After the success of the summer tourist runs, including one to St Andrews Parkrun, the Footers decided to do some Parkrun tourism this year on one Saturday of each month. With it being the start of the year, Ian picked Stonehaven Parkrun partly due to its relatively close proximity. Unfortunately the weather turned wintry a few days beforehand, which may have put some people off, and so not that many of us made the trip through. It didn’t seem to cause a dip in the numbers at Stonehaven though, which was busier than usual largely due to an influx of (if I recall correctly) 46(!) visitors from Jogscotland Kintore.
Ian, Tina, David and I headed through to Stonehaven and were there in plenty of time. Kate had gone through with her family and was there before us. We did a bit of a warm-up and Kate and I managed to miss the start of the first-timers briefing, at which there were a large number of people. We just caught the tail end of the mention of the infamous hill (or slope). Annie delivered the first-timers briefing with her usual aplomb, with the right amount of humour and getting some laughs, but also ensuring we received all the relevant information about the route and, importantly, where coffee was afterwards. I know Annie (who is a fabulous singer) from when I used to live in Stonehaven aroudn five years ago, but I didn’t run then and there wasn’t a parkrun at that time. So it was nice to revisit the town, and a park I had walked around many times and at which I attended the excellent Party in the Park, but had never run around.
RD Kate, (who I’d met once before at Montrose Parkrun) did a great job with the race briefing, warning us about where the muddy and icy patches were. Volunteers had even put cones over a few of the main ice patches for us, and we were assured that the course was safe to run but that we had to know where to be vigilant. We got the countdown, and we were off!
Much like Dunfermline Parkrun, Stonehaven is a three lap course. Unlike Dunfermline though, it’s mostly on grass and trail, with only small sections on gravel paths. We headed off down a very gentle slope towards the bottom Eastern corner of Mineralwell Park, followed by a sharp left-hand turn after around 100 or so metres. This corner was rather muddy and I was glad I had opted for trail shoes. We were then onto a longish loop of the park edge, skirting around the playing fields, and having to skirt around the cricket club. This was all on grass, and I could feel some power being absorbed by the ground rather than pushing me on along the course. I’d started off at around 7 minute mile pace, but quickly realised that it wasn’t going to be a fast run for me, and not just because of the “slope”. I did pick up the pace heading around the cricket club, but slowed down again on the first incline about half a mile in. Going up the short, steep hill, I thought “this isn’t bad at all, why do people go on about it”. Of course, it turned out this wasn’t the infamous slope at all, just a little precursor to foreshadow the actual one. Don’t miss the start of the first timers briefing folks! There was a bit of a bend at the top of this slope, then we got a nice but short flat section before the actual hill around three quarters of a mile in. This hill was the real deal. It was trail, so was rather muddy, and was also icy. There were cones over the worst bits, but I was still not keen to run up a 22% incline slope (it starts at “just” 5.5%, but is over a 22% gradient at the top) on ice, so ran very slowly up the grass on the left-hand side each time around. It’s only around 100 metres in length, but caused my pace to drop below 12 minutes per mile on each lap.
After reaching the summit of this steep hill, there’s a sharp left-hand turn, then you are mercifully heading downhill at a much gentler gradient. This path was still a little muddy, and I felt I couldn’t take full advantage of the downhill as I was concerned about the mud and potential icy patches. I did decide to take my jacket off at this point though, and fumbled about like a muppet for around 20 seconds unable to tie the sleeves around my waist. So that’s what I was doing in my first photo.
My watch buzzed the first mile, and it was 8:15. I was a little disappointed by this. Everything is relative, and I’d known in advance this wasn’t going to be an all-out attempt, but I had wanted to stay under 25 minutes at least. The Finish Area volunteers had all wandered down to the sign for laps 1 – 3 and were cheering us on, and that was a nice boost. Getting back onto the grass for the second lap, I tried to speed up and regain time, and was reasonably successful until that precursor slope. I did catch up with a couple of guys there though. Whilst overtaking one of them I commented that it was a tough course. He said it was his first time at Stonehaven and I said it was mine too. He was there due to a last-minute cancellation of one of the Aberdeen parkruns. I decided I was more keen on trying to beat 25 minutes than slowing to continue making small talk, and I was also worried that my leg muscles would seize up if I slowed down, so I ran off.
Around this point I also caught up with the tail walkers. I had gone past a few people who had been walking on the second time around the playing fields, but guessed they had just gone out too fast and were having walk breaks rather than being lapped. I tried to say hi to the tail walkers on the way past, but it was near the top of the non-infamous hill, and it came out as an indecipherable yelp. They kindly said “Well done”, and I headed off to the second attempt at the actual slope. This time up the slope, I encountered Kate’s daughter, who seemed to be having a problem with one of her boots. Not being remotely good with children, I told her that her Daddy would sort it for her, and ran after Pete (who was carrying their youngest daughter) and told him. He didn’t look super enthusiastic at the thought of perhaps having to walk back down a steep hill into the flow of dozens of runners, but they obviously got it sorted as she was happy enough when we got to the finish.
