was feeling a twinge in my right quad.
I missed the first timers briefing, since I was with people who knew the course, and was less in need of it than some of the new attendees for whom it was their first ever Parkrun. Dunfermline seemed to be even busier than Kirkcaldy, though that may have been partly because it’s a narrower Start area with a tarmac path that is less than half the width of the one in Beveridge Park. (It turned out the attendance was almost identical: 336 runners in Dunfermline compared to 342 at Kirkcaldy. These were record attendances for both Parkruns. However, they weren’t as wildly outlandish compared to an average week than the attendance at Loch Leven. Their 22nd Parkrun achieved a record attendance of 383: around 300 people more than have been attending on an average week.) Jock said he was aiming to beat his previous Dunfermline PB (which he totally smashed), so I wished my new carshare friends good luck and we all moved to what we thought would be sensible start positions given our differing time goals. This meant I ended up standing next to two people who were mentioned by the Run Director for achieving milestones. The RD also asked everyone who had already done a Parkrun that day to put their hands up. Close to half the people I could see put their hands up, as I heard a few gasps and comments from a few (possibly more sensible) attendees for whom it was their first and probably only run of the day.
Due to the narrow start, I had probably again positioned myself a little too far back, and it took close to 10 seconds before I crossed the actual start line. However, once we were round the first bend (a sharp right-hand turn) the path widened out and I was able to make my way through the crowds somewhat. The first kilometre is a nice gradual downhill that, once you are past the Pavilion, steepens out to between -4 and -7% – easy running and not too steep a descent – and you get a lovely bit of freewheeling down to the bottom of the park. Strava says my pace increased to 6:35 per mile, but I suspect that was rather inaccurate, or was for too brief a duration to have much impact on my overall time. The turn onto the steeper part is at a section where you encounter runners coming back the other way, on the other side of the cones, before they head off up another path. Thankfully nobody was that far ahead of me by the first time we reached that point about 400 metres into the race, but I got to see faster runners there on the second and third laps round the course.
Of course, what goes down must come up, and the uphill, which you encounter for the first time around 1km into the run, felt much tougher than it did on our leisurely recce lap. More than a few people had started walking, so I went past several people on the hill, and maintained a reasonable pace of around 8:11 per mile whilst negotiating walkers and a runner pushing a buggy. I doubt it’s a particularly fast course if you’re pushing a stroller up that hill three times. There’s another sharp left hand turn at the top of the hill, and you’re onto a mercifully flat section. I quickly recovered my stride heading past the Laird’s Garden, and overtook a few more runners who were taking more time to recover from the hill. It’s not that long a section though (maybe 150 metres) before a sharp right, followed by another sharp right, at which point you make a small anti-clockwise circle around the final section of the main loop including a steep but very short section which takes you under a bridge, then you begin your second lap of the park. My watch had buzzed the first mile at some point on this section but I missed it as I was either cursing the short but unwelcome hill, or trying to avoid potholes as this section of the path was not the smoothest stretch of tarmac. When I noticed though, I realised my time was probably too slow for a sub 23 unless I really picked up the pace, which neither my tight right quad nor my lungs seemed too keen on.
The second lap felt much the same as the first, but I took longer to get up to speed on the downhill section, and my pace dropped more on the steep hill the second time around, though I was still overtaking more runners on it than were going past me. A guy stopped suddenly and grabbed at his calf. I tried to ask if he was okay but I was breathing too hard to articulate clearly. He didn’t look like he was in severe pain, so I carried on running. Another, older, guy was using the lamppost at the top of the hill to stretch out his calf, so I had to take the corner a little wider to get past. There were also more people walking up the hill the second time around, and that’s my partial excuse for taking an extra couple of seconds compared to the first lap. I didn’t manage to maintain quite the same pace on the stretch past the Laird’s garden either, and slowed more for the steep underpass, though that was partly due to slowing down to talk to someone I recognised. I missed the buzz for the second mile too, but could see that my pace hadn’t picked up. I did the maths and worked out I had less than 8 minutes to do 3.1 miles if I wanted a sub 23 finish, so even 23:22 (which is roughly what I thought I would need to keep the total of both Parkruns sub 46) was looking unachievable given the steep hill and the sheer number of corners (there seemed to be 10 or 11 each lap, and I’m pretty slow at cornering, not having to do it much at the single loop Montrose Parkrun).
