Debbie had been following the Couch to 5k running programme and we had run a few of her 25 minute runs and a 27 minute run together. Now she was ready to complete the programme by running for either 30 minutes or 5k, and she decided to run the parkrun in St Albans to achieve this. She signed me up for it as well.
parkrun organise free, weekly, 5k timed runs around the world, and we are fortunate enough to have one in St Albans on Saturday mornings at 9am. They are open to everyone, free, and as we found out are safe and easy to take part in. These events take place in pleasant parkland surroundings and they encourage people of every ability to take part, so we felt quite relaxed about showing up. The one in St Albans has its start located on the far side of Verulamium Park, at the end of the path by the Verulamium Museum car park, and takes you around the lake. We had to register in advance to get our parkrun barcode and then simply walked up to the start point on the morning, and as we got there on this lovely dry morning we suddenly realised not only how many other people were going to be doing this run, but also, judging by the kit they were wearing, how many proper runners were going to be doing it ! We checked the procedure with one of the volunteer marshalls, who told us that everyone started in a mass on the grass across from the bin marking the start line and when we finished we would be directed to a lane where we would be handed a time chip. We would then take that time chip with our barcode to one of the marshalls, and their barcode reader would record the fact that we had run together with our time. Simple as that.
The route in St Albans would take us down the path from the car park, between the two recreational areas (the Adizone and the play area), until we reached a path crossroads, where we would turn left, then take the left fork to run around the lake three times, at the end of which we would come back up the path we had started on to take us to the finish. We had run part of the route for Debbie’s 25 minute runs, so we knew where we were going. It really was a mass of people, and some dogs, at the starting point and we hung around at the back. We were going to be taking this at Debbie’s pace and all that mattered was that we ran the whole course without stopping, and I was recording the run on my Garmin to give us an idea after the event of how we had done at various stages.
We started off at a very steady pace, which meant we did not get caught up in any jostling for position as people ran away from the start point along the path, and the mass seemed to thin out quite quickly. We were running at the back and did not really encounter any other runners until we got to the lake. We did encounter some of the volunteer marshalls, though, and each of them was very clear in their directions, very enthusiastic and encouraging, and very friendly. They really did add to the fun atmosphere of the event. Although this was clearly a lot more than just fun for some of those taking part. Once we reached the lake we began to be overtaken by the other runners, and those at the front stormed past at some speed. It was much more a sprint than a jog out there ! We completed the first mile in 11 minutes and 30 seconds – yes, I know we were running 5k, but I still work in miles ! This was not a bad little route, going around the lake, and it was probably just the right number of times going around before it became too repetitive for my liking. And it is a very picturesque lake, filled with all manner of birds at the moment, so a very pleasant location. We completed the second mile in 10 minutes and 35 seconds. I had not been telling Debbie the lap times and as we came on to the third lap of the lake she picked up the pace and we began to overtake some of the other runners. We came to the junction and turned right up a slope and then right again to bring us back on the path, which we followed all the way to the other end of the park. We could see a crowd of people at the finishing point and as we were the only ones coming in to finish at this time the place to head for to get the time chips was also obvious. Debbie had really upped the pace around that final lap of the lake and along the path, as we completed our third mile in 9 minutes and 07 seconds, and with the final part of the course across the grass we completed the 5k in 32 minutes and 22 seconds.
We had a drink of water before taking our time chips over to be registered, and that proved to be a very simple and quick process. Our times were online later that day. This had been an excellent experience throughout, and how fortunate we are to have such a brilliant and free resource on our doorstep – a big thanks must go to all those who volunteer to organise it every week. If you are doing the Couch to 5k programme then I would definitely recommend parkrun to you. Now all we have to do is run 50 of them to get a free parkrun tshirt…