I was able to take a little bit more advantage of the downhill on the second lap as I was more aware of where the deepest mud was and I was also not trying to remove and tie up my jacket. I was even ready to pose for the photographer, but he wasn’t taking photos at that point. He did however tell me to stop looking at my watch (which I wasn’t even aware I was doing: its ridiculous how often I do this when running) and just run. I shouted something about could I use his photos in the race report, which he kindly affirmed, but I also checked on Facebook afterwards. The second mile buzzed in at 8:04. An improvement, but still not on for a sub-25 time. Oh well, “last one’s a fast one” as the guys say at Intervals, and so it would have to be.
Onto lap three and I was actually feeling quite good. I was getting more used to running on grass, and my quickest paced lap at Dunfermline had been the final one, so why not the same here. I was starting to lap more people, and was saying “Well done” on the way past. A few of them looked back towards me well before I said anything though, because I was breathing so loudly. Even though my pace wasn’t that fast, the cold weather, a lingering cold that I’ve had all year, and my general inability to breathe properly when running hard, was making me known to people before I got near them.
On the final time up the small slope, I went past a guy wearing a Parkrun 50 t-shirt. This is my 38th Parkrun and I’m hoping to get one of those t-shirts before this autumn. He said “Well done” and ushered me past. I told him he would overtake me on the proper hill, but he said “No chance”. I think he actually did catch me back up on the steep hill, where I slowed even more than the first two laps, but I ran off on the downhill at a much faster pace than the first two laps, aware that I only had about 600 metres to go. I also saw the photographer was taking photos again, and was hoping to get a better dynamic action shot than from the first lap. I very briefly got to around 7 minute mile pace again, but had to break for that final muddy corner.
We were back onto the grass now though, and there was a welcome sign just a couple of hundred metres ahead. On laps 1 – 3 you continue straight on, but when you get there for a fourth time you take a sharp left-hand turn to the finish straight. I had to break for the corner, but got in a very short sprint finish (maybe 20 or 30 metres) to the line. The finish funnel is very short, and I didn’t even have time to stop my Garmin before being handed a barcode which was almost immediately scanned. I actually held people up whilst fishing around trying to find my own barcode. I did get a chance to check the position number, and was reasonably happy with position 24. It’s hard to tell what position you are in on a multi-lap course, but I knew there had been at least two women ahead of me, and probably more. By the time I stopped my watch it was at 25:04 and I was slightly disappointed in myself that I’d probably just missed 25 minutes. When we got the results it turned out I had finished in 25:00 flat, and was 4th female (not including the one in the buggy).
Exiting the finish area I was greeted by David and Ian who had been waiting for a while, having finished 3rd and 4th respectively. At least they hadn’t lapped me. The guy with the baby in the running buggy was also finished, as was his other half. Ian said I had been wrong about his ability to run faster than someone pushing a stroller, and we all had indeed been beaten by a buggy. I got introduced to the first female across the line, who looked remarkably relaxed in that stroller. Apparently it’s an easy one to push, but I can’t imagine trying to push it up that slope once, let alone thrice!
Tina soon appeared, followed shortly afterwards by Kate. We chatted to a few folk David, Tina and Ian knew from various places, and one of the guys I’d overtaken congratulated me on my run. One of the ladies David knew asked if we were joining them for coffee, but we counter-offered with the 5-mile run we were off to do, as both David and Tina are in ultra-training mode just now and needed more miles. We also had a quick chat with RD Kate before heading off.
Stonehaven Parkrun has a bit of a reputation for being a tough course. And it probably is the hardest of the 7 or so I have visited thus far. Camperdown also has a tough hill, which is much longer, but you only have to do it once, which is easier psychologically, and it has more of a gentle beginning to it. So Stonehaven isn’t somewhere to go if you’re looking for a 5k PB. But if you’re after a challenging run on a mix of grass, trail and gravel paths, with a goldilocks number of runners and super-friendly and encouraging volunteers, it’s definitely worth a visit. Hill training is good for you, and if you did it on a regular basis you’d soon smash your PB on a flatter course. I really enjoyed the trip to Stonehaven and, though its too far away to make it my regular parkrun, I’ll definitely be back for that sub 25:00 time.
All action shots of Stonehaven parkrun used in this blog post were taken by Ewan Rennie, who kindly provided permission for their use. You can find his Flickr album of the day here
The two post-parkrun photos were taken on Kate’s phone by Kate and Tina.