On the third lap, I somehow completely forgot that the downhill involved another turn, and got confused at one of the two pinch point sections. I don’t mean they were congested – I mean the two parts of the route where you can see faster (and slower) runners on the opposite side, either heading into the loop you’ve just done, or heading away from the loop you’re about to do. This slowed me down just a little whilst I processed this information, and put me off pace a little. I recovered well enough though, and my third shot at the hill was my fastest – though only by a few seconds. I also managed to go a few seconds faster on the squirrel straight past the Laird’s Gardens. I’d calculated that I had no chance of a sub 23:30, but depending on GPS discrepancies I should be comfortably sub 24. Strava tells me the third mile was the fastest of the three, and I suspect that was because I knew it was the last time round. This clearly wasn’t the case for some of the people I was overtaking by this point, and I decided it would be patronising to say “keep going” or “not long to go” when some of them were probably on their second rather than final lap.
Even though we’d done a recce, I was worried I would miss the small sign showing which way to go to head to the finish after your third lap. Thankfully I was surrounded by runners heading the same direction, and didn’t head off for a fourth lap. Making the welcome final turn, I could see I only had a hundred metres or so to go. Coming around the bend I had fallen into step with another runner who seemed pretty comfortable matching my pace. We ran together silently for 50 metres before I checked my watch and decided I had a sprint finish in me. I lengthened my stride and picked up my cadence, and he didn’t respond to my kick. One of the volunteers at the finish funnel did though, and shouted encouragement. It was only 6:10 pace, which is slower than I used to managed for 2 minute intervals during HIIT, but it was run number two. And it was enough to get me a time of 23:48. On an easier course, and as the only Parkrun of the day, I would have been a little disappointed with that time. But for Parkrun number two on a hilly, twisty course, I was reasonably content. And I’d taken it steady enough on the first couple of laps that I’m confident I could go back and beat that time.
In some respects I actually enjoyed the Dunfermline run more than the Kirkcaldy one. I suspect this was partly due to the sun coming out – it really was a beautiful day by that point, the novelty of the course due to not having done it before, and the knowledge that once this one was done I didn’t have another one to do until Saturday, rather than 90 minutes later. I spoke to the guy I’d run with down the first part of the finish straight when we were in the scanning queue, and he told me it was his first Parkrun. Not just his first at Dunfermline, but his first one ever. I was pretty impressed at that: sub 24 was my first Parkrun goal and it took me 7 tries (and purchasing proper running shoes) to manage it.
Dunfermline Parkrun is definitely worth a visit. It seems to be one that opinion is divided on. It’s definitely not a fast, flat course, but the twists and turns and variations in gradient make it much more interesting than a single, flat, out and back route. The number of participants on an average week won’t result in any serious congestion at the start, and it’s a friendly Parkrun with great volunteers. Just don’t pick it if you’re looking for a 5k PB.
Both Parkruns completed, my legs felt pretty stiff, but I also felt pretty smug. It was only around 11:30am and we had completed two Parkruns in fairly respectable times, working up a healthy appetite for New Years Day dinner. It seemed like a pretty great way to start the New Year, and I’d highly recommend it.
Nobody has uploaded any photos of Kirkcaldy NYD Parkrun, so the photos are random ones I have taken of Beveridge Park over the past 5 years.
The Dunfermline Parkrun photos were taken by John Rennie, who provided permission for their use. The full album of photos from the day can be found on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/145517527@N04/albums/72157701989049922/with/45852660884/ You can also find him on Instagram @johnrennie87